Though completed in 1847, Fort Pulaski was under the control of only two caretakers until 1860, when South Carolina seceded from the United States and set in motion the Civil War. Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown ordered Fort Pulaski to be taken by his state. A steamship carrying 110 men from Savannah traveled downriver, and the fort was seized by the state. After the secession of Georgia in February 1861, the state joined the Confederate States of America, and Confederate troops moved into the fort.
By December 1861, Tybee Island was thought to be too isolated and unprepared for conflict and so was abandoned by Confederate forces. This allowed Union troops to gain a foothold across the Savannah River from Fort Pulaski. Union forces, under Quincy A. Gillmore, began constructing batteries along the beaches of Tybee Island.
Siege and Reduction of Fort Pulaski
On the morning of April 10, 1862, Union forces asked for the surrender of the Fort to prevent needless loss of life. Colonel Charles H. Olmstead, commander of the Confederate garrison, rejected the offer.
Fort Pulaski was prepared for a possible infantry attack, but it never endured a direct land assault. Using 36 guns, including the new James Rifled Cannon and Parrott rifles, Union troops began the long bombardment of Fort Pulaski. The rifled projectiles could be accurately fired farther (4–5 miles) than the larger and heavier smoothbore cannonballs. Within 30 hours, the new rifled cannon had breached one of the fort's corner walls. Shells now passed through the fort dangerously close to the main powder magazine. Reluctantly, Colonel Olmstead surrendered the fort. Only two soldiers (one Confederate and one Union) were injured in the attack. Olmstead's decision to surrender haunted him for decades:
We were absolutely isolated beyond any possibility of help from the Confederate authorities, and I did not feel warranted in exposing the garrison to the hazard of the blowing up of our main magazine -- a danger which had just been proved well within the limits of probability.... There are times when a soldier must hold his position to the last extremity, which means extermination, but this was not one of them.... That the fort could and would be absolutely destroyed by the force of the enemy was a demonstrated fact,... while our own power to harm them had been reduced to a minimum,... I am still convinced that there was nothing else that could be done. Gillmore succeeded almost entirely because of his rifled cannon, which caused massive damage in the walls of the fort. Gillmore's triumph won him promotion from engineer captain to brigadier general.
Union control Within six weeks of the surrender, Union forces repaired the fort, and all shipping into and out of Savannah ceased. The loss of Savannah as a viable Confederate port crippled its war effort. With the Fort securely in Union control, General David Hunter, commander of the Union garrison issued General Order Number 7, which stated that all slaves in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina were now free. President Abraham Lincoln quickly rescinded the order but later issued his own Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Fort Pulaski was made a final destination on the Underground Railroad, as slaves throughout the area were freed upon their arrival to Cockspur Island. The garrison of Union soldiers reached 600 during the initial occupation, but as the war dragged on, Southern forces would obviously not be able to retake the fort. The garrison was later reduced to about 250. Late in the war, the fort was turned into a prison for a group of captured Confederate officers known as "The Immortal Six Hundred." Thirteen of the men would die at the fort. After the war ended, Fort Pulaski continued briefly as a military and political prison. It would house a Confederate Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of War, Assistant Secretary of War as well as three state governors, a senator, and the men who had commanded the fort after it had been taken by the South.
Between 1869 and 1872 the demilune to the rear of the Fort was covered with powder magazines, and the few gun positions that were left were enlarged for heavier guns. By the turn of the 20th century, the fort began to fall into disrepair. In an effort to save the old fort, the War Department finally declared Fort Pulaski a National Monument on October 15, 1924 by presidential proclamation of Calvin Coolidge. The monument was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service on August 10, 1933. Repairs were then started, and members of the Civilian Conservation Corps arrived on Cockspur Island and began rehabilitation of the fort. Fort Pulaski was opened to the public only for a short time before the beginning of World War II, which would see further use of Cockspur Island as a section base for the US Navy. After the war, Fort Pulaski reverted to the control of the Park Service and was administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.
An Endicott Period Coastal Fort first established 18 Mar 1898 as Camp Graham by Capt. J.M.K. Davis, Battery F, 1st U.S. Artillery. Named Fort Screven after Brigadier General James Screven, who was killed at Midway Church in 1778 during the Revolutionary War. Ceased to be a Coastal Artillery Post 27 Feb 1924 and was declared surplus 21 Oct 1944. Also known as Camp Crawford; and not infrequently, in contemporary records, just as Tybee Island, from its location.
Endicott Period (1890-1910)
Part of the Harbor Defense of Savannah.
The first Endicott Period battery on Fort Screven was started in 1897 and was completed in Jul 1898, just before hostilities ceased in the Spanish American War. A total of four batteries were accepted for service in 1899, and one each in 1900, 1901, and 1904 for a total of seven Endicott Period batteries.
Fort Screven Endicott Period Battery
The disarming of the Endicott Period batteries began in 1917 with the removal four 8" guns from Battery Brumby for overseas service during World War I. In 1918 four mortar tubes from Battery Habersham were removed to provide more efficient operation and reduce manpower requirements. The guns from Battery Backus and Battery Gantt were scrapped as a part of the World War I post war disarmament push.
General Order Number 8, 27 Feb 1924, declared Fort Screven no longer a Coast Artillery post.
World War II (1941-1945)
During World War II, Fort Screven became the training center for the U.S. Army Engineer Diving and Salvage personnel, training them to salvage and repair war damaged ports.
Tybee Island Lighthouse
The Union advance on Fort Pulaski began on November 24, 1861. Following reconnaissance that Confederates had abandoned Tybee Island, Flag Officer Du Pont ordered forward an amphibious raid with three gunboats at the Tybee Island Lighthouse. Under a two-hour ship's bombardment, the Confederate pickets set fire to the lighthouse and withdrew. Commander Christopher Rodgers, USS Flag, led a landing party of sailors and Marines in thirteen surf-boats to occupy the Lighthouse and the Martello tower, and flew the national flag from them. Overnight, a reduced company set false campfires to misdirect the Confederates shore.
Two days later commanding Flag Officer Du Pont and General Thomas Sherman made a personal reconnaissance, and on 29 November, General Gillmore, the command's chief engineering officer, with three companies of the Fourth New Hampshire, took formal possession of the entire island without opposition. The Navy set the logistics train in motion, and by December 20, the Army had sufficient materials for establishing "a permanent possession.”
The Siege of Fort Pulaski (or the Siege and Reduction of Fort Pulaski) concluded with the Battle of Fort Pulaski fought April 10–11, 1862, during the American Civil War. Union forces on Tybee Island and naval operations conducted a 112-day siege, then captured the Confederate-held Fort Pulaski after a 30-hour bombardment. The siege and battle are important for innovative use of rifled guns which made existing coastal defenses obsolete. The Union initiated large-scale amphibious operations under fire.
In 1861, the wooden stairs and the top 40 feet of the tower were destroyed during the Civil War when Confederate troops, retreating to Fort Pulaski, set fire to the tower in order to prevent the Union troops from using
Tybee Post Theatre
The historic Tybee Post Theater, set in the heart of the Fort Screven Historic District, was constructed in 1930 as a movie house for the soldiers stationed at the Army base. After going dark in the mid-1960s, the curtain was raised for the first time in 50 years in September 2015, reborn as a performing arts and movie venue for Tybee residents and visitors alike.
This important landmark was saved from demolition in 2000 by the City of Tybee Island and the Tybee Island Historical Society. The non-profit Friends of the Tybee Theater was created to raise the funds necessary to purchase and restore this local treasure into a cultural arts center unlike any in the Savannah area. Today, the Tybee Post Theater stands as a symbol of Tybee Island’s commitment to historic preservation and the value we place on our cultural heritage.
Step inside these doors, and you will experience:
· A concert hall to showcase live music, dance and comedy performances;
· A stage for local and touring theatrical troupes;
· A movie house for first run, classic and children’s films;
· A cultural venue for readings, recitals, assemblies and educational programming for children;
· A unique venue for your wedding, corporate meetings, private screenings, film/photo shoots.