Historic Markers Across Alabama

The Eighth Iowa Line

Marker ID:  
Location: on Larry Dee Cawyer Dr, Spanish Fort, AL
County: Baldwin
Coordinates: N 30° 39.525    W 087° 54.706
  30.65875    -87.91176666
Style: Interpretative Sign **
Waymark: None


Stop 8 The Eighth Iowa Line:
“The Very Air Was Hot”
— Civil War Trail —

Canby brought up his heavy guns from Stark’s Landing a process that took several days, beginning on the 28th. Supported by the Federal monitors, Chickasaw and Winnebago, Canby tried to pound the enemy into submission The Confederates naturally attempted to slow the progress of the Federal engineers and artillerists with cannon fire from Spanish Fort, Forts Huger and Tracey, and their gunboats on the river. The most deadly artillery duels occurred on April 2, 4, and 8. At first, Gibson’s command more than held its own, and one soldier complained that the Rebs scattered their shells everywhere, making the “plain a ‘valley of death.’”

By the 8th, Canby had mounted 53 siege guns, including 16 mortars, and 37 field guns. That evening Gibson’s batteries and skirmishers opened a brisk fire intended to draw the enemy out. They succeeded only too well. The return fire from Canby’s batteries was overwhelming, and Gibson’s guns were soon silenced. Even the Confederate bomb proofs, through made of three layers of logs and six feet of dirt, could not withstand the fury of this cannonade. For example, a ten-inch mortar shell pierced a bomb proof in Phillip’s Battery and buried 26 men. One of them was killed and five, wounded.

“The very air was hot. The din was so great in distracted our senses, we could hardly hear each other speak and could hardly tell what we were doing. The cracking of musketry, the unbroken roaring of artillery; the yelling and shrieking of the shells, the bellowing boom of mortars, the dense shroud of sulphurous smoke thickening around us – it was thought the mouth of the pit had yawned and the uproar of the damned was about us, and is was not taking away form this infernal picture to see men, as I did, hopping about, ‘raving, distracted mad,’ the blood bursting form eyes and ears and mouth, driven stark crazy by concussions or some other cause.” Phillip D. Stevenson, Fifth Company, Washington Artillery.

The Eighth Iowa Advances At 6:10 p.m. on April 8, under cover of this bombardment, two companies of Colonel William Bell’s 8th Iowa, of Colonel James Geddes’ Brigade, advanced around the far right of the Union works and into a swamp on the Confederate’s extreme left. Skirting fallen trees, the Yankees waded for a hundred yards through water and mud. The Union skirmishers, under heavy fire form Ector’s Brigade, crouched behind fallen trees and could not move forward until reinforced by another company.

Bell’s skirmishers then forced the defenders back and occupied the hill. Bell rushed the rest of the 8th to their support. By now night had fallen and, finding the hill too exposed in the bright moonshine, Bell led his men forward. The 8th followed enthusiastically, exploiting a weakness in the enemy’s lines. The Yankees then faced an appalling resistance among Ector’s Texans and North Carolinians, quite a number of whom refused to yield and were shot, dying in the last ditch rather than surrender.

Under cover of darkness and clamor of battle all along the line, Bell overran the Confederate left, composed of isolated rifle pits, for 300 yards. The 8th, supported by 8:00 p.m. by the rest of Geddes’ Brigade, entered the enemy’s main works. The Yankees entrenched a line inside of the fort. The Rebels counterattacked, but the Federals beat them back.

When Gibson learned a force in strength had turned his position, he spiked his guns and ordered a retreat along an 18-inch treadway. His command crossed the river and slogged through a marsh to a deep channel near Fort Huger, twelve hundred yards away. A rear guard, commanded by Colonel Fl. L. Campbell, protected the retreat and the Yanks caught on to it too late to block it. Most of the garrison escaped to Fort Blakeley, where the men took boats to Mobile on the morning of April 9.Canby occupied Spanish Fort about midnight.

“The face of the bluff was precipitous, and creased with great---ravines opening out on the water. Down we …[went], pell-mell, right down the almost perpendicular sides of the gorge, clinging to vines, saplings, the sides of rocks; any way to keep our hold, until we reached the bottom, fifty feet or so below, and there to our amazement, we found the beginning of a treadway, one or two planks wide. At the word, all shoes and boots were off and we stood in our stocking or naked feet in a single line… After order not to whisper a word…, we went forth…We passed so close to the enemy’s pickets stationed in the marsh that we could hear them talking, and right under the noses of their battery.

Finally, the treadway turned and stuck out into the bay. The water was shallow and we walked just above the water’s surface. Suddenly a shot came; it was from that battery. Imagine our consternation. But it was not repeated for some time. It was evident they did not see us, but were merely firing ‘periodically’ …”

End of The Eighth Iowa Line