Monday, April 9, 2012

Spotlight on Fort Pulaski, Savannah

Fort Pulaski's scarred brick walls are reminders of what advancements in technology can do to affect the fortunes of war.

Rifled Union cannons brought about the surrender of the Confederate-held masonry fort near Savannah, Ga., on April 11, 1862.

Beginning Tuesday, Fort Pulaski National Monument will commemorate the siege and the 150th anniversary of the fort's fall with tours, living histories and the premiere of a film about the war's implications for Savannah.

$5 boat tours explaining the naval campaign for Pulaski and the city are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. They depart Tybee Island at 11 a.m. and last about 2.5 hours. Seating is limited. Ken Johnston, executive director of the National Civil War Naval Museum, will present a free lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

A free program at 7 p.m. Wednesday focuses on life in Savannah during the conflict.

Local filmmaker Michael Jordan's film, "Savannah in the Civil War," will premiere at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on a 26-foot-wide screen in the fort's parade ground.

(Photo, Kim Michael Polote as Susie King Taylor, the only African-American woman to publish a memoir of her wartime experiences.)

Jordan told the Picket he spent about two years making the 90-minute film. He employed about 30 local residents, actors and friends. It includes historic photos of the city and the reading of diaries.

"It tells the entire story of Savannah. From parties around squares, to the battles for the forts, and the losses during the war," Jordan said. "There is plenty of Confederate heritage, but there also an unapologetic look at what it was like to be black during the Civil War."

Jordan said there is more to Savannah's story than being spared by Union Gen. William T. Sherman.

Visitors usually go to the area's forts, but they likely don't think of the war's impact on residents, he said. "It took a huge toll on Savannah."

(Photo above, Jim Dunigan portraying Lt. William Dixon of the Savannah Republican Blues, a militia unit)

Admission for the film is $5 for adults. Children 15 and under are free. DVDs of the movie will be on sale. The fort also will screen a 15-minute documentary on archaeological research at the site of the Battle of Monteith Swamp, just west of Savannah.

For $5, visitors on Friday can take in a film and presentation on the African-American soldiers of the Civil War. There will be a special program by the 54th Massachusetts Civil War Re-enactment Regiment.

The week's events conclude Saturday and Sunday at Pulaski and Battery Park on Tybee Island with living histories. The program includes a children's drill, artillery demonstrations, fort tours, musket demonstration and music. The fee is $5.

Fort Pulaski blocked upriver access to Savannah. Fortifications such as Pulaski were considered invincible, but the new technology of rifled artillery changed that.

Capt. Quincy A. Gillmore, a Federal engineer officer, began the bombardment on April 10 after Col. Charles H. Olmstead refused to surrender.

"Within hours, Gillmore’s rifled artillery had breached the southeast scarp of the fort. Some of his shells began to damage the traverse shielding the magazine in the northwest bastion," according to the National Park Service. "Realizing that if the magazine exploded the fort would be seriously damaged and the garrison would suffer severe casualties, Olmstead surrendered after 2 pm on April 11."

Fort Pulaski 150th anniversary details

Call Fort Pulaski National Monument at 912-786-5787 for updates on the programs or for any required reservations. Images from "Savannah in the Civil War" courtesy of Cosmos Mariner Productions.

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