July 24 2009 by Sam Lowe
Prior to visiting some old Civil War forts in the South, I had no idea they were not only good history lessons, but also great sources of trivia. To support that contention, here are three examples.
Question: Who was Fort Pulaski named for:
Answer: Count Casimir Pulaski, a Pole who became a hero during the Revolutionary War. The fort, located on the marshlands of the Georgia coast just east of Savannah, was also inadvertantly responsible for changing wartime defense strategy worldwide. On April 11, 1862, it was the first masonry fortification battered by Union rifled cannon. These accurate, long-range weapons shattered the fort's walls from more than a mile away, and the target fell after a 30-hour bombardment.
Fort Pulaski National Monument was established on Oct. 15, 1924. Its 5,365 acres contain some of the most pristine and scenic marshland on the Georgia coast on Cockspur and McQueens islands.
The monument preserves the restored fort and surrounding wildlife habitats.
Q: Who first uttered the infamous phrase, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"?
A. Adm. David Farragut, a Union naval commander in the Gulf of Mexico during the battle for control of Fort Morgan.
In 1864, Mobile, Ala., was the only open port on the gulf with both water and rail connections to the Confederate interior. Farragut launched a joint navy-army operation in Mobile Bay in an effort to capture the forts at the entrance of the bay and close Mobile to blockade runners and the Confederate naval squadron. The Southern defenders had laid three rows of torpedoes (mines) to within 226 yards of Fort Morgan, but Farragut ordered his fleet to ignore them once the assault began. The furious assault raged for 12 hours as Union ships threw 3,000 rounds into the burning fort, and surrender came on Aug. 23, 1864. The triumph closed the Port of Mobile.
Today, the Fort Morgan National Historic Landmark exhibits the evolution of American coast defense fortifications from 1834 to World War II. Exhibits include artillery pieces, military equipment, historic photos and documents.
Q. Who fired the first shot at Fort Sumter that started the Civil War?
A: It all depends on which of several versions you choose to believe. Edmund Ruffin, a notable Virginia secessionist, claimed he was given the honor because of his longstanding fight for secession. When Ruffin learned of Lee's surrender, he committed suicide, and thus is credited in some historical references as "the man who fired the first and last shots of the Civil War." Other historical accounts credit Lt. Henry S. Farley with launching the historical blast. Either way, it occurred on April 12, 1861, at 4:30 a.m. under orders from Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard. Union forces left the fort two days later.
Fort Sumter is situated on a man-made island at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, S.C. Construction began in 1829 and was still in progress when the Civil War began. It was established as a national monument in 1948, and covers 196 acres.
All three forts are open to the public. There are minimal entry fees at all three, but Golden Age Passport owners get free admission at Forts Sumter and Pulaski.