The Overland Campaign
— Stop 1: Fort Gaines —
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 in 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. His siege train and supply depot organized at Fort Gaines. The Confederates, expecting an attack, reinforced Mobile. C.S. General Richard Taylor send 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.
Feint to Fowl River
Colonel J.B. Moore's brigade of Smith's Corps embarked for Cedar Point on the 18th. Carrying two Rodman guns, Moore's brigade moved inland, making the Confederates think their numbers were greater than they were.
"Orders were here issued for the regimental bands to beat three tatoos each that evening, as well as a corresponding number of reveilles on the following morning, varying the tunes each time, in order to accomplish the deception intended. If this piece of strategy availed anything, it must have convinced the enemy that a large force of twelve regiments was approaching Mobile whereas there were only four."
Wales W. Wood, Adjutant, 95th Illinois Infantry
The ruse worked. The Confederates thought Moore's force numbered 6,000 instead of 1,700, and Maury temporarily diverted a brigade toward Cedar Point in response. Moore marched to Fowl River, skirmishing along the way, and halted. The Yankees discovered torpedoes (or subterra shells) en route but no one was injured. Moore returned to Cedar Point and embarked for Fish River on the 23rd.