Archived Story

Banks takes a lunch break on site of last Civil War battle

Published 11:59am Thursday, September 6, 2012

By Harold Banks, Special to the Outlook

Editor’s note: This is the 16th installment in a fascinating diary chronicling a 400-mile paddle down the entire length of the Alabama River. 

April 16, 2012 – Day 16

High 84, Low 69 – Rainy morning, clearing in the afternoon

Monday night – Mile 348 – Meaher State Park

Last night’s sleep is broken by rain, a hard rain.  I have everything that must stay dry inside my storm-worthy tent, but I am wishing I had the forethought to turn my canoe upside down before I went to bed.  I put it out of my mind and resume a good sleep.  I don’t mind camping in the rain, but I hate packing up wet gear.  At first light, I sit inside the tent and stuff all my gear into the waterproof packs, and then roll my soggy tent into the net bag.  I scarf down a quick cold breakfast of granola and powdered milk and then dump an amazing amount of water out of the canoe.

As I shove off, it is starting to drizzle, but I am just happy that there is no wind.  I know that won’t last, so I try to click off some good miles in a hurry.  An hour and a half later I have burned over six miles, but the wind is increasing right in my face and I am once again in very big water for a little solo canoe.  It takes me two and a half hours to make the next six miles, and that finds me at Blakeley State Park at 11 a.m., or lunch time.  I pull up to a pier and enjoy standing a few minutes while I eat a quick lunch.  It was on this site that the last major battle of the Civil War was fought.  Fort Blakeley was the last Confederate fort defending the eastern shore of Mobile Bay.  Four thousand Confederates fended off Yankee troops for over a week before being overwhelmed by much larger forces on April 9, 1865, just hours after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

Just beyond the park, the Tensaw breaks off to the west, but I go south on the Apalachee River facing the strong wind with occasional gusts that scare me.

However, I know I am only about six miles from my destination and confident I can paddle as strong as I need to for that distance.

I am also motivated to get to a full-facility campground after primitive camping in the extreme for several days.  In three miles, the Apalachee river bears southwest, and I turn southeast onto the Blakeley River.  I can now see the U.S. 90 bridge, locally simply called “The Causeway.”

The waves and wind make those last three miles excruciatingly slow and I take several channels through the reeds lining the western bank of the Blakeley River that don’t block much wind, but do buffer the waves.  I am a very tired but happy canoeist after I go under The Causeway and turn into the cove at Meaher State Park.

I am so glad I toughed it out yesterday to make those extra 10 miles.  That gives me time to enjoy the amenities of this campground.

First I take care of business.  I string a temporary clothesline among trees in the primitive camping section of the campground and hang up my wet tent, fly tent and groundsheet.  In the wind and sun, it only takes a few minutes for everything to dry.  After my camp is set up and prepared for the night, I head to the bath house with dirty body and clothes.  After a good shower and shave, I wash and dry dirty clothes.

I am safe, clean and secure, but physically drained.  I can barely keep my eyes open as I eat supper.  The last three days of strong headwinds have pushed the limits of my endurance.

I am now only a mile from the entrance to Mobile Bay.  I would not stick my big toe in Mobile Bay if the wind was blowing like it was today, but the forecast for tomorrow morning is for relatively light winds out of the east northeast.  If that forecast holds it will be perfect.

After supper, I stroll down to a pier and see another interesting dead fish, an alligator gar.

The name is no mystery when you see the long snout containing two rows of sharp teeth.

They have very tough scales that reportedly were used by indigenous hunters as arrowheads.  Some specimens more than eight feet long have been caught, but this poor guy is less than three feet long.

I walk over to the south end of the park where I can watch the sunset and get a good view of the bay.

It looks like an ocean, and I wonder if only a crazy person would attempt to cross it in an open canoe.  If so, call me crazy.