Monday, June 14, 2010

Fort Morgan now witness to war on oil leak

Until last week, Fort Morgan, the guardian of Mobile Bay, hadn’t seen a war for nearly 150 years.

The star-shaped fortification is now bearing witness to Man vs. Oil.

Piles of oil-fighting equipment and a large staging point for clean-up workers lie within sight of where Union Adm. David Farragut uttered “Damn the Torpedoes” during his famous charge past Fort Morgan and into Mobile Bay.

Fort Morgan, built of millions of bricks, stood guard over the bay’s entrance from 1834 through World War II. Several concrete-supported batteries were added more than a century ago, but the look of the fort takes you back to the Civil War era.

The current crisis brought us back to reality.

Coast Guard and other helicopters roared by, looking for the latest wave of BP oil reaching shore.

Military Humvees were parked by the ferry to Dauphin Island. Trucks brought supplies to the staging point, one of many along the Alabama coast. President Obama stopped near the fort Monday during a visit to the region.

I felt a bit guilty touring the fort on a while so much environmental and economic turmoil swirled around us.

Residents of a condo where we stayed for a wedding said business was down at least 50 percent and people were still canceling bookings. A waitress at a restaurant marina on the way to Fort Morgan said the place normally would be much more crowded at its 8 a.m. opening.

We did notice other visitors at the fort, which we spent an hour exploring Saturday morning. Sweat rolled down our faces as climbed stairs and walked through casemates and by gun batteries.

The Union fleet won an important victory there in 1864. Mobile was one of the last major Confederate ports still open. Fort Morgan, with a garrison of about 600, and other fortifications meant to keep Farragut out. The bay was heavily mined with what were then called torpedoes.

On Aug. 5, 1864, the monitor USS Tecumseh struck a mine within a few hundred yards of the fort. More than 90 hands died when the monitor rolled over and sank. The other 17 Union vessels began to move back, but Farragut, on board the USS Hartford, demanded the fleet move through.

Farragut triumphed over the opposition of heavy batteries in Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines. His fleet secured the surrender of the ironclad CSS Tennessee and defeated the squadron of Confederate Adm. Franklin Buchanan.

The victory, together with the fall of Atlanta, was a significant boost for President Abraham Lincoln.

The region this week needs some news to cheer. Over the weekend, we saw swaths of oil on several stretches of beach. Our children tried vainly to pull a crab out of an oil patch.

So many heart-wrenching scenes.

I’m hoping for better days soon for the people and animals that call Gulf Shores home. Please keep them in your prayers.

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