Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on May 7, 2021.
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You hear a lot about war when visiting Savannah. The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, you name it- the region saw its fair share of war over the years.
It isn't until you visit the Civil War-era fort, Fort Pulaski between Savannah and Tybee Island, that you get to see this history up-close. While this one produced a turning point in the war for the Union, it has had a lasting impact on warfare since its fateful battle.
So when you are in Savannah (especially if heading to Tybee Island for a beach getaway), stopping at Fort Pulaski National Monument is a must.
The History of Fort Pulaski and What You Can See
Construction on Fort Pulaski began in 1829 and was quite the structure. Wooden pilings had to be embedded rather deep into the marshes which then supported the millions of bricks that make up the fort.
It was completed in 1847 and fell into Confederate hands when South Carolina and Georgia seceded from the union. In 1862, Union soldiers were closing in and offered the Confederates to surrender and they did not, assuming that the Union soldier's cannons would not reach the fort from nearby Tybee Island.
As the Union soldiers had new cannons, they began their assault which decimated the fort and produced a Confederate surrender rather quickly.
The capture of the fort allowed Union soldiers to block shipments in and out of Savannah and was a notable moment in the war effort that many non-locals may not be aware of. Likewise, as this was a Union stronghold, runaway slaves would use the fort as their final destination as part of the Underground Railroad to freedom.
Today the fort has become a National Monument and is open for visitors to explore the grounds and learn the history of the museum from its original construction (without shying away from that the work was done by slaves- a fact highlighted many times on the posted signage) through modern day. You'll do well to check out all of the signs here because many of them contain historical photos from the Civil War to emphasize the history- while rare, cameras did exist back then and these photos really must be seen to be appreciated.
A larger section of Cockspur Island is also open for walking on paths to check out the Coastal Artillery Battery built for the Spanish-American War (a new fortification type as the battle of Fort Pulaski proved the old brick forts were no match to newly built cannons) as well as seeing other memorials and the beautiful scenery of the island at large.
Be Sure to Take a Walk Around the Outside of the Fort
When we were exiting the fort itself, we overheard a docent tell another couple to go walk around the fort as you can see some of the holes left by the cannons that were never repaired. Had we not heard this, I am not sure we would've walked around.
The reason for this is that when we visited there was no obvious path to suggest that you could walk around the outside of the fort itself. In fact, signage telling you not to climb up on the mounds made us feel like any walking on the grass was prohibited entirely!
It wasn't until we looked for a path that we noticed some placards and benches off into the distance and we made our way around the fort (and its beautiful moat) to check out the exterior of the fort- and it is indeed worth it.
It is one thing to read about how new cannons of the day made short work of the fort, but it isn't until you get to the backside of the fort that it really all comes together. It is no wonder the troops surrendered so quickly, and the photos found inside the fort emphasize this even more!
Overall, Fort Pulaski is a pretty amazing fort to stop and experience its Civil War history but also equally rivaled in its beauty. So after you explore the fort for the history, be sure to take a walk to check out the island even more!
Fort Pulaski is located just off of US-80 on the way to Tybee Island from Savannah, GA.
Heading on to Tybee Island for a weekend stay? Check out our best recommendations on where to stay on Tybee Island here!
About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.