By Sgt. 1st Class Rhonda M. Lawson, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 3rd ID Public AffairsJune 11, 2009
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Third Sustainment Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, continued its celebration of the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer with a trip to the past.
More than 150 NCOs from the unit visited Fort Pulaski National Monument, May 29.
After beginning the day with a four-mile brigade run, the Soldiers piled into buses and headed for the historic site of the Civil War battle that is known to have been a turning point in military history.
Fort Pulaski, located east of Savannah, was named for Count Casimir Pulaski, known as the Father of the U.S. Cavalry, who was killed in 1779 while helping American forces battle for the control of Savannah. It was built in the mid-1800s, long before the Civil War. Fort Pulaski was one of about a dozen forts that lined the coast from Georgia to Maine.
"It was known as the best-defended coastline in the world," said Pete Summers, the tour guide who led the 3rd Sustainment Bde. through the fort.
The fort's seven-and-a-half-foot walls were constructed with more than 25 million bricks. The entire structure is surrounded by a moat, resembling a castle. Inside are some of the most technologically advanced weapons of that time, including the Parrot Rifle, 13-inch mortars, and 10-inch Columbiads. All had to be loaded by hand, and unfortunately at that time, earplugs hadn't been invented.
"Many artillerymen bled from the ears as they fought," Summers explained.
Confederate forces began using the fort in 1861, after Georgia seceded from the Union. The troops stood watch over Savannah, protecting the fort from Union troops, who had set up camp at Tybee Island, just across the Savannah River. The structure was considered to be impenetrable because no other weapon could break through its walls. This gave the less than 400 men behind its walls comfort that they couldn't be defeated. All that would change in April 1862.
On the morning of April 10, Union forces requested the surrender of Colonel Charles H. Olmstead, commander of the Confederate garrison. His refusal was followed by 30 hours of relentless bombardment. The fort withstood much of the firing, but when a projectile rolled into a magazine where 40,000 pounds of black powder were stored, Col. Olmstead was forced to make a decision: either keep fighting, or risk losing the lives of him and his Soldiers. He chose to surrender.
Summers said the Confederate Soldiers were taken as prisoners of war, but were later released in a prisoner exchange program. Colonel Olmstead eventually returned to fighting, but had to live with the shame of surrendering his fort, although he believed he'd made the right decision.
"(It was believed that) dying gloriously was sometimes preferable to doing the right thing militarily," Summers said.
The Confederacy never regained the fort, but Fort Pulaski stands as an important symbol of Civil War history. Later, it was even used as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
"For a lot of us, this is the first time we've been here," 3rd Special Troops Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Tolbert told the group. "As you look around, compare it to the way we fight now. Some things we do are based on experience. Even though we're mostly logistics and support, we can still compare the things we do to yesterday."
For Staff Sgt. Nathan Anderson, this was his second visit to Fort Pulaski, but he said he learned even more this time.
"I learned something different, and I took that to heart," he said. "This is what we can tell our grandchildren down the road."