The Battle of Fort Blakely
Battle of Fort Blakely
The last major battle of the Civil War took place, not in Virginia, but in Alabama. Though it is considered of limited value considering the circumstances, the Battle of Fort Blakely proved to be a fitting culmination of the year-long struggle to capture the one remaining Confederate stronghold in the Deep South.
The Battle of Mobile Bay in August of 1864 ended with the capture of Forts Morgan and Gaines, and thus the lower part of the bay. Federal forces withdrew short of the capture of the city due to a previous agreement between Adm. David Farragut and Maj. Gen. E.R.S. Canby, based on the perception that there were too few men to accomplish the task. For the next seven months, therefore, the campaign was stalled; Gen. U.S. Grant, who obviously felt the pull of other priorities, delayed the sending of troops to Canby until March of 1865.
Mobile, possibly the most heavily defended city in the Confederacy, was protected on the west by three lines of rebel fortifications, and on the east by a network of water obstructions and batteries. Almost 10,000 men, some of them veterans from the Army of Tennessee, occupied these defenses, led by Gen. Dabney H. Maury. To break through this shield Gen. William Sherman ordered Canby to stage an attack from the east, first knocking out Fort Blakely and Spanish Fort, then moving on to Forts Huger and Tracy before entering the city by way of Tensaw and Mobile Rivers.
Gen. Canby commanded two corps of three divisions each. The XIII Corps was commanded by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, who had earned battlefield honors 18 months earlier at Chickamauga. The XVI Corps was led by Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson Smith, veteran of the Union victory at Tupelo, Miss., the previous July. There was also a column of troops from Pensecola under Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele; and cavalry under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Grierson. In addition, a fleet of monitor warships were on hand to assist in the battle. This combined force came in close to Spanish Fort on March 27. They commenced a siege of Mobile that lasted for the next 13 days.
The battle plan called for Canby's column to come in from the lower part of Mobile Bay to take Spanish Fort. The second column under Steele was to advance from Pensacola to attack Fort Blakely. The combined force converged on the area by March 27, and Canby began a thirteen-day seige of Spanish Fort on that day. A cavalry brigade from Steele's column overran a rebel infantry outpost on April 1, and the next day Union infantry and light artillery moved in to besiege Blakely.
On April 8, Spanish Fort fell. General Canby was now able to concentrate his entire force of 16,000 men on Fort Blakely, defended by only 4,000. Fort Blakely finally fell on April 9, with total losses on both sides of about 3500 on that day alone. (For the battle as a whole, there were 4500 casualties on both sides; most of them were rebel troops.)
Confederate evacuation of Mobile began immediately, and the city was declated open on April 12. The remaining Southern troops retreated with the intention of joining General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee in North Carolina, but on April 26, Johsoton Surrendered to the Union army under Gen. Sherman. The Mobile rebels finally surrendered on May 5.
Meanwhile, also on April 9, unknown to the men on both sides finishing up the Mobile operation, Gen. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to the principal Union force under Gen. Grant. According to the basic wisdom of war, and the verdict of history, the Civil War was effectively over, even though large portions of the Confederate army (including Johnston) had yet to give up.
In light of this fact, the question concerning the Fort Blakely battle and its outcome, then is, What was the use? What was accomplished? Quite a lot, actually, because although the battle had no strategic effect on the war itself, Mobile was almost the last major rebel stronghold to surrender. In addition, as one of the last Southern port cities to fall to the Union blockade (Galveston, Texas, was ultimately never taken during the war), the Battle of Fort Blakely brought to a successful conclusion the first great strategy of the war, the Anaconda Strategy designed by Gen. Winfield Scott to strangle the South into submission. The Battle of Fort Blakely is also important because black troops, most of them former slaves, played an important part in the victory, probably inflicting many of the casualties on Southern troops, a fitting revenge, one might argue, for two centuries of bondage.