Every year the good folks at Fort Morgan run a historic nighttime tour around Halloween focusing on the more morbid side of things there. As the fort is 200 years old (construction began in 1819) and was the centerpiece in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864 as well as being garrisoned off and on from the 1830s through 1945, there is a lot to hear and see. As a bonus, these tours often open up sometimes closed areas of the fort, which is always a treat.
Besides, as I made the Fort central to the plot of my 2013 zombie novel (shameless plug), it just made sense.
I caught these images during the tour, which was very worthwhile, so if you can take advantage of the event or others like it, please find the time to do so.
Now to try to get to Fort Pickens, who has a similar program, next October…
At the outbreak of WWII, the Army had 979 Great War-era French 155mm GPFs still on hand although they were being replaced by the new and much more modern M114 155 mm howitzer (many of the latter are still in use in the Third World today).
With the relegation of the old GPF to the reserve, when the balloon went up and German and Japanese subs started crawling just off the U.S. coastline, these vintage guns were pressed into service on what were termed “Panama Mounts,” a semi-fixed installation atop a circular concrete mount that allowed the gun to revolve and rotate in place.
Capable of sending a 95-pound shell out to 17,700-yards every 15-seconds with a well-trained crew, they could shatter the hull of a U-boat with ease or give a surface raider far from home at least a moment of pause. The mounts were so named because they had been first used in the Canal Zone.
Well, it appears that a long lost Panama Mount, manned by the 166th Infantry Rgt of the Ohio National Guard in 1942-43, was exposed after it had been buried in the sand along St. Andrews State Park, uncovered by Hurricane Michael last summer.
That’s the funny thing about history. It never really stays buried forever.
Here we see a U.S. Model 1918M1 155mm gun, the famous French GPF (Canon de 155mm Grande Puissance Filloux, a direct copy of the C modèle 1917 Schneider) of the Great War, which equipped U.S. forces overseas and– when upgraded with air brakes, new metal wheels, and pneumatic tires to allow for high-speed towing– remained the mainstay of the interwar Army throughout the 1920s and 1930s.
By the outbreak of WWII, the Army had 979 GPFs still on hand although they were being replaced by the new and much more modern M114 155 mm howitzer (many of the latter are still in use in the Third World today).
With the relegation of the old GPF to the reserve, when the balloon went up and German and Japanese subs started crawling just off the U.S. coastline, these vintage guns were pressed into service on what was termed “Panama Mounts,” a semi-fixed installation atop a circular concrete mount that allowed the gun to revolve and rotate in place. Capable of sending a 95-pound shell out to 17,700-yards every 15-seconds with a well-trained crew, they could shatter the hull of a U-boat with ease or give a surface raider far from home at least a moment of pause.
One such gun (pictured above) remains at Fort Morgan, Alabama, controlling the entrance to Mobile Bay.
In 1942 the fort received four GPFs, two of which (Nos. 176 and 802) were used on Panama Mounts on top of the old Civil War-era bastions while two others were left mobile.
These were manned by men of Battery F, 50th Coast Artillery throughout the duration of the War. It should be noted that, while Fort Morgan was an active U.S./Confederate base from 1819 through WWI, by 1931 it had been disarmed and abandoned, with the visiting 155’s of Battery F her last hurrah.
Established at Camp Pendleton, Virginia 1 February 1942, the 50th Coast Artillery was a tractor-drawn heavy artillery regiment. After just two months of training, Battery F entrained for Fort Barrancas (Pensacola) Florida. Arriving there on 7 April 1942, the unit left in a (slow) motor convoy to Fort Morgan to establish Temporary Harbor Defenses (THD) of Mobile and remained there until 1944.
Battery E went down the coast another several miles to my hometown of Pascagoula to defend Ingalls Shipyard from a point on Beach Boulevard, but that is another story…
Their use in Coastal Artillery was nearly the last hurrah of the GPF in U.S. service.
By May 1941, the M1917/18 was a Lend-Lease item and much of those stocks not used to guard the various beaches soon were on their way to the British, where they made an appearance in North Africa against Rommel and Co. The GPF also served in the Pacific, with at least 60 of the model captured by the Japanese in the Philippines.
Late in 1942, some 100 GPFs that remained in storage were mounted on the turretless chassis of the obsolete M3 Lee tank to form the M12 Gun Motor Carriage as a form of early self-propelled artillery. When teamed up with the companion Cargo Carrier M30 (also a turretless M3), which allowed them to go into the line with 40 rounds of 155mm ready, they proved popular in a niche role.
These tracked GPFs earned the nicknames “Doorknocker” and “King Kong” in service due to their ability to pierce up to seven feet of reinforced concrete and turn pillboxes into a smokey hole in the ground– a useful thing in Northeastern Europe in 1944.
If visiting Fort Morgan, be sure to check out the small museum just a few hundred yards from where the surviving GPF sits.
Inside the museum they have the guidon of Battery A, 104th Coastal Artillery, an Alabama National Guard unit mobilized for federal service 10 months prior to Pearl Harbor and then shipped to the Pacific in 1942, only returning home in January 1946.
As well as the typical WWII Coastal Artillery uniform of sun hat, olive coveralls tucked into canvas leggings, gas mask, and cartridge belt:
Of note, interwar Coastal Artillery coveralls were blue denim but were often worn by National Guard units operating 155mm GPFs in WWII, such as one of these big guns going boom, shown in the late 1930s Kodachrome below.
Here we see the eastern curtains of the old and once Confederate-held masonry fortification, Fort Morgan near Gulf Shores, Alabama, shown after damage to from U.S. Major-General Granger’s heavy artillery brigade composed of the 21st Indiana and 6th Michigan Heavy Artillery in 1864 during the Battle of Mobile Bay. Compared is a shot by Dylan Tucker, Site Historian at Fort Morgan, of the present day wall.
Equipped with four 10-inch mortars and four 8-inch howitzers, the 6th Michigan (formerly an infantry unit) was rushed all over the south and had a specialty in reducing masonry forts. They pounded Forts St. Phillip and Jackson downriver from New Orleans in 1862 and served at the Siege of Port Hudson.
During the Civil War, the 2-million man Union Army needed modern firearms and they needed them yesterday. Besides buying up German, British and French designs in Europe, they let it be known that they would take (just about) anything from domestic producers that had rifling .
They could fire relatively rapidly for a breechloading rifled musket
Thats when Baltimore gunsmith James Merrill came about with a design for a handy little .54-caliber breechloader (this in itself made it pretty sweet as almost everything else was a front-stuffer) that used a nice tilting-block action.
Although he had designed the gun before the war, nobody wanted it.
However in 1863 he hit pay-dirt and managed to get some 14,500 of various models produced and sold before the end of the war. In all about a dozen bluecoat regiments marched or rode off to war with Mr. Merrill’s little gun.
They are exceptionally rare today.
Here we see a 4.2-inch U.S. Army Schenkl shell from the Civil War period. This specific one was fired into the grounds of Confederate held Fort Morgan on the Gulf Shores Peninsula at the Eastern shore of Mobile Bay in 1864 while that installation, one of the last rebel forts, was under joint Army-Navy siege. Note the fuze and internal shrapnel balls.
The Schenkl is one of the most easily recognized Civil War era projectiles due to its unique shape. A cylindrical PapierMaché sabot was wrapped around the tapered cone base. When fired the sabot was forced forward and was expanded into the rifling by the cone. There are vertical raised ribs on the tapered cone to insure rotary motion was imparted to the projectile.
The paper sabot disintegrated as the shell left the muzzle which made this type safer than metal sabot types when firing over the heads of friendly troops, as there was no danger of injuries from separated sabot fragments. On the negative side, the PapierMaché was very sensitive to moisture. Too damp and the sabot would swell, interfering with loading. Too dry and the paper would crumble before it performed its function, often causing the shell to tumble as it left the gun.
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.
– Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday July 30th, 150th Anniversary of the Great Tennessee
Here we see the great steam-powered casemate ironclad warship, CSS Tennessee, pride of the Confederate Navy sailing out to meet the Union fleet. Never fully operational, she met her fate and proved her metal 150 years ago this week at the Battle of Mobile Bay. Designed by John L. Dixon, she was the largest Confederate ironclad completed during the war.
Her 209-foot long hull constructed at the heart of the Confederate steel industry in Selma, Alabama, in 1862, she was shipped incomplete down the Mobile River system to Mobile herself for completion. One of the last southern ports, Mobile was vital to the South’s continued resistance in the last stages of the war. There, in the shallow mud flats, she was neared to completion under the direction of Joseph Pierce, Acting Naval Constructor in the area. She was fitted with some 5-6 inches of heavy steel armor plate, three sheets thick, made in Shelby, Alabama. She was equipped with a pair of hard-hitting 7-inch double banded Brooke guns and another four, slightly smaller, 6.4-inch guns, making her perhaps one of the most formidable vessels afloat in the hemisphere if not the world at the time.
The problem was she had a slow and inefficient steam plant salvaged from the old steamer Alonzo Child. With this plant operating at maximum capacity, it could push the 1200-ton battleship to just 5-knots if lucky. This made her ram bow almost a joke of a weapon as most ships could evade the slowly moving but heavily armored ironclad.
Made the flagship of Confederate Admiral Buchanan, who had helmed the earlier CSS Manassass to her fitful clash with the USS Monitor just two years before, the nearly finished met the might of the Union Navy at the mouth of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864. There, U.S. Rear Admiral David G. Farragut was leading an armada of eighteen ships, including four new monitors, past the two forts barring the entrance to the last sovereign Confederate watershed.
All Buchanan had at his disposal was the Tennessee and three sad little wooden gunboats armed with popguns. This placed the ironclad at the heart of the southern fleet’s answer to the invaders. Steaming into the fray, the ship closed with Farragut’s classic naval frigates Hartford and Brooklyn and exchanged cannon fire with these wooden ships at point-blank distance. This continued until the new USS Chickasaw, a Milwaukee-class river monitor, closed with the larger beast and raked her with fire, keeping her at bay. Over the course of the next several moments the fleet pounded Tennessee, taking away her steering chains and holing her in several places.
With no other alternative, and fighting a losing battle with a predetermined outcome, Tennessee surrendered.
Within days the Yankees had repaired the ship and placed it under the star-spangled banner as the USS Tennessee, using her, in the ultimate irony, against the Confederates at Fort Morgan. Following victory there she was sent to New Orleans for more extensive repairs and kept in service with the U.S. Navy’s Mississippi Squadron. In 1867 the ship was scrapped.
Her guns are on display around the country including several of her Brookes at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C, another at Norfolk, and one at Selma, where it was cast.
If you are free and around Mobile this weekend, there is the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Mobile Bay. Centered around Fort Morgan, they will have a mock-up of the Tennessee. You should check it out if in the area.
Displacement: 1,273 long tons (1,293 t)
Length: 209 ft (63.7 m)
Beam: 48 ft (14.6 m)
Draft: 14 ft (4.3 m)
Installed power: 4 boilers
Propulsion: 2 Shafts, 2 Steam engines
Speed: 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph)
Complement: 133 officers and enlisted men
Armament: 2 × 7 in (178 mm) Double-banded Brooke rifles
4 × 6.4 in (163 mm) Double-banded Brooke rifles
Casemate: 5–6 in (127–152 mm)
Deck: 2 in (51 mm)
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