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SEAC: Fort Construction and the Civil War


headingFort Construction heading

Following a quarter century of relative abandonment from 1804 to 1829, Cockspur Island was picked as the location for a new generation of fort. The War of 1812 helped to illustrate the ineffectiveness of the United States coastal defense system of the time. With this realization, President James Madison commissioned French military engineer General Simon Bernard to design a new network of fortifications on the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific coasts. Initial plans called for almost 200 new forts to be built, but by the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 only 30 of these were completed. Fort Pulaski was one of these forts (Click here for more information about the Third System of American Coastal Defense).

Selected Forts of the Third System of United States Coastal Defense


Fort Pulaski, Cockspur Island, Georgia. Fort Jackson, Savannah, Georgia. Fort Sumter, Sullivan's Island, South Carolina.
Fort Moultrie, Sullivan's Island, South Carolina. Fort Clinch, Amelia Island, Florida. Fort Point, San Francisco, California.

Top Row (Left to Right): Fort Pulaski, Cockspur Island, Georgia; Fort Jackson, Savannah, Georgia; Fort Sumter, Sullivan's Island, Georgia.
Bottom Row (Left to Right): Fort Moultrie, Sullivan's Island, Georgia; Fort Clinch, Amelia Island, Florida; Fort Point, San Francisco, California.

The original design of Fort Pulaski was completed in 1827, with finalized plans finished in 1831. Construction on Cockspur Island began in 1829 under the supervision of Major Samuel Babcock of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Due to his failing health, most of the work from Civil War era photo of Major General Joseph K.F. Mansfield.1829 to 1831 was supervised by Lieutenant Robert E. Lee. Lee's work focused on the main drainage system, the dike system, the main north pier, and the wood frame buildings used by the laborers. Following Babcock's death and Lee's reassignment in 1831, Lieutenant Joseph K.F. Mansfield took over as supervisor for the construction of Fort Pulaski (see 1860s Civil War era photo at right). Mansfield expanded the area of the construction village, and basically completed the construction of the actual fort by 1847.

The main body of labor during the years 1829 to 1841 consisted mostly of enslaved Africans rented from nearby plantations. However, the final years of the fort's construction (1841-1847) saw the need for skilled labor with experience digging in the blue clays found on Cockspur Island. This group included both African-American and European-American laborers, all of whom would have had extensive experience working with these soils. These skilled laborers would have been part of the crew that dug the area of the pilings on which Fort Pulaski sat.

The Construction Village

There are still many remnants of the construction of Fort Pulaski throughout Cockspur Island. Numerous circular brick structures, or cisterns, can be seen, some with Cistern (at left) with associated square brickwork (at right).associated square brickworks. These brick features are not well understood, although it is thought that most of them date to this period of Fort Pulaski's construction, and are, therefore, related to the construction village. Much of the archeology concerned with Fort Pulaski National Monument has focused on cataloging and mapping these features, but only limited digging has actually occurred in the areas around them. Future research would focus on their relation to underlying features and artifacts that have not yet been exposed.

Based on maps done by Lieutenant Lee in 1830 and Lieutenant Mansfield in 1831, the locations of many of the buildings in the construction village are well-documented. The village consisted of three laborers quarters, a bakehouse, a mechanics boarding house (storm house), master workmans (mechanic's) quarters, superintending engineers quarters, an office, assistant engineering quarters, a blacksmith shop, a stable, a customs/boatmens house, and various associated cisterns. All of the actual wooden structures were destroyed by hurricanes that occurred in 1854, 1881, and 1893, leaving only solid brick structures behind.

Square brickwork located northeast of the fort.Limited excavations occurred at 2 of the square brick structures during the 1999 field season at Fort Pulaski National Monument. Three shovel tests at the brickwork located northeast of the fort (see picture at left) yielded various artifacts including coal, cinders, metal fragments, wooden planks with iron and copper nails, and brick fragments. This feature is thought to represent a fireplace or Square brickwork located northwest of the fort.oven. A circular cistern is located nearby (see above right picture). Testing at the other square brickwork located northwest of the fort contained brick and mortar rubble, oyster shell, mammal and fish bones, nails and other metal fragments, glass, and historic ceramics. The dating of the ceramics placed them during the period of Fort Pulaski's construction (1829 to 1847). A 1934 map of Cockspur Island identified this square brickwork as a stove, and the 1999 investigations supported this interpretation by labeling it as either a stove or fireplace associated with the mechanics building.

Following investigations of the brickworks, Southeast Archeological Center archeologists digitized the 1831 Mansfield map, and tied it into actual coordinates on an United States Southeast Archeological Center archeologists using a backmounted GPS system.Geological Survey map. The locations of the cisterns and square brickworks were recorded using a Global Positioning System (GPS). These locations were then plotted on the maps to test how accurate the Mansfield map was. The results showed that the 1831 Mansfield map was very close to the actual locations of the cisterns and brickworks. Because of this, the crew then decided to try and locate the blacksmith shop and the bakehouse using the Mansfield map. The area of the blacksmith shop turned out to be under a section of the dike system constructed during the 1930s. Excavations at the supposed site of the bakehouse did not reveal any features, but they did show that a large amount of dredge fill was added to this area of the construction village.

Part of the problem with conducting a full-scale excavation and testing of the construction village areas is that much of it is buried under several feet of dredge spoil from the Savannah River. Army Corps of Engineers projects to deepen the north channel of the river led to the placement of the dredged materials on the north shore of Cockspur Island during the latter half of the 20th century. This thick layer of dredged material serves as both a hindrance to excavation and as protection for the site.

Archeology of the Feeder Canal and Dike System

While little archeological work occurred in the construction village, there was archeology done at both the feeder canal and dike system. In 1995, a Civil War era refuse area was disturbed by a Chatham County Mosquito Control worker while cleaning out an existing mosquito control ditch located west of the feeder canal. Work was halted until the site could be evaluated by archeologists as per the Section 106 compliance requirement. Archeologists from the Southeast Archeological Center were sent to investigate the extent of the damage. During their excavations, the archeologists identified the Civil War era refuse area containing brick fragments, complete glass bottles, and other Civil War period items. The archeologists concluded that these materials were probably associated with the post-April 1862 Union occupation of Fort Pulaski. Little information was gathered about the construction of the feeder canal or its relation to the overall construction of Fort Pulaski.

In June of 1997, Southeast Archeological Center archeologists returned to Fort Pulaski to conduct investigations of the dikes. Two areas were picked for digging based on the assumption that neither was disturbed by past repairs made by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s or later work by Fort Pulaski maintenance staff. The hope was to identify the original size and shape of the dikes built by Lieutenant Robert E. Lee. Work needed to be done before further repairs were made to the dike system to prepare for the impending hurricane season. One trench was cut into each of the two locations, thereby revealing the layering of soils, or stratigraphy, used to build up the dikes (Click here for a map of the Location of the Dike Investigations). When investigations were complete, it was learned that both locations had been disturbed in the past. The area of Trench 1 revealed evidence of repair during the 1930s using dredged mud from the moat. Trench 2 showed restorations that were probably made by Fort Pulaski maintenance crews sometime in the last 50 years.

A minie' ball.During the excavation, three artifacts were located, recorded, and returned to their original location. Trench 1 yielded 2 rose-brown brick fragments, and Trench 2 contained a replica .58 caliber minié ball (see picture at right). Minié balls were a bullet type developed during the 1840s that were used heavily during the Civil War. This replica is probably from the firing of black powder rifles by Civil War enthusiasts during the 1960s.

headerThe Siege of Fort Pulaskiheader

With the secession of Georgia from the United States, the Confederate Congress of the state saw a need to establish control over their coastal defenses before the arrival of Union occupying forces. To do so, they needed to capture the fortifications located on the Atlantic seaboard. On January 3, 1861, a Confederate force of 134 men easily overran Fort Pulaski, which was Historic marker for the Union batteries on Tybee Island.virtually abandoned at the time. The Confederacy would hold this position for more than a year.

During this time, Union leaders saw the need for recapturing fortifications such as Fort Sumter and Fort Pulaski if their naval blockade of southern ports was to be successful. Throughout the early months of 1862, Union forces secretly began building a host of batteries on Tybee, Bird, and Jones Islands to achieve this goal. A Union gun boat also patrolled Lazaretto Creek (Click for a Map of the Battery Locations - 47 KB).

Batteries were constructed on Tybee, but there were no batteries on McQueens Island.

At 8:15 am on April 10, 1862, the batteries opened fire on Fort Pulaski and the Confederate contingent within. Within 30 hours a breach was made, and the troops within the fort surrendered. The secret to the siege was the use of rifled cannons by the Photograph of projectile damage to Fort Pulaski's walls (43 KB).Union artillery. These new weapons were able to fire their elongated projectiles farther and more accurately than the smoothbore cannons that Fort Pulaski was built to withstand. This one event transformed all the masonry forts built as a part of the Third System of United States Coastal Defense from impenetrable bastions of ingenious engineering to obsolete symbols of American paranoia and excess.

Archeology related to the bombardment of Fort Pulaski is completely derived from 1990 excavations at one of the batteries on Tybee Island. While the property on which Battery Halleck is located is not physically a part of Fort Photograph showing heavily damaged wall of Fort Pulaski (44 KB).Pulaski National Monument, an agreement was reached between the monument, the Interagency Archeological Services Division of the National Park Service, and the private landowners to conduct excavations there. The complete report from these excavations is available on the internet: The Search for Battery Halleck.

Battery Halleck consisted of 2 17,000 pound 13-inch mortars, and was the one that issued the signal shot beginning the bombardment of Fort Pulaski. The site is marked by 4 depressions along a hammock area that extends into the surrounding marshland (Click for a Map of the Battery Halleck Area - 61 KB). 11 test units were excavated in three of the four depressions to see if any related artifacts still remained. While no Civil War era artifacts were recovered (some highly corroded metallic fragments were the only possible associated remains), the mapping of the site indicated that the four depressions were most likely the locations of the east and west mortar platforms and the powder magazine with its associated loading room, or antechamber. See the photographs below for a better idea of what the depression areas looked like.

Photographs of the Battery Halleck Area


1990 excavations of the east mortar platform area. 1990 excavations of the powder magazine. 1990 excavated unit in the proposed antechamber.

Above: 1990 excavations of the east mortar platform area.
Below: 2000 photograph of
the east mortar platform area.

Above: 1990 excavations of the powder magazine.
Below: 2000 photograph of
the powder magazine area.

Above: 1990 excavated unit
in the proposed antechamber.
Below: 2000 photograph of
the antechamber area.

2000 photograph of the east mortar platform area.

2000 photograph of the powder magazine area.

2000 photograph of the antechamber area.