This 1830-1847 era military fort can be described as an old school “masonry fortification,” which used 25,000,000 bricks to construct its 5 walls. Each wall was from 7 to 11 feet thick and 32 feet high. It originally was built to include “67 arched casemates,” used for housing soldiers and storing supplies. These 67 arched casemates acted as a firm foundation for supporting a “30 foot wide terreplein” where the cannon platforms were placed. Fort Pulaski was solidly planned and built to last through anything, brought on by nature or man-made assaults. The fort’s near-perfect condition, testifies to its enduring qualities “despite having borne the brunt of numerous powerful hurricanes and one unrelenting bombardment.”
Tom and I visited Fort Pulaski, an impressive structure which is in the category of “mother of all brick fortresses,” complete with a moat and drawbridges. Alligators and perhaps other beasties seem to enjoy the moat, so don’t go swimming!! We saw the graves of some of the confederate soldiers, who died here because of the poor living conditions and punitive starvation diet they suffered in the prison.
There is also a museum on site. There are informative signs which give the visitor information about the area one sees, as one continues on a self tour.
After the War of 1812, when the British were able to sail up the Potomac River and burn the White House, it became real clear that a coastal defense system was needed. The federal government thought, “Wouldn’t it be grand to have a fort on Cockspur Island?” The government took control of 150 acres from a private party, and originally planned to build a grand, two story fort with three tiers of guns, but there was a fly in the ointment.
The land which was chosen for this project was marsh land/soft mud, which provided a challenge for Army Corp. of Engineers. Foundation pilings were driven 70 feet down to firmer ground. These pilings proved to be a firm foundation which would support a one story fort, which worked out well.
Fort Pulaski was finished by 1847, but only two men were stationed there, and it wasn’t really equipped or used as a serious fort. By 1860, only 20 of the planned 146 guns were brought to the fort and actually were in place, ready for use. So, it is not surprising that it was a cake walk for 134 Savannah Confederate Volunteer Guards and Chatham Artillery soldiers to take over the fort, just before Georgia left the Union and joined the Confederacy, which they held for over a year.
The cagey Union forces, led by Union Brigadier General Quincy Adam’s Gilmore, snuck over to Tybee Island and secretly built 11 battery units, armed with a new weapon; rifled cannons and their mortars. The inevitable Union attack featured 5,275 shots from cannons which could shoot more accurately and with a lot more force, which meant there was no need for risky attacks from boats with old fashioned cannons.
Fort Pulaski’s defenses, even if they had had all the cannons and the trained men needed to put up a fight, would still be no match for this type of new weapon. When one of the walls of Fort Pulaski was badly damaged, leaving a clear hole dangerously close to the ammo storage area, Confederate Col Charles Olmstead saw the writing on the wall: death and destruction, He surrendered the fort, which may have been a wise move, but haunted Olmstead the rest of his days and perhaps his eternal rest.
The Union forces repaired the damage done, and whipped the Fort Pulaski back into shape from June 1862 — May 1863. By 1864, Fort Pulaski was a secure place for ammo storage and keeping Confederate prisoners. In 1864, 592 of the original Confederate prisoners from Fort Delaware, known as the “Immortal 600” who became political pawns in the battle of Charleston, arrived at Fort Pulaski, where they continued to receive poor treatment out of revenge and retaliation for the South’s inability to properly take care of its Union prisoners.
After the war, Union General Gillmore returned to Fort Pulaski to modernize this brick fortress so that it wouldn’t be easy prey for another rifled cannon attack. Most of the improvements were made in the demilune area of the drawbridges, which were outside the main fort. However, the powers that be lost interest or lost funding, and the planned changes for the main fortress were abandoned. Finally, 15 years after the end of the Civil War, this military dinosaur, Fort Pulaski, was decommissioned as a military facility in 1880, though it still was owned by the War Department. It was abandoned until 1898, when American troops briefly moved in during the Spanish-American War. After that was settled, the fort once again was left to the elements and time, forgotten and abandoned.
After World War 1, interest in preserving places of history prevailed and Fort Pulaski, now in deplorable shape, its graveyards buried, was chosen. “On October 15, 1924, using the authority provided by the American Antiquities Act of 1906, President Calvin Coolidge established Fort Pulaski National Monument. This property was transferred from the War Department to the Department of the Interior on July 28, 1933. The National Park Service’s new mission was to oversee the restoration, management, and protection of this monument, thanks to the funding provided to do so.
It wasn’t until 1998 & 1999, that the cemetery sections were found via old documents and through modern archeology. The identification of the many of the Confederate, Union, and post Civil War burials were identified. Archeology focusing on the Immortal 600 and other burials at Fort Pulaski was one of the priorities of the 1998 and 1999 field seasons.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
There was no plan or agreement on the treatment of captured prisoners during the Civil War. They were put in dangerous situations, used like hostages, were abused and mistreated and used as political pawns. As no prisoner exchanges were encouraged during the Civil War, prisoner overcrowding was common in both Union and Southern prisons. Southern prisons such as Andersonville had the added problem of not having enough food to feed their prisoners because of the Union blockades of the ports. This awful situation leaked out to people in the North, and the urge to retaliate mounted.
The city of Charleston stubbornly put up a great fight defending itself against the Union, bringing on constant bombing by Union forces. To try to get some relief, General Jones under pressure from Confederate leaders, brought in 600 Union soldier prisoners within the city limits, putting them in harm’s way, which was becoming the Southern strategy. Union General Foster, responded by taking 600 Confederate prisoners ( known as the “Immortal 600”) from Fort Delaware to the beaches on Morris Island, South Carolina, placing them in front of Union batteries where 80 of these prisoners died on the beach.
This deplorable situation of using POWs as political fodder in this instance ended somewhat when Yellow Fever erupted in Charleston, and 600 Union soldier POWs were moved outside the city. The surviving 520 Confederate soldiers of the “Immortal 600” originally from Fort Delaware, however, were taken to Fort Pulaski into abusive conditions, and put on a starvation diet by order of General Foster for payback of the lack of food for Union soldiers held in Southern POW camps. The surviving 520 suffered and endured in the unheated casemates from October 1864 — January 1865. They kept themselves alive by eating rats, cats and kittens. By the end of Feb. conditions improved a little after 33 prisoners died of this abuse. Finally, on March 5th, 1865, the remaining prisoners were shipped back to Fort Delaware, except for 4 prisoners who were too weak to move, and wound up dying there.
Forty-four men of the 520 prisoners died from the lack of basic necessities and food, and never got justice for the mistreatment they suffered because of the Federal policy of retaliation, enforced with vigor by General Foster for nearly 4 months. Some were buried in unmarked graves.
Something stopped this awful treatment. Perhaps the Union Army realized what they did was wrong, and stopped the abuse after only 4 months. Perhaps they didn’t want to fuel the hatred of the Confederacy or calmer, saner minds took the helm, but not before men died as a result, leaving Fort Pulaski with a stigma as a place of suffering and abuse. Many of these prisoners suffered health problems the rest of their lives.
The Union soldiers who had to carry out the orders of General Foster were also traumatized on some level. Seeing fellow Americans freezing, becoming ill and slowly wasting away from lack of food would affect anyone with a conscience.
The 30 hour attack on Fort Pulaski did kill some Confederate soldiers as most battles will cause death.
Unknown Union and Confederate soldier entities
have been seen still on duty around the fort, and outside on the surrounding grounds.
An unseen presence has been felt standing near the living, calling the person’s name.
A feeling of sickness, fear, despair and misery comes over sensitive people in certain parts of Fort Pulaski.
Orbs have been captured on film.
In the 1980s the film GLORY was shot in Savannah. A group of Confederate soldier extras dressed in their uniforms decided to visit Fort Pulaski on the way to the set. Imagine their surprise when a Confederate lieutenant officer approached them, and reprimanded them for not saluting him. He ordered them to fall into line because a Union attack could happen at any time, which they did as to go along with this improvement and put on a show for the other visitors. This officer then gave the order to face about, then vanished into thin air.
Many restless souls of soldiers from both sides are still on duty, while some of the dead POWs can’t rest and perhaps are reliving their abuse, not realizing that they have been freed.
East of Savannah, Fort Pulaski can be found on the claw-shaped Cockspur Island at a point where it guards the mouth of the Savannah River, just a mile away from Tybee Island.
From I-95, take exit for I-16 about 15 miles west of Savannah. From I-16, take U.S. Highway 80 East. Follow signs for Fort Pulaski, Tybee Island and beaches. Fort Pulaski National Monument entrance is approximately 15 miles east of Savannah, is 5,623 acres in size.
- Haunted Holidays
Edited by Laura Foreman
Discovery Communications, Inc.
- Haunted Savannah, The Official Guidebook to Savannah Haunted History Tour
by James Caskey