In the second quarter of the 19th century, US military engineers built Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island to guard the River approaches to Savannah, Georgia. Named for Count Kazimierz Pulaski, the Polish hero of the American Revolution who lost his life in the unsuccessful siege of Savannah in 1779, it was designed by General Simon Bernard, a distinguished French military engineer as part of a coastal fortifications system adopted by President James Madison after the war of 1812. Construction began in 1829 and required $1 million, 25 million bricks, and 18 years of toil to finish. Its admirers, and there were many, considered the fort invincible and as strong as the Rocky Mountains. By the end of 1860, however, its armament was still not complete and it was not yet garrisoned. As it turned out, before United States troops could occupy the Fort, they had to conquer it.


On January 3, 1861, two weeks after South Carolina succeeded from the union and one week after federal troops occupied Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, Georgia's Gov. Joseph E. Brown ordered state militia, under the command of Francis “Frank” Bartow, to cease Fort Pulaski. At this time Savannah was a city of about 20,000 inhabitants and a rich Seaport trading in cotton, naval stores, and timber. Though many disagreed with the wisdom of seizing the Federal Fort, people of all classes joined in the preparations for its defense following the occupation. After Georgia succeeded on January 19, 1861, the state transferred Fort Pulaski to the Confederate States of America.


At the end of April 1861, 11 southern states had left the union and were at war with the United States. Before the end of the summer, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the U.S. Navy to blockades southern ports. As the blockade tightened it strangled the Confederate economy. On November 7, 1861, a combined Army and Naval expedition struck at Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, about 15 miles north of Fort Pulaski. Confederate troops fled as federal war warships bombarded Forts Walker and Beauregard, allowing union forces to land unopposed and Hilton Head Island. From this beachhead, the federals established a base of operations against Fort Pulaski and the whole South Atlantic coast.


On November 10, intimidated by the federal presence on Hilton Head, the Confederates the abandoned Tybee Island at the mouth of the Savannah River, unknowingly giving the enemy the only site from which Fort Pulaski could be taken. The federals acted quickly to take advantage of the break. Early in December they been moved troops to Tybee Island to prepare for siege operations.


Engineer Capt. Quincy Adams Gillmore, who assumed command of all troops on Tybee Island in February 1862, believed that an overwhelming bombardment would force the Confederates to give up the fort. Accordingly, between February 21 and April 9, 1862, he erected 11 artillery batteries containing 36 guns and mortars along the northwest shore of Tybee Island. The work was carried on under cover of darkness and was concealed by day behind a camouflage of branches and brushwood.[2] On April 10, after the Confederates refused Gillmor's formal demand to surrender, the federals opened fire. The Confederates were not particularly alarmed; the union guns were a mile away, more than twice the effective range for heavy ordnance of that day. What the forts garrison did not know was that the federal armament included 10 new experimental rifled cannons, whose projectile's began to bore through Fort Pulaski's walls with shattering effect, by noon on the second day the bombardment had opened wide gaps in the southeast angle, and explosive shells, passed through the holes and over the walls threatening the main powder magazine. Impressed by the hopelessness of the situation and concerned about the lives of his men, the Confederate commander, Col. Charles H. Olmstead, surrendered only 30 hours after the bombardment began.


Gilmour was the hero of the day. For his boldness in using a new weapon and for the victory won, he was brevet it a brevetted Brigadier General, Olmsted, along with the other 384 officers and men and Pulaski's garrison were set north and imprisoned at Governors Island in New York. When he was exchanged in the autumn of 1862, he resumed command of his regiment and served with distinction for the remainder of the Civil War. Federal troops garrisoned Fort Pulaski until war's end, when it was used to house several political prisoners. After 1880 a caretaker and lighthouse keeper was the fort's only occupants. They too were soon removed leaving the place to the ever encroaching vegetation and animal life. The island was made a national monument in 1924; restoration of the Fort began in earnest about 1933. Today the Fort serves not only as a memorial to the valor and dedication of those connected with its construction, bombardment, and defense, but in a larger sense is a history lesson only elusiveness of invincibility.[1]






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References

  1. Fort Pulaski  Brochure
    US Park Service; Department of the Interior; 2005
  2. Georgia Historical Commission marker 025-60.  Located on Located on US 80 east of Lazaretto Creek on Tybee Island, Chatham Co., GA.
    Federal Batteries on Tybee Island - GHM 025-60