Historic Blakeley State Park in Spanish Fort, Alabama
Two of the last major battles of the Civil War took place within sight of the modern skyline of Mobile, Alabama.
Union forces launched simultaneous attacks on the Confederate strongholds of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakeley in a desperate attempt to take Mobile itself. Each of the two Southern positions were heavily fortified and outnumbered Confederate defenders were determined to hold off the much larger Union army for as long as possible.
Blakeley (sometimes spelled Blakely) had been a thriving town in the early 19th century. It threatened the commerce of Mobile itself before fevers devastated the population and destroyed the city. Little remained by the time of the Civil War.
Confederate engineers quickly recognized the strategic value of the ghost town, however, and ringed it with a line of impressive fortifications that included breastworks, forts and batteries. Heavy cannon were placed to defend the Tensaw River, which provided access to the docks of Mobile via the Mobile River.
The massive citadel came to be called Fort Blakeley, although it was actually made up of a series of individual forts that were connected by rifle pits and trenches. The battle fought for control of the post is remembered as the Battle of Fort Blakeley. It was one of the last major engagements of the Civil War and assured the fall of Mobile.
Historic Blakeley State Park, on Alabama Highway 225 north of Spanish Fort, preserves the scene of much of the fighting. Visitors can see both Union and Confederate fortifications from the battle and explore the scene of the final engagement as well as the ruins of the ghost town of old Blakeley.
The Battle of Blakeley began in April of 1865 when Union forces converged on the important Confederate defenses. The outnumbered Southern troops skirmished and made occasional forays but were soon forced into their fortified lines as Federal soldiers built three lines of parallels, each one closer to the Confederate defenses than the one before it. The last or Third Parallel was only 500 yards from the main Confederate line.
These parallels included infantry trenches and fortified artillery batteries. Earthworks protected Union soldiers from the fire of the defenders while also allowing them to fire back from a series of successively closer positions. From the Third Parallel, they began to dig a zigzag approach trench the took them closer and closer to the Confederate defenses.
Nearby Spanish Fort fell after a severe battle on the night of April 8, 1865, and Maj. Gen. E.R.S. Canby brought his full army to bear against Fort Blakeley. Few of the Confederates from Spanish Fort were able to reinforce their comrades at Blakeley and most withdrew instead into Mobile.
Canby decided to storm the Confederate lines at Fort Blakeley, believing that with 16,000 men he could roll over the 2,500 or so Southern defenders even with them sheltered in strong fortifications. The army – which included 5,000 African American soldiers from the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) – moved into position on the morning of April 9, 1865. The final assault began at 5:25 p.m. that afternoon.
The attack took the form of a hammering series of assaults that spread from left to right. Union troops charged into a storm of musketry and artillery fire from the Confederate fortifications. In front of Redoubt No. 4, one of the primary Confederate forts, the men of the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Division, led by the 83rd Ohio Infantry, charged down through a large ravine. Their attack came so fast that the Confederates were unable to withdraw their skirmish line into the main works. This forced the soldiers in the redoubt to hold their fire to avoid hitting their own men who were trying to fall back ahead of the Union assault.
By the time the skirmishers could clear the ground in front of the fort was clear, it was too late. Union troops surged up and over the walls of the redoubt, capturing it despite the heavy fire poured into them at the last minute by Confederate defenders. Some of the Southern soldiers surrendered, but others retreated from the fort and continued to fight as they withdrew.
The final stages of the battle were chaotic as Confederates retreated down the slops to the river and Federals drove forward in pursuit. Some defenders even hid in hollows beneath a massive tree that can still be seen today near the dock of the Delta Explorer cruise boat.
When the smoke cleared, however, at least 216 men lay dead, 955 had been wounded and 3,050 Confederate soldiers were prisoners of war.
Visitors can view the site of the attack on Redoubt No. 4 which is preserved at Historic Blakeley State Park. Other features of the battlefield include Confederate fortifications, Union breastworks and artillery batteries, rifle pits, zigzag approach trenches and more.
In addition to battlefield, the park also preserves the site of the ghost town of Blakeley. The old cemetery is open to the public as is the former town square, scattered ruins and a massive live oak that legend holds was the town’s “hanging tree.”
Historic Blakeley State Park also preserves a portion of the beautiful setting of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, one of the true environmental
treasures of the South. The park offers guided water tours of the delta aboard the Delta Explorer. Please click here for cruise information.
The park is at 34745 State Highway 225, Spanish Fort, Alabama (See the map below). It is open seven days per week and is an easy drive from either Mobile or the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for kids 3-12. Kids 2 and under are admitted free.
Enjoy this video to experience a cruise on the Delta Explorer: