Fort Morgan

Fort Morgan is at the end of the highway 180, about 20 miles west of Gulf Shores, Ala. It’s a pleasant drive, windy and slightly salty; the spit of land being flanked by the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay and skirted with palms and sand.

Fort Morgan is a Civil War relic but even by the time the one and only major Civil War battle was waged here (August 1864) it was out of date. The Battle for Mobile Bay resulted in the surrender of the fort to Union forces following a naval battle that spotlighted the weakness of fixed fortifications. It was also the fight during which Union Admiral D. G. Farragut was credited with directing his ships through mined waters with the order, “Damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead!” What the admiral may or may not have said is unclear. But the risky manuever worked, the battle was eventually won and Farragut achieved hero status.

I’m not a really Civil War buff but always enjoy visiting Fort Morgan, maybe because of its end-of-the-road location. And there’s more to this spot than a slice of military history, important though that may be. Several people were fishing from the pier and rock pilings. Other folks were milling about, enjoying the breeze or waiting to take the ferry to Dauphin Island.

The fort tour is self-guided. On the main rampart of the old brick structure are the remains of Battery Duportail, which was operational from 1899 to 1923, when it was deactivated after having never, I assume, fired a shot in defense of the country. Maybe that’s because potential invaders knew what awaited them. The battery was armed with a pair of 12-inch rifled guns, each capable of firing a 1,046-pound shell 8 1/2 miles. This was a century ago.

Admiral Farragut was fortunate these tools weren’t available in 1864, otherwise he could easily have been regulated to a historical footnote at the bottom of the bay instead of a naval hero and the namesake of high schools and starships.