Located on Cockspur Island near Savannah, Georgia, Fort Pulaski National Monument preserves the site of Fort Pulaski, a 19th-century military facility that served as a prisoner-of-war camp and seminal combat site during the American Civil War. Fort Pulaski was one of several fortresses ordered for construction by United States President James Madison after the end of the War of 1812, intended to serve as protection against future foreign invasion.
Construction for Savannah’s port fortress was started in 1829, located on the coastal island of Cockspur Island and supervised by Lieutenant Robert E. Lee. It was named in commemoration of American Revolution commander Kazimierz Pulaski, noted for his hand in training Revolutionary War troops, and built as part of the Third System of fortifications, many of which are still preserved as national monuments along the American Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. After 18 years of construction utilizing more than 25 million bricks, Fort Pulaski was opened as a military facility in 1847.
In 1861, after South Carolina’s secession from the United States led to the beginning of the American Civil War, Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown ordered the seizure of the fort for the Confederate States of America. After the abandonment of Tybee Island by the Confederacy in December of 1861, Union troops began advancing toward the fort across the Savannah River, leading to a seminal April 1862 battle which successfully utilized rifled cannon bombardment in combat for the first time. As a result, Colonel Charles H. Olmstead surrendered the fort to Union forces, an outcome that directly led to Union General David Hunter issuing General Order Number Eleven, which freed African-American slaves in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. Throughout the remainder of the war, Fort Pulaski served as a Union prisoner-of-war camp and a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Following the end of the Civil War, the fort continued to be operated as a military prison, but by the turn of the century, its premises were in danger of falling victim to disrepair and decay. In 1924, the fort was declared a National Monument, prompting major repairs. It temporarily served as a Navy base during World War II, but has been open to the public otherwise since its transfer to the supervision of the National Park Service in 1933.
Permanent Attractions and Exhibits
Today, Fort Pulaski National Monument operates as a living history museum under the care of the National Park Service. The fort’s Visitor Center contains a number of exhibits chronicling the fort’s construction, operation, and 1862 battle and defeat, as well as the military careers of Robert E. Lee and David Hunter. A 20-minute film, The Battle for Fort Pulaski, is shown daily every half hour, and a bookstore inside the Center, operated by the nonprofit organization Eastern National, offers literature and resources related to the American Civil War.
Four major trails run through the park’s grounds, allowing visitors to explore the fort and the surrounding island area. The ¼-mile North Pier Trail offers an easy wooded pathway, while the ¾-mile Lighthouse Overlook Trail provides views of the island’s historic Cockspur Island Lighthouse. A two-mile Historic Dike System Trail allows exploration of the dike system designed by Robert E. Lee, and a McQueens Island Trail retraces the route of the former Tybee rail line connecting Savannah to Tybee Island.
In addition to the fort itself, visitors may explore several of the island’s surrounding attractions, including Battery Hambright, a Spanish-American War fortification, and the fort’s adjoining Cemetery, which serves as a resting place for a small group of soldiers from the mid 19th century. Nearby, a Monument to John Wesley commemorates the site of the preacher’s first New World sermon in 1736. The remains of the fort’s Construction Village are visible at places throughout the island as well, showcasing cisterns, ovens, and other artifacts left over from the fort’s 18-year construction period.
A variety of outdoor activities are permitted on the park’s grounds, including running, hiking, bicycling, and kayaking. Fishing is permitted along the banks of the Savannah River, although all fishers must possess a valid Georgia fishing license. Covered and outdoor picnic grounds areas are provided for visitors, although alcohol is not permitted within the park’s historic dike system. The Visitor Center and the lower level of the fort structure are fully wheelchair accessible, and interpretive services for the park’s exhibits are offered, including Braille transcripts of exhibit stations.
Free field trips for elementary and secondary school groups are offered, with pre-visit materials and tour information tailored to Georgia curriculum standards. Several independent programs for young visitors are also offered, including a Junior Ranger and Junior Civil War Historian Program and a Civil War trading card series, with 10 Fort-Pulaski-themed cards that may be collected at the park.
US-80, Savannah, GA 31410, Phone: 912-786-8182
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