Fort Pulaski
Cockspur Island, Georgia, USA

Constructed: 1829 - 1847
Designed by: Simon Bernard
Used by: USA, CSA
Conflict in which it participated:
US Civil War

Both the town of Savannah and the British colony of Georgia were founded on February 12, 1733 with the arrival of General James Oglethorpe (1696-1785). Oglethorpe, a British soldier and Member of Parliament, envisioned the colony as not only a place to productively employ Britain's growing class of impoverished city dwellers in an agricultural manner, but also as a buffer zone between Britain's colonies to the north and Spanish Florida to the south.

Following the less-than-stellar performance of America's seacoast defenses during the War of 1812 (1812-1814), US President James Monroe (1758-1831) initiated a program to militarily beef up those shores for which he was responsible. This became the Third System of American Seacoast Fortification, and would be the genesis for such fabulous starforts as Fort Monroe, Fort Delaware and Fort Macon, to name but a few stellar examples.

Savannah was identified of one of some 200 strategically important locations in need of potential defense from such naval powers as Britain, France and/or Spain. Just 42 of the planned forts would eventually be built under the Third System, however, of which Fort Pulaski was one. Fort Pulaski's fate in 1862 was in fact one of the reasons for the end of the Third System of fortification, as it became clear to all observers that masonry forts were, by the 1860's, no longer a match for the latest artillery. Fort Pulaski was designed by French military engineer Simon Bernard (1779-1839), whose designs were also used for several other Third System forts.

Fort James Jackson, guarding Savannah from seaborne pests with varying levels of success since 1812. Might I take this moment to mention that Google Maps is awesome.
Savannah had been protected by Fort James Jackson since 1812. This adorable little fort was built in an age when the limitations of artillery meant that forts were built perilously close to what they were defending (Fort Norfolk in Virginia is another example of this phenomenon), a situation that the Third System sought to address.

Cockspur Island, at the mouth of the Savannah River, was chosen as the location for a new fort in 1827. Freshly graduated from West Point, Engineering Lt. Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)'s first military assignment was to find a way to drain Cockspur Island to make the ground stable enough for a big honkin' starfort.

Lee oversaw the construction of a series of earthworks and dikes that sufficiently solidified the ground of Cockspur Island. When he later visited Fort Pulaski during the US Civil War (1861-1865), Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia Robert E. Lee noted that his works were still doing the job of keeping the ground firm. One hopes that Lee allowed himself a small, dignified smile of satisfaction.

The name Pulaski was chosen for the fort in 1833. Kazimierz Michał Władysław Wiktor Pułaski (1745-1779), or Casimir to the poor Americans who tried to pronounce his name, was a Polish nobleman who is known as the Father of American Cavalry. Pulaski fought in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) as a general in the Continental Army, and is credited with saving the life of George Washington (1732-1799) at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777, albeit in what seems like a rather passive fashion. Pulaski was killed at the Siege of Savannah in 1777.

Fort Pulaski was built intermittently over a period of 18 years, frequently stopping work altogether in the impossibly hot Georgia summers. When completed in 1847, the fort was made of over 25,000,000 bricks (local bricks, known as "Savannah Gray," were used in the lower walls, while harder, redder bricks from Baltimore and Alexandria, Virginia were used on the upper walls and arches) and built to mount 147 guns, although no more than 30 were ever installed.

Casimir Pulaski in defense of Czestochowa by Juliusz Kossak, 1883

Fort Pulaski's most distinctive element is its demilune, the triangular structure that, when viewed as represented at the top of this page, looks suspiciously like a cone to the rest of the fort's ice cream. This was to protect the fort's main gate from being directly fired upon and breached by heavy guns.

Often a starfort will have a ravelin (witness the excellent example at the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida), which served much the same purpose, but Fort Pulaski's Demilune is in a class by itself, at least among American forts. Initially the Demilune was just a triangular island of dirt on which the fort's kitchens, mess halls and guard house resided.

Fort Pulaski's walls are at places 11 feet thick, built to be impregnable by all by the heaviest guns at the time it was designed. The closest land to Cockspur Island was Tybee Island, which at about a mile distant was far out of artillery range...for the smoothbore cannon that were the standard when the fort was designed.

A lovely map of the Union batteries arrayed against Fort Pulaski in April of 1862. The fort itself is represented in a rather slapdash manner.
As was the case with many American forts built in this period, once Fort Pulaski was finally completed, the enthusiasm with which construction had begun was long gone. The fort was relatively lightly armed and almost immediately placed into Caretaker Status, manned only by two Ordnance Sergeants to keep an eye on things.

Fort Pulaski was in this state on December 20, 1860, when South Carolina seceded from the Union, setting in motion the creation of the Confederate States of America. Shortly thereafter, a steamship carrying 110 men from Savannah puttered its way to Cockspur Island, whereupon possession of Fort Pulaski was taken by the state of Georgia.

Nearby Tybee Island was briefly occupied by Georgia Militia at the start of the US Civil War, but its remoteness and distance from Fort Pulaski prompted the Confederacy to abandon it by December of 1861. Union forces sneakily crept onto Tybee Island and secretly began building batteries with new guns; Parrot Rifles and James Rifled Cannon. Work was only done at night, with progress being camouflaged with vegetation at daybreak.

On April 10, 1862, Union forces on Tybee Island asked for the surrender of Fort Pulaski to avoid the needless loss of life. Unfortunately for the Third System of American Seacoast Fortification, this request was rejected.

Ultimately only one Confederate soldier at Fort Pulaski was injured in the 30-hour bombardment that followed, but the fort's southeast corner was reduced to the point where Union shells were sailing freely into the interior, striking perilously close to the main powder magazine. One lucky shot away from total annihilation, Fort Pulaski's commanding officer, Colonel Charles Olmstead, surrendered.

Damage done to Fort Pulaski's southeast corner by Union artillery

Immediately after snapping the picture above right, Union forces set about repairing what they had wrought. Within six weeks the breach had been repaired, and all shipping in and out of Savannah had ceased, which went a good way towards strangling the Confederate war effort. Having conquered mighty Fort Pulaski, the Federals were oddly wary of taking on tiny Fort James Jackson, and Savannah remained in Confederate hands until William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) and his merry band showed up on December 21, 1864, their March to the Sea now complete.

The most arresting sight at Fort Pulaski is its shot-torn southeastern wall. Thank you, federal government, for not bothering to patch up the holes you made when you rebuilt the fort!
The Federal garrison at Fort Pulaski started out at 600 men, but their numbers dwindled over the next two years as it became evident that the Confederacy would never be capable of taking it back. The fort served mostly as a prison for the rest of the war, infamously holding (and semi- unintentionally starving) the Confederate officers of the Immortal Six Hundred. This was a group of POWs who were used as human shields against Confederate artillery at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor (which was retaliation for 600 Union officer POW's being used by the Confederacy in the same capacity against Federal guns, also in Charleston).

Thirteen of the Immortal Six Hundred died in captivity at Fort Pulaski, and were buried to the north of the Demilune. After the war, several high-ranking Confederate officials were briefly imprisoned at the fort, including Colonel Olmstead.

From 1869 to 1872 the Demilune was forged into a monst'rous weapon in its own right, with a honeycomb of tunnels, casemated magazines and three largeish gun positions. If the Demilune could have been placed on treads and made mobile, it could have churned its way across Europe, laying waste to all. In reality, it just kind of sat there, being charming.

Fort Pulaski received a wee smidgen of money for improvement during the Endicott Period at the end of the 1890's: Two batteries were built slightly to the north of the fort, but neither was ever armed.

US President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) declared Fort Pulaski a National Monument on October 15, 1924. The National Park Service took possession of the fort in 1933, whereupon the Civilian Conservation Corps was turned loose on Cockspur Island, to conserve stuff.

Fort Pulaski was opened as a National Park shortly before the beginning of the Second World War, at which point the public was chased back out and Cockspur Island was used as a base by the US Navy.

Today, Fort Pulaski National Monument is open to the public year 'round.

Battery Hambright, built to the north of Fort Pulaski in 1903 to mount two 3" guns which were, tragically, never installed.

I visited Fort Pulaski in April of 2014! Please won't you check out Fort Pulaski in the Starforts I've Visited section? Why thank you, you're mighty kind.