Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island, Mississippi

Visited 18 Apr 2013 - Fort Massachusetts is a brick Third System coastal fort that was started just a year before the U.S. Civil war began and was incomplete when the war started. 
Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island
Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island
Casemates Inside the Fort
Casemates Inside the Fort
The fort was located on Ship Island just off the Mississippi Gulf coast and after a brief occupation by Confederate forces it was occupied by Union troops for the duration of the war. It was used during the war as a Confederate prisoner of war camp. The fort was completed after the war in 1866 and armed with 17 large caliber cannons including two huge 15" Rodman smoothbore cannons and two 100-pounder Parrott rifles.

You have to take a boat to visit Fort Massachusetts and you catch the excursion boat to the island from the Port of Gulfport, Mississippi. 


Fort Massachusetts Excursion Boat, Capt. Pete
Fort Massachusetts Excursion Boat, Capt. Pete
The boat travels the 11 some miles to the island in about an hour each way. The schedule is seasonal and for 2013 it begins on the 16th of March and ends on October 27th. Within that season there is a spring, summer and fall schedule and within those, the schedule varies by day of the week. Call ahead! The cost is $27 per adult, $25 per senior and $17 per child.

Ship Island is a popular recreation area as well as the site of Fort Massachusetts. The snow white beaches and the historic fort draw groups from all over the country and the excursion boat may have a number of good sized groups on it.
nside the Fort, Circular Staircase on Right and  Hot Shot Furnace in the Corner
Inside the Fort, Circular Staircase on Right and
Hot Shot Furnace in the Corner

The boat lands at the Ship Island pier which is right at the fort. You exit the boat on a long boardwalk which goes past the fort and on to the Gulf side of the Island and the recreational beaches. This is a very small island and it is not far from one side to the other.

The fort itself is in remarkably good condition considering the number of major hurricanes it has weathered, including Camille (1969) and Katrina (2005). The National Park Service has done a remarkable job in restoring and maintaining the fort. The park rangers conduct tours of the fort usually starting right after the boat docks. On my visit they conducted the first tour for the non-group people and later they did separate tours for each of the two student groups. 
15" Rodman Cannon in North Bastion
15" Rodman Cannon in North Bastion
The tours begin at the signs in front of the fort and continue through the sally port across the parade and over to the casemates. The tour moves up to the Barbette level via the central spiral staircase and moves around to the north bastion where the 15" Rodman Cannon is mounted. This Cannon is in pretty good shape and the barrel is not plugged as so many are. It's unclear if the carriage is original or a reproduction but in any case it is in great shape. The tour continues across the parapet tier from the north to the south bastion passing by the two 100-pounder Parrott gun positions to the second 15" Rodman Cannon position. These last three positions contain only broken up pieces of the original guns. The tour ended on the south bastion.
Outside Embrasure, Note the Different Color Brick
Outside Embrasure, Note the Different Color Brick

The tour may or may not include a peek inside the parade level magazines and the two guard rooms, make sure you check them out if they are not on the tour. Only the central spiral staircase was open on the day I visited but there are two more that you can view. A walk around the outside perimeter of the fort gives you some insight into the construction stages and the water side profile of the fort. The iron looking casemate embrasures seemed to all be reproductions but really looked real and add a lot to the look of the fort.

If you go during the week you will probably spend most of the day on the island so go prepared. There is a snack bar and they have many beach necessities for sale. They also rent beach chairs and umbrellas. The menu includes hamburgers and chili cheese dogs. Don't forget the sunblock, the snow white sand really reflects the sun.

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