For those living in South Carolina and Georgia, the Fall of Fort Pulaski was a shock and, perhaps, a wake-up call. Here are some of their reactions, taken from A Scratch with the Rebels.
For the Yankee teachers and missionaries newly arrived
on St. Helena Island, their first exposure to the realities of war was
frightening. Susan Walker, assigned to Pope's plantation, wrote: "Heavy
firing all morning yesterday and commenced again at 10 last evening, still
continued till about 2 P.M.—probably cannonading Fort Pulaski 30 miles
distant—so heavy as to shake our house. If Sesech gain, we will hang from the
highest tree. I look at these tall pines in the grove near my window and wonder
which branch will hold me."
On the Confederate
side, Mary Chesnut realized how serious the loss was. In her diary, she wrote,
"Pulaski fallen! What more is there to fall?"
Emma Holmes, that staunch daughter of the
Confederacy, was shocked by the news. On 15 April, she wrote in her diary:
"Willie Guerard has just arrived & says that [Fort] Pulaski has really
fallen which many doubted. But nothing further is known as none of the garrison
have escaped as was reported. We only know that the detested flag of U.S. now
waves over it . . . Later, refusing
to believe that the Union forces could be stronger than those of the
Confederacy, she tried to explain the loss away: "Our men fought gallantly
. . . but the fort was in such a dilapidated condition that the walls trembled
soldiers, too, recognized the blow that had befallen the Southern cause. Gus
Smythe commented: "No news except for the fall of Pulaski! What a blow to
our cause! & on the 12 of April, too [the anniversary of the
taking of Fort Sumter]. We are in good spirits, however, on the whole, tho'
this bad luck has staggered us somewhat."
Milton Maxcy Leverett admitted that the fall of Pulaski caught him by
surprise and blamed it on "treachery or cowardice." He warned his
family that the fall of Savannah was now "only a question of time."
He had not heard a full explanation of the Federals' use of the new rifled
guns, which might have made him even more morose about the outcome. He still
thought that the shells had been from mortars, fired into the air "very
much like a monkey dropping a cocoanut out of the tree on the ground in order
to burst it."
For those of us who live in Tennessee, the Battle of Shiloh was the most important event of April 1862, but there were even more important battles occurring in the Deep South at the same time.. Here's a partial account of the Fall of Fort Pulaski, taken from my book, A Scratch with the Rebels.
General Hunter turned his attention to Fort Pulaski, which most had believed to be invincible
because of its isolated location on Cockspur Island. Even though Federal gun
ships managed to cut off all supply lines to the fort, it was prepared to
withstand a long siege. It was manned by 385 Georgia troops, with forty-eight
cannon and a six-month supply of rations that could have been stretched even
further if necessary. Its walls, made of brick and backed by massive masonry
piers, were seven-and-a-half feet thick. General James Totten, the U. S. Chief
of Engineers, had observed, "You might as well bombard the Rocky Mountains." The nearest landmass from which a
bombardment could be mounted was on Tybee Island, well over a mile away from
the fort and nearly two miles in some places—a seemingly insurmountable
distance for effective cannon fire. In the months leading up to the final
battle, Captain Quincy A. Gilmore had erected eleven batteries and installed
some thirty-six guns in the marshy terrain of Tybee Island. Several of these
were heavy Columbiads that could shake the wall of Fort Pulaski, along with
heavy thirteen-inch mortars. But the jewels of his armament were five heavy
rifled James guns, ranging from forty-eight pounders to eighty-four pounders,
capable of penetrating the massive walls with their new cast-iron lined barrels
and conical, powder-filled shells.
. . .
Hunter had been wise enough to adopt Sherman's
deployments and to retain Quincy Gillmore to direct the planned bombardment of
Fort Pulaski. The attack began at sunrise on 10 April, just as the Roundheads
were moving off in the opposite direction. The Union guns were manned by
detachments from the 7th Connecticut, the 3rd Rhode
Island Artillery, the 46th New York, and the 8h Maine. The
strategy so carefully worked out by Sherman and Gillmore proved astonishingly
effective. At the end of the first day of the battle, the Union forces could
not tell that their efforts had accomplished much, but that was only because
they were too far away to see the extend of the damage. Inside the fort,
however, the damage was all too evident. Nearly every gun had been dismounted
or put out of operation. One whole section of the wall had been chipped away
until it was less than half its original thickness. When firing resumed the
next morning, the full extent of the destruction was apparent even to the
Yankee observers. The inside of the fort itself could be seen from Tybee Island
through two large holes in the wall, and shots were now sailing through those
holes to land dangerously close to the fort's powder magazines. The eager
General Benham planned to lead a direct assault on the fort, but before he had
a chance to move, the young Confederate commander, Col. Charles H. Olmstead,
raised a white flag of surrender. At
2:00 P.M. on 11 April 11, the "invincible" walls of Fort Pulaski had
crumbled, both literally and figuratively.
Tomorrow we'll take a look at some of the southern reactions to this disaster.