Fort Morgan Ghosts of the Past

The first powerful image that moves me at Fort Morgan is the grouping of colorful flags flapping loudly in the stiff, salty breeze rolling in over the ocean. Spanish, French, British, American, the Republic of Alabama, Confederate of Alabama, and the State of Alabama-they greet me the moment I step out of the car.

Flags over Fort Morgan
Flags over Fort Morgan

A Narrow Barrier Island

My drive here proves to be an easy one. The scenery heading West on Highway 180 is peaceful-a straight shot from the resort where I’m staying. If I turn my head to the left, rows of attractive homes remind me of orange, raspberry, lemon and lime sherbert.

If I look to the right, the scene that greets me is miles of seagrass, dunes, an expanse of deep blue Alabama tide.

Fort Morgan Narrow Barrier Island Seagrass
Fort Morgan Narrow Barrier Island Seagrass

Fort Morgan, an Important Piece of Alabama’s History

In 1819, the construction of Fort Morgan, a pentagonal five-bastioned citadel began. Designed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, a branch of the military who’d recognized its strategic importance early on-built mostly by African-American slaves-the massive fortification’s purpose was to guard any approach made by sea to the entrance of Mobile Bay.

Fort Morgan Alabama
Fort Morgan Alabama

Named after Revolutionary War hero General Daniel Morgan, the fort would also become a staging area for the forcible removal of the Creek Indians to Indian Territory further west, in what became known as The Trail of Tears, years later.

Ghosts of the Past in Present Day Living Museum

Today I am overwhelmed with the sheer size of it. The knowledge that Fort Morgan was an intricate part of both the Civil War, Spanish-American War, WWI, and WWII-when the military returned the fort to the state-its role in America’s coast defense now at an end-seems astounding.

As we walk through the ruins, speaking of the fort’s impressive history, I wonder aloud about ghosts from the past. With so many bloody battles won and lost here, it makes sense to me, that some residual energy from those who’d perished sill lingers.

Fort Morgan Ghosts of the Past Red Brick
Fort Morgan Abandoned Hallways

My tour guide is thoughtful for a moment before he begins to speak.

“Some visitors claim to have heard voices, seen apparitions, felt a deep sadness or dread while at the fort. Others say they feel peace and calm, as if the soldiers are at rest now.”

He explains that the natives were adept at living in the harsh climate of Mobile Bay. But soldiers and the settlers who came with them to the area struggled every day. Seasons were unforgiving. Storms battered the peninsula. Loneliness led many towards hopelessness and alcoholism. Tantamount to the military was the need for fresh water, and there was precious little of that.

A Monumental Tragedy

He tells me about the unfortunate death of Lieutenant Colonel Charles S. Stewart in April of 1863, when an unbanded 32-pounder cannon exploded upon firing, sending large fragments over the entire area. Every man in the crew was either killed or seriously injured.

Fort Morgan Memorial Lt Col Charles S Stewart
Fort Morgan Memorial Lt Col Charles S Stewart

In the case of Stewart, a large piece of the cannon, weighing over 200 pounds, struck him and severed his head completely from his body. The garrison was devastated by the sudden death of their commanding officer. In a show of respect, flags were at half-mast for three days. Those assigned to the fort wore black armbands for thirty days.

Skeletal Remains

Many of the buildings we wander through have disintegrated over the years. Wind, rain, time, and other elements have left their mark on each. Some structures were used to store gunpowder, foods, enlisted troops, and items they needed for everyday survival.

I stand on the bluff looking out over the water, where the USS Tecumseh struck a mine during The Battle of Mobile Bay, killing most of its crew, sinking to the ocean depths as a result.

My fingers trace various dates carved in stone or brick, tell-tale signs that a particular section of the fort was now complete.

Fort Morgan Ghosts in 1861 Bricks
Fort Morgan Ghosts in 1861 Bricks

We tour the laundry area, then the stark sleeping quarters of soldiers. The large room seems to vibrate with feelings of isolation they must have experienced during life here. A set of bunk beds that slept many, one shared washstand, and details of poor hygiene amongst all helps me visualize what conditions must have been like at the fort during that time.

Fort Morgan Alabama Skeletal Remains
Fort Morgan Alabama Skeletal Remains

As we turn to make our way back towards the parking lot, closing the door to this building behind us, my tour guide looks at me the same moment I’ve turned to stare at him.

“Did you smell that?” He asks.

“I’m pretty sure I caught a whiff of sage,” I reply.

We share a smile and keep walking.

Well Worth the Trip

A visit to the museum when you visit Alabama is a must. It boasts a collection of Civil-War documents, papers from the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries highlighting its importance as a coastal artillery base, and a compilation of photographs relating to the fort. There are also several artillery pieces on display ranging from the birth of Fort Morgan through WWI.

Cannon Fort Morgan
Cannon Fort Morgan
Artillery Fort Morgan
Artillery Fort Morgan

Read more about historic sites in Alabama by feature writer Gwyn Goodrow on Milesgeek.

The Trail of Tears: Fort Payne Alabama Historic Cabin Site

Finding Ancient History at the Oakville Indian Mounds Education Center

Experience Alabama’s Great Outdoors at Cherokee Rock Village

Dual Destiny: Alabama Divided

 

Theresa St. John is a travel writer and photographer based in Saratoga Springs, New York. Her work has appeared in many on-line and print magazines. Some of those include Great Escape Publishing, International Living, Discover Saratoga, Saratoga Mama, Farming, Vacation Rental Travels Magazine and Travel Thru History, to name just a few.In March she will travel to Paris, in honor of her Mom, who'd always wished to go, but never had the chance to.Later, in August of 2016, she will travel to England on assignment, with many other travel plans in the works. She is proud mom to two wonderful sons, enjoys a great daughter-in-law, has the unconditional love of six rescued grand-dogs, two Chinchillas and a bird. ' Life is good ' says St.John, ' and it's just going to get better

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