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A massive cannon aims out over the ramparts of Fort
McAllister. The guns of the fort once defended the
Ogeechee River from Union attack.
The massive earthwork fort
drove back seven attacks by
some of the most powerful
warships of the Union navy.
Henry Ford's Fort
The American industrialist
Henry Ford took personal
interest in Fort McAllister,
using his own money to
preserve and restore fort.
Fort McAllister State Historic Park - Richmond Hill, Georgia
The Battle of Fort McAllister
|Copyright 2013 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: March 11, 2013
Civil War Sites in Georgia
The ditch or dry moat that
surrounded the fort contained
a stockade of sharpened logs
as an additional defense.
Union warships once shelled
Fort McAllister from this point
in the Ogeechee River. The
view today is spectacular.
Sherman's March to the Sea came to an end
at Fort McAllister, a powerful earthwork fort
that had defied the Union navy for three years.
Located just outside of Richmond Hill, the
fort was a vital defense that both protected
the "back door" to Savannah and blocked the
army of General William Tecumseh Sherman
from the sea. The beautifully preserved site
is now a Georgia state park.
As it became apparent that the War Between
the States (or Civil War) would be a long and
bitter conflict, the Confederate army began to
build an impressive array of earthwork forts
and batteries to protect Savannah from the
The battery that became Fort McAllister was
part of this system and was designed to
prevent Federal warships from steaming up
the Ogeechee River, a vital waterway just
south of Savannah. Initially just a few cannon
behind mounds of earth, it grew into one of
the most powerful forts in the Confederacy.
The fort was attacked seven times by the U.S.
Navy, but each time it withstood the assaults
with just minor damage. Perhaps the most
significant of these battles took place on
March 3, 1863.
Three heavily armored ironclads were part of
the Union blockade fleet off the Georgia
coast. The Patapsco, Passaic and Nahunt
were powerful vessels, but no one knew
whether they were strong enough to close on
an earthwork fortification and destroy it. The
test came at Fort McAllister, which was then
just a small earthwork battery with three
Under orders from Rear Admiral Samuel F.
DuPont, the three ships steamed to within
almost point blank range of Fort McAllister
and opened fire. The Confederates fired back
and for eight-hours the fort and ships blasted
away at each other, shaking the ground for
miles around. In the end, however, Fort
McAllister still stood and neither the ships
nor the fort sustained major damage.
As the war continued, the Confederates
strengthened Fort McAllister, transforming it
from a small battery into a powerful earthen
fort. The emplacements for the cannon were
strengthened, covered ways and a mortary
battery were erected outside of the main fort
and a rear wall and ditch or dry moat were
built to enclose the fort and prepare it for
defense against an attacking land force.
The fort's commander, Major George A.
Anderson, did all that he could to prepare
McAllister for defense as the Union army of
Major General William Tecumseh Sherman
advanced through Georgia on its March to the
Sea. A palisade of sharpened logs was
placed in the ditch of the fort and shells were
buried in the approaches to serve as land
Sherman arrived in the Savannah area on
December 10, 1864. The city itself was
ringed with fortifications and defended by the
forces of Lieutenant General William J.
Hardee. Sherman's army was in need of
resupply from the Union ships that hovered
in the Atlantic, but the defenses of Savannah
prevented his men from linking up with them.
Scouting of the system of Confederate
defenses by Union cavalry determined that
Fort McAllister could likely be stormed by a
large infantry force. If the fort could be taken,
then the Ogeechee River could be used as a
supply line for Sherman's army.
Major General Oliver O. Howard was ordered
to move up his Army of the Tennessee (U.S.)
and storm McAllister. Howard selected the
division of Brigadier General William B.
Hazen to lead the attack.
On the afternoon of December 13, 1864,
Hazen moved his 4,000 men into position for
the attack on Fort McAllister. The earthwork
was defended by only around 120 men, but
Major Anderson was a determined officer.
Generals Sherman and Howard watched
from the top of a rice mill across the
marshes as the Hazen's men began their
assault. The Confederates resisted with
determination and at first it appeared that
they might be successful.
At this point of the battle, however, the left
flank of Hazen's force discovered that the
palisade that made the ditch around Fort
McAllister such an obstacle did not extend all
the way into the waters of the Ogeechee. The
soldiers swept around it and soon stormed
up and over the earthen wall at the northwest
corner of the fort.
The small garrison of Fort McAllister never
surrendered, but continued to fight until they
were literally overrun and all killed, wounded
or seized as prisoners. As General Hazen
noted in his report, the battle continued until
"each man was individually overpowered."
Even as the battle was ending, Captain
Nicholas B. Clinch engaged in remarkable
man to man combat. Captain Stephen
Grimes of the 48th Illinois Infantry demanded
that Clinch give up his sword. The Southern
captain struck Grimes in the head with the
flat of his sword.
As Union soldiers watched, Clinch and
Grimes engaged in a fierce sword fight. The
Confederate officer had been shot in the arm
earlier in the battle, but now fought on
despite his wound. When it became obvious
that Clinch was going to defeat and probably
kill Grimes, six Union soldiers rushed
forward and attacked the Confederate
captain with bayonets.
By the time he went down, Captain Nicholas
B. Clinch had received 11 wounds, but had
become a Southern hero.
Clinch was the last man to go down in
defense of the fort. By the time the battle
ended, the Federals had lost 24 killed and
110 wounded. The Confederate loss was 16
killed and 54 wounded. Including the
wounded, the total number captured was 195
Unlike many such forts of its era, Fort
McAllister survived the years that followed the
War Between the States in a remarkable
state of preservation. During the early 20th
century it was purchased by famed American
industrialist Henry Ford, who took great
interest in the fort and its history.
In 1935 Ford had the earthworks cleared of
brush, the collapsed bombproofs rebuilt and
other repairs made. In fact, he spent over
$14,000 of his own money on the project.
Ford's land holdings eventually were sold to
International Paper Company which in 1958
deeded the fort and 30 acres surrounding it
to the Georgia Historical Commission. The
park was greatly expanded over the years
and is now a Georgia state park that offers
camping, cottages, picnicking, hiking and a
variety of other activities in addition to self-
guided tours of the beautifully preserved fort.
A magnificent visitor center and museum has
been added in recent years, along with a
shelter that covers a display of machinery
from the C.S.S. Nashville, a Confederate
vessel destroyed by the Union navy off the fort.
Fort McAllister State Historic Park is located
at 3894 Fort McAllister Road, Richmond Hill,
Georgia. The park is open daily from 7 a.m.
to 10 p.m. The museum and historic site is
open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
There is a $5 parking fee for visiting the park
and admission to the historic site is $6.50 for
adults, $6 for seniors (62+), $3.75 for youth
(6 to 17) and $1 for children under 6 years
Please click here for more information on the
The March to the Sea
Fort McAllister did not fall until
1864 when Sherman's army
stormed it at the end of the
March to the Sea.
The mortar battery was linked
to the main fort by a long
"covered way." Its shells could
fly high into the air and crash
through the decks of Union
Museum at Fort McAllister
The outstanding museum
features weapons, flags,
artifacts and other displays
that interpret the history of Fort