The 1865 Mobile Campaign

The 1865 Mobile Campaign of the American Civil War was a significant chapter of Alabama’s history. The location of the Apalachee Batteries (fortified artillery emplacements) marks the final large-scale artillery duel of the Civil War. The evacuation of the Apalachee Batteries on April 11, 1865—two days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse—ended Confederate resistance at Mobile, one of the last remaining significant cities in the South. Less than twenty hours later, the Union forces raised the U.S. flag, flew over Mobile, and emancipated enslaved Black people.

Historic Blakeley State Park Director Mike Bunn contends: “The American Civil War is an undisputed turning point in national history on every level, social, political, economic, cultural.”[1] Bunn notes that Huger and Tracey “are critical parts of the local story of our nation’s defining event. That is history…The sites yield themselves to multiple understandings, which is another reason they should be preserved.” Bunn added that enslaved labor built the forts.[2]

The Apalachee Batteries, Huger and Tracey, were the first upper Confederate Civil War fortifications built near the eastern shore in the Mobile Bay Delta. The batteries were constructed in the marsh at the Apalachee and Blakeley Rivers junction. They were designed to prevent the U.S. fleet from gaining river access during the American Civil War. Constructed with enslaved labor, the remnants of these fortifications mark the location of one of the last battles of the Civil War. The two batteries on the Apalachee River were Mobile’s last defenses to yield. “These two forts held out long past the point where there was any hope for the Confederacy,” Weaver pointed out.[3]

Huger and Tracey


Image Credit: Siege of Spanish Fort, National Archives

The American Battlefield Trust is an organization “committed to preserving the full scope of America’s story—honestly and impartially, the heroic and painful.” They argue that  “our irreplaceable hallowed battlefields offer tangible links to our past so that we can teach future generations of the cost — but also, ultimately, of the value — of freedom and justice.” The organization issued a statement applicable to the preservation of the Apalachee Batteries:

War has a terrible human cost that must not be forgotten. There have been issues in our history so important, profound, and fundamental that they could be resolved in no way besides armed conflict. The American Battlefield Trust is dedicated to the idea that the battlefields where these struggles manifested themselves should be forever protected as living memorials to those who fought there. They are also outdoor classrooms where underlying issues can be studied and reflected upon. ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,’ wrote philosopher George Santayana. Instead, let us engage in ‘active remembering’ and work every moment of every day toward a better future for our nation. [4]

Moreover, historian Diane Barthel contends that battlefields are venues where “social values  are contested.” She puts it: “To have social significance, battles must be interpreted, partly, as moral dramas, not just struggles for advantage, for more chips.” In the case of the Apalachee Batteries, Mobile’s Confederate commander, Major General Dabney H. Maury, noted the historical significance: “These garrisons fired the last cannon in the last great battle of the war…”[5] In contrast, the failure of the Confederacy meant the forces of emancipation succeeded. The evacuation of the Confederate Apalachee Batteries late on April 11, 1865, resulted in U.S. forces emancipating the enslaved Black people in Mobile and the surrounding region the following morning. [6]

The American Historical Association, in a statement on Civil War monuments, argues that a monument is not history itself. Rather, “a monument commemorates an aspect of history, representing a moment in the past when a public or private decision defined who would be honored in a community’s public spaces.” In contrast to monuments, however, the Apalachee Batteries were built during the Civil War, not in the aftermath, to commemorate the Confederacy. They are remnants of the Spanish Fort Civil War battlefield, where the U.S. and Confederate forces fought it out in one of the last significant engagements of the war. Removing a historical battlefield would not “change” history, but not preserving it would go a long way toward “erasing” it from the public’s memory.  Fortunately, the Apalachee Batteries rest on property owned by the state of Alabama and are not in danger from developers. Moreover, the forts are not statutes that can be easily removed. [7]

Only a few examples of original Civil War-era earthworks remain in the Mobile Bay area. The massive earthworks that protected Mobile’s western approaches and most water batteries are gone. The works at Spanish Fort have given way to housing development. The remnants of the Apalachee Batteries are original and scarce examples of their type. Historian John Weaver noted the military science significance of the earthen fortifications: “They provide an example of the engineering system utilized by both sides of the conflict that was applied to strategic locations – even the harsh swamp areas in that area.” Huger and Tracey provide a fragile but tangible connection to this significant combined force Civil War campaign.[8]

American Civil War battlefields are popular tourist destinations for family holidays, school, and individual visits. However, the tourism industry can threaten the landscape’s integrity due to development pressures. In particular, Historic Blakeley State Park offers recurring historically themed river cruises of the Blakeley River that are themed around local history. These cruises are popular with tourists, but the Apalachee Batteries are viewed from the water to avoid furthering the erosion process. Fortunately, the remnants of the Apalachee batteries are located on property owned by the Alabama Department of Natural Resources and are thus protected from battles with developers. [9]

Historical tourism, such as visiting Historic Blakeley State Park, is essential for the local economy, as it helps preserve and commemorate significant battlefields and the sacrifices made by soldiers. Society must remember the ultimate sacrifice made by soldiers for their nation, as Barthel argues that sacrifice is vital for a nation’s survival. As Weaver put it: “The intrepid soldiers who manned the Apalachee Batteries to the end, defending what they believed and their way of life.” Likewise, the U.S. forces who besieged the Spanish Fort and the Apalachee Batteries and the enslaved men who were compelled to work on the fortifications also made sacrifices. By preserving battlefields such as the Apalachee Batteries, we encourage future acts of sacrifice, as it promises potential heroes that future generations will remember them. [10]

[1] Mike Bunn, Email Interview, January 17, 2024.

[2] Ibid.

[3] A battery is a fortified emplacement for heavy guns. John Weaver, Email interview, January 20, 2024.

[4] “Statement on Battlefield Monuments, July 2020,” American Battlefield Trust, accessed February 25, 2024,

[5] Dabney H. Maury, “Defence of Mobile in 1865,” Southern Historical Society Papers 3, no. 1 (January 1877): 7; “The Lost Cause: Definition and Origins,” American Battlefield Trust, last modified July 14, 2021, Proponents of the “Lost Cause” argue that secession had little to do with the preservation of slavery. Rather, the Southern states seceded to protect their constitutional rights and their homes and to throw off the shackles of a tyrannical government. 

[6] Diane L. Barthel, Historic Preservation: Collective Memory and Historical Identity (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996), 81; Christopher C. Andrews, History of the Campaign of Mobile: Including the Cooperative Operations of Gen. Wilson’s Cavalry in Alabama (New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1889), 232.

[7] “October 2017 | Perspectives on History | AHA,” AHA, accessed February 25, 2024,

[8] John Weaver, Email Interview, January 25, 2024; Mike Bunn, Email Interview, February 8, 2024.

[9] Barthel, Historic Preservation: Collective Memory and Historical Identity, 83.

[10] Barthel, Historic Preservation: Collective Memory and Historical Identity, 80-81, 83.