Monday, April 11, 2011
The Lonely Ghosts of Fort Gains
Everyone is writing about the civil war this week. It is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and I thought it would be appropriate to write something related. Since I'm also planning my summer vacation, I thought it would fun to write about one of my favorite vacation locations. Dauphin Island has long been one of my favorite haunts. It is a lonely, little island off the coast of Alabama that has beautiful, white beaches and great views of dolphins leaping just off the coast. It has been missed by much of the tourist trade that has made Pensacola and Gulf Shores unbearable for me. It is quiet and lovely.
The island itself has a long history that has shifted with the shifting sands of the island itself. Dauphin Island was initially name massacre island by the French until it was given a more comforting name by colonists. The French colony on Dauphin Island was short lived, however, and was the site of a notorious pirate attack that left the island abandoned.
The island's strategic positioning made it unforgettable, however, and it was taken by the US for the construction of a fort in 1812. The construction of this fort was as doomed as the the original French inhabitants of the island. Due to poor engineering, poor planning, and stupidity the fort was constructed in an area that was quickly flooded and reclaimed by the shifting waters of the gulf. In 1853, a new engineer was brought in and the construction had to begin again. The new engineer was not so dim as the first people to work on the Fort and construction of the new Fort Gaines was completed in 1858.
Fort Gaines was of critical importance in the Civil War and the Confederates used it as a base for blockade running. Fort Gaines was also important in the Battle of Mobile. Union Army commanders, Admiral David Farragut and Major General Gordon Granger, came through the bay amid fourteen ships, with the orders to shut down the fort. The guns in Fort Gaines fired doing damage to the Union Army. Then, Admiral Farragut gave the notorious order, "Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!" The Union army succeeded in its task when Fort Gaines surrendered to avoid hand-to-hand combat. Eighteen-hundred men died in the Battle of Mobile despite the surrender of the fort.
Fort Gaines is one of the most popular haunted sites in the nation. The ghosts of dead soldiers have been captures on film by tourists and paranormal investigators. All types of visitors have reported hearing mysterious footsteps, voices, and seeing ghosts. MTV will even feature it on it's haunted television special. I have been to Dauphin Island and Fort Gaines numerous times with my family and have never witnessed any of this activity. More than anything I have been haunted by the lonely beauty of the island that has been ravaged by history and nature. It remains one of my favorite places and I will face all manner of ghosts to wander the quiet shores of this island.