History lost and found

By Allison Marlow
Posted 8/4/17

Fort Morgan may be more than 100 years old but historians are discovering new facts about the fort every day.

Located on Mobile Point at the end of Scenic Fort Morgan Peninsula, the fort was used …

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History lost and found

Posted

Fort Morgan may be more than 100 years old but historians are discovering new facts about the fort every day.

Located on Mobile Point at the end of Scenic Fort Morgan Peninsula, the fort was used during the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. Before it was built, Fort Bowyer stood in the same location during the War of 1812.

Many of the stories of those who lived and worked there have been lost to time, but historians at the fort are working to recover those tales.

Recently, they finally uncovered a better understanding of how the fort was seized in 1861. As it turns out, a ship full of exhausted sailors unknowingly caused quite a stir, said Mike Bailey, senior historian at Fort Morgan.

In January of that year, he said, the USS Crusader, a U.S. warship that had been on anti-slavery patrol in the Caribbean, sailed into Mobile Bay and anchored not far from the fort. The men aboard the ship had been gone from home and knew little of the impending war between the states. The Crusader was simply at rest.

Sailors in Mobile who spotted the ship feared a fight and were convinced the Crusader’s crew was calling for reinforcements.

The governor was sent a telegraph. He ordered the first regiment of the Alabama militia to seize Fort Morgan, Fort Gaines and the Mt Vernon Arsenal. Meanwhile, the crew of the Crusader remained oblivious that they were the catalyst that caused the nearby fort to be seized by Alabama troops.

Fort Morgan’s historians also recently unraveled another local mystery – the identity of the flag that was first to fly over the fort in 1861. It was that of the Young Men’s Secession Association, a group of professional men who were in favor of secession and created their own association to push for that move.

When the first regiment came to Fort Morgan, the unit carried its own flag as well as that of the association’s. It was the association’s flag the soldiers hoisted up the flag pole for the first two weeks after they arrived.

That flag was replaced with the flag of the Montgomery Rifles, a militia unit from Montgomery. Alabama didn’t have a state flag in 1861 so military units used their own early in the war. Eventually the first confederate flag was put into use in March, 1861.

Not only did the fort historians discover what flag was flown, they discovered the actual flag still existed.

Bailey worked with the Alabama Department of Archives in Montgomery, where the flag now resides, to locate it. Historians, however, have not been able to trace the location or the design of the flag of the Alabama militia.

Unfortunately, that’s the historian’s battle.

“We’ve lost a great segment of our history especially our military history out on this point just through nature and fire,” Bailey said.

At one time Fort Morgan was the largest permanent military base in Alabama with over 100 buildings. Now, after fires and hurricanes and salvage operations by the state, there are just four.

Locals insist that the wood salvaged from those early buildings were used to build some of the first cabins at Gulf State Park. Bailey said there is nothing official in the paperwork to back the claim, but the stories persist.

“Unfortunately we’ve lost so much information,” he said.