Expected to contain valuable archaeological data, the 60-acre battle site property known as Blakeley Bluff was a high priority for conservation. Our protection of this land will allow greater opportunities for archaeological excavation, historical research and preservation of the battle site’s rich history.

Preserving African American History at Fort Blakeley Alabama 1
An arial view of the Tensaw River and Fort Blakeley Historic Park near Mobile, Alabama. Courtesy of Keith West, University of South Alabama.

Why It Matters: The History

On April 9, 1865—which is considered the last day of the Civil War—in less than half an hour, the Confederate Fort Blakeley was overrun by United States Colored Troops, including 5,000 African American soldiers, leading to an overwhelming victory that many have called the “last stand of the Confederate States of America.”

Major General Frederick Steele led the march west from Pensacola, Florida to attack Fort Blakely. Steele’s 1st Division was commanded by Brigadier General John P. Hawkins and included three brigades of African American troops. The 1st Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General William Pile, consisted of the 73rd, 82nd, and 86th regiments of United States Colored Troops. The 2nd Brigade, under Colonel Hiram Scofield, included the 47th, 50th, and 51st U.S. Colored Troops. The 3rd Brigade, consisting of the 48th, 68th, and 76th U.S. Colored Troops, was commanded by Major William E. Nye. (Source: Iron Brigader)

Steel’s force reached Fort Blakely on April 1st after a difficult march across ground turned into mud due to heavy spring rains. The week-long siege on the pine-covered bluffs overlooking the Mobile-Tensaw Delta began as Robert E. Lee assembled the remnants of his troops near Appomattox. The Battle of Fort Blakely concluded a few hours after Lee signed over the Army of Northern Virginia to U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant.

Some estimate that U.S. Colored Troops represented nearly half the Union force at Blakeley. The involvement of these troops in critical battles like Fort Blakeley has gone largely untold. According to History.com, by the time the war ended in 1865, about 180,000 African American soldiers had served in the U.S. Army. This was about 10 percent of the total Union fighting force.

Research on the Blakeley Bluff property is believed to expose valuable archaeological data related to this African American experience that will help us tell a more accurate story of Civil War history and the imperative involvement of U.S. Colored Troops.

“Preserving Blakeley Bluff protects one of the last critical pieces of the war’s most poignant battles, prefiguring the nation’s long battle for civil rights that followed. The result is one of the region’s largest, best-preserved and most significant Civil War parks.”

– Bill Finch, writer and naturalist


Because of the landscape’s history, farming on the old battlefields was limited and the distinctive soils held impressions for centuries. Trenches, gun emplacements, batteries and other marks of battle are still prominent and intact, providing opportunities for archaeological digging, data collecting and vivid interpretation of the often-untold history of these troops. You can learn more about the critical involvement of African Americans in the Civil War at the African American Civil War Memorial & Museum.
Preserving African American History at Fort Blakeley Alabama 2The Blakeley Bluff property sits along the Tensaw River. Courtesy of Keith West, University of South Alabama.


Why It Matters: The Ecosystem

Beyond historical importance, the Blakeley Bluff property has significant conservation value, unique ecology and diversity of interesting plant species. The property got its namesake from its important role in the Battle of Fort Blakeley, but also from its bluffs—broad, rounded cliffs—that overlook the Tensaw River. In fact, it contains some of the highest bluffs in Alabama.  

Prior to the property’s protection, renowned biologist and author E.O. Wilson wrote a letter to The Conservation Fund concerning the importance of this land. In his letter, not only did Wilson site the personal value that the bluffs had on his childhood, but he referenced the ecological and historical significance of the property that could not risk being threatened by development.  

“It is, in short, one of the most significant properties within the entire Mobile-Tensaw Delta system. It demonstrates how closely linked human history is to natural history. It is also one of the most endangered properties of the region.”

– E.O. Wilson, biologist and author


The property consists of hardwood cove ravines, blackwater swamps and pine uplands. The hardwood ravines shelter some of the most pristine forests in the area and support rich plant diversity for species such as lilies, hibiscus, orchids and the rare Alabama dahoon holly. 

Preserving African American History at Fort Blakeley Alabama 3The Blakeley Bluff property sits along the Tensaw River. Courtesy of Keith West, University of South Alabama.


Our Role 

Protecting this land for its historical and environmental values was a unique challenge, involving many partners and a creative conservation solution. In 2019, we purchased the property, protected it with a conservation easement, then transferred the easement to the University of South Alabama in 2020 to restrict any future development, support the University’s ongoing research on the land and preserve a unique and at-risk ecosystem. We will continue to own the land in partnership with the University. 

This effort was made possible with funding from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, which is funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Thanks to facilitating efforts from the American Battlefield Trust, the grant was awarded for our purchase of the land. 

With the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020, LWCF was granted full and permanent funding, essentially doubling the amount of money our federal partners can use on conservation projects like this each year. Learn more about how we’re scaling up our funding capabilities to take full advantage of LWCF for America’s land, water and communities.