Thursday, Jan 20, 2011
Over 200 visitors watched as the 34-star United States flag was lowered and the Georgia flag of secession was raised over Fort Pulaski on Sunday, January 2nd, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the seizure of the United States fort by Georgia state troops in the months leading up to the Civil War. This event marked the beginning of the park’s commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.
“As we enter the New Year, our nation will begin commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War,” said Superintendent Randy Wester. “Three months before the war started, the country was already unraveling. On January 3, 1861, Georgia troops ousted the U.S. army and took possession of Fort Pulaski two weeks before Georgia even seceded from the Union.”
In fear of U.S. troops reinforcing lightly held Fort Pulaski, Georgia Governor Joseph Brown ordered the state militia to seize the fort. On January 3, 1861, state troops marched into the fort and took it without firing a shot. Held by one officer and a custodian, the strategically located fort was peacefully turned over to state control. Now, the governor could be assured of keeping the vital port of Savannah open to shipping.
Ranger Mike Weinstein read from the memoirs of Charles Olmstead, a Savannah cotton merchant, who marched with the militia: “The little battalion was formed upon the North Wharf and then with drums beating, colors flying and hearts swelling we marched over the drawbridge, under the portcullis and into the fort. I can shut my eyes and see it all now, the proud step of officers and men, the colors snapping in the strong breeze from the ocean, the bright sunlight of the parade as we emerged from the shadow of the archway, the first glimpse of a gun through an open casemate door. One and all they were photographed on my mind and will never be forgotten.”
Nearly three weeks later, on January 19, 1861, Georgia voted to secede from the Union, and the nation continued down the path to war. It would be another three months before the Civil War began in April 1861.
“The conflicting loyalties of the Civil War taxed those who lived through it, and even today, the issues defy easy answers,” said Wester. “It is appropriate that we honor the events of the past, and reflect on what they mean to us today.”