Fort Pulaski National Monument on Tybee Island, GA
A brief introduction and history of Tybee Island's Fort Pulaski and Cockspur Island Lighthouse.
A Turning Point in Military History
The Battle of Fort Pulaski in April 1862 marked a turning point in military history. It featured the first significant use of rifled cannons in combat. These accurate, long-range weapons shattered Fort Pulaski's walls from over a mile away. After thirty-hours of bombardment, the fort surrendered. The battle surprised military strategists worldwide, signaling the end of masonry fortifications.
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US-80, Savannah, GA 31410
Hours: 9am - 5pm
Fort Pulaski National Monument is a Civil War landmark with ranger tours, musket and canon firings plus riverfront hiking and biking trails. Visitors can experience many interesting and exciting activities year-round. Fort Pulaski itself is a large-scale outdoor exhibit. The main structure, together with outlying works including demilune, drawbridges, ditches, and dikes, is a fine example of historic military architecture.
Indoor exhibits highlight the history of Fort Pulaski from the fort's construction, to its eventual fall due to advancing military technology.
Hours of Operation
Fort Pulaski National Monument is open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM. Park hours may vary during the summer. Fort Pulaski National Monument is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.
Visitor Center open 9:00 AM-5:00 PM
Fort open 8:30 AM-5:00 PM
Bridge gate closes by 5:15 PM
Summer Hours: (Memorial Day - mid-August)
Visitor Center open 9:00 AM-6:00PM
Fort open 8:30 AM-6:30 PM
Bridge gate closes by 6:45 PM
Please be aware of park hours and closing times. Remember! All vehicles must be across the Cockspur Island Bridge by closing time.
From I- 95, take exit for I-16 about 15 miles west of Savannah. From I-16, take U.S. Highway 80 East. Follow signs for Fort Pulaski, Tybee Island and beaches. Fort Pulaski National Monument entrance is approximately 15 miles east of Savannah.
The salt marshes and upland areas of Fort Pulaski National Monument support many species of wildlife. If lucky you may catch a glimpse of one of the 11 Protected Species that have been identified at the park. These are: American oystercatcher, bald eagle, gull-billed tern, least tern, loggerhead sea turtle, manatee, peregrine falcon, piping plover, swallow-tailed kite, Wilson's plover and woodstork.
Clinging to the tip of Cockspur Island, the Cockspur Lighthouse has withstood crashing waves, the roar of cannons, and the wrath of time. For more than 150 years it has defiantly stood guard over the mouth of the Savannah River. Come explore a piece of Georgia history through Fort Pulaski's Lighthouse Overlook Trail.
Situated on an islet off the southeastern tip of Cockspur Island marking the South Channel of the Savannah River, the Cockspur Lighthouse is stands twelve miles east of the port of Savannah. The islet, often covered by high tide, is comprised of oyster shells, and marsh grass.
Documented references suggest the first brick tower, used as a daymark, was built on Cockspur Island between March 1837 and November 1839. In 1848, John Norris, a New York architect, was contracted to supervise construction of an illuminated station. The noted architect designed many of Savannah's grand structures including the U.S. Custom House in downtown Savannah, the Mercer-Wilder House, and the Green-Meldrim House, where General Sherman stayed during the Civil War.
Norris's duties were to "repair, alter, and put up lanterns and lights on Cockspur Island...and to erect a suitable keeper's house." This first tower had a focal plane 25' above sea level. The beacon housed a fixed white light emanating from five lamps with 14" reflectors visible for nine miles.
Tragedy struck again in 1854 when the structure was destroyed by a hurricane. The tower was rebuilt and enlarged on the same foundation the next year. At the start of the American Civil War, the light was temporarily extinguished. On April 10, 1862, Union forces in eleven batteries stretching along the beach at Tybee Island, started a long range bombardment of Fort Pulaski. Thirty-six guns participated in a thirty-hour siege of the fort with the Cockspur Lighthouse in direct line of fire.
Following the surrender of Fort Pulaski on April 11, 1862, the little beacon miraculously only suffered minor damage. Theories abound as to why the tower escaped destruction. One theory suggests to effectively hit the Fort walls approximately 1,500 yards distant, Union artillerists had to fire shots at a high angle, thus passing over the tower. This strategy, coupled with the short duration of battle could explain why the tower was spared. Soon after war's end, April 25, 1866, the beacon was relit and painted white for use as a daymark.
Throughout it's life, hurricanes plagued the Cockspur Light. August 27, 1881, a massive storm struck Cockspur Island causing water to rise 23' above sea level. The storm surge filled the lighthouse interior and destroyed the Keeper's residence.
Jeremiah Keane, the Assistant Keeper Charles Sisson, and two Fort Pulaski caretakers took refuge inside the Northwest stair tower of the brick fort when the great hurricane of 1893 struck. Afterwards, a two story house was built atop Fort Pulaski for the lightkeeper.
Man, not nature, extinguished forever the little light. No longer would this light guide vessels up the shallow South Channel of the Savannah River. To accommodate large freighters, the increasingly busy Savannah port routed vessels to the deep, more navigable North Channel. Effective June 1, 1909, the beacon light was snuffed.
As the threat to the beacon by salvage crews and other private interests grew, the National Park Service looked into the acquisition of the light. On August 14, 1958, by presidential proclamation, the Cockspur Lighthouse was transferred from the United States Coast Guard to the National Park Service.
The National Park Service is dedicated to the preservation of this historic marker. The lighthouse remains open to the public, though access is limited by the terrain of Cockspur Island. However, an overlook trail offers visitors the best chance to get a closer look at the lighthouse today.
Special thanks to National Park Service and for more information visit nps.gov