01 October 2008

End of an era

Ok, this is Fort Pulaski, east of Savannah, Georgia. This is oneof my favorite historic sites. I came here in 2003 when I lived in Charleston, and I recently decided to come back to visit before I leave for Connecticutt. Begun in 1829, the fort was built as part of the coastal fortification system adopted by President James Madison after the War of 1812. It was built to protect the vital port of Savannah and named Count Casimir Pulaski, the Polish count who was killed in the ill-fated Battle of Savannah in the Revolution.

By the end of 1860 and the eve of the Civil War, construction was complete, but the fort was still not fully armed and was not garrisoned. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina officially seceded from the Union and Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor was soon garrisoned with Federal troops. While Georgia did not secede until January 19, 1861, Governor Joseph Brown ordered state militia to sieze Fort Pulaski before the Union could garrison it. Today the National Park Service flies the Confederate "Stars and Bars" flag on sundays to commerate the fort's Confederate defenders. The other days it flies the regular US flag.

After the opening shots of the Civil War, the Union Navy began a blockade of Southern ports and on November 7, 1861, Federal troops invaded Port Royal, South Carolina and took control of Hilton Head Island, about fifteen miles north of Pulaski. Intimidated by this bold move, the Confederates abandoned their positions on Tybee Island to the southeast of Pulaski. The Federals took quick advantage of this and in December took control of Tybee Island.
Engineer Captain Quincy Gilmore took command of the Federal position in February 1862 and believed that a bombardment could force the surrender of the Fort. He had eleven artillery batteries constructed along the northwesten bank of Tybee Island, and opened fire on April 10, following the Confederates refusal to surrender. Why should they? After all, the Federal batteries were over a mile away and no ordinance was effective at that range.

Or so they thought. Gilmore's battery included ten new rifled canon, whose shells tore into the fort's walls ripping apart the solid brick and mortar construction. The massive damage is still visible today, but the final blow came when the southeast corner of the fort, seen above, collapsed completely. During the battle, the Confederate flag was shot down and was raised on this parapet by Lt Christopher Hussey of the Mongomery Guards and Private John Latham of the Washington Volunteers.

With the fort now fully open and exposed not only to attack but to shells passing through the giant collapsed section, the Confederate commander, Col. Charles Olmstead, surrendered the fort in the room seen above, only thirty hours after the attack began. Captain Gilmore became a national hero for his victory and was breveted a Brigadier General. Olmstead and his 384 officers and men were taken to Governor's Island in New York as prisoners, but were exchanged the following autumn and served until the end of the war.
The fall of Fort Pulaski was truly the end of a miltary era. Overnight, the fort went from being virtually impregnable, to completely shattered. The new rifled canon and shells, one of which is seen in the fort's wall above, proved that the ancient defense of masonry forts was no longer strategically prudent. Forts for the remainder of the war were built of little more than earth, with tunnels constructed inside. Following the Union re-taking and repairing the fort, it was used as a prison for the remainder of the war. It housed a group of Confederate officers known as the "Immortal Six Hundred", thirteen of whom died of ill treatment. After the war it held political prisoners for a short time including a Confederate Secretary of State, War, Treasury, three Governors and a Senator.

The cisterns visible between the trees above are all that remain of the village where laborers lived during the fort's construction
The entrance to the fort, on the landward side, was protected by this large Demilune, basically a large triangular shaped earthen fort.
One of the magazines in the Demilune
The demilune viewed from the fort wall

Different views of the fort's parade ground.

The cupola seen here is from the old Cockspur Light (next post)

The fort and demilune were surrounded by a seven foot deep forty feet wide moat. Water came in through this canal and was controlled by tide gates.

A view of the inside construction of the fort without wooden flooring
And with wooden flooring, also showing how the canon would have looked inside
These quarters were used by the fort's Federal commander. The portrait in the background is of Count Pulaski.
The fort sick hall. Several of the interior rooms of the fort arefurnished to look as they would have then, but for space considerations I have only included a couple.
The sword surrendered by Confederate Col Olmstead to Federal Captain Gillmore

Some of Olmsteads personal effects.

Just north of Fort Pulaski is Battery Hambright, named for Horace George Hambright who died on the North Dakota frontier in 1896. This spot had three inch guns and protected Savannah during the Spanish American War.

Marker where John Wesley landed in America

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