I mentioned a couple of days ago that Betsy and I visited Fort Pulaski while on our anniversary trip in June. From the walls of Fort Pulaski we could see Tybee Island and its lighthouse, and since Betsy is as interested in lighthouses as I am in Robert E. Lee, we had to go over to Tybee and visit the lighthouse.
Tybee Island and Fort Pulaski (on Cockspur Island) are closely connected. In 1861 Confederates held both Tybee Island and Fort Pulaski. But in November of that year the Union army and navy captured Hilton Head Island (South Carolina) on Port Royal Sound. Hilton Head is only about 15 miles north of Fort Pulaski, and using this as a base the Union was able to mount operations against Fort Pulaski and the entire South Atlantic coast.
Since the Confederate troops on Tybee Island were in danger of being cut off by the Union navy, Robert E. Lee ordered that they be withdrawn. He did this because he felt Fort Pulaski was impregnable. but by doing so he unknowingly gave the Union the only site from which Fort Pulaski could be taken.
The Union army under Engineer Captain Quincy A. Gillmore quickly began to build siege batteries on the only firm ground in the area — the northwestern shore of Tybee Island. Although this site was over a mile from Fort Pulaski, Gilmore had ten of the new rifled cannon available and he was certain that these cannon could breach the brick walls of Fort Pulaski and force its surrender.
On April 10, 1862, after the Confederates refused Gillmore’s formal demand for surrender, the Union forces opened fire on the fort. The rest, as they say, is history.