I 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.
As 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.
Surprisingly, the Park Service allowed dogs everywhere but in the visitor center, so Zoe got to tour the fort also.
We walked a trail down to the river bank and then tackled the fort itself.
The fort’s history alone made it an interesting visit.
Fort 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.
After 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an emancipation proclamation for the slaves of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina (too early for Lincoln–he quickly rescinded it).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.
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.
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.