As I stood on the wooden bridge crossing the mote into the fort I realized this was only the second time I had seen an historic fort surrounded by a mote still filled with water. I turned a corner on the paved trail and crossed the mote again to enter the 1800s fort. My adventure of discovering Fort Pulaski National Monument in Georgia had just begun.
Brief History of Fort Pulaski
Seeing a need to protect the bustling port town of Savannah from a sea approach a masonry fortification was built on Cockspur Island at the mouth of the Savannah River. Construction on the fort lasted from 1829 until 1847 at a cost of about $1 million. The fort was named after Casimir Pulaski, a Polish solider who distinguished himself fighting under George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
When Georgia seceded from the United States in 1861 the fort was captured by a garrison of Confederate troops. In 1862 the Siege of Fort Pulaski began when Union forces on Tybee Island began a 30-hour bombardment of Fort Pulaski. The Union forces used the brand-new James Rifled Canon and Parrott Rifle to attack the fort, the first time in history rifled canons were used in combat.
In 1924 Fort Pulaski was declared a National Monument and turned over the National Park Service.
Entrance Fee to Fort Pulaski National Monument
Just after turning onto the entrance road to the national monument is the entrance station for paying an admission fee. The entrance station can take cash or credit.
The entrance fee is $10 per person for anyone over the age of 15. One important thing to keep in mind that I forget all the time is that the entrance fee is good for 7 consecutive days. So if you’re a local or visiting the area for a few days you can come back anytime within the next week. You have no idea how many times I have paid that entrance free twice in two days.
If you’re a local you might be interested to know the NPS offers an annual pass to Fort Pulaski National Monument for $35.
Fort Pulaski Visitor Center & Museum
Fort Pulaski is a pretty simple site to navigate; stay straight on the entrance road to a large parking lot and you’re there. At the edge of the parking lot in a large, round building is the Visitor Center & Museum.
The last time I visited in early 2018 the NPS was in the process of moving the visitor center and giftshop from this building to a room inside the fort. At the time I visited all that remained in this building was a small one-room museum and a 20-minute introduction video.
Touring Inside Fort Pulaski
The paved path from the visitor center and parking lot passes along the watery mote to a wooden bridge crossing. As I stood on that bridge I realized this was only the second time I had ever seen an historic fort with water in the mote. The other was Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia.
I’m not an engineer but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once so I feel I can say this: the design of Fort Pulaski seems pretty smart. A triangular-shaped island outside the fort houses underground chambers for storing gun powder. The fort itself is also completely surrounded by a watery mote with only one entrance. The fort pretty much seemed impenetrable to a ground assault, but apparently that wasn’t their biggest concern.
The inside of Fort Pulaski is a large parade ground where you’ll find canon firing demonstrations on the weekends. Visitors can walk around the casemate rooms of the surrounding fort walls. There are staircases in the corners, and a wicked looking spiral staircase I did not use, leading to the upper level.
Several of the rooms of the fort have been restored to their uses during the Civil War. One of those rooms, the first on the right as you enter the fort, is now the visitor center and gift shop. This is where you would collect your National Park Passport stamp.
There are still several canons on display along the upper level of the fort. In some places the damage the fort received during the Siege of Fort Pulaski was never fully repaired (either from a lack of funding or maybe just to show what it looked like after the battle, I don’t know). From the top you can see the tiny Cockspur Lighthouse in the distance and beyond that Tybee Island where the Union forces set up their rifled canons.
A guided tour of Fort Pulaski can be a great way to learn history and ask questions. The guided tours are, of course, subject to change because of weather and staffing, but generally they offer at least one guided tour each day of the week.
The best time for a guided tour is on Saturday when the park has three tours scheduled. These tours often coincide with a canon or rifle firing demonstration in between the tours.
The first lighthouse on the eastern tip Cockspur Island was built from 1837-1839 to guide ships into the South Channel of the Savanna River. In 1848 John Norris, a noted New York architect who designed the U.S. Custom House, Mercer-Wilder House, and Green-Meldrim House in Savannah, was contracted to build a new lighthouse on the island. But this lighthouse would be destroyed by a hurricane in 1854. The current lighthouse was built on the previous foundation.
The beacon at Cockspur Lighthouse was extinguished during the Civil War from 1862-1866. In 1906 the light was permanently extinguished when cargo traffic was rerouted through the North Channel of the Savannah River.
In 1958 the lighthouse was transferred from the Coast Guard to the National Park Service.
Hiking to Cockspur Lighthouse
The lighthouse and small islet it stands on are off limits to visitors. There are several organizations trying to preserve and restore the lighthouse, but nature is not cooperating nicely.
However, visitors can get a good look on the lighthouse from an observation point at the end of the 0.75-mile Lighthouse Overlook Trail. The trail begins at the parking lot, loops around the north side of the fort, and meanders across the island. The best time for hiking this trail is low tide and the best time of day for photos of the lighthouse is near sunset.
North Pier Trail
The very short ¼-mile North Pier Trail leads to a couple of things to see at Fort Pulaski National Monument. The North Pier was used during construction of the fort to bring in the millions of bricks. Along the trail leading to the pier are the remains of the construction village.
You’ll also come across Battery Hambright. This was an addition to the coastal fortification built in the 1800s to defend against invaders in the North Channel of the Savannah River during the Spanish-American War.
The John Wesley Memorial is also located along this trail. Wesley was brought to the Savannah colony in 1736 by founder James Oglethorpe. The minister made his landing on Cockspur Island and supposedly gave his first sermon near this monument.
Historic Dike System
One of the neatest things about Fort Pulaski National Monument is something I hadn’t even noticed until I looked at the historic site on Google Maps satellite view: the dike system. The system was designed by Lieutenant Robert E. Lee and created a way to keep the construction site for the fort protected from changing tides.
There is two-mile trail along the crest of the dike system surrounding the fort, visitor center, and parking area, but I wouldn’t recommend hiking the entire trail. Instead, hike a short ¼-mile trail from the entrance to the fort along the canal used to feed water to the mote.
Most of Fort Pulaski National Monument is accessible to wheel chairs and those with walking disabilities.
The visitor center and ground level of the fort are all accessible. This includes the parade ground, restored rooms around the casemate, visitor center and gift shop inside the fort.