Monday, March 28, 2011

The Battle of Spanish Fort, Alabama - March & April, 1865

Confederate Earthworks at Spanish Fort
One of the largest battles of the Civil War in Alabama was underway in earnest 146 years ago this week.

For most of the month of March in 1865, Union troops had slowly pushed their way north up the East Shore of Mobile Bay. Led by General E.R.S. Canby, the 32,000 soldiers were determined to break up and capture the Confederate defenses at Spanish Fort and old Blakeley, a critical step towards the final capture of the port of Mobile.  Simultaneously, a column of 13,000 men moved north from Pensacola, Florida, to break the railroad connecting Mobile with Montgomery and complete the encirclement of the Confederate forces.

The movement was very slow and it took Canby weeks to march his command from a jump off point on the Fish River to within sight of the massive Confederate earthworks at Spanish Fort.  The Union general had no way of knowing it, but he was opposed by a Southern force of only a couple of thousand men, but they were commanded by a bold and enterprising officer in General Randall L. Gibson.

Battle Markers at Mobile Bay Overlook
Facing sharp skirmishing from Gibson's Confederates, the Federals began to encircle Spanish Fort on March 27, 1865, officially opening the battle. It took 12 days for Canby to complete this process, dig siege positions and get his artillery into place. As a result, it was not until April 8, 1865, that he opened his bombardment of Spanish Fort with 90 cannon. The Confederates had 47 guns, but many of these were positioned to defend the river channel that led below the bluff. The replied to the Union fire as best they could.

The 8th Iowa broke through the Southern outer lines late in the day on April 8th, 1865, and General Gibson knew that his bluff was about to be exposed. Completely undetected by Canby's pickets, he withdrew his force from Spanish Fort that night, using an already prepared footbridge to slip away across the channel to nearby Fort Huger.

With only a couple of thousand men, Gibson had delayed the Union campaign up the East Shore of Mobile Bay for more than one full month. The Federals had no idea that they outnumbered him by 14 to 1. It was one of the most impressive performances by a Confederate general during the entire war.

To learn more about the Battle of Spanish Fort, please visit