An Aerial View of Fort Gaines

An aerial shot of the early 19th-century fort on Dauphin Island is rich with detail, color and history.

Named for Edmund Pendleton Gaines, a brigadier general in the War of 1812 and the Indian Wars, Fort Gaines presides over the eastern end of Dauphin Island, mere feet from the lapping waters that mark the mouth of Mobile Bay. The U.S. Army began constructing the fort in the early 1820s, on top of pre-existing French fortifications.

After secession, the Alabama militia took over the fort and garrisoned it with several hundred troops. Following the fall of New Orleans in 1862, Mobile, a port city, became vitally important to the Confederacy. Fort Gaines and its architectural twin Fort Morgan, three miles away across Mobile Bay, would be instrumental in defending the city from Union attack.

Though designed to survive a six-month siege, Fort Gaines fell on August 8, 1864, just days into the Battle of Mobile Bay. One Union engineering officer concluded, “It was utterly weak and inefficient against our attack.” Due to erosion, Fort Gaines was designated one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in an annual ranking by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2011.

Aerial photo of Fort Gaines
Photo by Todd Sims — Modern Obscura

1. Bakery and Blacksmith Forge
This structure housed a bakery with two ovens (one that was 16 feet long) and a blacksmith shop, run by a civilian contractor. In this role, he was responsible for manufacturing and repairing any hardware at the fort.

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2. Front entrance
The fort’s only entrance, or sally port, is noteworthy for its intricate brickwork. Original building plans included a drawbridge, but it was never constructed.

3. Farragut’s Anchor
At the fort’s center is this artifact from the USS Hartford, the sloop-of-war steamer from which Farragut uttered his famous phrase, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

4. Quarter-master’s Office
This structure housed soldier supplies, such as uniforms. As it stood higher than the fort’s wall, this building suffered damage during the Battle of Mobile Bay.

5. Disappearing gun mount
Constructed around 1900, this gun mount allowed cannons to be lowered, and thereby concealed, during loading.

6. East Bastion
From this turret, one can survey the entire mouth of Mobile Bay. Fort Morgan is visible across the Bay.

7. Officer’s Quarters
Originally three stories tall, this structure’s upper floors were destroyed during the battle.

8. Gun Mounts
Well-preserved granite track supports illustrate how guns were revolved to adjust their field of fire.


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