Like other forts in the coastal Georgia area, Fort McAllister is sited strategically along a riverbank. In Fort McAllister’s case it is located on the banks of the Ogeechee River, forming the southern portion of Savannah’s Civil War defenses. Designed by Captain John McCrady of Charleston, built by the Dekalb Rifles (A Co, 1st Georgia Infantry), and inspected by famed General Robert E. Lee, Fort McAllister used a combination of earthen fortifications and river obstructions to protect the southern approach to Savannah. The earthen fortifications proved to be more resilient than the massive brick fortifications of Fort Pulaski, which protected the approach to Savannah along the Savannah River to the north. Also in contrast to Fort Pulaski, which saw one battle, Fort McAllister saw multiple actions in 1862 and 1863, before finally being taken in 1864.
July 1862 saw the first action at Fort McAllister when a single Union gunboat, the USS Potomska shelled the fort on July 1. The Potomska was outgunned and forced back downriver. After July, the fort was reinforced by the Savannah Republican Blues and Martin’s Light Battery. In the fall the fort’s original unit, the Dekalb Rifles, was replaced by the Emmett Rifles. On November 2, 1862 the Union gunboat USS Wissahickon, in pursuit of an Emmett Rifle scouting party, was shelled and hit by Fort McAllister, forcing it to withdraw back downriver. On November 18, 1862, the Wissahickon returned along with gunboats USS Seneca and USS Dawn and mortar schooner USS Para; after a morning and afternoon of action the Union ships once again withdrew with Wissahickon receiving more damage.
On January 27, 1863 the Wissahickon, Seneca, and Dawn with schooner USS C.P. Williams in tow returned, this time led by the Union ironclad USS Montauk. This engagement saw the first use of an ironclad against land fortifications. Fort McAllister and the Montauk essentially fought to a stalemate with the Union ships withdrawing back downriver after the Montauk exhausted her supply of 15″ and 11″ ammunition. Montauk and the other ships returned on February 1, 1863 and although the end result was much the same, Fort McAllister’s commander Major John Gallie was killed. March 3, 1863 saw the most aggressive Union Navy attack against Fort McAllister. The Montauk was joined by USS Passaic, USS Nahant, and USS Patapsco. During the 8 hours of battle, the ironclads did considerable but repairable damage to Fort McAllister’s walls and damaged some of the fort’s cannon. Afterwards, the damage to the walls was repaired by troops and slaves and the Union Navy moved on to actions at Charleston, SC.
That is what allowed Fort McAllister to be more resilient than Fort McAllister. The earthen walls were both easier to repair and took less time to repair than Fort Pulaski’s brick walls. To repair brick walls, you had to have a supply of brick, with earthen walls, the fort was surrounded with the material needed to effect repairs. Masons and skilled workers were needed to repair brick fortifications but working parties of the fort’s garrison and in the Confederate’s case, slave labor, could be used to repair wall damage in short order.
The former CSS Nashville, as blockade runner Thomas L. Wragg and privateer Rattlesnake played a key part in two other battles that occurred at Fort McAllister. On July 29, 1862 the fort protected the Thomas L. Wragg after it successfully bypassed the Union Blockade by turning back the USS Paul Jones, USS Unadilla, USS Huron, and USS Madgie. On February 27, 1863 the Rattlesnake ran aground off of Fort McAllister while attempting to run the Union blockade; the next day, it and the fort were attacked by the USS Montauk, USS Wickahisson, USS Seneca, and USS Dawn. While the 3 gunboats engaged the fort, the ironclad Montauk sank the Rattlesnake. While returning downriver afterwards, the Montauk was damaged by a Confederate torpedo (what are now called mines) but was repaired to take part in later actions.
After the March 3, 1863 naval bombardment of Fort McAllister the Fort was quiet until December 1864 when it fell to Union troops as part of Sherman’s March to the Sea. Fort McAllister and i’s garrison of 230 prevented Sherman’s Army from opening lines of communication and supply with the Union Navy off of the Georgia coast. It was impossible for the fort’s commander, Major George W. Anderson, to hold against an entire army with just 230 men. On December 13, 1864 troops of Hazen’s Division took overwhelmed Fort McAllister in a 15 minute battle.
-Exhibits at the Fort McAllister Museum
–Southern Storm, SHerman’s March to the Sea by Noah Andre Trudeau
Note: I hope that my next historical post will be on the Horton House historic site at Jekyll Island