Fort Gaines, Alabama

One more set of summer-trip postcards, from Fort Gaines, Dauphin Island, Alabama. As it says on the sign, Fort Gaines was established during the presidency of James Monroe to guard the entrance to Mobile Bay. (Two miles across the bay, at the tip of Mobile Point, lies Fort Morgan, which was built in the 1830s. We did not get to visit that fort, however.)


Fort Gaines was taken over by the Confederacy, and regained by the United States after the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. This is the engagement when Admiral Farragut gave his famous order: “Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead!” (or words to that effect – contemporary sources differ on the phrasing). This was a risky but ultimately effective tactic of running the Confederate minefield and then sinking the Confederate ships in Mobile Bay. Forts Morgan and Gaines surrendered to the US shortly thereafter. The anchor from the USS Hartford, Farragut’s ship, is on display in the courtyard of Fort Gaines.


The fort was modified in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American war, and decommissioned in 1926, at which time it was sold to the City of Mobile. During World War II it housed a unit of the Alabama National Guard. At some point the fort was deeded to the Dauphin Island Park and Beach Board, which act as its current caretakers. It is not currently in the best of repair but we kind of liked that – it was fun to explore all its nooks and crannies. Every time a hurricane comes through it gets damaged a little more, and erosion from seawater is eating away at its foundations. Apparently it’s on a list of endangered historic places so you should see it while you can, or give money to save it before it’s too late.

gaines2You can go on an interesting self-guided walking tour and see the cannons, magazine, fort museum, kitchen, twelve-seater latrine, barracks and, best of all, the working blacksmith forge and blacksmith Ralph Oalmann who explains his craft as he exercises it.