The mud and muck of Pulaski, Part I

Built on Cockspur Island in the Savannah River, the five-sided Fort Pulaski guarded Savannah against Union attack after the fort’s occupation by Georgia militia in early 1861. (Library of Congress)

Just like the graffiti character “Kilroy,” Mainers were everywhere during the Civil War, despite the modern belief that the Pine Tree State boys showed up only at Gettysburg.

First Manassas? Check (Hiram Berry, Charles Tilden, and a few thousand etceteras more).

Shiloh? Check (Comanche fighter Stephen Decatur Carpenter and a Maine youngster captured in Confederate uniform).

Stones River? Ditto Carpenter in his last fight.

The California Column? Check (James Carleton, inveterate Confederate thumper and Navajo hater).

Torpedoed by the CSS Hunley? Check (sailor John K. Crosby, who often had that sinking feeling).

Sherman’s March on Atlanta? Check (Oliver Otis Howard of the left-handed salute).

Bentonville? Ditto Howard.

Pulaski? Check (Lee Strickland, Lindsay O. Goff …)

Wait just one moment! Pulaski? Where in blazes was that?

Pulaski is both a place far from Maine and a battle fought amidst mosquito- and gator-filled marshes. The Maine boys sent there had never seen anything quite like it.

A strong onshore breeze lengthens the American flag flying above Fort Pulaski National Monument near Savannah, Ga. Maine soldiers helped capture this Confederate fort in April 1862. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

With the occupation of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina and the February 1862 capture of Roanoke Island in North Carolina by an expedition commanded by Ambrose Burnside, Union army and naval forces had started tightening the blockade of Confederate Atlantic ports.

Union forces at Wassaw Sound in Georgia threatened Savannah, guarded by Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, an elevated mud flat upriver from Tybee Island.

Located at a latitude of 32-2 north and a longitude of 3-51 “west from Washington” and named for Revolutionary War hero and American ally Casimir Pulaski, the fort “is a brick work of five sides or faces, including the gorge,” reported Army engineer Capt. Quincy A. Gillmore, soon to be brevetted a brigadier general.

Its construction started in 1829, Pulaski was “casemated on all sides, walls 7½ feet thick and 25 feet high above high water, mounting one tier of guns in embrasures and one en barbette,” according to Gillmore. “An earthen earthwork (demi-lune) of bold relief” covered the gorge, the fort’s rear wall.

The “wet ditch” (or moat) was 48 feet wide around the five main walls and 32 feet wide around the demi-lune, Gillmore noted.

Some 25 million bricks went into the construction of Fort Pulaski, now a national monument. The fort is accessible by a drawbridge (left of center) spanning the moat. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Bricks — perhaps 25 million — granite, and brown sandstone went into the fort, on which the federal government had spent almost $1 million by late 1860. Unlike granite-blocked Fort Knox in Maine, the construction of Pulaski was essentially completed before the war began, as fewer than 150 Georgia militiamen discovered when they occupied the fort on January 3, 1861.

A visitor to Fort Pulaski crosses the drawbridge spanning the moat that surrounds the fort. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Now safely in Confederate hands, Pulaski barred upriver passage to Union warships and lent protection to blockade runners slipping through the Savannah River channels. With the fort’s capture came 20 dismounted cannons and a mud-filled moat; Confederate authorities scrambled to remount the 32-pounder cannons in the casemates and to hire slaves to dig out the moat.

Col. Lee Strickland of Livermore and the 8th Maine had mustered at Augusta on September 7, 1861. The regiment left by train a few days later, briefly guarded Long Island and Washington, D.C., and finally joined the Carolina-bound expedition commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas W, Sherman.

In November, the expedition arrived off Port Royal, South Carolina, and Navy warships shelled two Confederate forts into submission. Union troops occupied Hilton Head; the 8th Maine and regiments from four other states garrisoned the island well into the winter.

When the ill Col. Lee Strickland relinquished command of the 8th Maine Infantry Regiment in mid-December 1861, Lt. Col. John D. Rust was promoted to replace him. While his coiffed hair might suggest that Rust was a dandy, he proved himself a warrior at heart at the Battle of Fort Pulaski. (Maine State Archives)

The capture of Hilton Head placed Union soldiers only 10 miles from Fort Pulaski. The War Department ordered the fort captured. The 8th Maine became involved immediately.

The mid-December resignation of the sick Strickland had moved Lt. Col. John Rust of Camden to colonel and Ephraim W. Woodman (the Co. A captain) to lieutenant colonel. To Woodman came an order on Valentine’s Day 1862 to report with five 8th Maine companies (A, B, C, G, and K) to Egbert Viele on Daufuskie Island, about 5 miles from Fort Pulaski.

With the 8th Maine boys came detachments from two infantry regiments, the 6th Connecticut and the 48th New York, and the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery, plus some “Volunteer Engineers,” noted Viele, charged with building artillery batteries on the Savannah River to cut off Pulaski from Savannah.

Woodman and his boys would soon learn how much mud a Maine man can muck when a Maine man must muck mud.

Next week: Even the Georgia tide could not keep Maine men from fulfilling their assigned duties.

Sources: Brig. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, OR, Series 1, Vol. 6, Chapter XV, No. 5; Ralston B. Lattimore, Fort Pulaski National Monument, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., 1954; William E.S. Whitman and Charles H. True, Maine in the War for the Union: A History of the Part Borne by Maine Troops, Nelson Dingley & Co., Lewiston, 1865

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

 

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.