Siege of Fort Pulaski, 10-11 April 1862

Fort Pulaski was one of a string of coastal forts built to defend the coast of the United States after the War of 1812. It was built on Cockspur Island, at the mouth of the Savannah River. At the start of the American Civil War, Fort Pulaski was occupied by the Confederacy. While the fort remained in Confederate hands, Savannah could be used by blockade runners, but if the fort fell into Northern hands then the port would be virtually blocked.

Link to map of area around Fort Pulaski
The area around Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski was widely considered to be virtually impregnable. The nearest dry ground was over a mile away, on Tybee Island. This was felt to be too far for siege guns to reach with any chance of success. That opinion was shared by the many senior Confederate officers who visited fort, and by the chief engineer of the United States Army, General Joseph G. Totten.

The only person to disagree was Captain Quincy Adams Gillmore. He was the chief engineer of the Federal army based at Port Royal, South Carolina, captured in November 1861. He was sent to examine Fort Pulaski by General Thomas W. Sherman, the commander of that expedition. He reported that the fort would be within the range of modern rifled guns and mortars based on Tybee Island.  

Sherman approved the plan. Tybee Island was occupied at the start of December 1816, and work began on setting up eleven gun batteries, along a mile long stretch of the island. Most of the work was done at night, and the gun batteries were so well disguised that no attempt was made by the Confederates to interfere with their construction.

The bombardment began early on 10 April 1862. By 9.30 a.m. all of the Federal guns were in action, the mortars firing four times an hour, the rifled guns eight to twelve times. By early that afternoon it was clear that the bombardment was doing serious damage to the fort. The rifled guns were rapidly destroying the walls of the fort. Only the heavy mortars were disappointing, but by the end of the first day’s shelling a breach was already beginning to appear in the walls.

The second day saw more of the same. By noon a large breach had been made in the south-east face of the fort, and being rapidly expanded. Only four guns could still fire towards the Federal positions on Tybee Island. The damage to the outer walls was so severe that incoming shots were passing into the heart of the fort, threatening the powder magazine. One unlucky shot, and the entire fort might have been destroyed by explosion. At two in the afternoon the commander of the fort, Colonel Charles H. Olmstead, held a council of war, which voted unanimously to surrender.

The surrender of Fort Pulaski closed the Savannah River to blockade runners. It caused a panic in Savannah, where the rapid surrender of the fort after only two days was completely unexpected. The panic slowly subsided when it became clear that no Union army was going to appear outside the city. Savannah remained in Confederate hands until the approach of General W.T. Sherman at the end of 1864, but her value as a port was gone.

Federal Guns at siege of Fort Pulaski

Battery

Guns

Range

1

3 heavy 13-inch mortars

3400 yards

2

3 heavy 13-inch mortars

3200 yards

3

3 10-inch Columbiads

3100 yards

4

3 8-inch Columbiads

3045 yards

5

1 heavy 13-inch mortar

2790 yards

6

3 heavy 13-inch mortar

2600 yards

7

2 heavy 13-inch mortar

2400 yards

8

3 10-inch Columbiads
1 8-inch Columbiad

1740 yards

9

5 30-pounder Parrott rifles
1 48-pounder James rifle

1670 yards

10

2 84-pounder James rifle
2 64-pounder James rifle

1650 yards

11

4 10-inch siege mortars

1650 yards

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 February 2007), Siege of Fort Pulaski, 10-11 April 1862 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_fort_pulaski.html

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