Old Fort Jackson
1 Fort Jackson Road
Savannah, Georgia

Georgia's Oldest Standing Brick Fort

Old Fort Jackson is a rare surviving Second System fortification in Savannah, Georgia. The Coastal Heritage Society manages the fort, which is open to the public seven days per week.

President Thomas Jefferson threw his support behind a new effort to fortify America's coastline after the Cheasepeake-Leonard Affair of June 22, 1807. The British warship HMS Leopard chased down and attacked the American frigate USS Cheasepeake to see if any of her crew were deserters from the Royal Navy. 

Four U.S. sailors died, seventeen were wounded, and four captured. One of the prisoners - Jenkin Ratford - was hanged in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The others remained in British hands for years.

The bloody attack infuriated American leaders and the prospect of a second war with Great Britain became very real. Recognizing that the old forts then protecting U.S. harbors were antiquated and ill-prepared to defend the country, President Jefferson and others pushed for the design and construction of the new "second system" of defenses.

Most of the new forts were built in Maine, Massachusetts, and New York - the star-shaped Fort Wood on which the Statue of Liberty stands is a good example. Fewer forts were built in the South, but Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney at Charleston Harbor and Fort Jackson in Savannah survive.

Fort Jackson was named for Gen. James Jackson, an American Revolution officer who later became Governor and U.S. Senator of Georgia. He accepted the surrender of Savannah from the British in the last days of the Revolutionary War. 

Construction of the brick fort began in 1808 at a strategic point just three miles down the Savannah River from the city itself. A battery - eloquently called "Mud Fort" - stood on the site during the Revolutionary War.
The sally port or main gate of Fort Jackson welcomes visitors today, but in times of war muskets and cannons defended it from enemy attack.

Fort Pulaski eventually replaced Fort Jackson as the primary defensive work for the Port of Savannah. Completing the redesigned plan of defense, a Martello tower was built on Tybee Island to provide extra strength and early warning of the approach of an enemy fleet.

Despite the construction of the massive new fort downstream, Fort Jackson still held significance as a last line of defense should attack warships make it past Coxspur Island. A new construction project in the 1840s-1850s added brick walls and a moat on the land side of the fort, along with improved quarters and other enhancements. 

The fort was in caretaker status when Georgia considered secession from the Union in 1861. Anticipating that his state would leave the Union, Gov. Joseph E. Brown took steps to secure the defenses of Savannah before U.S. forces could act to reinforce them. The governor arrived in the city on January 1, 1861, and immediately ordered Alexander Lawton of the state militia to occupy Fort Pulaski.

Lawton left Savannah with 150 men aboard the steamer Idi and traveled the 15 miles down to Coxspur Island where he took Fort Pulaski from a caretaker and ordnance sergeant without firing a shot.

Governor Brown next turned his attention to Fort Jackson, which was occupied by state militia troops on January 10, 1861. Georgia seceded from the Union nine days later and then joined the Confederate States of America in February. As the Confederate army was organized, control of Forts Jackson and Pulaski passed to it from the state militia.

Fort Jackson surged in importance to the Confederacy after Union forces bombarded Fort Pulaski from siege batteries on Tybee Island on April 10-11, 1862. Their powerful rifled cannon breached the massive walls of Pulaski and forced its surrender.

With Union soldiers now in command of the mouth of the Savannah River, Confederate engineers refocused their efforts on Fort Jackson. The post was the headquarters for a series of new earthen batteries and defenses built to protect Savannah. One of these stood near the fort itself.
The heavy cannon on the gun platform of the fort defended Savannah during the War of 1812 and Civil War.
The 1808 construction project used the ideas of a French engineer, the Marquis de Montalembert. The design featured multiple walls facing the river in something of an inverted "U" design, allowing more cannons to bear on enemy ships. Montalembert's concept also provided some protection for the gunners against the possibility of a single enemy cannonball raking the fort.

The heavy guns of the battery were mounted behind a low rampart on top of the fort. Below were magazines, casemates, living quarters, and other rooms protected by massive walls of brick. The masonry was so thick that the cannon aboard ships of the time stood little chance of breaching the walls before the fort's guns destroyed the attacking vessels.

Fort Jackson was Georgia's strongest fort of the War of 1812 era. United States regulars garrisoned it to protect Savannah against British naval attack. The soldiers drilled regularly, but the warships of Great Britain never came. In preventing an attack, the fort served its purpose without firing a shot.

The little brick battery, however, was all but outdated by the end of the war. Advances in cannon and ships made bigger and stronger fortifications a necessity. President James Madison appointed a Board of Engineers for Fortifications in 1816, assigning it the responsibility of developing a new Third System of defenses for America's coastal cities and strategic points.

The engineers determined that Fort Jackson was too small and too near the city to effectively defend Savannah. They also noted the many different channels by which an enemy could approach, effectively bypassing the existing fort.

The board recommended the building of a massive new fort on Coxspur Island just inside the mouth of the Savannah River. Crews supervised by Lt. Robert E. Lee started work on the drainage system for the new post in 1827. Named Fort Pulaski after Brig. Gen. Casimer Pulaski, a Polish officer who served in the American army during the Revolutionary War. He died in the ill-fated 1779 attack on British-held Savannah.
A soldier of the War of 1812 provides a living history demonstration of loading and firing a musket of the era to visitors at Fort Jackson.
Fort Jackson came under fire for the first time on October 1, 1862, when the USS Planter, a gunboat piloted by a former slave named Robert Smalls, lobbed some 100 shot and shell at the brick walls. The garrison sustained the shelling and only minor repairs were needed.

The Savannah-built ironclad CSS Georgia proved too heavy for her propulsion system, so she was anchored opposite the river from Fort Jackson as a floating battery in early 1863. Along with obstructions in the river, the Georgia, and the array of earthen batteries, the fort kept the enemy at bay for more than two years after the fall of Fort Pulaski.

There was little that any of these works could do, however, when Lt. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's army arrived outside Savannah at the end of the March to the Sea. His troops stormed Fort McAllister near Richmond Hill and closed in on Savannah itself. Despite refusing Sherman's demand for surrender, Confederate Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee evacuated the city before the Federals could launch a full-scale attack. Gen. Sherman rode into Savannah on December 22, 1864.

The Stars and Stripes were raised again over Fort Jackson and it was occupied once again by U.S. soldiers. The last troops to occupy the post, in fact, were men of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry, an African American unit.

The fort remained in the hands of the United States Army until 1905 when it was officially abandoned. The State of Georgia later operated it as a museum for ten years but closed the park in 1975. The Coastal Heritage Society stepped in to save the day and Fort Jackson is now open to the public seven days per week.

Old Fort Jackson is at 1 Fort Jackson Road, Savannah, Georgia. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, Monday through Sunday. The entrance fee is $8 for adults and $4 for children (2-12).

Please click here to visit the official website for more information.
The rear walls of Fort Jackson were added in the 1840s-1850s to secure the main battery against land attack. The surrounding moat was added at the same time along with barracks and other structures.

Click the play button below for a quick video introduction to Old Fort Jackson: