On the fateful day of Aug. 5, 1864, Rear Adm. David Farragut led 18 Union warships into the largest naval battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Mobile Bay. Legend has it, as Union vessels entered the mouth of Mobile Bay, Adm. Farragut uttered one of the most well known battle cries in history.
“Damn the torpedoes!” he ordered. “Full speed ahead!”
With Adm. Farragut’s bold declaration, the Union fleet closed in, battling for control of Mobile Bay in hopes to occupy the last major port the Union forces had yet to take – Mobile.
However, Union troops first had to get past Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan, two strongholds that vigilantly guarded the mouth of the bay.An intense battle commenced, leading to the sinking of one Union ship, the USS Tecumseh. The vessel ultimately saw her demise, capsized and came to rest upside down northwest of Fort Morgan.
Though Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines eventually fell into the hands of the Union Navy, the Port City remained untaken.
Much like the dawn on that day 150 years ago, Mobile Bay and Fort Morgan will come alive this weekend for an action packed festival, commemorating the brave soldiers who fought on both sides of the historic battle.
“The Battle of Mobile Bay and Siege of Fort Morgan is an event worth commemorating when you examine the lasting historical implications on the Gulf Coast,” Alabama Historical Commission Director of Historic Sites Dr. Stephen McNair said. “The Union victory led to the fall of Mobile, the last line of supplies for the Southern military…We feel that such an overtly significant event in the history of Alabama deserves a special weekend of reenacting, living history, and family fun to tell the entire story. Our goal is to provide an accurate and exciting reenactment that also educates and entertains audiences of all ages and interests.”
The three-day event, sponsored by the Alabama Historical Commission and the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber, will feature the largest Civil War reenactment on southern soil, a nighttime pyrotechnical bombardment of Fort Morgan, more than a dozen tall-ship sailing vessels and authentic Civil War era food and entertainment.
“I’m truly excited about the commemoration of the battle,” McNair said. “It will be the largest event the AHC has ever sponsored, which is fitting considering the Battle of Mobile Bay and siege of Fort Morgan was the most significant battle of the Civil War in Alabama.”
The Fort Morgan Water Battery will kick off the 150th anniversary celebration on Friday evening Aug. 1 with a literal “bang” as they fire their guns at 6:30 p.m. Immediately afterward, Birmingham native Bobby Horton will provide Civil War era music.
“We’re proud to have Bobby with us to kick of the event,” McNair said. “He’s one of the most sought after musicians specializing in music of the era, and his being an Alabama native gives his appearance special significance to us.”
Saturday’s activities begin at 9 a.m. with a military salute and commemorative marker unveiling featuring Congressman Bradley Byrne as the keynote speaker.
Following the opening ceremony, a reenactment of the actual naval battle will begin at 10 a.m. with a depiction of the Union Navy steaming past the fort and into Mobile Bay. The heroic fight of the CSS Tennessee against the entire Union fleet will be reenacted before the battle shifts to land at noon where attendees can watch the Union artillery and infantry conquer the Confederate troops by occupying siege lines across the peninsula.
As the sun sets on Mobile Bay, the battle will intensify as artillery blazes away until the combat finally cumulates into a powerful, explosive spectacle over the fort from 8 to 9 p.m.
“The infantry, artillery and aerial pyrotechnic explosions will combine to make Saturday’s events the largest reenactment ever performed at the fort,” Fort Morgan’s AHC Historian Mike Bailey said.
On Sunday, guns open fire on the fort once again starting at 10 a.m. and will continue until the fort finally surrenders to Union forces. A surrender ceremony with a salute to colors will close the event from 1 to 2 p.m.
In addition to reenactments, other special events will take place throughout the weekend including a special naval exhibit at Fort Morgan Museum featuring rarely exhibited artifacts from warships USS Tecumseh, USS Philippi and CSS Gaines, three of the ships that fought during the Battle of Mobile Bay.
Unique living history demonstrations, allowing hands-on experience of life during the Civil War, will also be available throughout the weekend. Musicians will provide period music during the event and food venders will offer Civil War era food as well as modern cuisine. Souvenir T-shirts and other items, including the latest Fort Morgan print by local Fairhope artist Dean Mosher, will also be available for purchase at different locations in the park.
Admission to the park during the weekend of the event will be as follows: Friday after 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday: $10 for a single day ticket; $20 for a three-day pass; $30 for a single day for a family of four; and $65 for a three-day pass for a family of four. There is no charge for children under 6. Fort Morgan State Historic Site’s gates will open at 8 a.m. each day and will remain open for the duration of each day’s activities, although normal admissions will be suspended after 6 p.m. Friday.
Parking for the event will be located off-site at Pelican Place Shopping Center and Faulkner State in Gulf Shores with transportation to the event provided by the Baldwin Rural Area Transportation Service. The charge for the shuttle is $4 per person each way. The only other way to enter the event will be via ferry.
Transportation details and other event information are subject to change. For the latest information, visit fortmorgan.org or call 251-540-5257.
“I’d like to encourage everyone to come out not only to see this historical event, but to be a part of history as well,” Bailey said. “After all, the 150th only comes around once.”