Jump to content
Shiloh Discussion Group
Sign in to follow this  
Ozzy

Gibraltar of the West

Recommended Posts

Before I began in-depth research of the Battle of Shiloh, the only "Civil War Gibraltar" I was aware of was Vicksburg, Mississippi... thanks to my public school education. Then Fort Columbus, Kentucky appeared as the original bearer of that title; and I had never heard of Fort Columbus. And if I'd never heard of it, it must not have been very important...

My question:  Knowing what we know now, which location -- Vicksburg or Fort Columbus -- was Gibraltar of the West?  (No right or wrong answer... just provide a justification for your decision  :)).

Ozzy

 

N.B.  This topic is posted here, because the Battle of Fort Henry seems to owe its occurrence to Fort Columbus.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i would say Ft Columbus because as you stated Ft Henry occured after the action at FtColumbus and subsequently like dominoes..Ft Donelson,Shiloh,Corith then Vicksburg..All may have eventually fell but it seems Ft Columbus opened the gate

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mona

Thanks for your response  :)

For everyone else, I thought it might be of benefit to introduce:  Gibraltar.

At the time of the Civil War, Americans on both sides were familiar with the historic fortifications of Fort Montreal, Quebec; Fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia; and Gibraltar. Undoubtedly, the military actions at these forts were studied at West Point: how Montreal fell to British General Wolfe in 1759 by direct action (at the Plains of Abraham); how Louisbourg fell to the British as a result of Naval action and siege in 1758. Gibraltar alone persisted (under British ownership via Treaty of Utrecht since 1713.) Following British possession, Gibraltar (which was formidable, but frequently changed hands until 1704) was fortified to an amazing degree:

  • large number of artillery pieces (the best and biggest of the period)
  • substantial garrison (5000-7000 men)
  • Royal Navy ships on station (providing Defense in Depth and re-supply)
  • loyal local population (disenchanted with the rule of Spain; became more "British" with the passage of time)
  • Rumored:  extensive tunnels into The Rock, providing gun emplacements and secure powder/ammunition storage;
  • Stores:  one year's supply of flour, salted meat;
  • Water:  sufficient wells and cisterns;
  • Natural harbor at Rosia Bay, allowing safe anchorage for Royal Navy ships (covered by guns at The Rock).

Formidable as Gibraltar became, it was still subject to attempts by Spain to regain control: in 1727 a four-month long siege initiated by Spain was eventually abandoned. But the most significant effort came to be known as the Great Siege of 1783. Involving the military and naval forces of France and Spain, it was a follow-on to the American Revolution... and attempted to surround the British garrison of 5000 and starve it out. And it lasted 3 years and 7 months (from June 1779 til February 1783). The British finally prevailed when a British Navy re-supply force succeeded in reaching Gibraltar Harbor; France and Spain abandoned the Siege. And Gibraltar's reputation was made (never seriously threatened during the Napoleonic Wars of 1803-1815.)

Ozzy

 

All references found on wikipedia.

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Russell

Thanks for muddying the water... just goes to show how over-used some terms were. (Another term -- Manassas -- was applied to strong batteries and at least one Confederate ironclad, following on the Southern success at that Virginia battle.) But at least "Little Gibraltar" is strongly identified with Fort Smith; "Gibraltar of the West" has been applied to both Fort Columbus and Vicksburg.

And it appears someone could learn a lot about the Civil War, just studying the works of Edwin Bearss.

All the best

Ozzy

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ozzy......

I visited the real Gibraltar as a side trip to my tour of Spain in 2014.  Great fortification with lots of history.  Loved the caves and monkeys.  ( I thought it was interesting that their modern main street crosses their airport runway so traffic has to stop every time a plane takes off or lands.  It works!)

I've been to Vicksburg but, like you, not to Fort Columbus.  I'll have to add it to my "to do" list and visit it someday to see the comparison to Gibraltar.  Thanks for the interesting topic!

THE MANASSAS BELLE

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Belle

Thanks for sharing some of your perceptions of Gibraltar. Although too far from Spain for me to spend a weekend, I did the next best thing, and viewed a few videos on YouTube:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmWkO-uVojM  [Gibraltar. The tunnels, apes, caves and beaches by Kevin Kilpatrick provides a good summary of The Rock and its history. The tunnels constructed during the Great Siege of 1783 are described from 5-minute mark until 9 minute mark.]

Regarding Fort Columbus and Vicksburg, these are a few of their features:  Fort Columbus.

  • 140 or more artillery pieces;
  • perched on a high bluff, overlooking Mississippi River;
  • up to 14,000 men in garrison;
  • barrier chain stretched across Mississippi River stopped Northern River traffic;
  •  torpedoes (of proven capability) anchored in vicinity of barrier chain to prevent "tampering"
  • torpedoes (untested) modified as land mines, in place to defend eastern approaches.

 

Vicksburg

  • 300 or more artillery pieces
  • perched on a high bluff overlooking Mississippi River;
  • up to 33,000 men in garrison;
  • ironclad gunboat (CSS Arkansas) briefly provided additional protection;
  • protective natural barriers (swamps and bayous) to north and east;
  • political protection: Vicksburg acted as exchange station for Prisoners of War.

 

Cheers

Ozzy

 

References:  wikipedia

http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a090174.pdf   The Confederate Defense of Vicksburg by Robert T. Howard (1970)

http://archive.org/details/leonidaspolkbis05polkgoog   Leonidas Polk, Bishop and General by Wm. Polk (1915)

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A big part of the naming of these places as Gibraltars was not so much that they were the equivalent of the original, but that they were meant to be. This has much to do with hyperbole and not actuality. Without a delve into the biographies of those that named them Gibraltar, I would say they were seeking an equivalency for morale (for the soldiers, the general populace in the South, or even more likely, themselves), 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Russell

Good point about who nicknamed Fort Columbus and Vicksburg "as Gibraltar" ...because it appears West Point graduate Jefferson Davis gave the description to Vicksburg. In the case of Fort Columbus, I assumed it was West Point graduate Leonidas Polk (most responsible for constructing Fort Columbus), but upon review of Leonidas Polk: Bishop and General (page 78) it appears it was Henry Halleck, or his Chief of Staff, George W. Cullum (both West Point graduates).

And I agree with your opinion that the use of "disinformation and hyperbole" played a significant role in boosting morale (of your own soldiers) while disheartening the enemy. In the case of Fort Columbus, the nickname appears to have substantiated reality: no serious direct attempt was ever initiated to seize control of that "Gibraltar of the West."

Cheers

Ozzy

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×