The Civil War – The battle of Fort Pulaski

By C.J. Johnson

One hundred and fifty years ago the Confederates surrendered Fort Pulaski, a former Federal fortification on Cockspur Island near the mouth of the Savannah River, protecting the City of Savannah. These more recently built forts, called “Third System” forts in coastal areas, were thought to be invincible when they were built. However, Civil War technology introduced rifling to artillery, making shots much more accurate. In mid-February, Union Captain Quincy A. Gillmore was ordered to take the fort, bombarding it into surrender. Both large smoothbore cannon and smaller, more accurate rifled artillery were brought in. According to the National Park Service, “For nearly two months, Union troops erected 36 guns in 11 batteries on the western shore of Tybee Island.” After Confederate Colonel Charles H. Olmstead refused to surrender the fort, on April 10, bombardment began. “The Union cannon on Tybee Island, more than a mile away, converged on Fort Pulaski on April 10, 1862. After 30 hours, the brick walls of the fort were breached,” per Park Service information. Shells from the rifled guns penetrated two feet into the seven-foot thickness of the fortified walls of Pulaski. Shells continued to hit the area, beginning to cause damage to area protecting the fort’s magazine. The morning of April 11 found two substantial holes had been created in the walls of the fort. Yankee infantrymen were ready to attack. Knowing the potential danger to the fort and the garrisoned soldiers, Olmstead surrendered Fort Pulaski around 2 p.m. on April 11. A port vital to the Confederacy was closed. The Savannah River was under Union control. However, the town was not captured. Sherman, in his march across Georgia, would claim Savannah more than two years later. “The historic battle featured the first significant use of rifled artillery against a masonry fort and had international ramifications on the future design and construction of coastal forts,” according to the National Park Service. Once considered invincible, Fort Pulaski’s destruction helped end the “brick and mortar” age of forts. New weapons made it possible to not only breach, but destroy such massive fortifications. The National Park Service is hosting several programs the week of April 10th through 15th, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle. As part of the effort, on Friday, April 13th, there will be an event to mark the Issuance of General Order No. 7. NPS states, “Following the Union capture of Fort Pulaski during the Civil War, Major General David Hunter issued General Order No. 7, freeing those enslaved at the fort and on Cockspur Island. Hunter’s order coincided with his recruitment of formerly enslaved African Americans to create a new regiment. His efforts led to the formation of one of the Union’s first African American regiments – the 1st South Carolina Infantry. Representatives from the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. will provide a special film and presentation on the African American soldiers of the Civil War. There will be a special program by the 54th Massachusetts, Civil War Re-enactment Regiment.”