Cockspur Island has been of some importance since the founding of the Colony of Georgia due to its strategic location just inside the mouth of the Savannah River. Spring tides covered the entire island, monthly, with the exception of a low hammock near the South Channel and one near the North Channel. Behind Cockspur was a series of marsh islands, which in more recent times would be joined to Cockspur by the necessary dredging of the Savannah River to accommodate modern shipping using Savannah as a Port-of-Call.
The first military use of Cockspur was in 1761 with the construction of an earth and hewn log fort near the confluence of the South Channel and Lazaretto Creek. Nearby, on Tybee Island, was a quarantine station (Lazaretto) and customs checkpoint This Fort, named Fort George, protected both the entrances to the city as well as enforcing quarantine and customs regulations. The archaeology of Fort Pulaski has led to many discoveries of the fort's history.
During the Revolutionary War, the Patriots, because of its exposed location, dismantled Fort George. However, the British established a safe haven for Loyalists on Cockspur and since the Royal Governor, Sir James Wright, fled there with the great seal of the Province, Cockspur became for a short time capital of the colony of Georgia.
Once the Revolutionary War ended, the new United States would build a fort on the site of Fort George in 1794-95. This new fort was constructed very much like Fort George (earth and log) and would be named for the Revolutionary War hero, General Nathaniel Greene. The life of Fort Greene would be short and tragic. In September 1804 a hurricane swept across the island washing away all vestiges of the Fort.
Construction of Fort Pulaski
Assigned to assist Major Babcock was a recent graduate of West Point, Second Lieutenant Robert Edward Lee. Lieutenant Lee's job was classified as "acting assistant commissary of subsistence". The labor force would consist of white and black, slave and free,who lived in the construction village which utilized the northern bank of the Savannah River. A large pier was constructed to handle the arrival of supplies from ports north and south. Work continued until 1847 when the new fort, now named Fort Pulaski, was finally finished.
Post Civil War
After the Civil War Fort Pulaski was unoccupied and neglected. The War Department finally made Fort Pulaski a national monument in 1924 by presidential proclamation of Calvin Coolidge. The 1930s saw new activity on the island with the arrival of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) who worked to rehabilitate Fort Pulaski and the surrounding landscape, including rebuilding the island's early drainage system and wet ditches.
Cockspur Island saw further activity as a section base for the US Navy during World War II. Following the war, the island and historic fort again were under the watch of the National Park Service. Today the island is beautifully maintained and open to visitors looking to explore pristine marsh land, historic military engineering, and a diverse collection of native flora and fauna.
Did You Know?
Before Fort Pulaski, two colonial forts defended Cockspur Island and Savannah, including Fort George, built before the American Revolution. Fort Pulaski National Monument, Georgia