Georgia’s Old Fort Jackson is a National Historic Landmark located just minutes from historical downtown Savannah, GA. The restored 19th-century fort is one of the oldest brick forts on the east coast of the United States, and the oldest in the state of Georgia, and is located on the banks of the Savannah River. The view of the river from the fort, as well as the public walkways alongside the riverbanks, are highlights of the area. Visitors enter through a “sally port,” the technical name for a fort’s entrance. Once inside, a short film educates guests on the history of the fort. Permanent exhibits inside the fort explain the history of the relationship between the fort and the city of Savannah, and showcase weapons that have historically been used at the fort. The weapons exhibits are located in the casemates, fortified areas from which the guns were fired. There is also an exhibit of artifacts from the CSS Georgia, a 250-foot ironclad warship built in the 1800s, which ultimately sank in the river in front of Fort Jackson. The remains of the ship are still there today. Visitors may also tour the ramparts, the defensive walls of the fort. The original privy can be seen at the southeast corner of the fort. This privy was once washed out daily by the rising tides of the river. The fort offers daily cannon firings to entertain visitors, and the canon, a 9-inch Dahlgren, is one of the largest pieces of pre-Civil War heavy artillery still functioning in the United States today. The twice-daily canon firings at 11:00am and 2:00pm are perhaps the most popular feature of a tour to the fort, along with the view of the coastal plains from where the canon is perched.
History: Fort Jackson was built between 1801 and 1812 on top of an old battery used during the American Revolution. Under the authorization of then-president Thomas Jefferson, a system of forts was built throughout the eastern United States to defend the young nation after the close of the revolution. The fort saw battle during the War of 1812, when it defended Savannah from an attack by the United Kingdom. After the war, the fort underwent significant additional construction and a drawbridge, moat, barrack, and rear wall were added, along with a storehouse for gunpowder. The fort again saw battle during the American Civil War, when it was used to defend the Confederation from Union attack. Fort Jackson served as the Confederate headquarters for the defense of the Savannah River and home base for the Confederate States Navy during the Civil War. The fort was abandoned by the Confederate troops in 1864, when William T. Sherman and the Union army captured Savannah.
The fort was named for James Jackson (1757–1806), a British-born American who fought for the cause of the American Revolution and became a US Colonel. Towards the end of the revolution, the 25-year-old colonel accepted the surrender of the British in Savannah. James Jackson would go on to become a US Representative, a senator, and the 23rd governor of Georgia, where he served from 1798 to 1801.
Although the fort was purchased by the city of Savannah for use as a park in 1924, it was not fully restored until the 1970s. The Coastal Heritage Society, a non-profit organization established in 1975, currently operates the fort as a museum and manages four other historically significant Savannah museums as well.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Visitors to the fort may stroll through on a self-guided tour or may call ahead to find out when guided tours will be available. The 1-hour guided tours are led by knowledgeable, costumed Civil War interpreters, who educate guests on the history of the fort. The tours conclude with interactive, hands-on activities and the firing of the canon. Group tours can be arranged for schools, scout troops, or others. The fort is a popular venue for after-hours events, including weddings.
What’s Nearby: Fort James Jackson is managed by the Coastal Heritage Society, which also operates four other Savannah area museums, including the Savannah History Museum, Savannah Children’s Museum, Georgia State Railroad Museum, and Pinpoint Heritage Museum. The fort is also located adjacent to two historic lighthouses, the Cockspur Lighthouse and the Tybee Lighthouse.
1 Fort Jackson Road, Savannah, GA 31404, Phone: 912-232-3945