Location: Richmond Hill, Georgia
Webpage: Georgia State Park
General Description: Fort McAllister was the southern most and most active of the defenses surrounding Savannah. Located on the deep water Ogeechee River, Fort McAllister protected the southern approaches to the city. Beginning in 1861, the fortifications were improved over the course of the war beginning with 4 cannons and eventually having 7 cannon emplacements and a separate 10-inch mortar battery to keep its concussion from shaking apart the sand walls. Unlike brick and mortar forts like Fort Pulaski on the Savannah river north of town which were highly vulnerable to the new rifled cannon of the Union, Fort McAllister was constructed using sand placed over wooden structures for bombproofs and magazines. After taking Fort Pulaski, the Union was satisfied with blockading the port on the Savannah River which did not include the Ogeechee River about 8 miles south of town, so Fort McAllister did not see any action until March of 1863. The Union wanted to test out its new ironclad fleet before attacking Charleston, so they used Fort McAllister as target practice, essentially. After the fall of Fort Pulaski in 1862, the Confederates obstructed the river with wooden pilings and mines. In July of 1862 the blockade runner, CSS Nashville, was allowed up the river where it was outfitted with cannons turning it into a raider. However, when trying to leave the river it got stuck on a sandbar within range of the USS Montauk. Although the cannons at Fort McAllister did all they could, the Montauk was able to sink the Nashville, the remains of which are on display at the park. For the next two years the Union continued to try, unsuccessfully, to silence the cannons at Fort McAllister. The smooth bore cannon at Fort McAllister could only do minor damage to the Union ironclads, however, the Union cannons could only manage to create craters in the sand walls of the fort, which were repaired during the night. It was a stalemate until General Sherman approached Savannah in December, 1864 at the end of his “March to the Sea”. After the long march from Atlanta, General Sherman was needing to be resupplied before attacking Savannah and the deep waters of the Ogeechee River was his best opportunity, however, Fort McAllister had first to be taken. On December 13, 1864, General Sherman sent 4000 troops under the command of Brig. General Hazen to storm the Fort. After approaching the fort slowly all day the began their assault late in the afternoon. The Confederate soldiers had put up a sharpened palisade and other brush to slow the attack, however, they had only extended it from the high tide mark, and it was low tide that afternoon. Hazen’s forces first broke through along the river, however, since they outnumbered the Confederates by over 20 to 1, the outcome was obvious. Major Anderson’s 230 soldiers fought to the last man, but it only took 15 minutes to take the fort by land. This opened the way for General Sherman to receive his supplies and Savannah surrendered without a fight in time for General Sherman to make it a Christmas gift to President Lincoln. The fort was burned by the Union army when it withdrew early in 1865 and it laid abandoned until Henry Ford purchased the property in the 1930s. He was interested in the fort and began extensive reconstruction. Today, Fort McAllister is fully restored to its condition during the Civil War including magazines and bombproof that are open to the public and reproductions of the cannon and mortars used during the war.
1) The Visitor Center includes a small museum that contains artifacts uncovered in the fort along with a short movie about its involvement during the Civil War. Since the fort has been reconstructed the reenactment of the 15 minute battle to take the fort is surprisingly realistic. They took full advantage of the setting.
2) Expecting to see mounds of sand like all other coastal forts we have seen, this was an amazing discovery! Due to the extensive reconstruction done in the 1930s the fort is in excellent condition. To be able to actually enter the bombproof and magazines which are outfitted with reproductions of the furniture, crates of gunpowder, and cannon balls was amazing. Although you can see the bombproof from the outside the inside are much larger than you would expect. The reconstruction used brick for the entrances, cement for the floors, and electric lights for illumination, all of which are not historically accurate, however, it does protect the fort for future generations.
3) Exploration of the fort is done by a well designed self guided tour that is part of the brochure. It takes you all around the fort providing good information about each stop. I was particularly impressed with the cannon they have placed in some of the emplacements and the mortar located outside the fort. They are also reproductions, but because they look brand new, it is possible to see how they were aimed and fired. At certain times of the year they do have demonstrations of the cannon in the fort.
4) It may only take a couple of hours to explore the museum and fort and Fort McAllister was not the scene of any major battle in the war, however, it is a must see for anyone interested in the Civil War. To see a coastal fort built out of timber and sand that is in the original condition is well worth the time and effort. Well worth the cost of admission.