Water Battery

Fort James Jackson

Fort James Jackson (or, now more commonly called, Old Fort Jackson), is the oldest brick fort remaining in the State of Georgia.  The fort was constructed as part of the 'Second System' of fortifications which were authorized to be constructed under President Thomas Jefferson to protect the eastern seaboard of the United States.  Work began on the fort in 1808 and was completed in 1812.  As one of <i>nine</i> fortifications built to protect the approaches to the vital port of Savannah, Fort James Jackson was constructed with the primary purpose of protecting the river approaches to the city.  Therefore, in its earliest form, great care was made to ensure the seaward wall of the fort was heavily armed and reinforced while the landward side was provided somewhat lesser defenses.  In 1812, with the outbreak of war with Great Britain, some 14 heavy seacoast guns were set atop its walls ready to repel any attack.

The fort survived the War of 1812 without having to prove its mettle, the British never attempted a move against Savannah.  With the threat of invasion gone, the government paid little attention to the upkeep of the old fort and it soon fell into disrepair.  With the construction of another, larger, fort just downstream (by the name of Pulaski) beginning in 1829 the condition of Fort James Jackson deteriorated even further.  It wasn't until 1845, with the completion of Fort Pulaski, that attention was once again paid to the fort and the upgrades necessary to once again make it an effective tool of defense.  The period from 1845-1860 saw a number of major improvements take place.  A wet ditch, or moat, fed by tidal water of the Savannah River was dug around the fort.  In addition, brick walls were extended completely around the fort, replacing the wooden landward walls from the original design.  A new powder magazine and barracks were also built.

With the outbreak of Civil War in 1861, Fort James Jackson quickly fell under Confederate control as it was at the time only being garrisoned my local militia who quickly turned it over to their home state.  Despite it being a seemingly critical part of Savannah's defenses, Fort James Jackson saw almost no action during the war.  Nearby Fort Pulaski fell in April of 1862 but Union forces never advanced upon Savannah itself.  It wasn't until December of 1864 that Fort James Jackson faced a direct threat.  Union General William Tecumseh Sherman was seeking to complete his March to the Sea with the capture of Savannah.  Attacking and overtaking nearby Fort McAllister on December 13th of that year, Sherman's forces had an open doorway to the city.  Realizing that there was point in further resistance and seeking to save his troops, Confederate General William Hardee (commander in charge of the defense of Savannah) ordered the evacuation of Savannah and its fortifications.  Union troops moved into Fort James Jackson on December 21, 1864 without a shot being fired.

Following the end of the Civil War Fort James Jackson once again found itself falling on hard times.  Militarily, the fall of the seemingly impregnable Fort Pulaski had shown that brick-walled fortifications were quickly becoming obsolete.  Therefore no interest was given to repairing or upgrading an outdated fort.  In 1884 Fort James Jackson was renamed Fort Oglethorpe but it was never again fully garrisoned.  In 1905 the fort was officially abandoned.

Though preservation interest was slow in coming until, in 1958, words reached local ears that the old fort was to be demolished.  The State of Georgia soon purchased the site.  In 1976, after a preservation agreement was made with the Coastal Heritage Society, the fort was once again opened.  Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000, Fort James Jackson now stands as one of only eight standing Second System Forts still in existence...I found it to be a wonderful place to explore...


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