Abandoned Coastal Defenses of Alabama by Thomas Kenning. Arcadia Publishing, 2021. Paper, ISBN: 978-63499-283-1. $23.99.
In Abandoned Coastal Defenses of Alabama, Thomas Kenning provides a brief history of Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines, two island bastions off the coast of Mobile, Alabama. However, Kenning’s book is not just a history of these forts; it examines the sites as unique historical spaces that have changed dramatically over time.
Kenning begins his book by recounting the history of fortification building in the Mobile Bay area. He examines early French and later U.S. forts built in the area. While these wooden forts served their purpose, they were later replaced in the 1830s by a series of masonry forts. Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines were typical of the coastal masonry forts that dotted American coastlines. During the Civil War, both fortifications came under fire during Admiral Farragut’s attack in 1864; they quickly surrendered. Later, these forts hosted concrete batteries.
While half of Kenning’s book is dedicated to surveying the military history of these fortifications, the other half is devoted to a series of full color photographs depicting the embattlements in detail. In presenting these photos to his readers, Kenning exposes these forts as sites of transition where multiple ideologies of coastal defenses met and intermingled.
These rich photographs are Kenning’s greatest contribution; he uses these images not only to explain the intricacies of each fortification, but also to demonstrate how each style of fortification and theory of coastal defense overlapped. The photographs, like the forts themselves, depict the various strata of bygone eras.
The images also play up the vulnerability of these historical sites as they become more and more vulnerable to coastal flooding, hurricanes, and the ever-present threat of erosion. All of these factors have left their marks on the fortifications.
Kenning’s book suggests the importance of these fortifications as sites of historical and military importance. Abandoned Coastal Defenses of Alabama is a good investment if you decide to visit either Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines—or if you just want to learn more about these unique spaces.
William Bailey is a graduate student in the Department of History at The University of Alabama.