Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Arkansas Troops at Spanish Fort, Alabama

This is what remains of Battery McDermett (also called Fort McDermott) at Spanish Fort, Alabama. A powerful earthwork overlooking Mobile Bay, the battery was part of an impressive line of fortifications constructed by the Confederates to defend one of the key water approaches to the city of Mobile. It was occupied in the spring of 1865 by troops from Arkansas, Louisiana and Georgia.

One of the final major battles of the Civil War took place here in April of 1865. Union forces advanced up the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in the long awaited land campaign to capture Mobile. The first major barrier facing them was Spanish Fort.

With fewer than 2,000 effective men, Confederate Brigadier General Randall L. Gibson probably should not have been expected to put up much of a fight against the oncoming army of roughly 30,000 Federals under Major General E.R.S. Canby, but he did.

After skirmishing with the Union troops as they approached, Gibson pulled his men back within his defenses and forced the Federals to undertake a full siege of the Spanish Fort works. For eight days, Gibson held his works against overwhelming odds and under constant artillery fire. Then, on the night of April 8th, Gibson and his men slipped away via a previously prepared escape route.

The defense of Spanish Fort was one of the most remarkable events of the war and yet it has been virtually forgotten. Lee surrendered the day after the fall of the fort (although fighting would continue around Mobile Bay for days to come).

Very little remains of the battlefield at Spanish Fort today. The area of the Confederate fortifications are now covered by residential areas. This section of Battery McDermett is one of the best preserved sections of the original fortifications, but is overgrown and located in the midst of suburban houses. Interpretive panels explaining the battle, however, are located at the nearby Mobile Bay Overlook just off Interstate 10.

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