CONCEPTION STREET TERRACE IS PART OF MOBILE’S HISTORY
Dirt Was Removed At Intersection of Canal Street To Erect War Between The States Fortifications
Benjamin D. Baker
Alabama Writers’ Program
Works Project Administration
Council Chamber, City Hall
November 9, 1939
Pedestrians walking along Conception Street may perhaps have noticed the abrupt drop, or terrace, formed at the intersection of Canal Street, where it appears the soil has been removed at one fell scoop by some huge shovel and whisked away into nowhere.
History of the most dramatic and colorful sort, however, is involved in the explanation f how that depression in Mobile’s topography came into existence.
Fortified the entrances
Early in the 1860’s, when the South, secure behind the bayonets of the invincible Army of Virginia, had not yet dreamed of a fatal termination to the great War Between the States campaign. Southern military leaders hurriedly set themselves to the task of fortifying the entrance of every river and bayou through which it was thought the Union forces might attempt a penetration from the sea.
Admiral Farragut’s Fleet Bombarding Fort Morgan, August 22, 1864 (Harper’s Weekly – Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Immediate plans for the fortification of the Alabama seaboard called for the construction of several batteries and obstructions to close the entrances of the Mobile, Tensaw and Spanish Rivers. Thereby hangs the tale of how a portion of the good dry soil of Mobile came to find its way into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Soil was dug up and transported to the shore
Dredging facilities being practically undeveloped at that time, two circles of piling somewhat less than a quarter mile in diameter were driven in the bay about a quarter mile below the present Bay bridge, and nearly equidistant from Choctaw Point, Spanish Fort, and each other.
Soil was dug up from the area roughly bounded at present by Conception, Canal, Charleston and Franklin Streets, transported to the shore, and then carried out in flat boats and dumped into the circle of piling until two artificial islands were reared up about five or six feet above the surface of the water.
Work was leisurely at first
Work on these batteries called respectively, Gladden and MacIntosh, after Southern War Between the States leaders, continued for some time in leisurely fashion. Then, almost overnight, the enterprise was converted into a frenzied toiling to complete every available defense before the dreaded Farragut, who had suddenly run past the lower defenses of the Mississippi all the way up to the citadel of Vicksburg, appeared on the bay horizon.
Slaves, soldiers, and civilians were impressed into service. By day, work was carried on under the blazing sun of August; by night, in the ruddy flare of pine torches.
Farragut’s Victory in Mobile Bay – The Capture of the Rebel Ram Tennessee (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Then, fateful August 5, 1864, broke with a roseate glow that was to be continued by the flash of cannon long after the sun had set: Farragut had arrived. The rest can be read in the history books.
Running through the torpedoes, the channel obstructions, and the iron hail of Forts Morgan and
Gaines, the Union admiral affected, within a week, the capture of Mobile Bay defenses, and the closing of the bay to all blockade running, the great port of which, incidentally, operated out of Mobile. Perhaps the story of the battle of Mobile Bay might have been different had the projected batteries been completed. As it was, the first closing chapter of the War Between the States was decisively written in the bombshells that soared across the August sky.
Camping space needed
There is, moreover, an interesting and somewhat ironic conclusion to this story of the territorial sacrifice, so to speak, that was made by Mobile for the sake of States’ rights.
The Union army of occupation which arrived after the collapse of the Bay defenses were hard put, it seems, to find available camping space. Scouts moving through the city reported the discovery of a very favorable site which appeared as if it had just been recently leveled off and cleared of houses and trees.
Forthwith, the Union troops moved in and pitched their tents on the ground that had been cleared by excavations to build batteries, Gladden and MacIntosh. (References by Personal Investigation)
ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Pioneers: Lost & Forgotten Stories includes the following stories:
- The Yazoo land fraud
- Daily life as an Alabama pioneer
- The capture and arrest of Vice-president Aaron Burr
- The early life of William Barrett Travis, hero of the Alamo
- Description of Native Americans of early Alabama including the visit by Tecumseh
- Treaties and building the first roads in Alabama.