June 1, 2011

6/1/11 – Fort Pulaski NM

On the way to Fort Pulaski National Memorial, we drove right past Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, so we made a U-turn to the Visitors Center.  We watched the video they had there.  The refuge used to be rice fields of plantations dating back to the 1700’s.  There’s  a Wildlife Drive that would have been nice to take, but they’re doing work on some of the “impoundments” so it’s closed.  So it's onward to Savannah and the fort.  

Showing us how to load a musket

Fort Pulaski’s Visitors Center is built of red brick like the fort itself.  We watched the movie, then headed over to the fort just in time to see a musket demo by a volunteer.  He was dressed in a Confederate uniform, and talked about it first.  I didn’t realize that the shoes they wore were made of paper, and were exactly the same for both feet.  “Breaking in a new pair of shoes” had a completely different meaning back then.  Then he explained all about the gun and how it was loaded.  The soldiers would have drilled to be able to load those single-shot muskets 3 times in one minute.  That’s pretty impressive with black powder and ramrods.   

Right after the demo, a ranger was giving a tour of the fort, so we tagged along.  Fort Pulaski was built as part of a group of forts to protect national security after the War of 1812.  Completed in 1847, it was considered invincible.   It even has a moat, complete with water and standard alligator.  Just before South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861, the Georgia militia seized it so the North wouldn’t take it like they did Ft. Sumter.   (Not as impressive as it sounds—there were only 2 maintenance guys there at the time.)

Protected by moat and demilune
By spring, the Union decided to take it back.  They had a new weapon:  cannons called “Parrott Rifles” with rifled bores that could fire farther and with more accuracy than the cannons that the Confederacy had.  Instead of a round cannonball, their shells looked more like great big bullets.  For 30 hours in April, 1862, the US bombarded the fort from Tybee Island with over 5,000 shots!  They breached one corner of the 8’ thick walls.   They were getting close to hitting the magazine with over 40,000 pounds of gunpowder in wooden kegs; rather than risk the lives of his men needlessly, Colonel Olmstead surrendered the next day.  

The Union rebuilt the walls in 6 weeks (that's the bright-red brick part), but there are still shells embedded in the outside walls.  This was the first time that rifled cannon was used against a masonry fort, and after this battle no one ever built a brick fort again.
Repaired breach and shelled walls
We had a picnic nearby after all that (it was late and I was starving!)  Still not used to the idea of palms and pine trees together...

Pictures of Fort Pulaski 

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