Fort McAllister from the New Georgia
Fort McAllister was a Confederate earthwork fortification near the mouth
of the Ogeechee River in Bryan County. It played an important role in the
defense of Savannah during the Civil War time Union naval blockade of the
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.
In early 1863 the Confederate blockade-runner, CSS Rattlesnake (formerly
the CSS Nashville) took refuge in the Ogeechee River. After taking on a
load of cotton, it was grounded on the mudflats not far from Fort
McAllister. Union gunboats proceeded to fire on the Rattlesnake at long
range across the marsh and eventually set her on fire. The Confederate
vessel and its cargo were completely destroyed.
Fort McAllister never fell to Federal naval forces because of its unique
earthen construction. This was in sharp contrast to the much larger and
supposedly impregnable Fort Pulaski at nearby Cockspur Island, which fell
after less than thirty-six hours of bombardment by Federal forces using
newly developed rifled artillery.
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
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.