Built on Cockspur Island to guard the mouth of the Savannah River, Fort Pulaski was regarded as one of the strongest forts in the country. It was built over a period of 18 years on a bed of log pilings and wooden beams, a project supervised at one stage by the future Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Completed in 1847, the pentagonal structure was formed from one tier of casemates and a barbette level on four sides (the front two faces and the truncated sides), and a landward face that contained the fort's buildings, protected by two small bastions, and a series of outer works covering the gorge. The fort itself was ringed by a wet moat, while the surrounding swampy island was considered an obstacle to any attacking force. Brigadier-General Totten was impressed, boasting that "you might as well bombard the Rocky Mountains." He added that "the work could not be reduced in a month's firing with any number of guns of manageable calibers." His optimism would soon prove to be misplaced. Equally optimistic was Colonel Charles H. Olmstead, the fort's Confederate commander. Although only 48 guns were in place out of the 140 guns the fort was designed to house, his garrison of 385 men was well prepared to withstand any assault. Even Robert E. Lee supported this optimism, saying
Fort Macon, built to defend Beaufort and Morehead City, North Carolina provided Confederate strategists with the first real indication that their brick-built fortifications were vulnerable to attack. On April 25, 1862 Brigadier Parke's Union forces bombarded the fort with rifled guns and mortars r I I hours, supported by fire from naval gunboats and floating batteries. While the gunboats posed little threat to the defenders, the rifled guns caused such extensive damage that the Confederate garrison was forced to surrender the following morning.This view over the fort's main battery on the covered way that faced towards the attacking Union warships.
"Colonel, they will make it pretty warm lor you here with shells, hut they cannot breach your walls at that distance."
During late March, Federal troops landed on nearby Tybee Island and hidden batteries of heavy mortars and rifled guns were brought up to within range of the fort. Captain Quincy A. Gilmore was a staunch advocate of rilled ordnance, and together with 12 13-inch mortars and nine 8-inch and 10-inch columbiads, he commanded a battery of five 30-pounder Parrott rifles, the same guns that had caused such devastation at Fort Macon the month before. Four James Rifles, converted from older smoothbore guns, supported them.
Shortly after dawn on April 9, 1862, the lx>mbardment began. With 12 mortars, a rale of fire of one mortar shell per minute was maintained for almost 30 hours. While the Confederate gunners returned this fire, the mortars and rifled guns were out of range. Soon it became apparent that the rifled shells were causing significant damage to the seaward face of the Fort.
After nine hours of bombardment, a breach had been smashed in the south-eastern seaward face of Pulaski. Corporal Law, a Confederate soldier inside the fort later recalled that:
The Battle of New Orleans (April 1862), viewed from the western bank of the Mississippi River. In this largely inaccurate engraving, the Union fleet is shown passing between Fort Jackson in the foreground, and Fort St. Philip in the background. (Stratford Archive)
At the close of the fight all the parapet guns were dismounted except three ... livery casemate gun in the south-east section of the fort, from No. 7 to No. 13 were dismounted, and the casemate wall breached, in almost every instance, from the top of the arch, and say between five or six feet in width. The moat was so filled with brick and mortar that one could have passed over it dry-shod. The Officers' Quarters were torn to pieces, the bombproof timbers scattered in every direction over the yard, and the gates to the entrance knocked off. The parapet walls on the Tybee side were all gone, in many cases down to the level of the earth on the casemates. The protection to the magazine in the northwest angle of the fort had all been shot away; the entire top corner of the magazine next to the passageway was shot off, and the powder exposed, while three shots had actually penetrated the chamber.
It was this risk to the magazine that forced Colonel Olmstead to surrender his command in the afternoon of April 12. Although the heavy mortars had caused much of the damage to the fort, the real destruction was due to the penetrating bullet-like rifled projectiles fired from the 30-pounder Parrots. This was an incredible demonstration of the superiority of rifled ordnance over traditional masonry fortifications. In effect, on April 12, 1862, all of the Third System coastal forts in the United States were rendered obsolete. As the Union General David Hunter put it:
The result of this bombardment must cause ... a change in the construction of fortifications as radical as that foreshadowed in naval architecture by the conflict between the Monitor and the Merimac [sic]. No works of stone or brick can resist the impact of rifled artillery of heavy caliber.
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