From Castles to Forts

We spent last week in St. Augustine Florida and visited the Castillo de San Marcos. This week we moved north and are spending most of a week outside of Savannah Georgia and visited Fort Pulaski. Both of these encampments were originally built to protect their respective cities from invasion.  There are a number of similarities and differences between the two and it was interesting to be able to compare them in a short period of time.

The building of Castillo de San Marcos was started by the Spanish in 1672 and was for many years the northernmost outpost of the Spanish in the new world. The Castillo is the oldest masonry fort in the United States and is built out of coquina. Coquina is stone much like coral this is formed with many small shells. The Castillo is a star fort in which the triangle at each end can cover the two to the side. 

In 1720 during the War of Spanish Succession the English occupied St. Augustine the Castillo was besieged for 50 days. The English burned down the town but could not take over the Castillo and the citizens of St. Augustine were safe to rebuild after the English left.  In 1740 England again laid siege to the Castillo and again the citizens of St. Augustine were safe within the walls of the fortress. In 1763 after the Seven Years’ War Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain and the British took control of the Castillo. The Spanish regained control of the fort in 1784. Control then was turned over to the United States in 1819.

The Castillo’s armaments were cannons on the roof of the complex.  The courtroom or Plaza de Armas had two purposes drill space for the soldiers and during periods of siege a campground for the residents of St. Augustine. The rooms around the central court yard (or Plaza) were for storage, powder magazines, chapels and guard rooms.

Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos

We left St. Augustine and moved north to Savannah Ga. We visited Fort Pulaski on Cuckspur Island down river from Savannah.  Following the war of 1812 the United States started building set of costal fortifications to protect the United States from foreign invasion.  In 1829 the United States started construction of Fort Pulaski.  A recent graduate of West Point Second Lieutenant Robert E. Lee was assigned to assist with the construction.  It took 18 years to build the fort with an estimated 25 million bricks.  The walls were 11 feet thick and thought to be impenetrable to the canons of the time. Wooden pilings were sunk up to 70 feet to support the weight of the structure.

The structure of this fort is very different than the Castillo. Fort Pulaski is a miss-shaped pentagon. It has one long side and the other 4 are of various lengths.  Most likely this was done to focus as many cannons on the river as possible on the 4 short sides.

Unlike the Castillo there were many cannon on the roof and within the walls of the fort. They were mounted on tracks that allowed them to swivel as needed. Only a small portion of the interior rooms of the fort were used for storage and bunk rooms.  Fort Pulaski is also much larger than the Castillo – we estimate about twice the size.

The fort was completed in 1847 and in 1860 South Carolina seceded from the Union the governor of Georgia ordered the fort taken by the state of Georgia. In February of 1861 Georgia joined the Confederacy and the fort was occupied by Confederate troops.  

In late 1861 Union Troops started amassing a stronghold on Tybee Island. In April 1862 Union forces asked the commanding officer of the fort to surrender to prevent the needless loss of life.  The Union forces started the bombardment of the fort.  In addition to the standard cannons the Union forces were testing the new rifled cannons which have groves in the barrel which makes the projectile spin which in turn provides stability and better accuracy.  After a day and half of bombardment the wall of the fort was breached by the rifled cannons. The commanding officer of the fort surrendered to prevent the loss of life that would occur is a shell hit the powder magazine within the walls of the fort.

Unlike the Castillo citizens of nearby cities never camped on the field within the fort. However one of the earliest known photos of  a baseball game was taken in the fort.

Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski

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