The Fall of Fort Pulaski
Tuesday and yesterday, marked the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Fort Pulaski (April 10-11, 2012). Located on Cockspur Island, Fort Pulaski was strategically positioned near the mouth of the Savannah River and therefore was a key component to Savannah’s defense. In 1862, many considered the fort invincible courtesy if its seven and a half foot brick walls and the swampy marshes surrounding it. As such, Fort Pulaski was beyond the reach of naval vessels or smoothbore muskets.
On the morning of April 10th, the Union forces asked Fort Pulaski to surrender so as to prevent the needless loss of life. Confederate Colonel Charles H. Olmstead refused the request. After a 30-hour bombardment, the Federal force successfully captured the Confederate fort when Olmstead lowered the Confederate flag and waved the white banner of surrender. The battle itself was the culmination of a 112 day siege by a joint Union force. What made the Union bombardment successful was the use of new rifled guns which they had been mounted onto batteries newly erected on Tybee Island. These rifled guns, with longer ranges and more effective firepower, easily penetrated Fort Pulaski’s stone walls.
The fall of Fort Pulaski effectively closed Savannah as a Confederate port and allowed the Union to extend its blockade. More importantly, the battle disclosed the revolutionary effect of rifled muskets. As Union Major General David Hunter stated, “The result of this bombardment must cause, I am convinced, a change in the construction of fortifications as radical as that forshadowed in naval architecture by the conflict between the Monitor and Merrimac. No works of stone or brick can resist the impact of rifled artillery of heavy caliber.”1
Gillmore, Quincy A. The Siege and Reduction of Fort Pulaski. Gettysburg: Thomas Publications 1988.
Jones, Jacqueline. Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War. New York: Knopf, 2009.
Swain, Craig. “The Guns at Fort Pulaski: Virtual Tour.” To the Sound of Guns: Civil War Artillery, Battlefields and Historical Markers. April 11, 2012.
1. "Report of Major Generak David Hunter, U.S. Army to Secretary of War E.M. Stanton," April 13, 1862. Available online via the National Park Service.
Image Credit: Frank Leslie's The Soldier in Our Civil War.