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Fort provides look over Georgia’s coast, look back at Georgia’s history


April 05, 2017

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It was supposed to be warm. And I guess it would have been, except for the stiff breeze coming in off of the Atlantic.  I stepped out of my car and immediately regretted the decision to leave a warmer jacket at home. Above me, an American flag which must have been about 20 feet long snapped rhythmically. It looked like a cardboard cutout of a flag rather than the real thing.

The fort is an impressive feat of engineering and military strategy. Twenty-five million bricks make up 7 ½ foot thick walls, making Fort Pulaski one of the most spectacular masonry forts in the United States. The fort was touted as an impregnable fortress. U.S. Chief of Engineers Joseph Totten is reported to have said that trying to breach the fort’s walls would be like trying to “bombard the Rocky Mountains.” And, at the time, this was true. No cannon of the day would be powerful enough to penetrate the walls or even have the range to come anywhere close, dropping uselessly into the surrounding marsh.

Walking across the moat, through the earthworks of the demilune, and up to the sally port it certainly seems capable of resisting a massive assault. The original wooden doors of the fort are still in place along with the machinery for its iron portcullis. All this talk of moats and portcullises probably has you thinking of medieval castles and, while it’s true that the basic technology for fort building hasn’t changed all that much over time, Fort Pulaski was the gold standard in coastal defense.

The structure was completed in 1847 and named after the Polish count and cavalry commander who joined Washington and the other patriots in their fight against the British. He was killed in 1779 when the Revolutionaries successfully took the city of Savannah back from the British and he is believed to be buried in Monterey Square. The fort which bears his name sits in the Savannah River just off Tybee Island and continues to guard Savannah from naval assaults.

After its completion, the fort was left minimally garrisoned until 1861 when Georgia’s governor ordered state militia to seize the fort. The Confederate States of America held the fort for a little over a year. Then the unthinkable happened. In only 30 hours, Union forces on Tybee Island had breached the southernmost corner of the fort and forced Col. Olmstead to surrender the fort. While the various breaches in the wall were restored in the late 30s, the effects of this bombardment are still visible. A short walk around the outside perimeter of the fort shows the pockmarks left by Union cannon fire.

Fort Pulaski, contradictorily, was during its day both the height of military technology and the bottom. It was superseded by something which would revolutionize warfare forever: rifling. The Union army on Tybee Island brought some experimental weapons with them which utilized this new tech and its success led to even wider implementation, rendering brick and mortar fortifications like Pulaski obsolete.

Guided tours are available every day at 11, 1, and 2:30 Sunday through Thursday, and 11 and 2:30 on Fridays and Saturdays. Led by knowledgeable reenactors or park rangers, the tour is a convenient way to catch the highlights about the fort’s construction and its history. Entrance to the fort is $7 per person 16 and over. Anyone younger is free. While the island features several trails for hiking and biking, some are temporarily closed due to damage from Hurricane Matthew, so be sure to check the park’s website or ask a park ranger in the Visitor’s Center before setting out on the trails.

            I hope that you get to visit the fort and stroll along the top of its walls on a comfortably warm day. However, if, like me, you happen to visit on a particularly chilly day, make time to thaw out in Savannah with a coffee or a late lunch. 


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