A massive five-sided edifice, Fort Pulaski was constructed in the 1830s and 1840s on Cockspur Island at the mouth of the Savannah River. Built to protect the city of Savannah from naval attack, the fort came under siege by Union forces in early 1862 and was ultimately captured on April 11.
Origins and Construction
In January 1861, shortly before Georgia seceded from the Union, state troops occupied Pulaski to keep
Fort Pulaski faced its first threat during the Civil War (1861-65) in November 1861, following the capture of nearby Port Royal, South Carolina, by Union forces. General Robert E. Lee,
In January 1862 the Union commander in the district, General William T. Sherman, decided to take the fort by siege. He ordered troops to Tybee Island and constructed defenses on the smaller neighboring islands to cut the garrison from reinforcements. Sherman then placed Captain Quincy Gillmore of the Engineer Corps in charge of the siege preparations on Tybee, despite advice that "you might as well bombard the Rocky Mountains."
Gillmore ordered his engineers to construct a series of eleven artillery batteries along the north shore of Tybee Island. They worked mostly at night and camouflaged the work on the batteries to prevent the fort's garrison from discovering their plans. Once the batteries were built, the troops had to pull, by hand, artillery pieces weighing as much as 17,000 pounds through marshy land and into position.
By April 9, Gillmore had twenty cannons and fourteen mortars in position to bombard Fort Pulaski. Just after sunrise the next morning
On April 11, the Union bombardment opened two thirty-foot holes in the southeast face of Pulaski.
The reduction and capture of Fort Pulaski in 1862 not only deprived the Confederacy of a port it desperately needed but also signaled a major shift in the way future forts would be built as well as the way they would be attacked. Captain Gillmore took a risk when he decided to assault the fort with the new rifled cannons, but his gamble paid off and led to significant changes in military engineering.
Following the surrender, Union troops garrisoned Fort Pulaski until the end of the war. During this period the fort served not only to bar Confederate shipping from Savannah but also to imprison captured Southern troops.
Barry L. Brown and Gordon R. Elwell, Crossroads of Conflict: A Guide to Civil War Sites in Georgia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).
Q. A. Gillmore, Official Report to the United States Engineer, of the siege and reduction of Fort Pulaski, Georgia, February, March, and April 1862 (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1862).
Robert Johnson and Clarence Buel, eds., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. 2 (New York: Century, 1887/88).
Ralston B. Lattimore, Fort Pulaski National Monument, Georgia, U.S. National Park Service, Historical Handbook Series, no. 18 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1954).
David H. McGee, "The Siege of Fort Pulaski: 'You Might As Well Bombard the Rocky Mountains,'" Georgia Historical Quarterly 79 (spring 1995).
David H. McGee, Central Virginia Community College, Lynchburg
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