Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fort Gaines Historic Site - Dauphin Island, Alabama

Cannon at Fort Gaines, Alabama
General Edmund Pendleton Gaines (1777-1849) was one of the most significant figures in both Alabama and U.S. history, and while he did not live long enough to figure in the Civil War, his name did.
Born during the American Revolution, Gaines was a hero of the War of 1812 who also fought in the First and Second Seminole Wars and the Mexican War. Along the way, he was the officer who arrested fugitive former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr in Alabama in 1807.

Gaines was at the pinnacle of his military fame in 1819 when the U.S. Government began construction of a fort on the east end of Dauphin Island. One of two major defenses designed to protect Mobile Bay from foreign attack, the masonry citadel was named in honor of the major general.  Gaines died in 1849 and was buried in Mobile's Church Street Graveyard. Fort Gaines, however, continues to stand to this day.

Fort Gaines
Designed by military engineers to operate with Fort Morgan, a second masonry fortification on the west end of Mobile Point, Fort Gaines was located so close to the water that its builders encountered significant difficulties in its construction. Forty years after work on the citadel had begun, it was still not finished when Alabama seceded from the Union in 1861.

Confederates completed the fort in 1862 and manned it as one of their key defenses against a Union attack on Mobile Bay. That attack came in August of 1864, when 1,500 Union soldiers landed on Dauphin Island and began their advance on Fort Gaines. Confederate troops skirmished with them as they slowly advanced, before falling back into the defenses of the main fort itself.

Fort Gaines
Two days later, on August 5, 1864, the fleet of Union Admiral David G. Farragut stormed through barrages of shot and shell from Forts Gaines and Morgain and entered Mobile Bay. It was during the monumental encounter, remembered as the Battle of Mobile Bay, that Farragut issued his immortal battle command, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

The soldiers in Fort Gaines bore witness as the famed Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee steamed out to engage Farragut's fleet in one of the greatest ship to ship battles of all time. The Tennessee was eventually captured and the fort held out only another three days, as Union ironclads moved up to point blank range and bombarded its masonry walls.  The white flag rose over Fort Gaines on August 8, 1864.

The history of the old fort continued, but never again would U.S. possession of Dauphin Island be contested. Now a historic site maintained by the Dauphin Island Park and Beach Board, Fort Gaines is open to the public daily. To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cheaha State Park - Alabama's Highest Point

Cheaha State Park in Alabama
One of my favorite summer destinations in Alabama is the stunningly beautiful Cheaha State Park located atop Alabama's tallest mountain.

The temperature on top of the mountain is always much cooler than it is down below and the scenery is quite simply some of the most beautiful you will find anywhere. With its trails, accessible boardwalk, overlooks, picnic areas, campground, cabins, chalets, hotel and restaurant, Cheaha is a great place to get away from the heat and humidity of summer.

Overlook at Cheaha State Park
The name "cheaha" interprets loosely from the Muskogee or Creek language as "high place." The Talladega Mountains, of which Mount Cheaha is a part, were once the domain of the mighty Creek Confederacy. "High place" is a logical name for the mountain, which dominates the horizon as you approach via the beautiful Cheaha Scenic Highway.

Defeated Creek warriors fled into these mountains after Andrew Jackson defeated them in the Battle of Talladega in 1813. The country was so rugged and rough that the Tennessee soldiers of Jackson's army did not attempt to pursue the retreating Indians into the hills.

Talladega National Forest
After the Upper Creeks were forced to what is now Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears in 1836-1837, these lands were opened to white settlement. The trees that covered the mountains were harvested and in quite a few places gold mining even took place. By the 20th century, much of the Talladega Mountains country was bare.

Bunker Tower atop the Mountain
That changed during the Great Depression, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) teamed up with the State of Alabama to replant the forests of the mountains, create Cheaha State Park and turn the entire area into a beautiful natural setting. Workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) labored for years building facilities and planting trees. The result of their work is today's beautiful state park and the surrounding Talladega National Forest.

Cheaha State Park is located near the cities of Talladega and Anniston about one-hour east of Birmingham and about 90 minutes west of Atlanta. To learn more, please follow these links:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gun from the C.S.S. Tennessee - Selma, Alabama

Gun from C.S.S. Tennessee
Few naval battles of the Civil War captured the 19th century public's attention like the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama.

For Northerners, Admiral Farragut's famed battle cry of "Damn the Torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" characterized the bravery of Union officers and sailors. For Southerners, the remarkable stand of the ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee against the entire Union fleet became a symbol of the courage of the men of the Lost Cause.

C.S.S. Tennessee
Neither the C.S.S. Tennessee nor the Union warships that fought at Mobile Bay survive today, but a bit of the monumental battle can be touched on the city hall lawn in Selma, Alabama. It is there that the stern gun of the Tennessee rests today.

Few modern visitors realize that the mighty Confederate ironclad was launched at Selma. Located near the important iron furnaces of Central Alabama, Selma was the location of an important C.S. Navy facility. Not only was the Tennessee built here, but the facility also cast heavy guns and munitions.

Gun from .S.S. Tennessee
One of the guns cast at Selma was the deadly 8-inch Brooke rifle now on display at city hall. It served as the stern pivot gun of the Tennessee and dealt death and destruction during the Battle of Mobile Bay. Removed from the ship after the war, it eventually passed into the hands of the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C.

Now on long-term loan to the Selma-Dallas County Musem and Archives, it was returned to Selma in 1981 and can be seen daily. To learn more, please visit