Fort McAllister, GA (2-15-15) - dwhike
32-Pounder Cannon

Fort McAllister, located along the banks of the Ogechee River south of Savannah, was a Confederate earthen fortification which remains to this day as one of the best preserved forts of its type in the country.


Fort McAllister was constructed in 1861-1862 in response to Union operations to take the Confederate port city of Savannah.  Though not initially of interest to Union military planners (they didn't even know of its existence until June 1862), McAllister soon drew attention to itself after the fall of nearby Fort Pulaski in April of that same year.  This was due to the fact that, even with the fall of Pulaski, Savannah still had an impressive system of fortifications protecting it from seaborne attack so a plan for taking it from its 'soft' landward side looked more agreeable.  A convenient avenue for conducting this landward attack on the city was the Ogechee River to the south.  If troops could be carried up the river far enough they could be landed for a direct attack on Savannah from the west.  To do this though, Fort McAllister would have to be reduced.


It didn't take long after they discovered it for the Union Navy to make its first agressive moves against McAllister.   The first attack came on July 1, 1862 when the Union gunboat Potomska opened fire on its earthworks in a rather weak attempt at testing the forts' strength.  Severely outgunned, the gunboat was quickly chased off.  Later that month another attack came when three Union ships, in pursuit of a Confederate raider called the Nashville, came within range of McAllister's guns.  The exchange was a heated one but, once again, the small naval force couldn't stand up long to the forts guns.  Two brief attacks were made on the fort again in November 1862 but these also were somewhat half-hearted.  In 1863 Union efforts to reduce Fort McAllister became a bit more serious.  On January 27, February 1, and February 28 Union gunboats led by the ironclad Montauk, arrived to pummel the earthen walls of McAllister.   Don't think the forts defenders weren't just sitting on their hands during these attacks.  One battle with the Montauk, lasting over five hours, saw the forts gunners score 15 direct hits on the ironclad though little damage was inflicted.  These engagements culminated with the most aggressive attack by the Union Navy against McAllister on March 3, 1863.  On that day the Montauk once again steamed up to within range of the fort but this time was accompanied by three more ironclads...the Passaic, Nahant, and the Patapsco.  For eight hours the Union ships hurled their 15-inch shells against the walls of McAllister blowing seven-foot-deep craters in the earthen walls with each strike.  The Union ships even landed infantry on the far shore of the river to snipe at the brave Confederate gunners who were returning fire.  Despite causing incredible damage to the forts defenses, this attack proved in the end to be as futile as the ones which preceded it.  It was clear that McAllister could not be reduced by sea and the Union ships withdrew.  In addition, the damage the ships had inflicted was short-lived with soldiers and slaves repairing the walls within a night.


The next year-or-so was a period of relative calm at McAllister.  With Union efforts during the remainder of 1863 and much of 1864 concentrating on other parts of the deep south, troops and guns were removed from the fort to be sent to other more active theaters of the war.  This meant that when General William Tecumseh Sherman and his 62,000-man army arrived a the gates of Savannah in December of 1864 the defensive capabilities of the fort had been severely compromised.  The arrival of Sherman and his army marked the near-completion of his infamous 'March to the Sea' with only the investment of Savannah and its defenses standing in his way.  After over a month on the march Sherman now quite desperately needed supplies which were waiting for him on Union ships just off the Georgia coast.  The Ogeechee River offered him the most direct avenue to obtaining these supplies so it didn't take long for Fort McAllister to fall directly into General Sherman's cross-hairs.  On December 13, 1864 Sherman ordered Brigadier General William Hazen and his 4,000 man division to storm the fort and its paltry compliment of 230 rebel troops.  With a such a great discrepancy in manpower the attack went about like you'd expect.  Advancing at widely spaced intervals to reduce the effectiveness of the fort's guns the Union troops quickly crossed McAllisters dry moat and fought through its abatis.  Some 170 of Hazen's men would die in the assault but the majority of these casualties were not due to gunfire but rather by the dozens of 'torpedoes' (land mines) which Confederates had buried around the fort.  Despite the losses McAllister fell in hardly more than 15-minutes.  Sherman now had his vital supply artery open to the sea and his full attention would now turn to the capture of Savannah which would fall by Christmas.


Following the war McAllister was quickly abandoned (it was never intended to be a permanent fortification) but, unlike many other coastal earthwork fortifications of the period, managed to avoid destruction by either mother nature or man over the intervening years.  The fort is now preserved within the confines of the 1,725-acre Historic State Park which bears its name.  Touted as the 'best preserved Confederate earthen fortification in the country', McAllister was amongst the most fascinating Civil War forts I've recently visited.  It IS remarkably well-preserved, its massive earthen walls and bombproof magazines still towering above the river it was originally built to protect.  If you are in the Savannah area (and are a bit of a Civil War junkie like me) I would highly recommend a stop here.  There are not many forts like this one to see around the country...especially ones in as pristine condition as this one.  So I invite you to come along with me and explore a lesser-known, but no less fascintaing, chapter in Civil War history...Fort McAllister...