The Federal investment of Fort Blakely began with the arrival of Steele’s column from Pensacola on April 1st. The week long skirmishing between Steele’s troops and the Confederate defenderd brought them “within 900 yards of their works.” On April 9th Canby started moving his forces at Spanish Fort to Blakely to complete the encirclement of the Confederate position. The heavy artillery from Totten’s siege train were also moved into firing positions. By the afternoon of the 9th ten Union batteries were firing into the fort.
MG Smith displayed none of the patience that was exhibited at Spanish Fort when he directed BG Garrard to assault the fort “at the earliest practicable moment.” Garrard first wanted to neutralize the enemy artillery and ordered his gunners to target the enemy batteries. To assist in fire direction he also placed spotters in trees to adjust the fire from his guns. The accurate fire of these pieces dismounted two enemy guns. While accomplishing this task the spotters saw boats leaving the dock behind the fort and incorrectly reported that an evacuation had begun. Not wanting to allow the Confederates to make good their getaway an increased sense of urgency to assault the fort overtook the Federal commanders. A general assault was ordered for 1730.
On the left of the Union line BG William Pile prepared for the attack by attempting to seize forward assault positions, Company sized elements from the 73rd and 86th USCT were sent ot to clear the Confederate skirmish line. These troops learned, much to their chagrin that reports of departing Confederates were greatly exaggerated. The attackers were riddled with bullets causing Pile to commit five more companies to the effort. The additional weight of these reinforcements forced the Confederate skirmishers to grudgingly give ground and move back to the main line of entrenchments.
With the advanced positions now secure the remainder of BG John Hawkins’ division was brought up. COL Charles Drew, 3rd Brigade commander, became convinced that an immediate assault on the main line would collapse the defense. He ordered an attack by the 68th and 76th USCT. The units boldly mounted the attck but the devestating fire from the Confederate line quickly created confusion. Seeking cover the units became badly intermingled and the attack lost any impetus. With 100 yards to go to the main trench line Drew collected his troops in a ravine and took stock. He counted 19 officers and 65 enlisted survivors. Realizing the difficult position that he had created with his rash decision to attack Drew left the men to LTC Daniel Densmore and went back to seek help. A brief attempt to defeat the foray with a counter attack was beaten back while Densmore and his men awaited the promised reinforcements. When timely help did not arrive Densmore dispatched a captain, and later a lieutenant to get help or orders. Finally an officer appeared and signalled the stranded command back with a wave of his hat. The battered group fell back in an orderly fashion and arrived just as the 1730 attack was forming.
The general assault did not materialize as planned. Units along the line jumped off at different intervals for a variety of reasons. Pile ordered his brigade forward at the appointed hour but BG Christopher Andrews’ division of XIII Corps was delayed for fifteen minutes when a mine exploded amid the men of the 97th Ohio tearing off the leg of CPT James Wisner and wounding several others. Nevertheless, the Union attack gained immediate success against stubborn resistance all along the line. Once the parapets were mounted the fight became a melee of close quarters combat. The overpowering force of 16,000 Federal troops turned the tide. The futility of further struggle gradually dawned on the defenders and they began to surrender in droves. On the left the Confederates facing the USCT began abandoning their position, not wanting to surrender to colored troops. A few hold outs maintained the fight only to be killed by the unstoppable Union attack. Eventually more prudent Confederate commanders came forward and asked that the unnecessary killings stop. Without an escape route the men at Fort Blakely were trapped and surrender became the only option.
The fall of Fort Blakely netted Canby 3700 prisoners and left only Batteries Huger and Tracy to defend the eastern shore of the bay.
The End Comes
The elimination of the last defenses became work for Commadore Henry Thatcher and the Union gunboats. The first task was to ensure that the Blakely River was cleared of torpedoes. This was accomplished by sending out 20 boats with “a large net between every two boats.” In a dangerous operation for the crews of the unprotected boats the channel was swept six times and a total of 21 torpedoes recovered. When Thatcher was convinced that his vessels could operate without threat from the “infernal machines” he proceded up the river.
The naval gunfire was opened at 5400 yards by the Octorara and was quckly joined by 20 land based guns that could range the targets, including two unspiked 100lb Brooke rifles. The barrage continued unabated until the night of April 11th. Thatcher praised the crew of the Metacomet for their engagement of the forts which he stated were “shelled with great precision.” Canby planned on storming the the batteries but called off the operation when the skiff from the Octorara captured a boat containing eight Confederates leaving the area. Interrogation of the men revealed that the forts had been abandoned. Thatcher dispatched boats to verify the information. The report proved to be true and all attention shifted to the final approach to the city itself.
MG Granger’s 1st and 3rd Divisions of XIII Corps were landed five miles south of the city. An impressive armada of gunboats and transports made the short trip across the bay. A single gunboat moved ahead of the fleet and fired one round into the shore to sense the possibility of resistance there. The only response was the appearance of one man waving a white flag. As Granger’s troops moved north they encountered Robert H. Slough, the mayor, and members of the city council on the Bay Shield Road. They surrendered the city to the “land and naval forces of the United States.” MG Maury, with only 4500 troops, decided that defense of the city could gain nothing and departed about midnight on the 11th. The victorious Federals marched unopposed into the city as the bands played “Yankee Doodle.”
For most of the troops involved there would be no more fighting . Small pockets of die hards continued on but essentially the war was over. On May 4th the most feared Confederate warrior in the west, Nathan B. Forrest, surrendered his command to Canby at Mobile.The Mobile Campaign (Campaign Series)