Storm Clouds Gather
— Civil War Trail, Battle for Mobile Bay —
To Wait and Watch
In late August 1864 the Federals controlled Mobile Bay but could not attack Mobile. Admiral Farragut could not reach the city even with his light draft vessels, because the channels in the upper Bay had been obstructed. Nor was U.S. General Edward Canby's force big enough to take Mobile by an overland route. The soldiers that would otherwise have been available to him were tied down in other places. All Canby could do was make occasional demonstrations from the Bay to keep the Confederates, who were preparing for an attack, off balance.
The Armies Gather
Conditions changed after the decisive defeat of C.S. General John Bell Hood at Nashville in December. In the winter of 1865 U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant ordered Canby to capture Mobile, Selma, and Montgomery and sent him reinforcements. By March Canby had 45,000 men on the Gulf Coast. Most of his army gathered at Dauphin Island and Pensacola, but at least 8,000 men belonging to Granger's XII Corps camped on Mobile Point. The Confederates, expecting an attack, reinforced Mobile. C.S. General Dabney Maury, Mobile's commander, 3,000 infantrymen and 1,500 artillerists, Hood veterans all. By the time Canby began his campaign, Maury had mustered 9,000 men to oppose him.
The fortifications around Mobile were considered the most formidable in the South. Canby avoided them, marching up the eastern shore of the Bay. He also sent U.S. General Frederick Steele north from Pensacola to attack the railroad at Pollard, feint toward Montgomery, and attack Blakeley from the north. Canby, delayed for weeks by unusually heavy rains, finally moved out on March 17. U.S. General James Veatch's Division of Granger's XIII Corps, which had camped on Dauphin Island, took transports to Navy Cove that day. U.S. General A. J. Smith's XVI Corps boarded transports on March 19 and sailed to Fish River. Steele Left Pensacola on the 20th.
Granger's and Steele's Corps Prepare to March
On March 16 the order came down from Headquarters to pack four days' cooked rations—three quarters of a pound of salt meat per day, bread, coffee, sugar, and salt. The men carried these rations in haversacks. The officers could take only "dog tents,' instead of the commodious tents they had been using." The men knew they were in for a long march.
Canby also directed the liberal use of spade and pick to fortify each day's encampment and cautioned his generals to protect their flanks and the intervals between each unit. Benton's division of Granger's Corps, led by Colonel Henry Bertram's brigade, marched from Fort Morgan by the Fort Morgan and Blakeley Telegraph Road at 5:30 a.m. They carried 150 rounds of ammunition per man, five batteries of field guns, and supply wagons.
The going was easy until they reached Bayou Portage, because the men marched over a firm road built on a natural shell bank. Steele's men, on the other hand, who began their march from Fort Barrancas near Pensacola, struggled against supply problems, boggy roads, and entrenched Confederate cavalry all the way to Fort Blakeley.
"?They are reducing the baggage of officers and men. We are allowed one baggage wagon instead of three. Officers have to leave their camp and mess chests and company papers. The men are allowed only one shift of underclothing, one pair of pants, one jacket and blouse, and a blanket or overcoat, but not both. What is left is packed in boxes and stored?"
H. W. Hart, private soldier marching with Steele's column