Wednesday, January 5, 2011

January 5, 1861 - Alabama Troops seize Fort Morgan

Fort Morgan, Alabama
January 5, 1861
On the heels of the state's bloodless occupation of the Mount Vernon Arsenal north of Mobile the previous day, Alabama militia forces moved against Fort Morgan at the entrance of Mobile Bay 150 years ago today.

A massive masonry fortification, Fort Morgan had been built in 1819-1833 on the site of a War of 1812 defense called Fort Bowyer. In conjunction with Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island, the fort was designed to sweep the entrance to Mobile Bay with artillery fire to defend it from foreign attack. It had been a major stopping point on the Creek Trail of Tears in 1836-1837, but since 1842 had been in caretaker status. On the eve of the Civil War, it was held only by an ordnance sergeant and a handful of men.

Fort Morgan Parade Ground
Governor A.B. Moore of Alabama, informed that the federal government might try to send regular army troops to occupy the posts in Alabama, ordered the occupation of Forts Morgan and Gaines well in advance of that state's secession from the Union. It took some time for Colonel Todd of the Alabama militia to arrange a force and steamboat to carry them down Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan, but on January 5, 1861, he and his men landed on Mobile Point and occupied the fort.

Casemates of Fort Morgan
Ordnance Sergeant S. Patterson, the caretaker assigned to the fort by the U.S. Army, reported the loss of his post to state forces in a brief communique to the adjutant general in Washington, D.C.:

      DEAR SIR: I have been superseded by Colonel Todd, of the Militia of Alabama, and he took and receipted for all the property belonging to the Ordnance Department and fort.
      I wait for orders from the Adjutant-General. 

In the weeks that followed, Alabama moved hundreds of militia soldiers into Fort Morgan, putting them to work clearing the fort for action and conducting much needed maintenance. Fort Gaines, across the bay entrance, was not immediately occupied by state forces (although many modern sources indicate that it was also seized on January 5th). It would remain in U.S. hands for another two weeks.

To learn more about Fort Morgan, please visit

1 comment:

  1. OK I see the reason for the confusion regarding the date Fort Gaines was seized. In looking in the Official Records it is clear that it was in fact seized on 18 January rather than the 5th because Lieut. C.B. Reese's report of 19 January states it was formally seized the day before. However a few pages before that, in the timeline of events related to Alabama's secession, it incorrectly shows it as having been taken on 5 January along with Fort Morgan. So modern accounts claiming Gaines was captured on 5 January must be from authors taking the time to look in the Official Records at least as far as the timeline but NOT taking the time to look carefully in the Official Records.