MOBILE THE EMPORIUM OF ALABAMA1
(Excerpt written in 1901)
Mobile County was formed out of Washington County in 1813 by proclamation of David Holmes, governor of the Mississippi Territory. (Excerpt continued below)
Mobile is the metropolis of Alabama. For more than a hundred years, as the focus of colonial life, she sent her couriers of civilization into the wilds of the country and wielded an influence as no other city on the Gulf coast had done. As soon as attached to the United States she began to grow in commercial and strategic importance. The British envied her transfer to the United States and connived with Spain for her recapture. An English fleet, supported by a land force, was driven back from Fort Bowyer on Mobile Point by Major Lawrence.
In November 1814, General Jackson stormed and captured Pensacola from the combined forces of England and Spain. Two months later (January 8, 1815) he won the battle of New Orleans, defeating with a comparatively small force the splendidly equipped British army under General Packenham. Fort Bowyer fell before the British, but peace had been declared by the Treaty of Ghent, and the Britons were recalled to their island home.
Incorporated December 19, 1819
Mobile was incorporated as a city by the Legislature of Alabama, December 19, 1819. Her favorable position on Mobile Bay opened her business houses to river craft and ocean steamers.
The rich lands bordering the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers and their tributaries were early occupied by intelligent, thrifty planters, who conducted business through commission merchants and factors in Mobile. Happy negroes, on farms of abundant harvest, labored for the production of corn, cotton, pumpkins, melons, fruits, potatoes, pease, pindars, and everything else that responded to cultivation in a soil and climate of rare excellence. Cotton was the king of products; it meant cash. Steamers that plied the beautiful rivers carried regularly to Mobile immense loads of cotton and other products of the fields, returning with sugar, coffee, clothing, and other necessaries and luxuries for farms. Other towns and cities might check temporarily the passage of products, but sooner or later Mobile received them or shared in their profits.
River packet Jas. T. Staples, Mobile, Alabama – ca. 1906 – Detroit Publishing
Beautiful southern homes
Mobile was a brilliant social centre; beautiful old southern homes offered a southern welcome to visitors. The Christmas season was especially attractive; planters would gather there at that time to make settlements and arrange for supplies for the ensuing year; families from the country went there to enjoy the holiday festivities.
The city’s attractions brought to her bosom the beauty and chivalry, the virtue and intelligence of the land. A half-century shed its glories on this happy state of things; but they were destined to cease.
Dauphin St., Mobile, Ala ca. 1900 – Detroit Publishing Company
During the Civil War
The war between the States came; Mobile companies promptly left for the armies of Virginia and Tennessee. Mobile gave her Stewart, her Walker, her Woodruff, her Toulmin, her McRae, her Withers, her Maury, her McKinstry, her Deas, her Herndon, her Hagan, her Gracie, her all for the strife; her hospitals were all that skilled surgeons and loving women could make them; her fortifications were among the last to admit the downfall of the Confederate States; her military record on land and sea is bright with deeds of patriotic wisdom and chivalrous daring.
Maffitt, in the Oreto (afterward the Florida), ran the gauntlet of Federal blockade into Mobile Bay, and when his sick men and battle-shelled vessel were ready for active service, he again passed the blockade lines and began his career of naval successes, cheered by the loyal support and inspiration of the citizens of Mobile.
On August 5, 1864, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, assisted by a powerful land battery, moved into Mobile Bay with four splendid ironclad monitors and fourteen steamers, carrying one hundred and ninety-nine guns and twenty-seven hundred men. To oppose him were the Confederate forts and torpedo lines, and Admiral Franklin Buchanan with the ironclad Tennessee and three wooden gunboats—the Morgan, Gaines, and Selma —carrying twenty-two guns and four hundred and seventy men. Admiral Farragut pronounced this ” one of the fiercest naval combats on record.” Farragut was victor. Fort Gaines fell on August 8th. Fort Morgan surrendered on the 23d.
In March, 1865, General Edward Richard Sprigg Canby marched from Fort Morgan with thirty-two thousand Federal troops to invest Mobile. He was opposed by three Confederate brigades—Gibson’s Louisianians, Ector’s North Carolinians and Texans, and Thomas’s Alabama Reserves, the latter were relieved April 1st by Holtzclaw’s brigade from Blakeley—the whole force being less than four thousand men. The Confederates were behind strong fortifications, and nature furnished mire and water to help check the Federal advance.
The Federals approached nearer day by day to Spanish Fort and batteries Huger and Tracy, their ironclads bombarding from the bay as their infantry pressed on shore. The doomed Spanish Fort fell April 8th. Major-General F. Steele, with nearly fifteen thousand men, marched from Pensacola, destroyed railroads and burned all public property about Pollard, and stormed and carried Blakeley despite the gallant defense from its garrison of thirty-five hundred Confederates under Brigadier General St. John R. Liddell. This was April 9th, the same day on which General Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Batteries Huger and Tracy fell two days later.
Mobile was evacuated
The presence of the Federals was signalized by the holiday manners of the negroes, who, like children, put on all the gaudy attire they could find to celebrate the dawn of their freedom.
Federal officers and soldiers found no social reception in Mobile; the homes were in sorrowful quiet. The ladies and gentlemen kept themselves in seclusion, both because of the natural sadness in their hearts for the downfall of the Confederacy, and because of the promiscuous throngs of negroes and Federal troops.
Bishop R. H. Wilmer ( Sketches of Alabama History by Joel Campbell Du Bose, Chapter III, published in 1901)
Bishop R. H. Wilmer continued the Episcopal service Bishop R. H. Wilmer. as prescribed by his church, praying for the President of the Confederate States. General Thomas, the Federal commander, ordered him to refrain. The good bishop refused, and was imprisoned. His church was closed, but he held his position, denying all authority to dictate his prayers for the United States Government, as he had no prayers for the power that had wantonly brought wreck and ruin on his people. He was finally released by order of President Johnson.
The city was blown up on May 25, 1865
The carelessness of Federals or the accidental fall of a loaded shell produced the terrific magazine explosion of May 25, 1865. Thirty tons of gunpowder, with a large amount of assorted ammunition, were stored in the magazine. Early in the afternoon the whole city was jarred as if in the throes of an earthquake. Three hundred lives and nearly a million dollars’ worth of property were destroyed.
Explosion in Mobile, Alabama
The return of peace threw into the city the congested cotton supplies of the tributary sections. The people at once betook themselves to business. Farmers and merchants began the resurrection of the prosperity that blessed the country before the war. Hundreds of thousands of bales of cotton poured into the warehouses, and agents from Liverpool and other manufacturing marts paid high prices for the kingly staple of the South. Schools and churches were reopened.
Vandals of politics
Reconstruction wrought its foul blight upon her history. Political troubles pressed more heavily on Mobile than on other cities of the State, because having greater commercial interests and larger money transactions, the vandals of politics found her a more fruitful mine of treasure.
They perverted her institutions, but they could not check the growth of trade nor the high spirit of her citizens. The political battles raged fierce and long, but victory crowned the advocates of conservative government, and solid business methods restored confidence and invited capital.
The city has many beautiful buildings, public and private, and is noted for men of distinguished professional attainments and business success. She has furnished one judge of the Supreme Court of the United States—John A. Campbell; five judges for the Supreme Bench of Alabama—Abner S. Lipscomb, Henry Hitchcock, Arthur F. Hopkins, Henry Goldthwaite, and Edmund Spann Dargan. The bar is also honored by the names of Toulmin, Smith, Manning, Chandler, Semmes, Dunn, Anderson, Taylor, Clarke, and a host of other brilliant legal lights. Drs. Nott, Gilmore, Gaines, Ketchum, Mastin, Owen, and others dignify her history in the realm of surgery and medicine. Thaddeus Sanford, A. B. Meek, John Forsyth, Jones Mitchell Withers, C. C. Langdon, and Erwin Craighead have won high rank as editors. In literature many names suggest themselves, but the most prominent are Mrs. Chaudron, Mrs. Octavia Walton LeVert, Mrs. Elizabeth W. Bellamy, Mrs. Augusta Evans Wilson, T. C. DeLeon, Peter Joseph Hamilton, Hannis Taylor, Father Abram J. Ryan, and A. B. Meek.
As the only Gulf Port of the State, Mobile will not likely lose her importance. She has not grown in population or material enlargement as some of the cities of North Alabama, but her life is full of vigor and imbued with all the essentials of abiding prosperity.
1This excerpt has been transcribed from Sketches of Alabama History by Joel Campbell Du Bose, Chapter III, published in 1901
ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS – Volume I – IV: Four Volumes in One
- ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration
- ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Settlement
- ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Pioneers
- ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Statehood