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Fort Pulaski

It was built to defend against foreign invaders but history had other plans

Story by Sam Grover January 8th, 2015

Fort Pulaski’s design as a brick fort was to defend against smooth barrel cannons that were the height of military warfare at the time. In order to breach it, the enemy would have to bombard from no more than half a mile away.

It was commissioned after the war of 1812 to defend the port of Savannah from foreign invasion.

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The threat of a foreign invader never materialized. The only action this fort saw was during the American Civil War when it was occupied by Confederate forces. Union forces set up batteries about three miles away, over several months and under the cover of darkness. They had a secret weapon. A new cannon technology with rifled barrels. The cannons would fire projectiles shaped like bullets which came out spinning. This gave them unprecedented accuracy and more importantly, range.

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When the fort saw that battle in 1862, batteries of rifled cannons fired one projectile every few seconds at the fort. They slowed down at night but didn’t stop. The fort fired back but their enemy was far beyond the range of their cannons.

In thirty hours Union forces breached the immensely thick walls and created a couple of big holes. Following that they came close to igniting the main storage of gunpowder. It was then that the commanding officer surrendered, likely saving the hundreds of lives under his command. The battle was over and only two soldiers were injured, one on each side.

Members of the National Park Service demonstrate the technology that brought this fort down.

The news of what had happened traveled far, across continents. A new technology had suddenly obsoleted forts of this design. Cities all over the world were instantly vulnerable.

About a hundred years ago Fort Pulaski was declared a national monument and these days the National Park Service maintains it for visitors. A reminder that sometimes the march of technological progress can lay sound strategies bare.

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Fort Pulaski National Monument, Savannah, GA, United States