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    Southeast Archeological Center

    Cultural Resources National Park Service

SEAC: Fort Pulaski

A General History of Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island.

Fort Pulaski National Monument is located on Cockspur Island in Chatham County, Georgia, approximately 15 miles east of Savannah (Click for a picture of the Monument's Boundaries - 58 KB). The monument, named after Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski, was first established in October of 1924 by order of President Calvin Coolidge. It was transferred from the War Department to the Department of Interior in July of 1933. Since that time, it has been the National Park Service's mission to restore, manage, and protect Fort Pulaski National Monument for the benefit of the public.

Count Casimir Pulaski.

Part of this mission includes the identification and interpretation of cultural materials located within the monument's boundaries. To accomplish this, archeology is used to provide park managers, employees, and visitors with a greater understanding of the people who once occupied and modified the land on which Fort Pulaski is located.

To better understand the archeological work undertaken at Fort Pulaski National Monument, it is important to have a basic understanding of the general chronology of this area of Coastal Georgia. The recorded history of Cockspur Island did not begin until 1732 with the arrival of General James Edward Oglethorpe. Prior to this, the occupation of the island is not known, but the prehistory and history of Coastal Georgia is well-documented.

headingBefore Fort Pulaskiheading

Native American Cultures of Coastal Georgia

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s, Native Americans occupied the lands of Coastal Georgia for more than 10,000 years. The time before recorded history, or prehistory, of this area can be divided into four main periods: the Paleoindian (10,500 to 8000 B.C.), the Archaic (8000 to 1000 B.C.), the Woodland (1000 B.C. to A.D. 1150), and the Mississippian (A.D. 1150 to European Contact). Each of these can be further divided into three subdivisions consisting of an Early, Middle, and Late component. This same general chronology applies to the rest of the Southeast United States, although the specific dates will vary from area to area. The divisions are made based on changes in artifacts found at various sites. These changes in technology through time help archeologists separate one group from another, as well as helping them to figure out approximately when a certain group lived in a certain place. Since harder materials are what tend to survive weathering processes, regional chronologies tend to be based on changes in stone tools, bone tools, and pottery.

The Paleoindian Period (10,500 to 8000 B.C.)

The earliest inhabitants of the Americas are assigned to the category known as the Paleoindians. While there is a great deal of debate as to when exactly they arrived, there is no direct evidence putting people in the area of Coastal Georgia before 10,500 B.C. This period is characterized mainly through the identification of various stone tools, with the most emphasis placed on the different types of projectile points. With names like Clovis, Gainey, Cumberland, Suwannee, Simpson, Beaver Lake, Quad, and Dalton, these points help archeologists show a transition from the hunting of megafauna such as mammoths and sloths to a dependence on smaller mammals such as deer.

A Clovis point.

The Paleoindian people lived a highly mobile existence, moving from place to place in search of food, water, and sources of rock to make their tools. There are not very many sites related to Paleoindians in Coastal Georgia, with the few known ones being found along the Savannah River. This may be partially due to rises in sea level since Paleoindian times, as well as the low number of individuals actually present in this area. The increased sea levels probably covered many sites that were at one time on the coast. Cockspur Island would have been entirely landlocked during Paleoindian times, but archeological surveys in nearby locales have yielded no evidence of habitation during this period. Because of this, it is doubtful that any related sites would be found within Fort Pulaski National Monument.

The Archaic Period (8000 to 1000 B.C.)

While the Archaic Period spans approximately 7000 years, there were few initial changes between it and the Paleoindian period. Once again, the main indicators of early Archaic sites were different styles of projectile points. Yet by the end of this period, Archaic people were building mounds, conducting long-distance trade, practicing small-scale farming (a.k.a. horticulture), and creating ceramic and stone vessels for cooking and storage. In fact, the introduction of pottery in the last 1000 years of the Archaic period signaled a new way in which archeologists could classify various cultural groups through time. By looking at the materials used in pottery manufacture, the designs on the pottery, and the shapes of the vessels, archeologists could narrow down the time period during which certain groups lived even more precisely.

While the occurrence of Early to Middle Archaic sites in and around the Sea Islands of Georgia is low (slightly higher than the occurrence of Paleoindian sites), there is a great increase of Late Archaic sites, as evidenced by a growing number of mounds made of shell. These shell middens or shell rings indicate areas where Archaic people threw their trash after they were finished with it. The huge amounts of shell in these mounds and rings show that these people were eating a great deal of shellfish such as oysters. Since shell middens preserve bone very well, archeologists are able to figure out what other animals these people were eating to survive. Although investigations of shell mounds on the north shore of McQueens Island did not yield any artifacts, the probability of finding Late Archaic sites at Fort Pulaski is much greater than that of any previous period.

The Woodland Period (1000 B.C. to A.D. 1150)

The Woodland Period is generally thought to be a time when many of the innovations of the Late Archaic were refined or expanded. Mound building increased, groups began to settle down into specific areas more, pottery was made more durable, and dependence on farmed foods rose. Projectile point size decreased, and by the Late Woodland, people were using the bow and arrow to hunt. There is a good possibility that there are Woodland Period sites within Fort Pulaski National Monument, but this cannot be determined unless archeological testing within its boundaries occurs.

The Mississippian Period (A.D. 1150 to European Contact)

Mississippian society reached a whole new level of complexity in the Southeast United States. Large mounds were built in many places, acting as a central location for increasing populations to settle around. Chiefs had an even more important role during this period, although their reigns rarely went unchallenged. The control of and dependence upon large-scale agriculture provided the ruling elite with a means of governing those both near and far.

Most sites related to this time are located along large river drainages such as the Savannah River, and many sites such as Irene, Oemler, and Walthour are located in the general vicinity of Fort Pulaski National Monument. The latter two are actually located on Wilmington Island, which is directly south of McQueens Island. For these reasons, there is a good possibility that similar materials could be found within the monument boundaries.

European Arrival in Coastal Georgia

The First Europeans

The first Europeans to explore the area of the Georgia coast were the Spanish. Priests often accompanied these early explorers with the express purpose of converting any and all Native Americans to the Catholic faith. This task was initially attempted by Jesuit missionaries, but following numerous setbacks and massacres, the job was eventually handed over to those of the Franciscan order. The Franciscans established missions along the north Florida and Georgia coast, with Mission Santa Catalina de Guale being the farthest north in 1660. This mission was located approximately 30 miles south of present-day Fort Pulaski. Following its abandonment in 1680, the area was open to new settlers from Europe. Because of the sparse settlement of the Spanish along the Georgia coast, there is little probability of locating related archeological materials or sites at Fort Pulaski National Monument.

English Arrival and Colonization

The arrival of large numbers of English citizens from 1600 to 1700 signaled a new chapter in Coastal Georgia's history. Following numerous conflicts with local Native American populations, these European settlers finally forced the previous inhabitants farther west into present-day western Georgia and eastern Alabama.

With the establishment of the new Province of Georgia in 1732, Cockspur Island also came under the direction and administration of the English Crown. In 1736, Reverend John Wesley and his fellow colonists landed on Cockspur Island for two weeks of rest following their trans-Atlantic journey. The first Methodist sermon in the New World was given by Wesley during this time.

Little would happen on the small island for the next 23 years, until King George II granted ownership of 150 acres to Johnathan Bryan. An extra 4 to 20 acres was set aside by the Crown for public use. This small area would eventually be the site of 2 of Cockspur Island's 3 forts.

In 1761, King George commissioned William Gerard de Brahm to build a fort on Cockspur Island. Fort George was a palisaded log blockhouse built on the southeastern portion of the island on the tract set aside by the king for public use. 1768 saw the establishment of a pilot house by William Lyford approximately 80 yards northwest of Fort George, but by 1774 the pilot house had been burned by slaves and Fort George was in ruins.

1761 plan and profile of Fort George (58 KB).

Just outside the limits of present-day Fort Pulaski, on the west end of Tybee Island, the English also constructed a quarantine station, or lazaretto, to quarantine African slaves. This 1767 structure was condemned in 1785, with the new lazaretto being built on Oysterbed Island.

The American Revolution and Cockspur Island

With the impending American Revolution, Fort George was dismantled by American Patriots, but Cockspur Island soon became a haven for English Loyalists fleeing from Savannah. Georgia's Royal Governor, Sir James Wright, was among those Loyalists who hid out at Cockspur Island. Because he carried the Great Seal of the Province of Georgia with him, the island briefly became the capital of the province. Following the Loyalists escape from the Patriots and Cockspur Island in 1776, the island was abandoned until 1794.

A Second Fort

In 1794, President George Washington, as part of the National Defense Policy, ordered a second fort built on Cockspur Island. Fort Greene was built in approximately the same area as Fort George on the southeastern portion of the island. The new construction was relatively short-lived though, as a hurricane destroyed the fort and drowned part of its garrison in 1804. The island would not see any other activity for the next 25 years. The exact locations of both Fort George and Fort Greene have yet to be pinpointed.

headingFort Pulaski and the Civil Warheading

The Construction of Fort Pulaski

Following the War of 1812, it became apparent that the recently ravaged United States of America needed a new coastal defense system in order to protect itself from future invasion. On March 15, 1830, the United States government took control of the 150 acres originally allotted to Jonathan Bryan to be set aside for the construction of a new fort. French Brigadier General Simon Bernard was commissioned to select the location and design the new fort. Following numerous scouting expeditions and years of Lieutenant Robert E. Lee.planning, construction of Fort Pulaski began in early 1829, initially overseen by an ailing Major Samuel Babcock of the Army Corps of Engineers. Babcock's failing health made it necessary for a new West Point graduate, Robert E. Lee (at right), to oversee the constructionof the main drainage ditch, an earthen embankment and dikes, the north pier, and multiple temporary wood frame buildings. Following Lee's transfer and Babcock's death in 1831, Lieutenant Joseph K.F. Mansfield took charge of the fort's construction until near its completion in 1845.

The construction of Fort Pulaski provided a unique challenge for Army engineers of the early to mid-1800s (Click for the Plans for Fort Pulaski's Construction - 81 KB). In order for the fort to remain intact for its planned period of duty, it had to sit on a firm foundation; a very difficult task insuch a marshy environment. To accomplish this, the workers drove the pilings on which the fort sits 70 feet into the soft mud of Cockspur Island. Brick arches were then built on top of these pilings to support the dirt, cannons, and platforms of the terreplein. Fort Pulaski was initially designed to be a two-story fort with three tiers of guns, but due to the conditions noted above, its present one-story design prevailed. Fort Pulaski was constructed as a masonry fortification with 5 walls, each of which was from 7 to ll feet thick and 32 feet high. It was built to include 67 arched casemates, used for housing soldiers and storing supplies, that supported a 30 foot wide terreplein on which the cannon platforms were placed. Approximately 25,000,000 bricks were used in its construction. The fort still stands in near-perfect condition, despite having beared the brunt of numerous powerful hurricanes and one unrelenting bombardment.

Sketch of the plans for the Fort Pulaski drawbridge (43 KB).

Following the completion of the fort in 1847, there was little use or activity as evidenced by its having only two men residing in it. By the end of 1860, only 20 of the 146 proposed guns were actually in place.On January 3, 1861, the fort was seized by approximately 134 men from the State militia (50 men each from the Savannah Volunteer Guards and the Oglethorpe Light Infantry and 34 men from the Chatham Artillery). Two weeks later, on January 19th, Georgia seceded from the Union and entered theConfederacy. The fort would remain under Confederate control for more than a year and would be the easternmost component of a string of earthen and masonry defenses that ran from Savannah to Cockspur Fort Jackson, 3 miles east of Savannah, GA.Island. Other fortifications included Fort Jackson and Causton's Bluff, both of which had archeologicalinvestigations conducted at them during the 1970s. Work at Fort Jackson focused on the privies andtheinformation they yielded, while the workat Causton's Bluff investigated the construction of earthen fortifications.


Cistern of unknown origin located northeast of the fort.The potential information gained from investigating sites related to the construction of Fort Pulaski is immense. Very little is actually understood about the lives of those who lived, worked, and died on Cockspur Island between the years of 1829 and 1847. Without understanding these individuals contributions and sacrifices, the history of Fort Pulaski will remain incomplete. To accomplish this goal, archeologists must determine the locations of all the buildings used by the workers and learn more about their day-to-day life through the study of materials found at these locations. The limited testing that occurred during the 1998 and 1999 field seasons in the areas around some of the exposed brick features provided a very limited picture of the extent and depth of these archeological resources. A full-scale investigation is necessary if the archeological record of this time period is to be adaquately explored. The archeological potential of the construction village is discussed further in the Future Research section of this site.

The Battle for Fort Pulaski

No major fighting occurred at or near Fort Pulaski until the days of April 10-11, 1862. Prior to this, Union Brigadier General Quincy Adams Gillmore's troops secretly constructed 11 separate A dismounted mortar at Fort Pulaski following Gillmore's bombardment.batteries armed with mortars and rifled cannons. With the work complete, he began his bombardment of a relatively unprepared Confederate force within Fort Pulaski. After 30 hours and 5,275 shots, a breech was made in the fort's southeast wall forcing the Confederate contingent within to surrender. The secret to Gillmore's success was his use of rifled cannons, which were able to shoot more accurately with a greater amount of force. No military leader had experience defending against such an attack, and the fortifications built prior to this time, including Fort Pulaski, were insubstantial. A new era of artillery warfare had begun.

Following the surrender by Confederate Colonel Charles H. Olmstead of Fort Pulaski, it was occupied by troops of the 7th Connecticut Regiment, a company of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, and a few members of the Volunteer Engineers. With the arrival of Union garrisons at Fort Pulaski, freed African-Americans from the coastal region gathered at the fort to form the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Regiment in 1862. Members of the 48th New York relieved the 7th Connecticut in June of 1862, and garrisoned the fort until May of 1863. These members of the 48th spent many months rebuilding the damaged sections of the fort. During their spare time, they formed a baseball team, a band, and a drama club for the purpose of suppressing the boredom caused by being stationed on an island. No further military action occurred on Cockspur Island following Fort Pulaski's bombardment.

Troops removing ammunition from Fort McAllister (41  KB).With the Union in control of Fort Pulaski, it was used as a storage area for both arms and prisoners (see "The Immortal 600" below). Following the Union's capture of Fort McAllister in December of 1864, all of its ammunition was removed and taken to Fort Pulaski.

Archeological research related to the bombardment of Fort Pulaski has been limited to excavations conducted in 1990 at Battery Halleck on Tybee Island. The area of the excavations does not fall within the monument's boundaries, but through cooperative agreements between Fort Pulaski, the Interagency Archeological Services Division of the National Park Service, and the private landowners, the area around this particular battery was investigated. Click here to read the complete report on the Excavations of Battery Halleck.

The Immortal 600

Prohibitive policies towards prisoner exchange by the United States government increased overcrowding conditions in both Northern and Southern prisons. Coupled with the effective use of blockades against Southern ports, Confederate prisons such as Photograph of the interior of the Confederate prison of Andersonville in Georgia.Andersonville could not properly house and feed the prisoners under their control (Click here for more information on Archeology at Andersonville Prison). An increase in the number of reports of abuse and starvation by Southern prisons were helping to flame the feelings of retaliation in the North. These feelings would come to a head in the events that eventually followed. The actions taken by both sides would make political pawns of many of the prisoners of war. The "Immortal 600" were some such prisoners.

The inability of Union forces to overtake cities such as Charleston proved immensely frustrating, leading Union leaders such as Quincy A. Gillmore and J.G. Foster to continually bomb the city.With Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's impending arrival at various ports throughout coastal Georgia and South Carolina, Confederate leaders began to devise new ways to prevent the shelling of the cities in these areas. General Samuel Jones reluctantly housed two separate groups of Federal prisoners within the city limits of Charleston, South Carolina, in hopes this would discourage Union shelling. This began a dangerous game of tit-for-tat, with Union General J.G. Foster requesting equal amounts of Confederate prisoners from Fort Delaware to be placed on the beach in front of Union batteries on Morris Island, South Carolina. The second group consisted of 600 Confederate officers. These 600 men eventually came to be known as "The Immortal 600".

With the arrival of yellow fever in Charleston, General Jones finally sent the Union prisoners out of the city in October of 1864. Union General Foster responded in kind, and sent the remaining 520 of the original 600 Confederate prisoners to Fort Pulaski. The prisoners were now under the supervision of Union Colonel Philip P. Brown who promised better Painting depicting the burial of a Confederate prisoner.conditions at their new prison. Brown's requests for blankets, clothes, and food for the prisoners were ignored, however, due to a Federal policy of retaliation enforced by General Foster. By the end of February 1865 conditions for the Confederate prisoners at Fort Pulaski improved somewhat, but by this time 9 of their members were dead. On March 5, 1865, the remaining members of the Immortal 600 were sent to Fort Delaware, the prison in which they originally began their ordeal. Four of the group were left behind because they were too sick to be moved, and all 4 eventually died.

Archeology focusing on the Immortal 600 and other burials at Fort Pulaski was one of the priorities of the 1998 and 1999 field seasons. During both, large areas of the cemetery were excavated to locate the various burials and to try and determine who they belonged to (Click here for a Map of the Excavated Cemetery - 40 KB). An 1863 sketch map made by Reverend Frederic Denison was used as a reference to determine the separate sections, or bays, of the cemetery. Denison also mentioned the placement of a cannon, muzzle down, marking the location of the cemetery. Other Civil War era documents such as an 1865 pen sketch of Fort Pulaski made by Union Lieutenant Jason Sexton of the 175th New York Volunteers, also showed the location of the cemetery and its four sections. Two field seasons were successful in finding out the boundaries of the cemetery at Fort Pulaski, for locating the probable location of the cannon (it was removed in the 1970s), and for identifying many of the Confederate, Union, and post Civil War burials in the cemetery.

Post-Civil War Use of Fort Pulaski

The demilune looking east.The history of Fort Pulaski and Cockspur Island is one characterized by dramatic events, followed by long periods of disuse and abandonment. Following the Civil War, Union General Gillmore returned to Fort Pulaski to modernize it for protection against the rifled cannons he had once used to bring it down. Most of the changes occurred in the demilune outside the main fort, with planned changes for the main fort being abandoned. It ceased being a military installation in 1880, and the only inhabitants of the island were the lighthouse keepers and their families.

In the southern part of what is now Fort Pulaski National Monument there was more activity. This was due to the construction of the Savannah and Atlantic Railroad in 1887, which connected Savannah to the booming resort area of Tybee Island. The railroad passed through monument property, and extended east across Battery Horace Hambright built in 1895 of steel and concrete.Lazaretto Creek. The path of the railway was turned into a historic and scenic trail extending through McQueen's Island in 1991 (Click here for a Map showing the path of the trail across McQueen's Island - 40 KB).

In 1891, the U.S. Engineer Corps began building a Quarantine Station on the The lighthouse/beacon.northwestern portion of Cockspur Island, which was operated by the Public Health Service of the Treasury Department until March 1937. Battery Horace Hambright was constructed north of Fort Pulaski in 1895, with its main duty being the protection of the North Channel. American forces briefly occupied Fort Pulaski in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, but it was once again abandoned, except for 1 ordnance sergeant and 1 lighthouse keeper, following the end of the conflict. In 1909, the light in the lighthouse was extinguished. The tower still remains today, serving as a beacon for the nearby harbor.

Since most of the sites mentioned above are government related and, therefore, a matter of public record, little archeology has been done relating to these post Civil War occupations of Cockspur Island. Nevertheless, the potential for archeological research concerning these sites is an important component of the overall knowledge of Fort Pulaski National Monument.

headingA New National Monumentheading

Restoring the Monument

As World War I ended, and threats against American security were no longer forefront in the government's mind, a feeling of preservation began to sweep over many parts of the country. On October 15, 1924, using the authority provided by the American Antiquities Act of 1906, President Calvin Coolidge established Fort Pulaski National Monument. The monument's administration was transferred from the War Department to the Department of the Interior on July 28, 1933. As of this date, it became the National Park Service's mission to oversee the restoration, management, and protection of this monument.

The parade ground in 1925. The parade ground in 1933. The parade ground in 2000.

1925 Photograph of the
Parade Ground.

1933 Photograph of the
Parade Ground.

2000 Photograph of the
Parade Ground.

Due to its long period of disuse, the fort itself was in bad shape (see 1925 Photograph above). To remedy the situation, $76,400 was allotted to the Public Works Administration for restoration of the fort and surrounding areas. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) served as the provider for all labor, and in September of 1934 the project began. The complex where the approximately 100 workers of the CCC lived consisted of 16 different buildings, with 4 acting as dedicated barracks. Work consisted of various tasks including the repair of damaged casemates, restoration of the demilune drawbridges, creation of a new drainage system, wiring the fort for electricity, and rebuilding the original dike system.

In 1938, US Highway 80 was extended from Savannah to Tybee Island, and a bridge was built from McQueens Island to Cockspur in the same year. By 1940, Fort Pulaski National Monument included all of McQueens Island (except Highway 80 and 75 feet either side of it) and Cockspur Island.

With the onset of American involvement in World War II at the end of 1941, Cockspur Island was closed to the general public. The Navy held possession of Cockspur Island and Fort Pulaski National Monument until 1947, during which time they established a Section Base for the Inshore Patrol on the northwestern portion of the island. In 1965, the Coast Guard was allowed to establish a Search and Rescue Station at the west boundary of Cockspur Island.

Cockspur Island Lighthouse Reservation, a 1-acre alluvial deposit located to the east of Cockspur Island, was added to the monument in 1959. This island is where the lighthouse is located. A shell reef known as Daymark Island was also added in this year. This little "island" is located due north of Cockspur Island.

The total acreage of Fort Pulaski National Monument now stands at 5,623 acres. It consists of all of Cockspur Island (608 acres), Daymark Island, Cockspur Island Lighthouse Reservation, and McQueens Island, the latter three totaling 5,015 acres (Click here for the Map of Fort Pulaski National Monument - 58 KB).


The changes that occurred at the monument in the last century greatly affected the archeological record. Digging and building by the Civilian Conservation Corps altered the landscape extensively and uncovered numerous 18th and 19th century artifacts. Construction of US Highway 80 and the placement of dredge spoil on the north shores of both McQueens and Cockspur Islands buried the locations of some possible archeological sites under several feet of unrelated fill. These activities all affected the archeological record at Fort Pulaski National Monument in negative ways, but they also had a positive role in preserving Fort Pulaski's heritage.

The collected materials can act as type collections for future generations to study, and they provide the museum with important and relative pieces for public display. The dredge fill at the two above-mentioned locations helps to preserve archeological sites, such as the construction village, by covering them with an easily distinguishable protective layer. It will take a great deal of work to excavate areas such as these, but when the money becomes available, the payoff in information will be immense. And this is true for the entire monument: when the money becomes available to systematically test and excavate a greater percentage of the total area, the amount of information available to those interested in the area of Fort Pulaski will increase exponentially.

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