Defensive Design

IMG_7999I had no idea that a military fort could be so beautiful. On our last full day on the Georgia coast, we decided to take a drive north from Skidaway to Tybee Island. We had no specific destinations on Tybee, we just wanted to check it out. Tybee is Savannah’s beach, with a partially funky, partially upscale, southern beach town feel. It has a starkly handsome lighthouse, set off by the red roofs below.

IMG_7918As we were on the stretch of road leaving Tybee, we decided to stop at Fort Pulaski, a National Park Service Monument on the Savannah River’s Cockspur Island. A good decision.

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Moat and drawbridge

Surprisingly, the Park Service allowed dogs everywhere but in the visitor center, so Zoe got to tour the fort also.

You can just see George and Zoe at the edge of the moat.

You can just see George and Zoe between the trees at the moat’s edge.  She wanted to go swimming.

Zoe liked the cannon.

Zoe showing her approval of the cannon.

We walked a trail down to the river bank and then tackled the fort itself.

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There were flocks of cedar waxwings on the trail.

We dodged a flock of cedar waxwings on the trail.

Resurrection ferns.  They are epiphytes like the Spanish moss and live, appear to die, and then live again.

Resurrection ferns. They are epiphytes like the Spanish moss and live on the live oaks.  They turn brown and look dead under cold and drought conditions and then, a few days later, become green again.

The fort’s history alone made it an interesting visit.IMG_8045

IMG_8013Fort Pulaski was part of James Madison’s plan to fortify the coast after the war of 1812. It took decades to build and stood even longer after its completion without being fully armed or manned.  As a result, when South Carolina seceded from the Union in late 1860, Georgia’s governor easily seized the fort, and turned it over to the Confederate States in January 1861.  After Lincoln blockaded the South, Union forces worked their way down the South Carolina coast and moved in on Georgia, eventually establishing troops on Tybee for a siege of Fort Pulaski.  In April 1862, when the Confederates refused to surrender the fort, the Union bombarded it with armament that included new rifled cannons, Parrott guns, which sent bullet-shaped shells spinning out of the cannon, giving greater range and penetration than the standard smooth-bore cannon and round cannon balls used at the time.  The new guns made short work of what had been considered Pulaski’s impenetrable walls and the Confederates surrendered 30 hours later.IMG_7971

IMG_7966IMG_8033After the surrender, General David Hunter, commander of the Fort’s Union forces, issued an emancipation proclamation for the slaves of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina (too early for Lincoln–he quickly rescinded it).  The hundreds of slaves who reached the fort were freed and it became a southern terminus in the Underground Railroad.

Carved granite steps.

Carved granite steps from below.

History aside, what I found so compelling about the fort was its sheer beauty of design. It may not have been impregnable, but it was stunning for the eyes.  The man responsible, General Simon Bernard, was a French engineer and former aide-de-camp of Napoleon.

The vaulted ceilings and arches gave it a church-like feel.  The dimensions, the symmetry, and the colors were pleasing, almost soothing.  Beautiful form for a brutal function.IMG_8026_edited-1

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Toward the end of the war, Fort Pulaski housed Confederate political and military prisoners, some of whom died there.  It’s now supposed to be haunted.IMG_7993

18 thoughts on “Defensive Design

  1. Thanks for this post. You have done a wonderful job of describing the history of Fort Pulaski. We often take Blondie over there to walk on the trails. Our favorite one goes out to a closer view of the Cockspur Lighthouse. When we visited Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas a few years ago I thought it looked a lot like Fort Pulaski. Our guide told us that it was the same design as Fort Pulaski.

    • Glad you like it! It was a challenge condensing the history to a paragraph and I left out lots of interesting tidbits. I love the Cockspur lighthouse, next time we will have to take that trail.

      I’ve always wanted to go out to the Dry Tortugas–interesting that the fort design is the same. I’m tempted to do a tour of Bernard-designed forts!

  2. I’m always fascinated by military castle or fort, we have a lot in Belgium due to the WW2. It’s so interesting ! I’m always picturing how the soldiers must have felt and try to imagine the life at that time.

  3. Fascinating fort! I always love to visit them, as they have a way to take you back in time. Thank you for the virtual tour! Zoe is absolutely adorable! How old is she?

    • The old forts have lots of scope for imagination, don’t they? Zoe just turned 11 yesterday. She’s slowing down, but is a joyful, amazing little companion.

      • Yes, absolutely! Aww, happy birthday, Zoe!!! I hope she will bring much joy in your life, for many more years to come! ❤

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