Mt. Vernon Arsenal & Barracks - Mt. Vernon, Alabama
|Mt. Vernon Arsenal & Barracks
Authorized by President Andrew Jackson in 1828,
the Mt. Vernon Arsenal & Barracks played an
important role in American history.
Mt. Vernon Arsenal
Although the arsenal grounds
are not open to the public, an
interpretive panel and marker
detail the history of the site.
MT. VERNON ARSENAL & BARRACKS
Mt. Vernon, Alabama
Apache Warriors in Alabama
|Copyright 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: May 16, 2014
Forts & Battlefields near Mobile
The great Apache war leader
was among the members of
his tribe held as prisoners of
war at Mt. Vernon Arsenal &
Barracks. Library of Congress
Mt. Vernon Arsenal in 1935
The arsenal was just over
100 years old when this
image was taken in 1935. It
was then a state hospital.
Library of Congress
The historic Mt. Vernon Arsenal & Barracks
stand on a hilltop overlooking the community
of Mt. Vernon, Alabama.
Used during the 20th century as a state
hospital facility, the complex is now closed
and not open to the public. An interpretive
panel and marker on the edge of the grounds
are accessible to visitors..
Authorized by President Andrew Jackson in
1828, the Mt. Vernon Arsenal & Barracks
have a long and colorful history. The complex
served as a home for Geronimo (Goyathlay)
and 395 other Apache prisoners of war from
1887 to 1894. Thirteen who died there far
from their homeland are buried at Mobile
The history of the military occupation of the
arsenal site dates back to 1811. Nearby Fort
Stoddert was built in 1799 but its location on
the Alabama River was unhealthy. The U.S.
Army decided to built a cantonment on
nearby high ground where the troops from
the fort could live and not be subjected to the
"bad air" that people then thought was the
cause of malaria and other sicknesses.
The availability of fresh water from a nearby
spring led officers to pick the later arsenal
site for the cantonment and a group of log
buildings were built there. The Mt. Vernon
Cantonment stood three miles west of Fort
Stoddert and both complexes were occupied
by U.S. troops.
The two complexes became a center for
international intrigue. Nearby Mobile was
then held by Spain and the international
border ran just south of Mt. Vernon, which
was then in the Mississippi Territory. The
Spanish designated the area around Mobile
and as far west as Baton Rouge as West
Residents of the province rose against the
authorities of the King in 1810 and declared
their independence. The army of this new
Republic of West Florida marched on Baton
Rouge and captured the fort there before
turning its attention to Mobile.
Revolutionaries flocked to the Mt. Vernon
area, but the U.S. officials there refused to
allow them to stage an attack on Mobile from
the vicinity. The planned assault on the
Spanish city failed to materialize and a short
time later the United States invaded the
Republic of West Florida and seized its
Such activities created great tension between
Spain and the United States. Spanish troops
at Fort Charlotte (Fort Conde) in Mobile and
U.S. troops at Fort Stoddert and Mt. Vernon
Cantonment eyed each other warily from just
30 miles apart.
The United States brought the stalemate to
an end in 1813. Sailing from New Orleans,
Gen. James Winchester and a force of U.S.
soldiers arrived in Mobile Bay and demanded
the surrender of Fort Charlotte. Severely
outnumbered, the Spanish lowered their flag
and Mobile became part of the United States.
Soldiers from Mt. Vernon Cantonment went
down the river to assist Winchester's troops
in defending against any possible Spanish
counter-attacks. The Spanish force at nearby
Pensacola was too weak to attempt such a
movement and peace quickly returned to the
streets of Mobile.
Any thoughts that all of the troops from Mt.
Vernon and Fort Stoddert might be moved
down to Mobile came to an end with the
outbreak of the Creek War of 1813-1814.
The conflict began as a civil war between the
traditional leaders of the Creek Nation and
the Red Sticks. The latter had converted to
the religion founded in the Midwest by the
Shawnee Prophet, Tenskwatawa. Led by the
Prophet Josiah Francis, they favored ending
all cooperation with the whites and returning
to their traditional ways.
A force of Mississippi Territorial Militia under
Colonel Joseph Carson left Mt. Vernon in July
1813 to intercept a party of Red Sticks led by
Peter McQueen. The warriors had gone to
Pensacola to obtain ammunition from the
Spanish and the settlers living along the
Alabama River feared that the Red Sticks
planned to soon attack them as well.
U.S. District Judge Harry Toulmin wrote from
Mt. Vernon that he feared Carson's raid
would end in disaster. He was right.
On July 27, 1813, Carson and his men
attacked McQueen's party and ignited the
Battle of Burnt Corn Creek. After a few
moments of success, the militia soldiers
panicked in the face of a Red Stick
counterattack and fled the battlefield.
The unprovoked attack infuriated the Red
Sticks and brought on the war that the
settlers had feared. Frontier families
abandoned their homes and either "forted in"
at places like Fort Mims or fled to Mt. Vernon
and Fort Stoddert where U.S. soldiers could
The cantonment swelled far beyond capacity
as men, women and children huddled there
in fear. The panic grew on August 30, 1813,
when smoke could be seen rising in the
distance from across the Alabama River. The
survivors of the Red Stick attack on Fort Mims
began to reach Mt. Vernon the next day with
their stories of the fall of the fort and the loss
of hundreds of its occupants.
Fearful of immediate attack, the soldiers took
the refugees down to Mobile for their safety. It
was a desperate march undertaken at night
with many of the settlers leaving behind all
that they owned.
The troop strength at Mt. Vernon swelled over
the weeks to come as the army of Gen.
Ferdinand L. Claiborn assembled there for
operations against the Red Sticks. It was
from there that Claiborn's force began its
slow advance up the Alabama River that
culminated at the Battle of Holy Ground on
December 23, 1813.
Mt. Vernon remained an important post until
the ends of the Creek War of 1813-1814 and
War of 1812. It assumed new importance in
1828 when the U.S. Congress selected the
site for the construction of a major federal
The authorization to build a large arsenal of
construction at Mt. Vernon was approved by
Congress on May 24, 1828, and signed into
law by President Andrew Jackson. The
building of the sprawling complex was well
underway by 1830.
A fortified manufacturing and storage facility,
the Mt. Vernon Arsenal & Barracks consisted
of numerous buildings ranging from labs
and magazines to barracks and officers'
quarters. The complex was surrounded by a
strong brick wall, much of which remains
Arms from Mt. Vernon supplied troops during
the Creek War of 1836 and it was a major
depot for weapons and supplies throughout
the antebellum era. On the even of the War
Between the States (or Civil War) it housed
the largest inventory of small arms in the
State of Alabama.
Anticipating either the reinforcement of the
arsenal or an attempt to destroy it, Alabama
Governor A.B. Moore moved even before the
secession of his state to seize the facility. A
force of state militia arrived outside the gates
at dawn on the morning of January 4, 1861.
The arsenal was commanded at the time by
Captain Jesse L. Reno, a veteran U.S. Army
officer. He reported that the Alabama troops
scaled the walls and occupied the facility
before he even knew they were there.
Confederate forces held the arsenal until the
end of the War Between the States, when it
was turned back over to the United States. It
was garrisoned during the Reconstruction
era, but in August 1873 was reclassified as a
barracks. The surgeon at that time was Dr.
Walter Reed, the famed medical pioneer for
whom Walter Reed National Military Medical
Center in Bethesda, Maryland, is named.
In 1887-1888 the Mt. Vernon Barracks took
on a dubious role in American history when
396 Chiracahua Apache prisoners of war
were taken there from Fort Pickens and Fort
Marion (Castillo de San Marcos) in Florida.
Among them was the famed war chief
Geronimo (Goyathlay), who arrived from Fort
Pickens in the spring of 1888.
The prisoners had been removed far from
their traditional homes in the Southwest as
part of a U.S. Army operation to bring the
Apache wars to a close. Instead of facing
bullets on the battlefield, they now faced
malaria within the brick walls at Mt. Vernon.
One prisoner recalled how the mosquitoes
swarmed them and that men, women and
children sickened and died. Their Medicine
Men, he said, had no power to cure malaria.
Among those who died at Mt. Vernon was
Chappo, a noted warrior in his own right and
a son of Geronimo. His grave can be seen
today at Mobile National Cemetery along with
the burial places of 12 other Apache who
died at the barracks.
In 1891 a group of 55 Apache warriors from
Mt. Vernon Barracks enlisted in Company I,
12th U.S. Infantry. They served as regular
U.S. Army soldiers and built houses for the
other prisoners of war. Geronimo did not join
and when the others completed their term of
enlistment they again became prisoners of
Geronimo and the other Apaches were
moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1894. The
descendants of some of them live there to
this day. The Chiricahua were imprisoned
longer than any other group of any race in
The U.S. government turned the Mt. Vernon
Barracks over to the State of Alabama in
1895. Five years later the state legislature
approved the use of the complex as a mental
health facility. It became Searcy Hospital,
which operated at the site for more than 100
The property is now abandoned and closed
to the public. Visitors can view a marker and
interpretive panel where Superintendent's
Drive intersects with County Road 96 on the
west side of Mt. Vernon, Alabama.
Mt. Vernon Arsenal in 2014
This photo shows the same
structure as the image above.
The complex is no longer in
use and the grounds are
Geronimo (Complete Full-Length Movie)
Gates in 1935
The well-preserved gateway
to the arsenal complex at Mt.
Vernon was photographed in
1935. Library of Congress
Gates in 2014
The gateway shown above
survives today, nearly 185
years after its construction.
State troops stormed through
this entry on January 4, 1861.
Mt. Vernon Barracks
An interpretive panel tells the
story of the historic arsenal
and barracks. The complex
can be seen through the trees
in the background.
Chappo, Son of Geronimo
The grave of Chappo is one of
thirteen Apache graves at
Mobile National Cemetery. He
died of illness at Mt. Vernon