Tag Archives: Fort Massachusetts

Masonry fort problems

This Hurricane Season has been surely one for the record books, with 26 storms logged– one of which, Delta (they have run out of names and are now using the Greek alphabet), is currently tracking for my location by the end of the week. It will be the fifth that has had my neighborhood in its sights this year.

Which brings us to an update on the old Third Period coastal forts in the Northern Gulf. Designed in the antebellum era just before the Civil War, in general, they sit on cypress rafts for foundations in the sand and climb above the dunes some 20-30 feet on layer after layer of locally-produced red brick, with walls up to five-feet thick at some points

Although most proved ultimately less than formidable during the War Between the States and were often given a second chance on life in the 1890s after being retrofitted with concrete batteries holding steel breechloaders, the Army finally abandoned them by the 1940s, at which point they were as obsolete as lines of pikemen.

Nonetheless, these old brick forts, none of which are newer than 1866, endure against everything mother nature can throw at them. We have already covered the damage from Hurricane Sally to Fort Gaines on Mobile Bay’s Dauphin Island.

A similar update has been posted last week by its larger companion fortification across the Bay, Alabama Point’s Fort Morgan.

“Due to the damages and flooding sustained in hurricane Sally, Fort Morgan State Historic Site is closed to all visitors until further notice,” says the Fort.
“Hurricane Sally was the fourth tropical system to hit Ship Island this year. Tropical Storm Cristobal damaged the ferry pier in June and Laura and Marco buried the cross-island boardwalk in several feet of sand in August. Following damage assessments, it is clear the island’s facilities will not be able to reopen this season,” says the Gulf Islands National Seashore of Fort Massachusetts, on Ship Island off of Gulfport, MS.
“After the storm, there were several inches of standing water in Fort Pickens. The water has since receded, and National Park Service archeologists are assessing the fort for damage,” says the GINS of Fort Pickens in Pensacola’s Santa Rosa Island.

Meanwhile, the Friends of Fort Pike, in coastal Lousiana near the Rigolets pass off Lake Borgne, have recently posted a drone overflight. After Hurricane Isaac in 2012, the fort was closed indefinitely pending repairs and debris cleanup. The fort was re-opened to visitors following Isaac but closed again in February 2015 due to state budget cuts. It has since been battered by several storms this year.

Knitting an island back together

In 1859, the U.S. Army began construction on a Third System masonry fort on Ship Island in the Mississippi Sound with the idea of covering the approaches to Lakes Borgne and Ponchartrain– the back door to New Orleans. As far as shipping was concerned, he who controlled Ship Island held the strategic key to both Mobile Bay and the Mighty Mississippi, or so it was thought.

Fort Massachusetts

By January 1861 when Mississippi seceded, little had been accomplished in the shifting sands of the barrier island and the local greycoats sailed out the 12 miles from Biloxi to take over the unfinished works. Soon, the venerable steam frigate USS Massachusetts would come along and run the interlopers off, making it one of the first of the Union seacoast defenses seized by the Confederacy to be recaptured when the Stars and Stripes was run up in September.

Soon, the island would be packed with nearly 8,000 men of the 4th Wisconsin, 8th New Hampshire, 8th Vermont, 6th Michigan, 21st Indiana; 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th Maine; 12th Connecticut, and 26th & 31st Massachusetts.

Farragut used the island for a base and it proved a stepping stone to capture New Orleans in early 1862. One of the first African-American infantry units, the Second Louisiana Native Guard would call the mosquito-infested, yellow-fever ridden island home for a longer period of time.

2nd Louisiana Native Guard Company Formation on Ship Island

The Native Guard, working with the shallow-draft sloop-of-war USS Vincennes, raided nearby Pascagoula in a sharp skirmish in 1863.

After that, the island was used as a POW camp for captured rebels and blockade runners.

Due to the nature of the camps, poor sanitation and an influx of disease would claim at least 153 Confederates and 230 bluecoats. The former were interred near their stockade in the middle of the island while the latter buried closer to what is now Fort Massachusetts.

The horseshoe-shaped fort itself was only completed after the Civil War and in many ways is unique. With the conflict over and brick forts shown to be ineffective against rifled naval guns, it was soon reduced to a caretaker status just after 1866.

The graves of the U.S. troops were moved to what is now Chalmette National Cemetery, which was founded in 1864 to house Union dead.

Chalmette

The graves of the Confederates were left on the island and, in 1969, Hurricane Camille sliced a path through Ship Island, dividing the thin strip of sand and sea oats in half. The split, deemed “Camille Cut” for obvious reasons, crossed over the site of the rebel graveyard.

Now, a $400 million plan — the second largest environmental restoration project in the 100-year history of the National Park Service–  has united the two sides of the island back together into one. The sand replenishment will take about three years, and once that work is complete, dune grass and other vegetation will be planted on what was the Camille Cut to help stabilize it.

As for the Confederates, they are considered buried at sea but a marker at Fort Massachusetts remembers them.

Who wants some postcards?

I like estate sales and enjoy attending them as I tend to find great old knives, militaria, and firearms up for grabs. One sale I recently attended was for a late local Biloxi-area photographer who took a number of images up and down the Gulf Coast in the 1970s and 80s that were turned into postcards. Apparently, as part of his payment, he got a stack of each postcard that was printed. While a lot were your standard lighthouse-shrimpboat-sand dollar-bikini girl scenes, there were also some military subjects that I picked up.

I got a *stack* of each of these five.


They are detailed as such:

“The 6-inch disappearing rifle located at Battery Cooper in Fort Pickens. The uniforms shown were from the late 1890s. The Fort only saw about 60 hours of combat; that during the Civil War. “

U.S. Air Force Armament Museum outside of Eglin AFB, showing a B-17, F-4, and T-12 “Cloudmaker” 44,000 lb bomb

USS Kitty Hawk underway. No note as to when the image was taken but she still has A-7 Corsairs and SH-3 Sea Kings on deck and CIWS aft, so I am guessing mid-to-late 1980s.

“Pascagoula” showing the mouth of the river at Ingalls-Litton’s East Bank with the USS Wisconsin (BB-64) berthed undergoing her post-mothball modernization 1987-88. I attended her recommissioning as a kid! An LHD (likely Wasp) and a late batch VLS CG-47 are visible in the postcard on the West Bank, though I can’t tell which numbers

Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island off Gulfport. This image is pre-1998 as the island has changed significantly since then. Everything to the right of the fort is now underwater due to Hurricanes Georges and Katrina and the casemates are currently very close to the beach at high tide

Bottom line, I am never going to use several hundred postcards, so I am bundling one of each of the above (five in total) together to send for free to anyone that wants a set. So if you want a set of the five above, email me your shipping address at: egerwriter@gmail.com and I will drop an envelope in the USPS mail box headed your way.

Be advised some of these are 30-40 years old and, while they never took up store space or were circulated, they were not stored in museum conditions (rusty old filing cabinets marked “NASA Marietta”). But they are free and I will not use your address for anything but scribbling it on the envelope.

Did I mention they are free?