Thursday, February 21, 2019

Fort Pulaski on the Savannah River


From isolated military posts to actual fortresses, there are literally hundreds of old forts across our great nation. While some are in ruins more remembered than recognizable, some have been restored and there are others which are still serving as active duty posts. Many old forts established by fur trading companies and those built to protect pioneers are long gone, but there are still dozens of forts that still stand today.

Forts in our history can be traced long before we became the United States of America. And here's a bit of trivia for my readers, Thomas Paine used the pen-name "Republicus" when writing about things such as liberty which would have surely gotten him hanged for treason. On June 29, 1776, Thomas Paine is believed to have been the very first person to make the first public declaration which called our new nation by the name "United States of America".

If you don't think he risked being hanged, please don't kid yourself. He and others who worked for American Independence were considered traitors in England. The feeling of wanting retribution against them did not end with the American Revolution. During the War of 1812, after years of Thomas Jefferson expounding his dread of America having a standing army, the British saw us as easy pickings and tried to retake this land -- especially since the British really saw America as rightfully theirs for years after the American Revolution.

During the Revolutionary War, forts were built by both sides. Many were coastal installations. Those built by American Patriots were known as "Patriot batteries". After we gained our independence in 1783, our coastal defense fortifications which were mostly in the East actually fell into disrepair because people at the time saw our security as last on a list of priorities.

It wasn't until eleven years later that our Congress created a combined unit of "Artillerists and Engineers" to design and build and garrison forts. So in 1794, believe it or not, a committee was setup to study coastal defensive needs. Congress then appropriated funds to construct a number of fortifications. Their effort of coastal defense become known as the First System.

All in all, thirteen harbors were chosen as locations for 20 fortifications. While those were low walled structures with low sloped earthworks, the concept behind their construction was that soft earth would deaden the effect of cannon fire of the walls being protected. And as for the low walls, well that was so there would be less of a target for naval cannons. Most of the First System installations were poorly funded, small, and never completely. 

The Second System of coastal defense went into effect using American engineers instead of European engineers. While that was a positive change, most projects went unfinished, and really did very little to defend the United States against the British in 1812. Fact is, coastal defensive positions was fragmented and pathetically weak when the British arrived and actually burned down our nation's capital during the War of 1812. 

Lessons were learned in the War of 1812. As a result of what took place, a new coastal defense system was designed. The new defense system was an attempt to protect our coasts. Because of what took place in the War of 1812, Congress appropriated over $800,000 in funds right after that war to install a coastal defensive system. That defensive system became known as the Third System. 

Initially, in 1821, early reports suggested that 50 sites would be needed to repeal an invasion. These locations stretched along the East coast, onto locations in the Gulf of Mexico, and up the Pacific coast. By 1850, nearly 200 locations were chosen for fortifications. As for armament, those Third System designed forts were intended to have 42-pounders which are 7-inch (178 mm) guns. But, because of shortages of those guns, 32-pounders which are 6.4-inch (163 mm) guns, 10-inch (254 mm) and 8-inch (203 mm) guns were used instead. 

The defensive works were larger structures then the First and Second System attempts with their guns mounted in taller very thick masonry walls, with layers of low masonry walls. Most Third System fortifications had two tiers of cannons versus the one tier cannons used in the First and Second System. Of course, it should be noted that while several towers and lone batteries were also built as part of the Third System, forts that were built for the First and Second System were also renovated at that time. Many of those older forts saw their small cannons replaced with larger cannons. 

Among the 42 forts started by the Army Corps of Engineers during that time, I believe only 30 were finished. The last one was actually finished after the Civil War in 1867. 

One of those Third System fortifications was Fort Pulaski in Savannah, Georgia. While I have been to a few of the forts, including Fort Point and Fort Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, and the Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston, South Carolina, I was amazed at Fort Pulaski. It's also a National Monument. But it is more in that it's probably one of the best, if not the best, preserved fortifications of that period.

Keep in mind that close to 200 forts were seen as being needed to guard the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Besides my visiting Fort Pulaski back in the early 1990s, why do I find it so important to write about. Well, that specific fort is significant because it changed how Americans looked at such fortifications. In fact, because of what took place at Fort Pulaski during the Civil War, many of the other forts that were in the works were never completed .

Fort Pulaski is today a National Monument located on Cockspur Island between Savannah and Tybee Island, Georgia. In 1862 during the early part of the Civil War, the Union Army successfully used rifled cannon in combat. Fort Pulaski was the target. What took place at Fort Pulaski demonstrated that rifled cannons rendered brick fortifications obsolete.

As I said before, after the War of 1812, President James Madison ordered a new system of coastal fortifications to protect the United States against foreign invasion. Construction of a fort to protect the port of Savannah started in 1829. The work was being directed by U.S. Army Major General Babcock. One of his officers there was Second Lieutenant, and a recent graduate of West Point. His name was Robert E. Lee.

After graduating from West Point, 2nd Lt. Robert E. Lee was in charge of designing the series of canals and earthworks that drained excess water from Cockspur Island. That was absolutely necessary to provide an adequate foundation for the fort's construction. Later during the Civil War, it's said that General Lee inspected the fort and was pleased to note that the dike system had worked as planned many years earlier.

In 1833, actually while construction was still ongoing, the fort at the mouth of the Savannah River would be named in honor of American Revolutionary War Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski. He was a Polish soldier who fought in the American Revolution under George Washington. Brigadier General Pulaski was a cavalryman who is said to have played a huge role in training American troops, and in fact inspired heroism on the field of battle. Among other battles, he took part in the sieges of Charleston and later Savannah.

On October 9th, 1779, at the young age of 34, General Pulaski commanded cavalry made up of both French and American troops during the siege of Savannah. It's said that he was trying to rally fleeing French troops when he was struck down by grapeshot. The young general was carried from the field of battle and taken aboard the South Carolina merchant brig privateer Wasp. He never regained consciousness and died two days later. He was truly admired by American Patriots.

It took from 1829 to 1847 to build Fort Pulaski. During those 18 years, a labor force under the supervision of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers included laborers, military servicemen, skilled masons, carpenters, and engineers. Some say skilled slaves also worked on building the fort. All of those men fought the humid Southern heat as well as mosquitoes during that huge undertaking. It should be noted that conditions were so horrible that construction on the massive two story fort was stop and go. If anyone has been in Savannah, Georgia, in the summer, then they know how rough the  humidity and heat can get. In the 1800s, it was no different and conditions were so bad in the summer that work had to stopped and personnel had to be replaced.

How about 25 million bricks? Yes, more than 25,000,000 bricks were used in it's construction. Much of the bricks were locally made in Savannah. Those brick were known as "Savannah Grey" because of their color. To supplement those bricks, more bricks were also shipped in from Maryland and Virginia. It's said the red bricks from Baltimore, Maryland, were harder than the Savannah Grey bricks. And also, believe it or not, granite and sandstone blocks were shipped in from New York and Connecticut.

One huge problem was that the muddy soft ground would not support the weight of the 25 million brick fort. So construction started with seventy foot long pilings being driven into the mud to provide stability for a wooden sub-floor which was made up of two layers of timber. This is what ended up providing direct support for the brickwork and granite blocks.

Fort Pulaski's walls average between five and eleven feet thick of solid brick. The fort's walls are 22 feet high inside, and 32 feet up from the outside moat. Yes, a moat. Fort Pulaski's moat averages seven to eight feet deep. The parade ground on the inside of Fort Pulaski stretches out over two acres.

The completed two tier structure is a truncated hexagon that faces east. All in all, the United States government spent nearly $1,000,000 in construction costs to build the fort. That was a huge amount of money back then. Imagine this, $1,000,000 in 1847 is equivalent in purchasing power to $30,696,585.37 in 2019. And for that money, it is said that in 1848 when the fort was completely armed, that the more than thirteen-thousand people of Savannah felt safe from foreign invasion.

Fort Pulaski was thought to be impenetrable except by only the largest land artillery. Smoothbore cannon of the time had a range of about a half mile. At the time, it was understood that beyond a distance of 700 yards smoothbore cannon and mortars would have little chance to break through heavy masonry walls. It was believed that beyond 1,000 yards, there was no chance at all of that taking place. Since the nearest point of land is Tybee Island which was a mile or more away, the fort was thought invincible to enemy attack. The fort was completed in 1847 and is said said to have had 48 guns to defend the Savannah River.

Lt. Robert E. Lee is believed to have remarked that "one might as well bombard the Rocky Mountains as Fort Pulaski".

In 1860, there were more civilian workers from nearby Savannah working in Fort Pulaski then there were Union administrators at the outbreak of the Civil War. In reality, the fort was under the control of only two caretakers. Why would that be the case? Who knows? I've never been able to find out why it wasn't garrisoned with regular troops.

It was at that time that Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown ordered the state of Georgia militia to take Fort Pulaski. Not long after the governor's order went out, a steamship carrying 110 Georgia militiamen from Savannah seized the fort for state of Georgia. A few months later, Georgia seceded from the Union in February of 1861 and joined the Confederacy. Right after that Confederate troops moved in to occupy the fort.

Five companies of Confederate troops formed the garrison of Fort Pulaski. Company B of the Oglethorpe Light Infantry, the German Volunteers, the Washington Volunteers, and the Montgomery Guards were members of the 1st Regiment of Georgia Volunteers. The Macon Wise Guards was accredited to the 25th Regiment of Georgia Regulars. The total strength of the garrison was 385 officers and men. In command was Colonel Charles H. Olmstead of the 1st Volunteer Regiment.

The fort had 48 guns distributed evenly to command all approaches of the Savannah River. On the ramparts facing Tybee Island were five 8-inch and four 10-inch columbiads, one 24-pounder Blakely rifle, and two 10-inch seacoast mortars. In addition bearing on Tybee Island were one 8-inch columbiad and four 32-pounder guns. In batteries outside the fort were two 12-inch and one 10-inch seacoast mortars. The remaining guns were mounted to command the North Channel of the Savannah River and the sweeping marshes to the west of the river.

During the Confederate occupation of 1861, General Robert E. Lee visited the fort. He is said to have stood on the parapet of the fort with Colonel Olmstead, and pointed to the shore of Tybee Island. General Lee is said to have remarked, "Colonel, they will make it pretty warm for you here with shells, but they cannot breach your walls at that distance."

What was maybe the shortest siege during the Civil War took place at Fort Pulaski. It was in reality the only battle to take pace there. It took place from April 10th and lasted until the next day, April 11th, 1862.

In December of 1861, Union General Thomas Sherman sent Capt. Quincy A. Gillmore (later promoted to Brigadier General) to begin construction of batteries along the beaches of Tybee Island about 1 to 2 miles away across the Savannah River from Fort Pulaski. The island was thought to be too isolated and of no use to the South, so it was abandoned by Confederate forces. That was a bad move because that allowed Union forces to build batteries along the beaches of the island. It was from there that Union forces were able to blockade and then lay siege of Fort Pulaski. 

On January 28th, 1862, the fort's Confederate occupiers received a 6 month supply of food which was believed to last for a while longer with rationing. This meant starving them out would be a long drawn out affair that General Sherman did not want. He wanted a quick resolution to Fort Pulaski and the capture of the city of Savannah.  

It's said that while Copperhead Democrats who were supporting the Confederacy in the North were attacking President Lincoln and pushing for reconciliation with slavery kept in place in their newspapers, other Northern newspapers screamed for action against the South. 

A surprise to the Confederates occupying the fort came on the morning of February 13. That morning, a Confederate supply ship, Ida, came down the Savannah River on her regular trip to the fort. Unbeknownst to the supply ship was that Union forces had constructed a battery of heavy guns on the beached of Tybee Island. The Union forces opened up on the Ida

It's said that "the old sidewheeler ran the gauntlet under full steam with shots splashing in her wake. Luck was with her, for the Federal guns, after firing nine shots, recoiled off their platforms. It was the Ida's last trip to Pulaski. Two days later she slipped her moorings, ran down the South Channel under the guns of the fort, rounded the point at Lazaretto, and returned to Savannah through Tybee Creek and the Wilmington Narrows."

On February 14th, the United States Army ordered that an expeditionary force be expended with the mission of taking Fort Pulaski. It was at that same time that Union forces destroyed the telegraph line between Savannah and Cockspur Island. After February 15th, it's said that the only communication between Savannah and the fort was by couriers who made their way through the marshes in the dead of the night -- the whole while having to swim to avoid Union pickets.

It soon became evident that neither supplies nor reinforcements would arrive at the fort. It was a case of surrender or die since the Confederate troops were also cut off from escaping to the mainland.  

To most military professionals at the time, a long-range bombardment would merely serve to pave the way for a direct assault by troops. Capt. Gillmore saw things differently. As an engineer, he was familiar with the test records of a new weapon, a rifled cannon which the Army had begun to experiment in 1859.

So, on December 1st, 1861, when put in charge of establishing batteries on Tybee Island, he broke with traditional military professionals and requested rifled guns. So on the northwest shore of Tybee Island facing Fort Pulaski, he had erected 11 batteries for guns and mortars. 

It's said that their job was even more difficult because the last mile of the shore, which seven of the  batteries had been established, was just an open marsh. A marsh that was in full view of the fort and within effective range of its guns. Reports said that the work there was actually performed at night, and the men were not allowed to speak above a whisper because they knew noise traveled so much more at night. Instead they were guided by the notes of a whistle. Just before dawn, the Union troops would camouflage any evidence of their night's work.

Once the batteries were ready, each heavy gun was moved across the marsh on sling carts. The guns were so large and heavy that 250 or more Union troops were harnessed to the carts to pull them into place.


While the Union forces were busy preparing for an attack on Fort Pulaski, the Confederate occupiers worked long hours to prepare for the bombardment. It's said the "men were weary and apprehensive, but followed their orders" to prep for battle. In accordance with the instructions of General Robert E. Lee himself, the Confederate troops "tore down the light veranda in front of the officers' quarters and replaced it with a traverse or covered passage made of timbers and earth. They piled sandbags between the guns on the ramparts and dug rat holes in the terreplein for the protection of the gunners. To prevent round shot and shell from rolling, they cut the entire parade ground into wide traps and trenches."

Then there's the story of Blind Tom Wiggins. 

If you've never heard of Blind Tom, his story is something out of the ordinary in the South in the 1800s. Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins was born on May 25th, 1849, a black slave. By the Civil War, he was one of the best-known pianists in the nation. Today he is regarded as an autistic savant.

Blind at birth, he was sold in 1850 along with his enslaved parents, to a Columbus, Georgia, lawyer, known as General James Neil Bethune who was considered "almost the pioneer free trader" in the United States. Bethune was the first newspaper editor in the South to openly advocate Secession.

Because Tom was born blind and subsequently could not do the work normally demanded of slaves, his original owners wanted to kill him since he had no economic value to them. But, instead of killing him at birth, he was allowed to live on the Bethune plantation. Tom showed an interest in the piano after hearing one of Bethune's daughters playing a piano. By age five, Tom is said to have composed his first tune, The Rain Storm. 

Recognized by General Bethune for his skill, Tom was permitted to live in a room attached to the family house. He was given a piano, and Tom began to echo the sounds around him. By the age of four, Tom was able to repeat conversations up to ten minutes in length but was barely able to adequately communicate his own needs, resorting to grunts and gestures.

Bethune hired out "Blind Tom" from the age of eight years to concert promoter Perry Oliver, who toured him extensively in the US, performing as often as four times a day and earning Oliver and Bethune up to $100,000 a year which was an enormous amount of money at the time. Of course, Bethune's family made a fortune estimated at $750,000 at the hands of Blind Tom. Bethune hired professional musicians to play for Tom, who could faithfully reproduce their performances, often after a single listening. Seen as freak of nature by some, he was either compared to a genius or a baboon depending on the newspapers.

In Savannah, on the night before the battle of Fort Pulaski, a large audience, all of which were completely unaware of what was taking place on Tybee Island and at the fort, was actually being entertained by Blind Tom Wiggins. The famous black pianist played his original composition, "The Battle of Manassas" for his Confederate supporters. 

On the morning of April 10th, 1862, Union forces sent a messenger to the fort under a flag of truce. The messenger offered a note from Union Capt. Gillmore asking for the surrender of the Fort to prevent the needless loss of life. Confederate Colonel Charles H. Olmstead rejected the offer. He is actually said to have laughed at the request. The Confederates in the fort all believed that they had little to fear from the Union guns.

After the messenger returned, 10-inch and 13-inch mortar shells exploded in the air and fell short outside the fort. The few that made it into the fort dropped on the parade buried themselves in the ground of the wide traps and trenches. When they exploded, they were said to throw up "harmless geysers of mud." 

The walls of the fort were a different story. It's said that "whenever a ponderous solid shot from a columbiad landed squarely on the wall, the whole fort quivered and shook."

About 2 hours after the battle began, a solid shot entered an embrasure and dismounted the casemate gun. Several members of the gun crew were wounded. It's said one was so severely wounded that it was necessary to amputate his arm right them and there. 

At 11 o'clock that morning, the halyards on the flag pole were cut by shell fragments. The Confederate flag slit down within the fort. A few minutes later, "Lt. Christopher Hussey of the Montgomery Guards and Pvt. John Latham of the German Volunteers sprang upon the parapet and carried the flag under fire to the northeast angle where they raised it again on the ramrod of a cannon."

By noon, Union guns inflicted 47 holes on the fort's southeast face. By afternoon, cannon fire from both sides lessened. After sunset on April 10th, not more than 7 or 8 shells an hour were fired. That's the way it was until daylight the next morning. 

It is said that the fort, notwithstanding its holes and scars, didn't look too bad considering what it had been through. Among the Union troops, there was a feeling that the first day didn't accomplish a lot. Of course, since no one had been hurt in the Union batteries, many soldiers were not unhappy with that fact.

As for the fort, as stated, looking at the outside, the fort was still in pretty good shape. What they Union troops did not know is that the inside of the fort was in shambles. After all of the shelling, nearly all of the barbette guns and mortars leveled on Tybee Island and the Union position had been dismounted. Only two of the five casemate guns were in working order. At the southeast angle of the fort, the whole wall from the crest of the parapet to the moat was blown away to a depth of from 2 to 4 feet.

On Friday morning, April 11th, the bombardment increased on both sides at daylight. The Confederates in Fort Pulaski worked throughout the night to repair some of their guns. The Union troops resumed slamming into the fort. Their work to breach those thick walls became almost immediately apparent. Two embrasures on the left of the southeast face of the fort were seen almost immediately after the firing started. 

Fort Pulaski's fire was neither accurate or effective as the Union batteries were nearly all masked behind a low sand ridge and protected by heavy sandbag revetments. Most of the Confederate shot and shell buried themselves in the beach or traveled completely over the Union batteries and trenches. 

Soon that morning, other Union guns opened up on the fort. Union gunboat, USS Norwich began firing at the northeast face of the fort but the range was too great and her shots struck only glancing blows on the brick walls. A battery on Long Island opened up at long range from the west, and shots were landing on the south wall from guns located on a barge in Tybee Creek.

By noon, Union fire was concentrated on the guns on the ramparts of the fort and within half an hour these guns were silenced. By now, two great holes had been opened through the walls and the inside of the fort. It was at that time that Union forces were ordered to prepare to take Fort Pulaski by direct assault.

Meanwhile, Union projectiles from the rifled gun batteries were by then passing completely through the breach and across the parade ground. Those rounds were striking against the walls of the north magazine in which 40,000 pounds of powder was being stored. Seeing that was the situation, and knowing that the live of those there were to be lost, 25-year-old Confederate Colonel Olmstead made the decision to surrender. 

Private Landershine, who was at this time discussing the state of affairs with his comrades, wrote in his diary, "About 2-1/2 p. m. I seen Col. Olmstead and Capt. Sims go past with a rammer and a sheet, we all knew that it was over with us and we would have to give up."

The Confederate flag was lowered half way and a final gun was fired from a casemate. Then the flag was hauled down and the white sheet took its place. The Third System coastal fortifications had seen its only battle. And it, as the usefulness of such forts had come to an end.

When the Union troops saw the white flag, they danced together on the beach, shook hands, and cheered their commander. General Gillmore arrived at the fort under a flag of truce. He met Colonel Olmstead who was waiting at the entrance. They immediately drew up the unconditional surrender of the fort. After a cursory inspection of the fort, General Gillmore left after put Maj. Charles G. Halpine in charge of carrying out the logistics of taking over. 

Colonel Olmstead's officers gave up their swords. Their weapons were laid on a table, and each officer, according to his rank, advanced in turn, mentioned his name and title, and spoke a few words. When Colonel Olmstead stepped forward, he said, "I yield my sword, but I trust I have not disgraced it."

The men of the garrison were formed by companies on the parade, stacked their arms, and marched to quarters for the night. The Stars and Stripes was then raised over the ramparts, and Pulaski again became part of the possessions, as well as the property, of the Union. Terms of the surrender were .

Within six weeks of the surrender, Union forces repaired the Fort and all shipping in and out of Savannah ceased. The loss of Savannah as a viable Confederate port crippled the South's war effort. With the Fort securely in Union control, General David Hunter, commander of the Union garrison issued Gen. Order Number Seven, which stated that all slaves in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina were now free. 

President Abraham Lincoln quickly rescinded the order, but later issued his own Emancipation proclamation in 1863. Over time, Fort Pulaski was actually made a final destination on the Underground Railroad as slaves throughout the area were freed upon arrival on Cockspur Island.

In the newspaper at the time:

T  O  –  D  A  Y  ‘  S     N  E  W  S .
_________________________
F o r t   P u l a s k i   C a p t u r e d !
A  GALLANT  ACHIEVEMENT  !
BALTIMORE. April 15.—The Savannah Republican of the 12th announces the unconditional surrender of Fort Pulaski on the previous day.  Seven large batteries of parrott guns at King’s Landing, and all the barbette guns on that side, and three casemate guns were dismounted.
Colonel Olmstead, the rebel commander signaled the day previous to the surrender, that our fire was so terrible that no human being could stand upon the parapet for even a minute.

Fort Pulaski, on Cockspur Island, Commanding the Entrance to the Savannah River and City of Savannah, from “The Soldier in Our Civil War” 
FORTRESS MONROE, April 14.—A flag of truce went to Craney Island  this afternoon, and brought  back two Norfolk papers.  They were taken to headquarters and although containing the important information of the unconditional surrender of Fort Pulaski, an effort was made in accordance with the policy that prevails here to keep even good news from the representatives of the press.  I am however, able to give you the substance of the glorious news as published in the Savannah Republican.
The Republican says substantially that it learns with deep regret that after  a gallant defense against guns vastly superior that Fort Pulaski surrendered at two P.M. yesterday the 14th.
Corporal Law of the Pulaski Guards who did not leave Fort Thunderbolt until after the flag was hauled down brings the intelligence of the successful event.
The surrender was unconditional. Seven large breaches were made in the south wall by the federal battery of eight Parrott guns at King’s Landing.
All the barbette guns on that side were dismannered, and also three of the casemates, leaving but one gun bearing on that point.  A clear breach was made in the magazine.  The balls used were connical [sic], and were propelled with such force that they went clear through the walls at nearly every fire.
A Richmond paper contains an editorial exhibiting considerable fear for the safety of the city.  It intimates that the MonitorNaugatuck and Galena, all armed vessels might easily come up James river and by their invulnerability and powerful guns, take and keep possession of the city.
To prevent such a result it proposes that the channel of the James river shall be obstructed by stone, which it says  is abundant for the purpose and should be used at once.  The Merrimac has not come out and nothing has been seen of her to day.  The tide had been low and this may have kept her in.

It is interesting to note that at the Battle of Fort Pulaski, Capt, Gillmore was breveted a Brigadier General and later he became a Major General of volunteers. In the two days of battle, there were 5,275 shot and shell fired against the fort. For the two-day battle, only two soldiers, one Confederate and one Union, were injured. Also, it's interesting that 100 sailors from the USS Wabash were landed on Tybee Island to man a Parrott cannon.

The Parrott cannon was invented by U.S. Army Captain Robert Parker Parrott. Parrott cannons were manufactured with a combination of cast and wrought iron. The cast iron made for an accurate gun, but was brittle enough to suffer fractures. Because of that flaw, a large wrought iron reinforcing band was overlaid on the breech to give it additional strength. By the end of the Civil War, both sides were using this type of gun extensively.

Union troops occupied Fort Pulaski from April of 1862 used as a military and political prison until the end of the Civil War. And from 1864 to 1865, the rooms that were once the southwest powder magazine where used by the Union troops to hold some Confederate officers in what was called "dark confinement."

There is another thing, what some might not recognize is that when the Confederate troops abandoned Tybee Island, they actually relinquished Fort Pulaski to its fate. If they had not given Union forces the only possible battery site, the fort may have survived.

So why was what happened at Fort Pulaski so significant?

As for the Civil War, taking Fort Pulaski enabled the Union blockade directed against the South to be extended. After the surrender, Union troops occupied the fort and commanded the entrance to Savannah which was the principal port of Georgia. Its occupation helped cutoff the commerce that funded the South's war effort. It's capture helped to cutoff the economic lifeblood of the South.

As for the bigger picture, Union General Hunter declared in his report to the Secretary of War, "The result of this bombardment must cause a change in the construction of fortifications as radical as that foreshadowed in naval architecture by the conflict between the Monitor and Merrimac. No works of stone or brick can resist the impact of rifled artillery of heavy caliber."

The fairly quick reduction of Fort Pulaski took the world by surprise at the time. The battle changed cannon technology and military strategy. The battle of Fort Pulaski demonstrated that the use of rifled artillery rendered stone fortifications obsolete.

Tom Correa


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Geronimo's Death 1909

For many of us growing up in the 1950s and '60, we heard constant references to Geronimo. In most cases it was a scene where someone is talking about the "Apache Chief." Of course one of the things about those old movies and television westerns, they placed the Apache and Geronimo in places and situations that they were never in.

Also, while very well known as a Chief, Geronimo was not a Chief among the Mescalero-Chiricahua or any other band of Apache. He was a medicine-man and leader for the the Bedonkohe band of Apache. He's considered a great warrior, who led anywhere from 30 to 50 Apaches men and women on raids. But no, he was not considered a Chief. He had a following because he was smart and understood how to conduct raids and wage war against sheriff's posses and the U.S. Army.

Raids were a way of life for the Apache. They raided the Spanish when they were in power, and they raided American civilians after they arrived. They used raids as a way of conducting war, but mostly as a way of survival. During raids, they stole cattle and horses, as well as other livestock. No, it was not out of the question for a raiding party to go off with a pig or chickens. They would also rob their targets of food, supplies, clothing, and anything else they saw worth stealing. They were well known to kill the occupants of the homes and ranches that they raided. Besides killing them, they were known to torture and mutilate their victims. Yes, before setting fire to their homes, barns, other outbuilding, hay storage, and even wagons, on their way out.

Americans reacted by responding with attacks. Of course, as with anyone attacking without prejudice, sans torture and mutilation, the retaliation against the Apache was as ruthless and without quarter. In many cases, since there was no real way of knowing what Apache were involved in the attacks on settlers, the retaliation was not limited to those doing the raids. For years, as with the Spanish and Mexicans, Americans were raided and retaliated in a vicious cycle of attack and revenge while the body count mounted.

It's said that there were those of Geronimo's own Chiricahua tribe, those who respected his skill in battle and knew of his reputation as an effective leader, who did not like him. In fact, because of his carelessness when organizing raids, he was seen as using his followers for his own means instead of for the good of the Apache people. His followers saw Geronimo's supposed "powers" as sort of super-natural gifts. As a medicine-man, he was very powerful in his tribe who had many followers. But while he definitely had his followers, those Apache who really did stand in awe of the medicine that Geronimo possessed, there were others who saw his "powers" as nothing more than hate for whites.

In June of 1829, Geronimo was born with the name Goyaale which means "the one who yawns." He was born to the Bedonkohe band of the Apache, in No-Doyohn Canyon near Arizpe, Sonora, near Turkey Creek, which is a tributary of the Gila River. At the time it was still a part of Mexico. Today, that area is in the present-day state of New Mexico.  

As is not surprising to anyone, his parents raised him according to Apache traditions. And later after his father died, his mother gave him to the Tchihende Apache. He grew up with that tribe, and at age 17 was married to a woman named Alope. She was from the Nedni-Chiricahua band of Apache. They had three children. Believe it or not. she was the first of nine wives. 

While most Apache leaders saw the advantages of raiding the Americans as a means to survive on plunder, it's said that Geronimo was different. There is a belief that Geronimo waged a personal war of revenge for the murder of his family. Yes, revenge on Mexicans and Americans. Both of which he saw as white.

On March 5, 1858, a company of 400 Mexican soldiers from Sonora led by Colonel José María Carrasco attacked the Tchihende camp outside Janos, pronounced Kas-Ki-Yeh in Apache. It's said that Geronimo and the majority of the other men of the band were in town getting supplies when the attack took place. The Mexican soldiers wiped out the village. Among those slaughtered in the attack was his first wife, all three of their children, and his mother. 

Later, Geronimo said this of that massacre:

"Late one afternoon when returning from town we were met by a few women and children who told us that Mexican troops from some other town had attacked our camp, killed all the warriors of the guard, captured all our ponies, secured our arms, destroyed our supplies, and killed many of our women and children. Quickly we separated, concealing ourselves as best we could until nightfall, when we assembled at our appointed place of rendezvous — a thicket by the river. Silently we stole in one by one, sentinels were placed, and when all were counted, I found that my aged mother, my young wife, and my three small children were among the slain."

After that, Geronimo and his followers took revenge on any Mexican when they had the chance. He would hate Mexicans for the rest of his life, and lumped Americans in with them. He saw Mexicans and Americans as one and the same. He considered them all whites.

Geronimo's chief was a man by the name of Mangas Coloradas. He realized Geronimo's burning desire for revenge and sent him to Cochise's band. Chief Cochise was the leader of the Chihuicahui local group of the Chokonen. He was well recognized chief of the Chokonen band of the Chiricahua Apache. His band would be the one's to give him the name Geronimo.

The story of his name is interesting in that there are a number of different reasons given for that band calling him Geronimo. Supposedly, it was the result of how he conducted himself during a fight with a group of Mexican soldiers. During that fight, he ignored the gunfire and charged the Mexican soldiers with a knife and started slashing away. Some say he fought as if possessed and the soldiers supposedly called out "Jerónimo" during the fight. Jerónimo being Spanish for Saint Jerome who they were supposedly asking for help.

I really don't put a lot of faith in that version simply because I have a hard time believing that soldiers in battle will be calling out the name of the patron Saint of archaeologists, scholars, librarians, students, and translators. I can see them calling out for the patron Saints of soldiers which are Saint Ignatius, Saint George, and of course Saint Michael.

Others say Geronimo was simply a name he got from that band, and it's translation is lost. So really, from what I can tell, no one really knows the meaning of it.

Geronimo and members of the Tchihende, the Tsokanende and the Nednhi bands of the Chiricahua Apache waged war on the United States in what is today New Mexico and Arizona. When he was finally captured, he was placed on a Apache reservation in Arizona. Reservation life was one of confinement. For free-ranging Apache, it's no wonder they had a great deal of animosity for those who have changed their way of life. Of course, just because he was placed on a reservation didn't mean that he was staying there and actually broke-out on three different occasions.

In 1886, after an intense pursuit, Geronimo surrendered for the last time to Lt. Charles Bare Gatewood who was an Apache-dialect speaking West Point graduate. When Geronimo was later transferred to General Nelson Miles, the general is said to have treated Geronimo as a prisoner of war and sent him to Fort Bowie. From there, he and others who General Miles saw as combatants were sent to join the rest of the Chiricahua tribe relocated to Florida.

After his capture, Arizona's civil authorities wanted him tried and hanged for the deaths of a large number of Americans who he was responsible for killing during this raids. The U.S. Army pressed jurisdiction and asserted that he was a prisoner of war. Of course, while supposedly a prisoner of war, a POW, believe it or not, the man responsible for the murder and mutilation of a great number of Americans actually achieved a celebrity status of sorts. Yes, so much so that an Eastern newspaper who was a sponsor for 1898 Trans-Mississippi International Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska.

He was also invited to the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis to be their guest there. In an act which angered a lot of folks in the Southwest, the U.S. Army granted him leave and he showed up at the fair as an honored guest. While there, he is said to have rode a Ferris wheel and even sold souvenirs such as photographs of himself. Yes, while guarded be U.S.Army soldiers, Geronimo dressed in traditional Apache clothing and posed for photographs. In reality, the Apache leader Geronimo was turned into a tourist attraction.

After the fair, Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show made a deal with the U.S. Army for Geronimo join the show. Of course, while again under guard since he was technically still a prisoner of war. In fact, he was allowed to travel with the show, always with soldiers assigned to be his guards. All in all, that Wild West Show made him a huge celebrity as well as a great deal of money.

Though technically still a prisoner of war, his celebrity status was so that he was invited to ride in President Theodore Roosevelt's 1905 Inaugural Parade. And there in Washington D.C., accompanied by five real Native American Chiefs was Geronimo who rode horseback down Pennsylvania Avenue. All the while dressed in full headgear which was burrowed from the Wild West prop department.

Later during that Inauguration week, Geronimo met President Theodore Roosevelt. During their brief meeting, Geronimo asked that the Chiricahua Apache be relieved of their status as prisoners of war, and allowed to return to their homeland in Arizona. To his credit, President Roosevelt refused Geronimo's request. President Roosevelt stated the fact that there was a great deal of ongoing animosity in Arizona for what Geronimo and his band did not that long before their meeting. His band was responsible for the killing and mutilations of a large number of men, women, and children. Civilians who were not combatants who were killed in Geronimo's quest for revenge.

Supposedly, through an interpreter, President Roosevelt told Geronimo, "You killed many of my people; you burned villages, you murdered the innocent, and were not good Indians. You had a bad heart." 

As for his death? And I'm sure you were wondering when I was going to get around to talking about how Geronimo died. Well it wasn't in some hail of gunfire. Actually, in February of 1909, Geronimo was riding home when his horse spooked and he was thrown. Being thrown didn't kill him, but since he's said to have laid in the cold all that night before someone found him the next day, he contracted pneumonia. On February 17, 1909, he died of pneumonia at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He died at the Fort Sill hospital. He was buried at Fort Sill's Apache Indian Prisoner of War Cemetery.

There's a story about how he told his nephew that he shouldn't have surrendered and instead have been killed like the others that he had gotten killed seeking revenge. But frankly, I have no idea where that legend comes from. To me, it may have just been something he said for his followers considering it seems that he was doing pretty good for himself after he "surrendered". Consider this, he married eight more women, made a lot of money on the Wild West circuit, sold a lot of pictures of himself, met the president of the United States, was treated as a celebrity in spite of being considered a "prisoner of war" which is sort of laughable since I gather some of the soldiers "guarding" him were known to quit and request other duty because they were more his servants than guards.

As for the supposed theft of Geronimo's skull which is another legend pertaining to Geronimo? There was a rumor going around in the 1920s that grave-robbers had dug him up and stolen his skull for one reason or another. The rumor took off until the U.S. Army got tired of denying that it ever happened. It was then in 1928, that the Army certified that the grave was not disturbed and would make sure it remained that way in the future. To do that, the folks in charge of Fort Sill ordered Geronimo's grave covered with concrete.

How did people see him when he was alive? During his time, Geronimo is said to have had a reputation of brutality that was unmatched by his contemporaries. With his followers, he had a reputation as a great warrior, a man with almost super natural powers. With Americans living in the East who were not affected by his raids, those who didn't know what he was responsible for doing, they saw him as a celebrity who some thought should not have been a prisoner of war guarded by the U.S. Army. For Americans in the Southwest, those whose families and friends were butchered in many cases, his reputation was one of a ruthless murderer, a butcher who evaded a noose.

Tom Correa

Monday, February 4, 2019

It Was Hurricane Bill -- Not Shanghai Pierce


Like many of us, I was brought up on westerns, both movies and television. As many of you know, while I love them for their entertainment value, I've stated time and time again how they were not very historically accurate.

For example, a lot of films portray Wyatt Earp as younger than John Henry "Doc" Holliday. In fact, the real Wyatt Earp was three years older than Holliday. That age difference my be why Doc was in real life known to be closer with Morgan Earp than Wyatt. Morgan and Doc were known to socialize together a lot more than Wyatt and Doc.

Another example of Hollywood getting things wrong is the age of Ike Clanton. Many movies depict him as an older man when in fact he was only 34 years-old in 1881.

Some films depict Virgil Earp as getting to Tombstone with Wyatt and Morgan. Yet, in fact, Virgil was there first and wired his brothers to let them know about the opportunities there. Another thing, Virgil Earp was actually dispatched to Tombstone as a Deputy U.S. Marshal because of the rustling problem on the border. The Mexican government complained to Washington D.C. about Americans raiding ranches in Mexico. Thus, Virgil, who was already a Deputy U.S. Marshal out of Prescott, was sent to Tombstone to investigate what was taking place down there.

While the Clanton gang was in fact stealing cattle from Mexico, sort of like Captain Woodrow Call and Gus McCrea did in the movie Lonesome Dove, Mexicans were also stealing cattle from Americans on this side of the river. The Mexican government is believed to have turned a blind eye to their people raiding American ranches.

As for the historical "Vendetta Ride" which many films have looked at, it was in fact a murderous rampage which was carried out with no legal authority. While the justice system worked fine for the Earps previously, after Morgan was ambushed and those who he suspected of killing Morgan were exonerated, Wyatt decided to take the law into his own hands. Wyatt held the office of Deputy US Marshal at the time to enable the arrest of the cowboys, but warrants were issued against him and his deputies for extra-judicial murder. Yes, for the murder of Frank Stilwell who the autopsy showed was shot dead with 5 different caliber weapons and not just a shotgun as Wyatt Earp stated later.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Earp Vendetta Posse fleeing Arizona to evade murder charges is how Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul rode to Colorado with extradition papers for Wyatt and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, and the others, in 1882. Paul was supposed to bring them back to Arizona for trial. It's interesting that Paul served the warrant to Doc, but he did not serve the warrants to the Earp brothers or the others because of his friendship with them. Of course, later Colorado Governor Pitkin refused to honor Arizona's extradition request on the basis of Bat Masterson's fake charges. Bat fabricated charges to keep the Earps in Colorado. That stopped the Earps and the others involved in the killing of Frank Stilwell from ever leaving Colorado. That's how they evaded justice.

In all, there were 34 shots fired. Since only 7 men were involved in the actual gun battle, that means not everyone got all of their shots off. That is presuming that all had 6 and not the customary 5 loaded in their pistols. Since there were seven six-guns and a double-barrel shotgun there, that comes out to 44 rounds on hand. Someone was left with rounds left. If we watch some films, it seems like a lot more rounds were fired.

In the 1957 film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, there are a number of inaccuracies. But to only cover a few of the worse, let's start with the actual gunfight. It took place on October 26th, 1881, and in reality only lasted thirty seconds. In the end, Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLaury died in the exchange.

The fictional OK Corral gunfight in that movie was a long drawn-out rolling firefight that lasted all of five minutes. It included a wagon on fire, a bridge, shooting from a ditch, Wyatt Earp chasing a Billy Clanton to a general store to shoot him through a window. In that film, Doc Holliday, played by Kirk Douglas, shoots Johnny Ringo in a stable. Of course, we know that Ringo was not shot dead at the gunfight near the OK Corral. But then again, let's presume no one told Hollywood. And if someone did, they probably didn't care.

One of the tidbits of trivia on that film is that there was word in Hollywood at the time that Hal Wallis wanted to cast Humphrey Bogart as Doc Holliday. John Sturges wanted Robert Mitchum to play Holliday. Instead, the film's stars were actor Kirk Douglas who played Doc Holliday and actor Burt Lancaster who played Wyatt Earp minus a mustache.

It's said that Lancaster studied old newspapers to get a feel for who Wyatt Earp was and found him to be a lot less of the boy-scout than the movie wanted to portray him. Lancaster is said to have argued with Sturges about Earp's character in that Lancaster saw Wyatt Earp as being a lot more seedy.

At one point in the film, a scene called for an unarmed Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) to be confronted by Shanghai Pierce and more than a dozen of his Texas cowboys in a saloon. Yes, including Johnny Ringo who somehow found his way there. In the film, Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday comes to the rescue by stealing another man's pistol and tossing it to Lancaster to save the day. Together they stand off the whole crew. It's said that Lancaster fought with Director John Sturges over that scene since there is no record anywhere, in any newspaper or journal, other than in Stuart Lake's fictional Earp biography, of that ever taking place.

Wyatt Earp’s authorized biography is full of tall tales. One of the stories out of his memoirs, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal is about arresting Shanghai Pierce. That how is ended up a scene in the movie.

The story goes that Earp disarmed Shanghai Pierce because he was in violation of the no carry law in Wichita, Kansas. Supposed, in early summer 1874, Wyatt Earp was a Wichita police officer when he was called to assist fellow officer Bill Potts. In his book, Potts is identified as Samuel Botts.

Botts was confronting a drunken Shanghai Pierce who had a 1873 Colt Peacemaker on his hip and tied to his leg ready for a gunfight. Pierce was supposedly in violation of the no-firearms law, and causing a disturbance right there in the middle of Main Street. So much so, that traffic on Main Street came to a halt.

According to Earp's memoir, Botts didn't have what it took to handle the situation -- so he had to step in to take care of things. All in a single stroke, Wyatt Earp grabbed Pierce's gunhand while at the same time relieving the Texas cattleman of his pistol. He then, according to Earp, picked up the 6-foot-4 Shanghai by the seat of his trousers and got him off the street and into a packed saloon where he was going to deal with the unruly Texan. But to his surprise, the saloon was packed with anywhere from 40 to 80 of Shanghai's men. Yes, 40 to 80!

The Texas cowboys didn't like the way Earp was treating their boss, so all pulled their pistols on Earp. This is when supposedly Doc Holliday comes to the rescue and stands off all 40 to 80 of the Texans while tossing a pistol to Wyatt Earp. According to the film, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster get the drop on the cowboys and they hauled them all to a judge where they were fined a total of $1000 and told to get out of town. This is from Earp's book.

Wow! Was that exciting or what! Too bad it didn't happen.

The closes thing that we know took place, which was in a local newspaper in July of 1874, involved Wichita police officer Bill Potts who came across a man carrying a gun within the city limits. Potts did in fact disarm him. But while leading him to jail, seven of the man's friends started to crowd Potts with the intention of preventing him from making the arrest. When that happened, a citizen saw what was taking place and used the iron triangle outside of the courthouse, which was used as a police alarm, to call for help. The triangle outside the courthouse at First and Main clanged away and soon brought police officer Wyatt Earp to backup officer Bill Potts.

But also, it's said that about 50 armed citizens also showed up to backup officer Potts. So no, Earp was not alone. And while some refer to them as Wichita's "secret police," they were in fact the local vigilance committee and they responded armed with shotguns and rifles. The citizens outnumbered those up against Potts and all were soon taken into custody. The judge's report does identify the men who were tried and fined. It does not say they were Texas cowboys. As for Shanghai Pierce, the name of Abel Pierce is not among those listed in the judge's report.

In 1873, Shanghai Pierce was hired to act on behalf of Wichita in secure herds. He was paid $2000 by the city of Wichita to do just that. In the summer of 1874, Pierce was in Ellsworth on a similar arrangement. Ellsworth hired him because a lot of trail-bosses were sick and tired of how business was being conducted in Wichita.

By 1874, Wichita had gained a bad reputation of buffaloing cowboys for no reason, cheating cowboys at the gambling houses, rolling them for their wages or their winnings, and the police either turned a blind eye to what was going on -- or arrested the cowboys on trumped up charges for the fines that the city would collect. Also, a police officer in Wichita got an extra $4 a head for every cowboy they arrested. Bashing cowboys was a very lucrative proposition -- guilty or not.

Because of those things, and more, including some merchants in Wichita not wanting to serve black cowboys, Ellsworth was one of the towns that trail-bosses looked at as an alternative shipping point. Many a herd was steered clear of Wichita because of crooked cops, price gouging from the merchants, because their hands were treated like second class citizens, and more.

There is something else. While it sounds like it could have been a few cowboys defending one of their own, the incident is believed to have had nothing to do with Texas cowboys. Those arrested were believed to be part of a small outlaw gang ran by an hombre known as Hurricane Bill Martin. The fines levied against them were only $17 a piece for seven of them, and the figure of $1,000 is believed to refer to the amount of the bond set for Hurricane Bill's release.

Hurricane Bill Martin's real name was William A. Martin. He is said to have been a stocky, 200 pound, 6 foot tall, horse thief and desperado. According to him, he was an Indian fighter, buffalo hunter, and gunfighter.

By the way, did you notice that I said "according to him"? That's the reason that he was given the name "Hurricane." It's because he was known to tell tall tales. He was pretty "windy." It seemed to be the thing to do back in the day if you wanted to inflate your reputation. You simply did it yourself.

According to reports, he was confronted by the Wichita police and the local vigilantes in 1874 in Wichita for disturbing the peace. As for Wyatt Earp, he was not a police officer in Wichita until April of 1875. Subsequently, in 1874 when that incident took place, Earp was only acting as a low paid city patrolman. Earp hadn't even been officially sworn in as an officer. As I said, that didn't happen until 1875.

As for Hurricane Bill, by 1875, he was supposedly an Army scout while still out stealing horses and being a badman. He was known to be in Dallas early that year and was arrested with a couple of ladies for running a "disorderly house." Yes, for running an unlawful whorehouse. It is interesting that he and Doc Holliday, who was arrested at the same time for "illegal gaming in a saloon," were both told to leave Dallas at the same time.

Hurricane Bill showed up at Ft. Griffin, Texas, and feel in with a prostitute that everyone called "Hurricane Minnie." She had the same problem of being "windy." Bill was arrested there for gambling, pimping, public drunkenness, and being involved in two shootings where no one was injured. Believe it or not, the Hurricane couple got married in May of 1876.

There was a report that Hurricane Bill Martin was killed during an argument in Dodge City, Kansas. On September 8th, 1879, a man by the name of A.H. Webb hit Bill in the head with a Winchester rifle when Bill threatened to kill him. It was obvious that Bill met someone that took him by his word and killed him first. A rifle his across the head was enough to kill him.

When I was much younger, I really thought Shanghai Pierce was a badman in real life. Little did I know back then how Hollywood lies while trying to get us to believe things that they simply make up. Fact is, the real Shanghai Pierce really was nothing like actor Ted de Corsia's character in the film Gunfight at the OK Corral.

In fact, he was completely opposite of the character which Hollywood portrayed him to be. And that story, the story of Shanghai Pierce, will be coming up very soon. I'm working on that right now!

Tom Correa