The Childish Surrender of Fort Morgan

August 23, 1864 (Tuesday)

“We are now tightening the cords around Fort Morgan,” wrote Admiral David Farragut on August 12, a week after the Battle of Mobile Bay. “Page is as surly as a bull-dog, and says he will die in the last ditch. He says he can hold out six months, and that we can’t knock his fort down.”

Fort Morgan
Fort Morgan

Richard L. Page was indeed surly. “I am prepared to sacrifice life and will only surrender when I have no means of defense,” he replied to Farragut’s offer three days before. Both Forts Powell and Gaines had fallen in quick succession after the Federal Navy made its way into Mobile Bay. For Morgan was the largest and last standing.

He fully believed that after the fall of Gaines, Morgan would be descended upon by the Yankees with everything they had. He and his men worked tirelessly preparing to receive the enemy. By the time it was finished, he surmised that his 400 men had basically built themselves an entirely new fort.

For nearly a week, the Federal fleet bombarded the fort. It did not take him long to realize that “our brick walls were easily penetrable to the heavy missiles of the enemy, and that a systematic concentrated fire would soon breach them.” With each passing day, the Union infantry crept closer, digging parallels as they went, leaving behind them a web-like network of entrenchments. By the 21st, they were within 200 yards of the fort.

“Such guns as I could use on this force I annoyed them with, especially at night, and to the extent possible retarded their work,” wrote Page in his official report, “though nothing very effective could be accomplished in this way, as their working parties were well concealed in the sand hills, and when our fire was concentrated on any one point they would merely, unseen, remove to some other.”

The next day, with the infantry close, Farragut’s Navy closed in to nearly encircle the fort, “and shortly its batteries (in conjunction with those on land, which numbered thirty-six guns an mortars) opened a furious fire, which came from almost every point of the compass and continued unabated throughout the day, culminating in increased force at sundown, after which the heavy calibers and mortars kept it up doing the night.”

Fort Morgan after the surrender.
Fort Morgan after the surrender.

This perfect storm of iron took a heavy toll upon the fort. All but two of the heavy guns were disable, and in several places, the walls were breached. The Union forces “cut up the fort to such extent as to make the whole work a mere mass of debris.”

It was now clear to Page that if he did not surrender, he most certainly would die in the last ditch. In preparation, he flooded his powder, spiked the guns that he could, and destroyed the guns that he couldn’t. Through the night of the 22nd, enemy mortars caught the citadel on fire. Now guided by a burning light, the Federals poured in their missles with “increased vigor.”

By the dawn, all of the powder had been destroyed and the citadel burned itself out. Many of the walls were in danger of collapsing, and with another bombardment as the day before, Page worried that many of his men would needlessly die.

“My guns and powder had all been destroyed, my means of defense gone, the citadel, nearly the entire quatersmaster stores, and a portion of the commissariat burned by the enemy’s shells. It was evident the fort could hold out but a few hours longer under a renewed bombardment.”

And so Page wrote to the Federals:
“Gentlemen: The further sacrifice of life being unnecessary, my sick and wounded suffering and exposed, humanity demands that I ask for terms of capitulation.”

The message was delivered to General Granger, commanding the infantry, who forwarded it to Admiral Farragut. After a short period of thought, Farragut replied with the terms. It would be, as was now business as usual, an unconditional surrender, “with all of the public property within its limit and in the same condition that it is now.”

Page had little choice but to agree, but he urged that his sick be sent to Mobile under a flag of truce. This provision was not put in the official terms, but Page understood that there was a verbal agreement to do so. But it was not done.

aug23morgan2

Perhaps this was an oversight or a misunderstanding. Or perhaps it was a reaction to the condition in which the public property (meaning Confederate government property – guns, ammunition, supplies, etc) was found by the Federals:

“I regret to state that after the assembling of the rebel officers at the appointed hour, 2pm, for the surrender outside the fort, it was discovered on an examination of the interior that most of the guns were spiked, many of the gun carriages wantonly injured, and arms, ammunition, and provisions, etc., destroyed, and that there was every reason to believe that this had been done after the white flag had been raised.

“It was also discovered that General Page and several of his officers had no swords to deliver up, and, further, that some of those which were surrendered had been broken.

“The whole conduct of the officers of Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan presents such a striking contrast in moral principle that I can not fail to remark upon it.”

Farragut, unable to contain his disgust, continued: “General Page and his officers, with a childish spitefulness, destroyed the guns which they had said they would defend to the last, but which they never defended at all, and threw away or broke those weapons which they had not the manliness to use against their enemies, for Fort Morgan never fired a gun after the commencement of the bombardment….”

The 400 Rebels, now prisoners, were sent to New Orleans. Though Mobile was cut off from its port, the city itself would not fall until nearly the close of the war. General Page was brought up on charges, but was later found not guilty.1



  1. Sources: Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 21, p537-538, 563, 572-573; The Life of David Glasglow Farragut by Loyall Farragut. []
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  1. Also worth noting on this date: Lincoln’s “blind memorandum”. He had his Cabinet sign, sight unseen, a note which read: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will by my duty to so cooperate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the Election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.”

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