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Fort Pulaski Commemorates Battle Sesquicentennial

Fort Pulaski National Monument

National Park News

In early 1862, Union troops spent nearly two months erecting 36 guns in 11 batteries on the western shore of Tybee Island.  The Union cannon on Tybee Island, over a mile away, converged on Fort Pulaski on April 10, 1862. After 30 hours, the brick walls of the fort were breached, and the Confederate fort surrendered on April 11, 1862.  The historic battle featured the first significant use of rifled artillery against a masonry fort and had international ramifications on the future design and construction of coastal forts.

Fort Pulaski National Monument commemorated the 150th Anniversary of the siege and reduction of Fort Pulaski with six days of anniversary programs from April 10th to April 15th. In addition to anniversary-themed, ranger-guided tours of Fort Pulaski, the park presented daily opportunities to experience the fort from a new and unique perspective.

On April 10th and April 11th, the park offered special tours of Fort Pulaski from the water.  For the first time ever, visitors were able to embark on a boat tour of Fort Pulaski, featuring the naval campaign, which was as important to the Union victory as the new artillery.  Faced with confusing channels, treacherous tides, and a fort bristling with powerful cannons, the Union Navy was still able to encircle and isolate the fort.  Participants learned about the battle’s naval operations, as they cruised through Lazaretto Creek – the “back door” to the fort from Savannah – with views of the Tybee Island coastline, two historic lighthouses, and Cockspur Island.  The tour relayed the larger impact of the battle by putting the importance of Fort Pulaski’s location into context. 

The afternoon boat tours of Fort Pulaski were followed by evening lectures in the fort’s casemates.  The lectures expanded on the stories of the Civil War in Savannah.  On April 10th, the executive director of the National Civil War Naval Museum, Ken Johnston, provided a lecture entitled “The Civil War Naval Experience of Savannah and the Georgia Coast.”  On April 11th, Talley Kirkland of the Georgia State Parks discussed “Life in Civil War Savannah.”  Kirkland was a ranger at Fort Pulaski for 32 years.  He retired in 2005 and started a new career as a ranger at Fort McAllister Historic State Park.  

The park continued its commemoration on April 12th with the premiere of the historical documentary, “Savannah in the Civil War,”  an expansive, exciting new film by Cosmos Mariner Productions that features local and regional actors, numerous noted historians and authors, and many local historic sites – including Fort Pulaski – to explore fascinating stories of Savannah in the Civil War. 

The event also included the premiere of “Stalling Sherman's Army: The Battle at Monteith Swamp.”  This short film documents a recent National Park Service-funded archaeological investigation conducted by the LAMAR Institute, which unearthed new artifacts and information.  In December 1864, a small group of Confederate veterans and home guard gathered in eastern Effingham County to delay the inevitable approach of Union General William T. Sherman's left wing – part of Sherman's "March to the Sea."  Visitors brought blankets and picnics to view the films on the fort’s parade ground, enjoying an evening under the stars in the historic fort. 

Following the Union capture of Fort Pulaski on April 11, 1862, Major General David Hunter issued General Orders No. 7 on April 13, 1862.  General Orders No. 7 freed enslaved people at Fort Pulaski and on Cockspur Island.  Hunter’s orders served as a precursor to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, formally issued on January 1, 1863.

The park commemorated the 150th anniversary of Hunter’s General Orders No. 7 on April 13th.  Following a talk by Gloria Lee, the park’s chief of interpretation, Asa Gordon, the secretary general of the Sons and Daughters of the United States Colored Troops, provided an interactive presentation about African American soldiers in the Civil War.  The presentation was accompanied by a showing of the historical documentary, “Fight for Freedom: The Inspiring Story of African American Civil War Soldiers”.

Throughout the weekend, volunteer reenactors camped in and around Fort Pulaski.  Living historians from around the country represented Confederate and Union forces for the event.  The Confederate reenactment regiments were the 20th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry and the North Carolina troops. The Union reenactment regiments included the 48th New York Volunteer Infantry, the 1st New York Engineers, the 8th Maine, and the 3rd Rhode Island (presented by Battery “B”, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery).  Civil War reenactor Tom Wessling portrayed Father Peter Whelan, the Irish chaplain of the Confederate troops at Fort Pulaski.  These living historians brought life to the fort and its surroundings and were vital to the weekend’s programs.

Living history presentations were provided in the fort by Confederate reenactors, while Union reenactors were set up outside the fort at “Camp Tybee” and in Battery Park on Tybee Island.  Presentations consisted of medical talks, knapsack inspections, mail/pay call, and camp cooking, as well as company drills, bayonet drills, and participatory drills for children. 

Historic weapons demonstrations of musket and cannon firing were performed by Confederate reenactors in Fort Pulaski and in nearby Tybee Island by Union reenactors.  The demonstrations were conducted according to historically correct firing drills on the park’s 12 inch howitzer and 32-pounder Parrott rifle.  The cannon demonstrations featured an original bronze, Ames 6-pounder James rifle, provided by Battery “B”, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery. 

Fort Pulaski’s siege weekend featured an evening concert of music from the Civil War era on Saturday by the 97th Regimental String Band.  The string band performed a wide variety of traditional American songs, presenting vocal and instrumental music of the 1800s, with stories and songs about real people and events that shaped America’s history.  Again, visitors were invited to picnic in the fort at this early evening event. 

A memorial to the fallen was held Sunday morning to honor the Union and Confederate soldiers who gave their lives in America’s Civil War.  Reenactors representing Confederate and Union soldiers gathered at the fort’s cemetery to recognize fallen soldiers with a wreath laying and a military salute. 

The culminating program of the park’s signature sesquicentennial event was a surrender ceremony, also on Sunday.  Living historians demonstrated the final moments of the battle of Fort Pulaski and the Confederate surrender of the fort to Union forces, including the lowering of the Confederate National Flag and the raising of the 34-star United States flag. 

The living history presentation was followed by an official program led by park superintendent Randall Wester and featuring Drs. W. Todd Groce and Robert K. Sutton.  Dr. Groce, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Historical Society, discussed the legacy and impact of the battle of Fort Pulaski.  Dr. Sutton, chief historian for the National Park Service, discussed the role that the battle of Fort Pulaski played in the larger context of the Civil War and the ongoing commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War by the National Park Service.  The program ended with a 21-gun three volley musket salute by living historians representing the Union and Confederate soldiers of the Battle of Fort Pulaski.

Stories, pictures, and videos of the Sesquicentennial of the Battle of Fort Pulaski will soon be available on the following websites – www.NPS.gov/FOPU, www.twitter.com/FortPulaskiNPS, www.facebook.com/FortPulaskiNPS, www.flickr.com/Fort PulaskiNPS, and www.youtube.com/FortPulaskiNPS.



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