Battle of Fort Blakeley 
34745 State Highway 225
Spanish Fort, Alabama

Last Battle of the Mobile Campaign

The Battle of Blakeley (or Battle of Fort Blakeley) was one of the final significant engagements of the Civil War. The climactic action was the Union storming of Redoubt No. 4 on April 9, 1865.

The battlefield is part of Historic Blakeley State Park , a massive heritage and ecological destination just north of Spanish Fort, Alabama. The park is part of the largest National Register site in the eastern United States and preserves earthwork forts, batteries, rifle pits, breastworks, zigzag approach trenches, and areas where bloody fighting took place.

Fort Blakeley, the Confederate post that gave the battle its name, was a three-mile system of breastworks and redoubts (forts) that surrounded the fading town of Blakeley, Alabama. Roughly 100 people lived there when the Civil War began, but Blakeley was once a thriving port that rivaled Mobile itself.

Josiah Blakeley, a Connecticut businessman, founded the town in 1813 even as the Creek War of 1813-1814 and War of 1812 raged around it. Incorporated on January 5, 1814, Blakeley expanded rapidly, and its population reached nearly 4,000 people by the early 1820s. Yellow fever outbreaks in 1822, 1826, and 1828 doomed the prosperity of the community, however, and it began a slow fade into oblivion although it remained the seat of government for Baldwin County until the 1860s.

The outbreak of the Civil War and need to protect Mobile from Union attack led to a resurgence in importance for Blakeley. Maj. Gen. Dabney H. Maury oversaw the construction of fortifications surrounding the old townsite, along with batteries of heavy guns to protect the Tensaw River. Powerful works were also erected five miles south at Spanish Fort.

Maury hoped that these massive defenses would protect the "backdoor" or "east approach" to the City of Mobile. Lines of pilings driven into the channel blocked the main entrance to the harbor while batteries of torpedoes (mines) would be triggered if Union ships attacked. Batteries of heavy artillery guarded the approaches, and three lines of fortifications surrounded the city itself.

The Blakeley, Tensaw, and Mobile Rivers, however, still provided a way for Confederate blockade runners and warships to reach Mobile by sailing or steaming upstream under the guns of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakeley and then back down the Mobile River to the city.
Federal cannon bombarded the Confederate lines from the 15th Massachusetts Battery (seen here) during the days before the main assault on Redoubt No. 4.

The Confederates had prepared Fort Blakeley well for the coming siege. In addition to the miles of breastworks and redoubts, they felled trees with their tops facing outward in front of the lines. Soldiers and slaves then used axes to sharpen the branches forming dangerous obstructions through which Union attackers would have to pass. 

Telegraph wire was strung along the ground to tangle the feet of Federal soldiers, and makeshift land mines were prepared by burying artillery shells outside the Confederate forts.

Union soldiers also employed techniques considered questionable in 1865 but commonplace today. They lobbed shells filled with quicklime to create fireballs as they sailed over the Confederate works. The resulting illumination allowed Federal gunners to fire more accurately at night.

The fight for control of Fort Blakeley continued from April 1 through April 9, when news arrived of the fall of Spanish Fort. Gen. Canby now brought up his main army for a final assault on the beleaguered Confederate post.

1,000 men from Spanish Fort reinforced gen. Liddell, but the Federals gained another 30,000 soldiers. Canby and Steele concluded to attempt the capture of Blakeley by storm.

The last or Third Parallel prepared by Steele's column was only 500 yards from the primary Confederate defenses. Zigzag trenches dug from this position offered even closer approaches, through which Union soldiers could go near the Southern lines without exposing their bodies to musket fire.

The final assault on Fort Blakeley began on the afternoon of April 9, 1865. Gen. Canby sent his army forward across open ground in a hammering series of attacks that spread from left to right. The Confederates responded with a storm of rifle and artillery fire.

Neither side knew it, but disaster struck the Confederacy earlier that day. Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on the morning of April 9, 1865. His surrender did not directly impact the soldiers defending Fort Blakeley as they were under separate command.

The critical moment of the attack came at around 8 p.m. The Union soldiers of the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Division - led by the 83rd Ohio Infantry - charged down through a wide ravine that allowed them to approach the ditch and earthen walls of Redoubt No. 4. 

The Confederates had deployed sharpshooters in rifle pits outside the main works, and the gunners in No. 4 were forced to hold their fire to avoid shooting their own men as these skirmishers fell back ahead of the Union attack. The 83rd Ohio charged on the heels of the retreating skirmishers, coming on so fast that they followed them over the walls and into the redoubt.

The defenders of the fort fought desperately. Hand to hand fighting occurred as the Federals surged into Redoubt No. 4. Some of the Confederates surrendered after a fierce battle for control of the fort. Others retreated wildly for the Tensaw River.
This 1865 map shows the Confederate lines in red and Union positions in blue. Well-preserved fortifications survive on the battlefield at Historic Blakeley.
 Admiral David Farragut's victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay and the resulting captures of Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan at Mobile Point revealed Maury's foresight in fortifying Spanish Fort and Blakeley.

The task of taking the positions and the city of Mobile itself fell to Maj. Gen. Edward R.S. Canby of the Union's Department of the Gulf. He made plans to attack the Eastern Shore defenses with an army of some 40,000 men.

The campaign began on March 17, 1865. A long column of Union troops left Fort Morgan by land and marched for the mouth of the Fish River. Transport vessels simultaneously steamed from Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island for the same destination. A smaller force landed on the western shore of Mobile Bay to create a diversion, but the Confederate defenders were not fooled.

The operation successfully assembled 32,000 Union troops at Fish River by March 24, when Gen. Canby moved north up the Eastern Shore to attack Spanish Fort and Blakeley.

As this movement was underway, Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele led 13,000 Federal soldiers north from Fort Barrancas near Pensacola, Florida. His column battled outnumbered Confederates at Canoe Station and Pringle’s Creek (also called the Battle of Bluff Station or Pine Barren), forcing their retreat and taking the important post at Pollard, Alabama. From there the column turned southwest down the railroad and invested Fort Blakeley on April 1, 1865.

The main army under Gen. Canby, meanwhile, pushed up the Eastern Shore with little resistance until it neared Spanish Fort on March 27, 1865. Things changed quickly as the Federals neared the massive fortifications there and found that Brig. Gen. Randall Gibson and his vastly-outnumbered men were full of fight.

Spanish Fort held out against odds of more than 10 to 1 for the next twelve days until the 8th Iowa finally broke through a weak section of its defenses at 5 p.m. on April 8, 1865. Darkness fell before Canby could exploit his breakthrough, but he planned to continue the battle at sunrise the next morning.

When the sun came up, however, Gibson and most of his Confederates were gone. The wily Southern general withdrew under cover of darkness, sending 1,000 of his men north to Fort Blakeley while he fell back with the rest into Mobile itself.

Fighting took place at Fort Blakeley throughout the last eight days of the attack on Spanish Fort. Gen. Steele laid siege to the post with 16,000 men, roughly 5,000 of whom were African-American soldiers from the United States Colored Troops or USCT. Many of these men were former slaves who enlisted in the Union army.

The fortifications at Blakeley were defended prior to the arrival of the additional 1,000 men from Spanish Fort by around 3,500 Confederates under Brig. Gen. St. John R. Liddell.

Federal troops dug a series of parallels or fortified positions, each one closer to the Confederate defenses than the one before it. They erected earthen batteries from which their cannon bombarded Fort Blakeley, while also battling the Confederate ironclads CSS Nashville and CSS Huntsville, which shelled the Union lines.
A zigzag approach trench dug by Union soldiers as they closed in on the Confederate lines still snakes its way across the battlefield.
The Union army exploited the breakthrough and seized control of the forts and breastworks all along the Confederate line. There were almost immediate allegations that men from the USCT regiments massacred surrendering Southern troops. Historians still debate the matter, and there is little doubt that some prisoners of war were killed. How many remains a question for future research.

A swirling mass of Confederates fell back to the river. Some escaped by boat, but most surrendered. An old tree near today's Delta Explorer dock is called the "hiding tree" due to stories that some soldiers tried to escape capture by hiding in large hollows beneath its roots.

Confederate losses at Fort Blakely included around 75 killed and 300 wounded. Another 3,050 became prisoners of war. More than 40 cannon fell into Federal hands. Some of the prisoners were forced to clear the dangerous shells buried in the ground around the forts.

Union losses in the battle were approximately 150 killed and 650 wounded.  Several men received Congressional Medals of Honor for capturing flags during the assault.

The fall of Fort Blakeley was a blow from which the Confederates could not recover. The way to Mobile was not open to the Union army and navy. Confederate defenders abandoned the smaller nearby batteries at Fort Huger, and Fort Tracy and Confederate forces withdrew from Mobile itself on the night of April 11, 1865. The city's mayor surrendered to Canby's army on the next day.

The ironclads CSS Huntsville and CSS Tuscaloosa were scuttled in the Tensaw River near Fort Blakeley on April 12, 1865. The CSS Nashville surrendered to Union forces.

War continued in the countryside just north of Mobile for several weeks longer, although no significant fighting took place after the Battle of Fort Blakeley. Gen. Canby agreed to a truce with Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor at the Magee Farm in Kushla on April 30, 1865. Taylor's final surrender was accepted by Canby four days later at Citronelle.

Historic Blakeley State Park is at 34745 State Hwy 225, Spanish Fort, Alabama. Hours are 8 a.m. to dusk, seven days per week. The entry fee is $4 for adults and $3 for kids (7-12). Kids 6 and under are admitted free. The Battle of Fort Blakeley is reenacted each April.

The final Union assault took place across this ground, from left to right. The restored fortifications at right were part of the defenses of Redoubt No. 4, where the major Federal breakthrough was achieved on April 9, 1865.

Click the play button below for a video journey aboard the Delta Explorer from Historic Blakeley State Park: