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FORT PULASKI
National Monument
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Bombardment

Morning on the 10th of April 1862, broke clear and cold. A fresh easterly wind whipped the red waters of the Savannah River into whitecaps, and the brown and purple marshes were showing the green of early spring. Soon after sunrise, a lieutenant on duty on the ramparts of Fort Pulaski reported that suspicious changes in the landscape had been made during the night on Tybee Island near the mouth of Tybee Creek. Several old chimneys had been torn down; the top of the ridge had been leveled; brush and trees had been removed; and there were dark objects visible that looked as though they might be guns.

While Olmstead and his officers discussed these ominous signs, they saw a small boat put out from the shore of Tybee under a flag of truce and head up the South Channel. Word spread quickly through the fort and men swarmed up to the parapet to watch. Soon the small boat landed at the south wharf. It brought Lt. J. H. Wilson, of the Topographical Engineers, to Cockspur Island with a formal demand to surrender.

Colonel Olmstead retired to his quarters, where, after a brief time, he composed his reply:

Sir, I have to acknowledge receipt of your communication of this date, demanding the unconditional surrender of Fort Pulaski.

In reply I can only say, that I am here to defend the Fort, not to surrender it.

Now that the time had come to fight, the men experienced a great sense of relief. They joked and laughed among themselves as they cleaned up the parade ground, carried ammunition to the guns, and prepared for action.

At 10 minutes past 8 o'clock a single 13-inch mortar shell rose from Battery Halleck with a muffled roar. It traveled slowly in a high arc over the fort and exploded in the air beyond. The second mortar shell, from Battery Stanton, fell short, exploding in the marsh east of the fort. And now the line of fire rolled along Tybee Beach, extending itself to right and left as battery after battery unmasked mortars, guns, and columbiads.

For some minutes Pulaski was silent; then, four casemate guns were fired in rapid succession. Almost immediately the guns on the barbette joined in the action directing their fire toward the rifle batteries at King's Landing on Tybee Island.

The first shots on both sides went wide of their marks as the gunners attempted to box their targets. One of the barbette guns of the fort recoiled completely off its chassis, while similar accidents on Tybee put four 10-inch columbiads out of the fight. Despite these early mishaps, the fire from each side was soon rapid and increasingly accurate.

Early in the day the men in the fort learned that they had little to fear from the Federal mortars. Most of the 10-inch and 13-inch mortar shells exploded high in the air or fell outside. The few that dropped on the parade buried themselves in the ground and, on exploding, threw up harmless geysers of mud. Whenever a ponderous solid shot from a columbiad landed squarely on the wall, however, the whole fort quivered and shook. About 2 hours after the fight began, one of these solid shots entered an embrasure and dismounted the casemate gun. Several members of the gun crew were wounded, one so severely that it was necessary to amputate his arm immediately. At 11 o'clock the halyards on the flag pole were cut by a fragment of shell and the flag swooped down within the fort. Lt. Christopher Hussey of the Montgomery Guards and Pvt. John Latham of the German Volunteers sprang upon the parapet and carried the flag under fire to the northeast angle where they raised it again on the ramrod of a cannon.

At noon observers on Tybee counted 47 scars on the south flank, pancoupe, and southeast face of the fort, and it was already obvious that several of the embrasures were considerably enlarged. During the afternoon the fire slackened on both sides, and after sunset not more than 7 or 8 shells an hour were thrown until daylight the next morning. At the end of the day to observers on Tybee, the fort, notwithstanding its dents and scars, looked nearly as solid and capable of resistance as when fire was opened in the morning. There was a general feeling among the Union soldiers that the day's work had not greatly hastened the surrender. The mortars had proved a disappointment and the effect of the breaching fire could not be definitely determined. Although there had been many narrow escapes, no one had been hurt in the Federal batteries.

Had Gillmore been able to inspect the fort at the end of the first day, he would have had reason to rejoice. The place was in shambles. Nearly all of the barbette guns and mortars bearing upon Tybee had been dismounted and only two of the five casemate guns were in order. At the southeast angle, the whole wall from the crest of the parapet to the moat was flaked away to a depth of from 2 to 4 feet.


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