Old Fort Jackson Helped Guard the Savannah River During the Civil War
Besides the famous Fort Pulaski, there were other Confederate river defenses that guarded against attack on the City of Savannah, Georgia, via the Savannah River. The most formidable of these defenses was a brick and masonry fort called Fort Jackson, or Fort James Jackson.
Named after James Jackson, a Georgia Revolutionary War officer and later a governor, U.S. Senator, and U.S. Representative, Fort Jackson was built in 1808 on a site along the Savannah River about three miles downriver from the city of Savannah. It was one of many forts built for U.S. coastal defenses in the 1800s. The site had been the location of a mud and log fort during the Revolutionary War. Fort Jackson was part of the river defenses of Savannah during the War of 1812, and served as headquarters for Confederate river defenses in the Civil War after the fall of Fort Pulaski. It’s the oldest brick fort still standing in Georgia.
Georgia militia troops occupied Fort Jackson in January 1861, shortly after the state seceded but before the Civil War started. Troops from the 22nd Battalion, Georgia Heavy Artillery manned the ramparts during much of the war, serving seven heavy guns. Colonel Edward C. Anderson, Jr., a native of Savannah and former U.S. Navy lieutenant, commanded the garrison for much of the war.
As General William T. Sherman’s army closed in on Savannah, the fort was abandoned in the general withdrawal of Confederate forces on the night of December 20th-21st, 1864. Retreating Confederates set fire to anything of military value in the fort. Early in the morning of December 21st, Union forces led by a detachment of the 29th Ohio Infantry occupied Fort Jackson, raising the Stars and Stripes there for the first time in nearly four years. Noticing the flag, the commanding officer of the Confederate ironclad CSS Savannah ordered his gunners to fire at the fort. The Federals were unfazed. The CSS Savannah was blown up by its crew shortly thereafter to keep it from falling into Union hands. U.S. troops occupied the fort for the rest of the war.
Fort Jackson remained a part of the coastal defense system after the Civil War, albeit only nominally. Masonry forts had essentially been rendered obsolete during the war with the advent of rifled cannon. Maintenance of the fort was minimal and in 1905, the military abandoned Fort Oglethorpe, as it was known from 1886 to 1905. Ownership of the site went through several public and private entities, with varying amounts of neglect and restoration throughout the process. In 1976, the Coastal Heritage Society, a private nonprofit group, took over the maintenance and operation of Old Fort Jackson from the State of Georgia, which had closed it due to financial issues. The Society reopened the site and continues to operate it as a historic site. The fort is a National Historic Landmark.
Visiting Old Fort Jackson
Fort Jackson is located at 1 Fort Jackson Road in Savannah. From the Island Expressway, turn north onto Woodcock Road, then right onto Fort Jackson Road. There are cannon and musket firing demonstrations, as well as other interactive exhibits put on by Coastal Heritage Society interpreters in period uniforms and costumes. The site is open 9-5 seven days a week except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission is charged. With Fort Pulaski National Monument a just few miles east toward Tybee Island, one can have a very full day visiting Savannah’s historic forts.
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