Historic Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island(photo courtesy of Edibobb)
Historic Fort Gaines, on Alabama's Dauphin Island, is one of the best preserved, 19th century shoreline fortifications on the east coast. Best known for its Civil War role during the Battle of Mobile Bay, the fort is now a historic site offering living history tours.
Fort Gaines has been guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay since 1862. The fort's well-preserved ramparts on the eastern tip of Dauphin Island command panoramic views of Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Work began on the fort in 1821 but cost overruns and other difficulties didn't see it finished until 1862 - after it was captured by Southern troops!
Fort Gaines Historic Site consists of five buildings inside the fort's exterior walls, with tunnel systems throughout. Corner bastions with spiral stone staircases lead to cannons that were actually used in the Battle of Mobile Bay. There are also "disappearing guns" and bunker systems that were added to the fort during the Spanish-American War.
"Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" is the famous cry, paraphrased from Admiral Farragut during the Battle of Mobile Bay. If you're familiar with that little tidbit of history, you may be interested to know that the anchor from Admiral Farragut's flagship is also preserved on site.
Beyond the original cannons, Fort Gaines also retains a functioning blacksmith shop and kitchens. There is also a museum on site that covers the Civil War years as well as the history of Dauphin Island. The Historic Fort Gaines gift shop has an excellent selection of history books and other items.
Fort Gaines is part of the Mobile Bay Civil War Trail and, as stated above, is one of the best preserved battlements of its kind. That being said, the fort was also recently designated as one of the Eleven Most Endangered Historic Sites in America. Shoreline erosion and damages from recent hurricanes and tropical storms continue to threaten the site. Consequently, if you'd like to visit the site, time it would seem, is of the essence.
Visitors to Historic Fort Gaines can enjoy a self-guided tour or reserve a guided tour. Self-guided tours can be done with brochure or smart phone. Guided tours are given in period uniform and include both a cannon firing and a blacksmithing demonstration. Either one is worth your time but, come on - firing a cannon? I know which tour I'd take!