|A tunnel through an tall earth embankment|
leads to the entrance to Fort Morgan
According to Confederate records, Womack (sometimes written as Wamack) was 30 years old when he enlisted as a private in Company K of the 2nd Alabama Infantry Regiment. He had spent all of his life living in the area south of Chattanooga along the Tennessee-Alabama border. He was born in Swedens Cove, Tenn., near South Pittsburg, Tenn., but was living a few miles south in Jackson County, Ala., at the start of the war.
|John T. Womack|
Now a widower, Womack enlisted in the Magnolia Regiment, a unit composed of companies raised in Calhoun, Clarke, Franklin, Jackson, Mobile, Monroe, and Pickens counties. Jackson County contributed most of the men in Company K which was called the Jackson Rifles and served under Capt. Alexander M. Saxon.
|A wide ditch separated the fort's inner walls|
from a high earth embankment.
Morgan and Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island were the key defenses for the busy ports about 30 miles north at Mobile. Although small boats could get to Mobile from the west, heavy warships would have to stay in the channel and pass between the two forts.
Like Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Fort Morgan was part of a series or coastal forts built after the War of 1812. Completed in 1834, the fort is shaped like a five-pointed star with massive brick walls surrounded by earthworks. An open, moat-like trench that ran between the embankments and the walls of the fort provided an open area where canon and rifle fire would greet any attacking infantry.
But Womack's group an the other rebels who approached the fort at dawn on January January 3, 1861, eight days before Alabama officially seceded from the Union, had no need to worry about the killing ground. The few Union troops who were stationed at the fort had evacuated several days earlier, taking as much supplies and arms as they could load aboard a pair of federal sloops. When Col. John B. Todd and four companies of soldiers entered the fort, they found it was nearly empty.
The fort was soon crowded with Confederate soldiers who stayed in the citadel, a large building in the center of the fort, or camped on the parade grounds.In April, the Magnolia Regiment was officially organized under Col. Harry Maury of Mobile and Lt. Col. Hal C. Bradford of Jackson. The soldiers and other volunteers went to work turning the fort's heavy guns to face the channel and building trenches east of the fort to resist an attack by ground forces. For the next three years, the fort provided protection for merchant ships that had to evade the Union's naval blockade to trade with countries sympathetic to the South. Southern cotton went out, British arms came in.
The fort was the site of the first casualty of the Civil War. Noble Leslie Devotie was a Baptist preacher from Selma who enlisted as chaplain in the Confederate army in 1861. His and other units from Selma were sent to Fort Morgan. On Feb. 12, 1861, Devotie was about to board a steamer at the fort when he lost his footing and fell into the water. His body washed ashore three days later.
|Lithograph by Louis Prang|
When the Civil War broke out, Maury enlisted as a private but was soon elected by the men to be the regiment's colonel. It may have helped hios career that his cousin, Major General Dabney Maury, was in command of the Confederate garrison at Mobile. Maury was with the regiment in March of 1862 when it was sent north to assist troops defending Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River in Western Tennessee. But the Alabamanans were of little help to the besieged defenders who abandoned the fort in June, opening the way for the Union capture of Memphis.
Most of the men in Womack's 2nd Regiment had enlisted for just 12 months and by the time they reached Fort Pillow, their service time was up. Womack was among the many soldiers who simply headed home. Some of the other officers and men joined other Alabama units. Col. Maury was elected colonel of Alabama's 32nd Infantry. He later commanded a Confederate cavalry unit and survived a court martial after he ignored an order to attack Pascagoula, Miss.
|Fort Morgan damaged by Union shelling|
By then, Womack had returned to Jackson County, Ala. In 1866 he married Jerusha Griffin, a widow who had lost her husband three years earlier just a few miles from home at the Battle of Chickamauga. For several years the couple ran a boarding house in South Pittsburg while raising five children. The first was Charles Nelson Womack, who married Amira Ellen Woodfin. She was the daughter of Samuel Chase Woodfin, a Confederate veteran who had also been in the battles around Chattanooga. Their first child was Larada Nelson Womack, my grandmother.