Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings
This superb example of an early 19th-century fort, equipped with a moat and drawbridge, is typical of the fortifications constructed by the Government after the War of 1812 to bolster coastal defenses. It also represents the end of a distinct chapter in military science. Its massive walls, in which patient masons placed approximately 25 million bricks over a period of nearly 20 years, still bear the historic scars of a 30-hour bombardment by Federal artillerymen in 1862. The bombardment demonstrated to the world for the first time the tremendous battering power of the new rifled cannon. Surrender of the "impregnable" fortress by the Confederates, who had seized it at the outbreak of the Civil War, gave notice to military engineers that the day of brick citadels had passed forever.
The fort is strategically situated on Cockspur Island, a small marsh island in the mouth of the Savannah River on which two earlier forts had been constructed. In 1761, to defend Savannah Harbor and enforce customs and quarantine laws, the Georgia colonial government began the erection of Fort George, a palisaded log blockhouse and earthen fortification. In 1776 the colonists dismantled this fort, already partially destroyed by storms, as a British fleet approached. After the War for Independence, new defenses were needed for the Savannah River. In 1794-95 the Federal Government erected Fort Greene on the island, but the great equinoctial gale of 1804 demolished its battery and barracks. A quarter of a century then elapsed before the island was again selected as the site of a fortification to defend the south Atlantic coast and the Savannah River Valley.
During the War of 1812 U.S. coastal defenses proved to be seriously weak. In 1816 Congress created a military Board of Engineers for Seacoast Fortifications, which undertook to devise a scheme of national defense that would consist largely of the erection of brick fortifications along the exposed coastlines. As a part of this plan, in the early 1820's the board chose Cockspur Island as the site of a fort. Brig. Gen. [courtesy title] Simon Bernard, who had been a famed military engineer under Napoleon and for a while his aide-de-camp, and who was associated with the board, prepared preliminary plans for the Cockspur fort, and work began 2 years later under the direction of Maj. Samuel Babcock. Robert E. Lee's first assignment after he graduated from West Point, in 1829, was to Cockspur Island, where he assisted with the work on the fort until 1831. Early that same year Lt. J. K. F. Mansfield replaced Major Babcock. Mansfield revised Bernard's plans for the fort, and completed most of the structure during the 14 years he served there. In 1833 the new fort was named Pulaski in honor of Count Casimir Pulaski, Polish friend of the United States during the War for Independence who fell in 1779 at the Siege of Savannah. From 1829 to 1847 construction continued. It was an enormous project, involving nearly $1 million and large quantities of lumber, lime, lead, iron, and other building supplies. In one respect it was never finished. Its armament was to include about 140 cannon, but at the beginning of the Civil War only 20 cannon had been mounted, and even these were not in a serviceable condition.
Fort Pulaski National Monument, established in 1924, consists of more than 5,364 acres on McQueens and Cockspur Islands, almost all of which are in Federal ownership. The fort, on Cockspur Island, is surrounded by marsh and woods, where an array of birds and semitropical plants is found. Comprehensive exhibits reveal the history of the fort, most parts of which visitors may view. Interpretive markers indicate special points of interest.
Last Updated: 29-Aug-2005