Civil War Reenactment - The Fall of Ft. McAllister
Ft. McAllister, Georgia - Dec 10, 2005
57 photos, 1 movie by Wes Mayhle of AZITWES
The Fall of Fort McAllister
On Saturday, December 10 a reenactment of the fall of Ft. McAllister, Georgia was held at the original earthwork fort. This is one of the best preserved Confederate earthwork fortifications. Here on Dec. 13 1864 the 230 men inside were overwhelmed in minutes by 4000 men under Gen. Hazen. This fort had been a considerable obstacle to the Union Navy but was no match for Gen. Shermans infantry. Reenactors slept on the site and inside the underground "bombproof" which was originally used as a hospital and to house supplies. The fort and surrounding area is a Georgia State Park and has a small museum on site housing many artifacts from the area. Visitors are able to move freely about the fort including restored underground areas. I asked the head Ranger "what was the most memorable find during your excavations." He said "it was a shoe" which had had somehow survived intact enough to be copied and worn by reenactors. Himself being dressed as a reenactor, he pointed down to copies of the shoe that he wore, The reenactment battle was short just like the original. While this did not allow for many photos, it did allow the spectators to quickly retreat from the ferocious attack of the biting sand fleas. After dark many of the spectators attended a candle light tour that was narrated quite well. Despite it being small and short, this reenactment is intimate and held on the original and well restored ground where "Shermans March" finally met the sea.
-the following has been adapted from Georgiaencyclopedia.org-
Fort McAllister was a Confederate earthwork fortification near the mouth of the Ogeechee River. It played an important role in the defense of Savannah during the Civil Wartime Union naval blockade of the Georgia coast. Built in 1861 at Genesis Point, the fort was constructed on the plantation of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Longworth McAllister, for whom it was named. Fort McAllister provided protection from the U.S. Navy for the southern flank of Savannah, about fifteen miles to the north. It also afforded defense for the productive rice plantations of the lower Ogeechee River basin, and for the Savannah, Albany & Gulf Railroad Bridge, a key transportation link, farther upriver.
The earthworks were designed by military engineers to absorb considerable punishment from Union bombardment. The fort was built chiefly for defense against naval attacks, rather than against a landward assault. Fort McAllister had ten large-caliber guns and facilities for the heating of "red-hot shot," cannonballs that, when striking their targets, could set wooden warships ablaze.
During 1862 and 1863, Fort McAllister repelled seven Union naval attacks by elements of the blockading forces offshore and in nearby Ossabaw Sound. Several of these attacks were made by the latest in naval warship technology, including the ironclad monitors USS Montauk and USS Passaic. One of the casualties of the Union assaults was Major John Gallie, Fort McAllister's commanding officer. The fort sustained damage to its earthwork walls, but the guns of Fort McAllister managed to drive off the Union attackers each time they came upriver to bombard the fort. Blasted sections of the fort were quickly replaced with dirt and marsh mud.
Fort McAllister never fell to Federal naval forces because of its unique earthen construction. Elements of the right wing of General William T. Sherman's Army of the Tennessee crossed the Ogeechee River in early December 1864, near the end of its March to the Sea. Sherman's orders to Major General O. O. Howard were to capture Fort McAllister from the landward side, so that the Union army might be resupplied from navy transports anchored offshore. Reduction of Fort McAllister would also open the "back door" to Savannah for Sherman's forces.
The Union land assault on Fort McAllister on December 13, 1864, overwhelmed the heavily outnumbered Confederate defenders in a brief, but very intense, battle of fifteen minutes. Federal infantry poured across the narrow causeway linking Genesis Point with the mainland, despite the mining of the approaches to the fort by the Confederates. Sherman observed the successful attack from a vantage point atop the rice mill of the Cheves Plantation across the river. Following the surrender of Major George W. Anderson's force, Sherman and members of his staff landed at Fort McAllister by boat, and they made contact with the Union naval forces in Ossabaw Sound.
For the remainder of the war, Fort McAllister served as a prison for Confederate soldiers captured on the upper Georgia coast. After the war, the fort fell into ruin and remained so until the late 1930s when it was restored as a historic site for the public through funding provided by Henry Ford, who owned the property at that time. Fort McAllister is now maintained by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as a state historic park, with a museum, guided tours, and interpretive programming.
Gen. Sherman describes the battle:
"About 2 p.m. we observed signs of commotion in the fort and noticed one or two guns fired inland and some musket-skirmishing in the woods close by. This betokened the approach of Hazen's division, which had been anxiously expected, and soon thereafter the signal-officer discovered about three miles above the fort a signal-flag, with which he conversed, and found it belonged to General Hazen, who was preparing to assault the fort and wanted to know if I were there. On being assured of this fact and that I expected the fort to be carried before night, I received by signal the assurance of General Hazen that he was making his preparations and would soon attempt the assault. The sun was rapidly declining, and Was dreadfully impatient. At that very moment someone discovered a faint cloud of smoke and an object gliding, as it were, along the horizon above the tops of the sedge toward the sea, which little by little grew till it was pronounced to be the smokestack of a steamer coming up the river. . . . Soon the flag of the United States was plainly visible, and our attention was divided between this approaching steamer and the expected assault. When the sun was about an hour high, another signal-message came from General Hazen that he was all ready, and I replied to go ahead, as a friendly steamer was approaching from below. Soon we made out a group of officers on the deck of this vessel, signaling with a flag, 'Who are you?' The answer went back promptly, 'General Sherman.' Then followed the question 'Is Fort McAllister taken?' 'Not yet, but it will be in a minute!' Almost at that instant of time, we saw Hazen's troops come out of the dark fringe of woods that encompassed the fort, the lines dressed as on parade, with colors flying, and moving forward with quick, steady pace. Fort McAllister was then all alive, its big guns belching forth dense clouds of smoke, which soon enveloped our approaching lines. One color went down, but was up in a moment. As the lines advance, faintly seen in the white sulphurous smoke, there was a pause, a cessation of fire; the smoke cleared away, and the parapets were blue with our men, who fired their muskets in the air and shouted so that we actually heard them, or felt we did. Fort McAllister was taken, and the good news was instantly sent by the signal-officer to our navy friends on the approaching gunboat . . . ."
Source: Mills Lane (ed.), Marching Through Georgia: William T. Sherman's Personal Narrative of His March Through Georgia (New York: Arno Press, 1978), p. 161
The movies presented on this website are usually 5 min or less and were shot with an older digital camera for your enjoyment. They are most often clips from the battle reenactment. To see all my video's go to the Movies page. I commonly use Background music from purchased 97th Regimental String Band CD's or selections downloaded from Incompetech.
Go to our US Civil War page to learn more about the war.