Our Georgia History

Fort McAllister

The North came to terms with the harsh reality war and began to implement Winfield Scott's plan called "Anaconda" - the slow strangulation of the South. They landed men on Big Tybee Island late in 1861, but these men concentrated on Fort Pulaski. With the fall of Pulaski in April, 1862, the Union forces began to plan their next move. Although taking the city of Savannah was a strategic goal, the Union commanders had significantly less lofty goals in moving up the Ogeechee River.

Up the Great Ogeechee lay many vital lifelines to the Confederacy: The King's Road, via which the harvests of southwestern Georgia were shipped by cart to Savannah, then moved north on rail cars to the Army of Northern Virginia; The Ogeechee Road, which led to the great plantations of the coastal islands; and the Atlantic and Gulf railroad bridge which brought the harvest, supplies and men from Florida to Georgia's port. Also, the Savannah and Ogeechee Canal might offer a "backdoor" approach to the lightly defended western side of the port city.

On July 7, 1861 Company A of the 1st Georgia Infantry ("DeKalb Rifles") was detached and ordered to build the fort with available materials. Under the command of Lt. Alfred Hartridge, a citizen of Savannah and graduate of the Georgia Military Institute in Marietta, the troops constructed the fort to the specifications of Capt. John McCrady [CS], who is generally credited with building the fort.

In addition to the DeKalb Rifles, a cavalry unit, known as the Hardwicke Mounted Rifles, protected the fort. Deployed along the land route from the south and west these men constantly patrolled for federal force that might land and attempt an attack. The Hardwicke Mounted Rifles were under the command of Capt. Joseph McAllister. The fort is named in his honor. He owned the land upon which it was built.

Admiral Samuel Dupont, now sole commander of the expeditionary force that had taken Fort Pulaski, knew of the fort along the Ogeechee River as early as June, 1862 when an escaped slave told his men of the fortification.

Dates of battle

July 1, 1862

Fort McAllister came under Union attack for the first time. The gunboat Potomska sailed into the Ogeechee on the tide, approaching the fort. Within the range of the fort's cannon an unidentified schooner sat protected. Lieutenant Pendleton G. Watmough [US] opened fire on the fort, which promptly returned fire. Outgunned, the Potomska moved back down the river, but tried to return at night to destroy the unmarked schooner. By this time the schooner was gone.

July 29, 1862

Fort McAllister came under Union attack for the second time, somewhat by accident. The Thomas L. Wragg (The Nashville) had been successfully turned away from Charleston and Savannah by the Union naval blockade that was becoming more effective. The Nashville broke through the blockade and headed up the Ogeechee to the protection of the guns of Fort McAllister.

Coming upriver to deal with the schooner were a handful of Union vessels, under Commander Charles Steedman, led by the Paul Jones, a heavily armored side-wheeler with a 100-pounder rifled cannon among the weapons onboard. In support of the Paul Jones were two 90-day gunboats, The Umadilla and The Huron and the sloop Madgie. When the Paul Jones rounded a nearby island shortly after 10:00am its guns were blazing. The fort's commander, now Captain Hartage, could tell by the range that the Paul Jones must be using the new rifled cannon and ordered his men to hold fire. Finally the Yankee side-wheeler came into range and the Rebel gunners saluted it warmly.

For nearly an hour and a half the cannons blazed. Then the Paul Jones and the others retreated to safety further down the river.

November 2, 1862

After the encounter of July 29, the fort was reinforced by members of the Savannah Republican Blues and Martin's Light Battery. In September, the DeKalb Rifles were ordered to withdraw, a movement they completed in October. They were replaced by the Emmett Rifles.

While on a scouting mission on November 2, the commander of the Emmett Rifles, Captain Augustus Bonard, approached the Wissahickon and the Seneca, two 90-day gunboats near the mouth of the Great Ogeechee. The Wissahickon pursued the captain until it was within range of the cannon at Fort McAllister, at which point the Rebel gunners opened fire. After a brief exchange, during which the Wissahickon was hit, the Union gun boat withdrew.

November 19, 1862

Captain Bonard was replaced by Captain George Anderson before the events of this date. At about 8:15am the Wissahickon, under a full head of steam, brought its guns to bear on Fort McAllister. Behind her were the Seneca and the Dawn. In tow behind the Dawn was the mortar schooner Para. As the ships advanced they opened fire. Their guns continued to blaze until 2:30pm, when they withdrew. Early in this exchange the Wissahickon sustained serious damage.

January 27, 1863

Command of Fort McAllister had passed to Major John B. Gallie, a Scot by birth, who had become a successful merchant in Savannah prior to his enlistment in the Confederate Army.

A Passaic-class ironclad, the Montauk, followed by the Wissahickon, Seneca, and Dawn (towing a schooner, the C. P. Williams) approached the fort on January 26. The Montauk laid anchor near the outer edge of the effective range of Fort McAllister's guns. On January 27, the ship opened fire supported by the other members of the flotilla. For almost 5 hours the guns blazed, with the land-based artillery hitting the ironclad some 15 times without seriously damaging it. When the Montauk and the other ships finally withdrew it was because the ironclad had run short of ammunition. This would mark the first sea-land use of an ironclad ship. The first battle involving the ironclads Monitor [US] and Virginia [CS] had occurred March, 1862, with the Union ship under command of John Worden, who now commanded the Montauk.

February 1, 1863

Emboldened by the success of January 27, the Montauk steamed to within 700 yards of Fort McAllister before opening up a withering fire at 7:45am. The ironclad was accompanied by the same flotilla that had escorted her on her previous sortie. Roughly a half-hour into the battle Major Gallie was fatally wounded, an artillery shell exploding near his head.

After an hour of intense fighting the Montauk appeared to retreat to a position roughly twice the distance from Fort McAllister. The Rebels were elated, assuming that the boat had retreated because of some unseen success in the artillery attack. In fact, the skipper of the Montauk knew the tide was going out and was concerned about running aground. Once a new position was secure the Montauk continued firing, although less effectively because of the distance.

Just before noon the Montauk withdrew, her ammunition expended. The other ships continued to fire on the fort for about an hour.

February 28, 1863

CSS Nashville destroyed by Monitor class Montauk

Known under a variety of names (including the blockade runner Thomas L. Wragg (1862) and the CSS Nashville) the privateer Rattlesnake, a 1221-ton displacement side-wheeler had been stuck in the Ogeechee River for months. Loaded with cotton and tobacco, which the Confederacy wanted to trade for war supplies, the Rattlesnake tried to evade the tightening federal blockade on a number of occasions, all unsuccessfully. On February 27, the ship once again failed to make its way out to sea. Upon its return it ran hard aground near Fort McAllister, well within sight of the federal ships. It was not long before the Yankees realized that the Rattlesnake was in an unusual position (no ship would stay near an artillery battery--it could get caught in the crossfire).

Upon investigation the federal forces surmised the Rattlesnake's problem and prepared to finish her off the next day. The Confederates on the boat and in Fort McAllister understood that the only hope for the privateer was to unload her and refloat the boat, a task that was quickly begun. However, the tide was against the Rattlesnake and by morning, the peril was immediate. The Montauk, Wissahickon, Seneca, and Dawn came down the Ogeechee River to their standard positions, except the Montauk was further away from the fort. With the Montauk firing at the Nashville, Fort McAllister firing at the Montauk and the gunboats firing at Fort McAllister an unusual three-way battle developed. As the gunners in the Montauk gained the range their accuracy increased, with artillery shells piercing the pilothouse, deck, and paddlebox. It was after the shell hit the paddlebox that visible flames were sighted by the Union gunners, although smoke had been coming from the vessel for 15 minutes.

In a short time the Montauk was withdrawn from the battle. As it began to return to the federal stronghold at the mouth of the Ogeechee River it struck a torpedo, blowing a hole in its side. Commander Worden ordered the ironclad to run aground to prevent it from sinking. With aid from the other Union ships the hole was temporarily repaired (with wood and pine resin), the water pumped out, and the Montauk continued its journey.

March 3, 1863

During the final days of February, 1863 Admiral Dupont ordered three additional ironclads from Port Royal, South Carolina to join the Yankees. Increased Union presence brought rumors of a federal invasion in Savannah, but the activity was directed towards the destruction of Fort McAllister. Joining the Montauk were the first-in-class Passsaic, the Nahant, and the Patapsco. The three newcomers steamed up the river with the Passaic in the lead. It laid anchor and commenced firing at 8:40am.

Fort McAllister had already fired a couple of initial volleys. Fire from the Yankee ironclads was extremely destructive, creating huge gaps in various walls of the fort. A number of Rebel cannon were damaged in the onslaught. Some were repaired and returned to service, others were simply withdrawn. From the shore opposite Fort McAllister the Hardwicke Mounted Rifles attempted to pick off sailors and gunners. This attack was as ineffective as Fort McAllister's guns.

After nearly 8 hours of naval bombardment the ironclads withdrew. This had been the toughest of all the attacks, with shells reigning upon the fort, rendering large gaps in McAllister's defenses. Once the Yankee vessels left, the troops, aided by slave labor, repaired the walls and cannon, but Fort McAllister no longer interested the federal troops. The ironclads moved north to attack the defenses of Charleston. As attacks on the fort became less likely troops, weapons and material were moved to places the Confederacy deemed more important. The fort remained unbroken, secure...

December 13, 1864

Sherman's Army charges McAllisterGeneral William Tecumseh Sherman marched from Kingston, through the heart of Georgia. Reaching Savannah on December 10th, Sherman began to invest the city when cavalry "discovered" Fort McAllister, lightly manned and guarding a backdoor to the Atlantic Ocean. First the bridge across the river had to be rebuilt. Manned by 230 troops, the fort was the only obstacle preventing General Sherman from reaching the friendly fleet just off the Georgia coast.

Although Sherman could not see the sails of the American Navy from his perch atop a rice mill, the Union Navy was perched off Ossabaw Sound loaded with supplies, munitions and a good deal of mail. He signaled William B. Hazen to advance.

Veteran soldiers manning the parapets of Fort McAllister rained deadly artillery fire on the advancing bluecoats. Hazen's men faced another problem as well - the land around the fort had been mined with torpedoes. In spite of the obstacle, and the fact the men in the fort were veteran soldiers, Hazen took the fort in 15 minutes.

After Sherman's men contacted the Union Fleet, they were resupplied from the ships. Sherman began issuing messages north for the first time in six weeks. Less than a year earlier in Chattanooga a reporter asked Sherman, "What is your objective?" Sherman mumbled, "Salt water." The general had reached his objective.

CHARLESTON, S. C., January 28, 1863.
Two enemy's gunboats and three steamers attacked for several hours
yesterday Fort [McAllister], Genesis Point, on Great Ogeechee. Attack
repulsed; nobody hurt in fort. Two steamers went out this harbor
safely last night and one came in with various army supplies.
                                            G. T. BEAUREGARD.
General S. COOPER,
Adjutant and Inspector- General.

                           Charleston, S. C., February 6, 1863.

The commanding general announces to the forces with satisfaction and pride the results of the recent encounter of our battery at Genesis Point, Ga., with an iron-clad of the monitor class; results only alloyed by the life-blood of the gallant commander, the late Maj. John B. Gallie.

For hours the most formidable vessel of her class hurled missiles of the heaviest caliber ever used in modern warfare at the weak parapet of the battery, which was almost demolished; but, standing at their guns, as became men fighting for homes, for honor, and for independ- ence, the garrison replied with such effect as to cripple and beat back their adversary, clad though in impenetrable armor and armed with 15 and 11-inch guns, supported by mortar boats whose practice was of uncommon precision.

The thanks of the country are due to this intrepid garrison, who have thus shown what brave men may withstand and accomplish, despite apparent odds.

"Fort McAllister" will be inscribed on the flags of all the troops en- gaged in the defense of the battery. By command of General Beauregard: THOMAS JORDAN, Chief of Staff.

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