Fort Pulaski National Monument - Savannah, Georgia
Fort Pulaski National Monument - Savannah, Georgia
Fort Pulaski National Monument
The walls of historic Fort Pulaski still show the
marks of the 1862 bombardment that forever changed
the history of American military defense.
Fort Pulaski
Built to defend Savannah from
foreign attack, the historic fort
became a noted landmark of
the Civil War.
Parade Ground of the Fort
The Stars and Stripes flies
over the parade ground of Fort
Pulaski. It was here that one
of the first photographs of a
baseball game was taken.
Fort Pulaski National Monument - Savannah, Georgia
Guardian of Savannah, Georgia
Copyright 2013 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.

Last Update: February 22, 2013
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Coastal Forts of the South
Cannon at Fort Pulaski
The guns of the fort could not
effectively reply to the Union
batteries that breached the
fort in April 1862.
Defender of Savannah
The fort was designed to
function with nearby Fort
Jackson and a Martello Tower
on Tybee Island to defend the
entrance to the harbor of
Savannah, Georgia.
Fort Pulaski National Monument preserves a
five-sided masonry fortification built during
the 19th century to defend the port city of
Savannah, Georgia.

It was here that a Civil War bombardment
forever changed America's concepts of
coastal defense. Rifled cannon proved
superior to walls of brick and mortar and the
age of masonry forts came to an end.

Cockspur Island, where Fort Pulaski stands,
has long been of strategic importance to the
defense of Savannah. The British built Fort
George on the island in 1761, but it was
dismantled during the American Revolution
by Patriot forces who determined they could
not hope to defend it against a powerful
British fleet. Fort Greene was then built on
Cockspur in 1791 and held by U.S. troops
until it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1804.

Construction of the current fort began in
1829. Among the officers assigned to direct
the work was Lieutenant Robert E. Lee, who
is credited with designing the system of
channels and dykes that allowed for the work
to go forward on the muddy island.

As originally planned, Fort Pulaski would
have been two stories high with three tiers of
cannon, but the engineers quickly realized
that Cockspur Island would not support such
a design.  Plans were changed and the
structure was built with two tiers of guns, as it
appears today.

The still incomplete work was named for
Count Casimir Pulaski in 1833. A Polish
nobleman, he had been killed while fighting
on the side of the United States at the
Revolutionary War's Battle of Savannah in
1799. The area where Pulaski fell is now
preserved at Battlefield Park in the city itself.

Fort Pulaski was completed in 1844.
Although designed to mount 150 cannon, the
original armament of the fort consisted only
of twenty 32-pounders that were installed in
1840. The total construction product required
over 25 million locally-made bricks, as well
as granite and sandstone from New York
and Connecticut.

Despite the obvious strength of the fort, it
was held only by caretakers on January 3,
1861, when the sidewheel-steamboat
arrived at its wharf with a force of state
infantry and artillerymen. Headed by Colonel
Alexander Lawton of the 1st Georgia
Volunteers, the state troops took possession
of Fort Pulaski without firing a shot.

Georgia seceded from the Union two weeks
later as its soldiers labored to bring the
neglected fort back into shape. Assisted by
125 slaves, they removed mud and marsh
grass from the moat, mounted cannon,
repaired the quarters and generally restored
the fort to its original condition.

Fort Pulaski became a Confederate post
when Georgia joined the other Southern
states in forming the Confederate States of
America in February 1861. Major Charles
Olmstead, a Savannah native and Georgia
Military Academy graduate was assigned to
its command.

Olmstead was soon promoted to the rank of
colonel. Under his direction, the armament of
the fort was increased to 48 guns and
massive stockpiles of gunpowder and other
military supplies were brought down from

In December 1861, Union soldiers from the
46th New York Infantry, 3rd Rhode Island
Heavy Artillery and 7th Connecticut occupied
Tybee Island. Federal warships had already
blockaded the mouth of the Savannah River,
but Fort Pulaski itself remained defiant.

The first violent episode involving the fort took
place on December 29, 1861, when Colonel
Olmstead himself aimed a 32-pounder at a
party of Union soldiers on Tybee Island. The
gun was fired and the cannonball cut one of
the Federals in half.

The surprising accuracy of Olmstead's shot
aside, the Union army continued to mount
cannon on Tybee Island for a planned attack
on Fort Pulaski. General Robert E. Lee, who
then commanded the defenses of Georgia,
visited the fort in January 1862 but told its
commander that the Federal cannon "cannot
breach your walls at that distance."

Lee soon was proved wrong. Under the
direction of General Quincy A. Gillmore, the
Federals built eleven batteries on Tybee
Island in preparation for bombarding Fort
Pulaski. Olmstead tried to halt this work by
opening his cannon on Tybee Island on the
night of March 22, 1862, but the firing proved

By April 9, 1862, the Union forces were ready
for battle. Heavy rainfall that day forced them
to hold off their planned bombardment until
the following day. At dawn on April 10, 1862,
they demanded the unconditional surrender
of Fort Pulaski. Colonel Olsmtead refused,
replying that he had been ordered to "defend
the fort, not to surrender it."  Orders were
given and 36 pieces of heavy artillery opened
fire on the fort.

The battle continued for two days, with the
Confederates replying as well as they could
but with little effect. The thunder of the 50
heavy guns firing at each other shook the
ground for miles around and the citizens of
Savannah listened with growing concern to
the sounds of battle just a few miles away.
At first the Confederates held strong, but the
rifled cannon soon began to take their toll.
Shell after shell broke deeper and deeper
into the brick walls of Fort Pulaski until finally
a breach was opened. Union soldiers broke
into cheers as they watched their shells pass
through the breach into the interior of the fort.

One of his magazines now threatened by
impacts from Federal cannon fire, Olmstead
knew the end had come. At 2 p.m. on April
11, 1862, less than 24 hours from the first
anniversary of the day that Confederate
forces had fired on
Fort Sumter, the white flag
was raised over Fort Pulaski.

The use of rifled artillery to force the
submission of Fort Pulaski in just two days
had forever changed military thinking about
coastal defenses. Works of brick and mortar
could no longer stand up against the
powerful rifled cannon of the day. America
would never again build a brick fortress to
defend its harbors.

Federal forces held the fort for the rest of the
Civil War, but did not take Savannah until it
was evacuated by Confederate troops at the
end of Sherman's March to the Sea in
December 1864.

It was during the time of Sherman's march
that one of the true atrocities of the Civil War
was committed at Fort Pulaski. A force of
nearly 600 Confederate prisoners of war
were brought down from the islands off
Charleston where they had been used as
human shields for Union artillery batteries.

At Fort Pulaski in the winter of 1864-1865,
they were placed in an iron cage in the fort,
given no blankets or shoes and intentionally
subjected to a starvation diet of 10 ounces of
moldy corn-meal and one-half pint of sour
onion pickles per day. Dubbed the
Six Hundred, these Southern heroes were
slowly and intentionally starved and tortured
by the U.S. Army for 42 days.

A monument in the small graveyard across
the moat from the fort honors the members
of the Immortal Six Hundred who died from
their treatment. Ironically, their starvation diet
ended only after Sherman took Savannah
and a new medical director ordered them
given full rations.

The Immortal Six Hundred were sent north to
Fort Delaware on March 5, 1865. Fort
Pulaski's use as a prison, however, was far
from over. In May of that year, the fort was
briefly used to hold Confederate President
Jefferson Davis who had been captured near
Irwinville, Georgia. Others held there during
the summer after the war included three
Confederate cabinet members; the Southern
governors of Georgia, Florida and Alabama;
an assistant secretary of war, and former
Florida Senator David L. Yulee.

Fort Pulaski was, of course, repaired by the
Union army after its capture. The fort's
demilune (the triangular projection protecting
the sally port or gate of the fort) was
strengthened after the war, but no major
alterations were made to the main structure
itself. Battery Hambright, on the north shore
of Tybee Island, was built in later years as a
harbor defense, but the useful days of Fort
Pulaski as a military installation were over.

The historic fort was declared a National
Monument in 1924 and remains an important
part of America's National Park System today.

To reach the fort from Savannah, travel east
on US 80 towards Tybee Island. The park
entrance is on US 80. The fort and visitor
center are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(summer hours may be extended slightly).

The entrance fee is $5 for all visitors over the
age of 15.

To learn more, please follow the links below
and visit:
Embedded Cannonball
The cannonballs fired by
Union guns during the Siege
of Fort Pulaski can still be
seen embedded in its walls.
Immortal Six Hundred
The iron cage that held the
heroic men of the Immortal
Six Hundred can still be seen
at Fort Pulaski. Confederate
leaders were also held here
after the Civil War.
Fort Pulaski
The interior of the fort features
restored rooms and displays
that help visitors learn about
the significance and history of
the site.