Fort McAllister State Park Preserves the Site of the Last Impediment to Sherman’s March
In June 1861, construction began on a large earthen fort on the south bank of the Ogeechee River south of Savannah, Georgia, as part of the defenses of that port city. Originally, this earthwork was called the Genesis Point Battery. It was later named Fort McAllister. Joseph McAllister, the local rice planter and Lieutenant Colonel in the Confederate army who donated the land the fort was built upon, asked that the fort be named after his father, George W. McAllister.
The fort was armed with both heavy artillery and lighter field guns, plus one 10 inch heavy mortar battery. The number of officers and men assigned to the garrison over the course of the war varied but topped off at about 300. In 1862 and 1863, the Union Navy Ironclads shelled Fort McAllister several times, generally inflicting little damage to the giant earthwork, although one attack killed garrison commander Major John B. Gallie and another killed Tom Cat, the fort’s cat mascot, much to the dismay of the men. The fort’s big guns made several hits on the Ironclads, but also inflicted little damage. The U.S.S Montauk did have one success, sinking the blockade runner Rattlesnake, also called Nashville, on February 28th, 1863 on the river near Fort McAllister.
In December 1864, Major General William T. Sherman’s army was nearing the end of its March to the Sea from Atlanta. Sherman’s final objective in the march was Savannah, but Fort McAllister stood in the way. The fort also kept Union supply ships offshore from steaming up the Ogeechee River and resupplying the Federal army.
Sherman picked Brigadier General William B. Hazen’s division to make an assault on Fort McAllister on December 13th. Despite greatly outnumbering the defenders, taking the fort by land would not be easy. The Confederates had a dry moat around the fort with sharpened sticks on the bottom, plus other impediments including land mines, called torpedoes at that time. Despite this, upon reaching the earthen walls, the much larger Union force overwhelmed the Confederate garrison in a 15 minute battle and captured the fort. Sherman was resupplied and completed his March to the Sea by marching into Savannah on December 21st.
Visiting Fort McAllister State Historic Park
The site of Fort McAllister was essentially abandoned after the war. Henry Ford took an interest in the historic fort and bought the site in the 1930s, and began to restore it. The International Paper Company bought the site from Ford’s estate, and gave it to the State of Georgia in 1958. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
To get to Fort McAllister, take I-95 to Exit 90 (Highway 144). Follow 144 through Richmond Hill to Fort McAllister Road. The park is about 10 miles east of Exit 90 at the end of Fort McAllister Road.
Near the parking lot, there is a museum with artifacts from the fort as well as from the Rattlesnake (Nashville). From there, take the self guided walking tour of the fort. Pick up a brochure at the museum that explains each of the 20 stops on the tour.
The parapets, defenses, and heavy gun emplacements of the fort have been well preserved or restored; there are also accurate reproductions of officers and enlisted men’s barracks. The area where Hazen’s division made it’s assault is wooded now (as is much of the shoreline and surrounding areas) but was much more open ground in 1864. Some other stops on the tour include the 10 inch mortar battery, an earthen bombproof shelter in the center of the fort (used as a hospital and also as a shelter during bombardments), and a hot shot furnace, where cannonballs for a 32 pounder cannon were heated for firing at wooden ships.
Besides the historic fort, the 1725 acre Fort McAllister State Park has campgrounds, including RV and tent campgrounds, a couple of backcountry campgrounds, a boat landing, and hiking trails.
Here’s a video from Georgia State Parks about Fort McAllister: