Fort Pulaski: A Milestone in Military History

Fort Pulaski is located on Cockspur Island approximately 18 miles east of Savannah and directly adjacent to Tybee Island. Named for the Revolutionary War hero, Polish Count Casimir Pulaski who was killed during the siege of Savannah, the fort was constructed to protect the seaward approaches to the city. Completed in 1847, Fort Pulaski enclosed five acres and could mount the firepower of 146 guns. The brick walls were seven and a half feet thick and thirty- five feet high and were surrounded by a twenty five foot wide moat. In 1829-1830, while the fort was under construction, 22 year old U.S. Army Lt. Robert E. Lee was assigned to build the dikes and drainage system of the island.

On January 3, 1861, shortly before Georgia seceded from the Union, troops from the Georgia Militia raised the state flag over Fort Pulaski after removing the tiny Federal garrison. Confederate Captain Francis Bartow was the first commander. During the next few months, the Federal navy began planning for operations to retake the fort.  Federal forces captured nearby Bird Island, Tybee Island and Fort Walker, setting up siege guns for the coming operation. Federal Captain Quincy Adams Gilmore moved heavy artillery and rifled cannons into siege positions.

On April 10, 1862, Union artillery on Tybee Island began shelling the walls with a tremendous barrage, concentrating fire on certain points and reducing them to half of their previous thickness. All of the fort’s 48 heavy guns were disables. At dawn on April 11, 1862, Captain Gilmore’s gunners continued to enlarge the breach through the use of concentrated fire. By noon shells were passing through an opening and exploding on the powder magazine where 40 thousand pounds of gunpowder were stored. To avert an almost certain catastrophe, Confederate Colonel Charles H. Olmstead surrendered the fort, along with its garrison of 385 Georgia militia. During the two day battle, each side had lost 1 man and the Union Army had expended 5275 artillery rounds to reduce the fort during the 30 hour bombardment.

Aside from just regaining Fort Pulaski, the Federal bombardment had changed military history through the use of rifled artillery on a masonry fort. Rifled artillery guns, unlike smoothbore cannons, causing the conical shaped projectiles to spin as they leave the barrel resulting in greater accuracy, range and penetrating power. The shelling from the rifled cannon was more than the brick fort could withstand, despite its 7 foot thick walls. Masonry forts to defend against cannon barrages became obsolete at this battle. Furthermore, the Georgia-South Carolina coastal defense system, which had taken nearly fifty years to establish, was now rendered impotent. Fort Pulaski stands today as a monument to personal commitment and valor as well as visionary inventiveness.

Fort Pulaski National Monument will be holding a number of living history event to commemorate the 154th anniversary of the Siege and Reduction of Fort Pulaski.  On May 15, 2016, Fort Pulaski National Monument will host a centennial series on the third Sunday of each month. This series encourages guests, travelers, and members of the local community to come out and be active in the park. www.nps.gov/fopu. For more information on Fort Pulaski and other Civil War sites in Georgia see Gacivilwar.org or ExploreGeorgia.org.

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