Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fort Pulaski National Monument

I'm not normally real keen on cannonball parks, especially ones that announce their presence by flying a garrison stars and bars, but Fort Pulaski is different.

It has a lighthouse.
A really cute little channel marker, the Cockspur Island Light. Granted, it's been relegated to day marker status since 1909, but it's still cute. It's also threatened, of course. The usual suspects: time and the environment. It's threatened by salt water, by erosion, by lack of maintenance monies. The original iron cupola is sitting in the parade ground at the fort in an effort both to preserve it and to serve as a visual reminder to park visitors to cough up some bucks. The cupola on the tower now is stainless steel so it isn't as susceptible to the salt water.

Fort Pulaski also has a moat, another point in its favor. No 'gators cruising around while we were there, but it was a little chilly for reptiles.
Fort Pulaski was built to protect the approach to the harbor at Savannah. It was considered more or less impregnable, although why any military mind in the 19th century would think building the equivalent of a medieval curtain wall, even a really thick one, was proof against cannon fire is beyond me. It was occupied by the Confederacy at the beginning of the war, but once Union forces decided they wanted it, they took it without much hassle. Rifled cannon shot fired from Tybee Island hammered a breach in one wall in short order, and that was that.
I was intrigued by the carriages used to move the heavy cannon. It struck me that was I was looking at was the "big wheels" used in logging in the 19th century. Logging histories always describe big wheels as being introduced in the early 1870s -- or at least that's when the first photographs of them being used appear. It finally hit me (definitely one of those "doh!" moments for a historian of technology) that they're a classic case of technology transfer: it wouldn't be much of a stretch for military veterans going back home to work in the woods to realize that if it was possible to move large cannon by slinging them under an axle it would also be possible to move large pine logs that way.
Fort Pulaski was once surrounded by salt marsh with very little solid ground outside the perimeter of the fort's dike. Over the years material dredged from the river has been added to Cockspur Island, so there's now a fairly extensive area with hiking/biking trails and a picnic area.

The fort overall had a distinctly anachronistic feel, even allowing for the fact it was built in the first half of the 18th century. You cross a moat twice to get into it, and then walk up through a passageway that feels like it should have murder holes in the ceiling. The fact the one volunteer re-enactor/living history person on duty looked to be old enough to have served with Stonewall Jackson just added to the ambience. The snarky part of me kept wanting to ask him, "So, Gramps, are you the living history embodiment of the CSA recruiters scraping the bottom of the barrel?"

Fort Pulaski is also notable as being the site of one of the earliest known photograph of troops playing baseball -- an October 1862 photo of troops drilling on the parade ground shows a baseball game in progress behind them -- but apparently there's more glory to be had in Georgia in dressing up as a CSA artilleryman than as a New York shortstop.


  1. When The Dancer took the Tour of Georiga trip with her 8th grade class, she loved the visit to Fort Pulaski. The rest of us have yet to visit it, as it rained mightily the day we visited Savannah a couple of years ago.

    Thank you for all the detail! You could be a travel writer.

  2. Interesting insight about the "big wheels" and the artillery carriages. Do I sense an SIA paper in germination?

    And yeah, the age curve among Civil War reenactors is always a source of some amusement. What's that they say about "old men send the young men out to war?" You'd never know it...

  3. "apparently there's more glory to be had in Georgia in dressing up as a CSA artilleryman than as a New York shortstop."
    Can you imagine anyone from Georgia having anything to do with New York (other than getting all their deli meats from there), especially dressing up like a New York Yankee???


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