Backstory and Context
Fort Massachusetts was constructed as part of the nation’s Third System of Coastal Defense. It was built in order to protect a deep water pass on the sea approach to New Orleans. Construction on the fort began in 1859 by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. The Corp faced a harsh environment, hurricanes, epidemics such as yellow fever, and the Civil War while trying to construct the fort.
In 1861, local Confederate militia held the island and the uncompleted fort for 9 months. In July 1861 a naval battle occurred between the Confederate forces stationed on Ship Island and sailors on-board the USS Massachusetts. In September 1861 the Confederate forces vacated the island and Union forces took over. This allowed for construction of the fort to resume.
During the Civil War, the island acted as a small city by soldiers and sailors. The island was used to unload supply ships, clean stables, guard prisoners, cook meals, tend to the sick, and for digging wells in the sand. It also served as a place to hold imprisoned federal military convicts, political dissidents, and Confederate soldiers.
The fort was finally completed in 1866. While all of the other buildings on Ship Island from the 1800s disappeared with the military, Fort Massachusetts still stands today.