Monday, June 25, 2007

The Fall of Mobile, AL

Dates: 17 March to 12 April, 1865


Union: Major General E.R.S. Canby, commanding Union forces in the Mobile Bay area.

Confederate: Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana, and Major General Dabney Maury, commander of Confederate forces at Mobile.

Prelude: Even though the Federals had captured the entrance of Mobile Bay in a combined arms assault on 5 August, 1864, the upper bay, as well as the city of Mobile itself was still in Confederate hands. Even though the use of the port was limited, the river, rail and road networks were still useful. Taylor saw this usefulness as he allocated scarce resources to the defense of Mobile.

Canby had a lot of resources at his disposal, but not enough to make a grand assault on Mobile. He was, however, able to conduct raids that hampered the Confederate’s ability to defend the entire area. He held the strategic forts guarding the entrance of the bay, Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan, but capturing Mobile would tie up Confederate troops, since there were plans to launch an offensive into Alabama from Tennessee.

9 September, 1864: A Federal force of 250, supported by naval gunboats, attack and destroy the salt works on the Bon Secours River, northwest of Gulf Shores.

11 September, 1864: The same force destroyed Smith’s Mill, near the town of Marlow. On the way out, a force of 70 Confederates blocked the river with pine trees. After a short fight, the Federals were able to punch through and leave the area.

Maury proceeded to fortify the area by building fortifications at the towns of Blakeley and Spanish Fort, as well as sending heavy guns to Forts Tracy and Huger, overlooking the Apalachee River near Spanish Fort. He also received all the troops that Taylor could spare, resulting in a force on only 10,000, including cadets from a local military academy.

Canby received orders to capture Mobile, and then advance on the manufacturing center of Selma and the state capital of Montgomery, where the Confederacy was born. To reinforce him, Major General Frederick Steele was sent from Pensacola, FL with 13,000 troops. This gave Canby a force of 45,000 in which to take the offensive. In February and into March, 1865, he concentrated his troops at Forts Gaines and Morgan and prepared to execute his orders.

18 March, 1865: Canby sends 1700 of his forces up the west shore of Mobile Bay. This attracts the Confederate’s attention, but the actual attack will be from the east.

16 March, 1865: XIII Corps, commanded by Major General Gordon Granger, marched east from Fort Morgan and turned north near Gulf Shores.

19 March, 1865: Canby had also sent XVI Corps, commanded by Major General A.J. Smith across the bay to Fish River Landing, near Marlow. They reach Fish River Landing on the 20th and dug in to await XIII Corps.

On the same day, Steele’s troops began marching from Fort Barrancas, near Pensacola, heading north into Alabama to Pollard.

25 March, 1865: Both XVI and XIII Corps had met up at Marlow. Canby orders the march north to continue. They reach Deer Park later that day and entrench. Over five miles to the north was a Confederate line commanded by Liddell at D’Olive Creek.

26 March, 1865: Canby sent XVI Corps around the Confederate’s left flank, forcing Liddell to pull his troops to Spanish Fort. Canby then crossed D’Olive Creek.

On the same day, Steele’s troops reach Pollard. There they turned west, along the Mobile and Great Northern Railroad, to Canoe.

27 March, 1865: Battle of Spanish Fort: Confederate troops under Brigadier General Randall Gibson held a line of fortifications east of an old fort that dated from the time the area was under Spanish control. Canby advanced to within one-half mile of the entrenchments and ordered his troops to dig in themselves.

3:00 a.m.: Gibson sends out skirmishers and surprisingly drove back the Union pickets. Canby was able to get a good assessment of the Confederate defenses and orders a general advance. This results in Gibson’s troops coming under siege as their lines were surrounded.

Steele’s advance was delayed by bad roads, but that movement continued. They went to the northwest from Pollard to the Weatherford Plantation, where they turned southwest to Stockton. All the while, Steele’s cavalry had several skirmishes with scattered Confederate units.

30 March, 1865: Canby had placed several batteries on the north shore of Minette Bay, north of his lines. Not only did they cover his right flank, but fire from those guns took Forts Huger and Tracey out of the fight, further deteriorating the situation for Gibson.

31 March, 1865: Steele’s troops reach Stockton. There, they secure supplies; the Federal troops were on half rations until that point. Canby also helped by sending several wagons of supplies.

1 April, 1865: Steele approached Blakeley and engages the Confederate pickets, driving then into their defensive works.

2 April, 1865: The Confederate defenders at Blakeley launch a probe at Steele, which was turned back. Steele decided to entrench his lines. Help comes in the form of two of Canby’s divisions, sent from Spanish Fort.

Meanwhile, Canby was getting hit by Liddell, with one resulting in losing 23 Union troops as prisoners. Still, Canby advanced his lines forward.

8 April, 1865: Gibson orders an artillery bombardment with 46 guns. Canby responds with 90 guns of his own, rendering them ineffective. During the bombardment, the 8th Iowa moved around the Confederate left, causing the defensive line to collapse. Gibson counterattacks but fails to push the Federals back. That night, he orders his garrison to pull back to Fort Huger.

With Gibson’s withdrawal, Spanish Fort fell to Canby, who immediately orders his army to march to Blakeley. The full weight of his army could then be brought to bear on Liddell.

9 April, 1865: On the same day that General Robert E. Lee was surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, VA, the last major battle of the Civil War began.

Battle of Blakeley: Canby arranged his forces thus; Steele to the north of his center, Granger and Smith to the south. Since 6 April, the Confederates tried to push away Steele’s troops, but to no avail. Now with the arrival of Canby, it was only a matter of time.

Liddell arranged his lines in a series of redoubts that held batteries of artillery. Canby threw up earthworks of his own. Still, it needed a frontal assault to push Liddell back.

5:25 p.m.: The Union assault begins with an assault on Redoubt #9, on the Confederate’s right flank. 20 minutes later, the Union troops assault Redoubt #4, under support by the 15th Massachusetts Battery. Led by the 83rd Ohio, under murderous Confederate fire, the Federals were able to push through a line of obstacles, and then a line of Confederate rifle pits. The defenders abandoned the pits and ran past the redoubt. The artillery in the redoubt resumed fire, but could not be depressed enough to stop the Federals. Redoubt #4 soon fell and the Confederate line was cracked.

5:30 p.m.: The Confederate left flank, consisting of Redoubts #1 and #2, were hit by the Division of Brigadier General John Hawkins. This division consisted of three brigades of African-American troops, had been engaging both ground and naval forces throughout the afternoon. As the rest of the Union line was going in, Hawkins’ men rushed forward through obstacles, including sub-terra torpedoes (land mines), and defensive fire and took the redoubts.

With the Confederate defensive line broken, and the naval support driven back, it turned out to every man for himself as Liddell tried to fall back across the river. Only 200 Confederates made it out.

10 April, 1865: Canby sent two divisions south to Starke’s Landing, where they boarded transports and sailed across Mobile Bay to Dog River Point on 12 April. From there, they began marching north towards Mobile itself.

Meanwhile, Maury was preparing to evacuate his garrison.

11 April, 1865: Forts Tracey and Huger opened up with an artillery barrage in order to cover the Confederate evacuation. After the last infantry departed, the cannon were spiked and the magazines were blown up.

12 April, 1865: Mobile Mayor R. H. Slough met Federal troops on the Bay Shell Road, south of the city and formally surrendered. This as the last Confederate defensive positions was abandoned.

Maury took his command north, burning railroad bridges as he went. Canby ordered a pursuit, hoping to prevent the retreating Confederates from linking up with other units. Around this time, the news of Lee’s surrender would have reached both sides. Despite this, there was still some skirmishing, proving to the Union that the war was not over yet.

30 April, 1865: Having also heard of the surrender of General Joseph Johnston’s army in North Carolina, Taylor approaches Canby about a cease fire. One was agreed but that was disallowed by Canby’s superiors. Taylor was told that he had 48 hours to surrender before the fighting was to resume.

4 May, 1865: Taylor formally surrenders his forces at Citronelle, AL, the last major force in the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana.

This was just the latest Confederate army to surrender, there will be one more, General Edmund Kirby Smith’s army in the Trans-Mississippi, who surrender on 2 June, 1865, bringing a formal end of hostilities, with the exception of a few more skirmishes.

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