Savannah's Fort Jackson a time capsule of history, adventure

greenkayak73@gmail.comDecember 31, 2013 

  • Getting There

    Fort James Jackson (named for a former governor of Georgia, not President Andrew Jackson) is a National Historic Landmark and is affectionately known as Old Fort Jackson. It is located at 1 Fort Jackson Road in Savannah. At just a half hour away from Bluffton, it is the closest, most accessible example of a preserved masonry fort and well worth the visit.

    Cross the Talmadge Bridge into Savannah and take Oglethorpe to Bay Street and Presidents Street. Follow signs for Highway 80 toward Tybee to Woodstock Street. The entrance to the fort is on the left approximately 1 mile from downtown. The fort is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week; it is closed on major holidays. Admission is $6 per adult; children under 6 are free if accompanied by an adult. Details: 912-232-3945 or www.chsgeorgia.org/Old-Fort-Jackson.html

  • Raising the CSS Georgia

    In November, a piece of history was retrieved from the depths of the Savannah River at Old Fort Jackson when U.S. Navy divers brought pieces of a Civil War "ironclad" warship to the surface.

    The CSS Georgia had been built during the Civil War as part of a new wave of revolutionary gunboats. It was intended for use as an ironclad ram in the vein of the CSS Merrimack, made famous in its duel with the USS Monitor. When it was determined that the CSS Georgia was too underpowered to be an effective gunboat, it was converted into a floating battery and anchored off Old Fort Jackson to defend the city against the Northern fleet.

    It was scuttled and sunk when Confederates abandoned Savannah and remained swallowed in the mud and mire of the river for 150 years. With a new expansion and dredging of the river, this historic artifact had been in danger of being lost forever. By Nov. 12, a 64-foot section along with several cannons and other artifacts had been successfully brought up.

Once upon a time, the city of Savannah was defended entirely by a 7-year-old boy with a musket. Well, in the mind of that happy little boy, that is. He visited Fort James Jackson in Savannah with his family and experienced history come to life.

Located within sight of the spires and streets of the city of Savannah, Old Fort Jackson is a museum to more than 200 years of history and culture of the port city. This masonry structure is located one mile east of Savannah and was built between 1808 and 1812, making it one of the oldest surviving brick fortifications on the East Coast. Thomas Jefferson ordered the construction of the fort as a defensive system that proved timely as the War of 1812 ignited in the still-new United States. As British armies burned Washington, D.C., and bombardments by its fleets inspired "The Star Spangled Banner," Fort Jackson stood ready to withstand an invasion that never came.

In the years following, the fort was improved and expanded, always ready to defend the gateway to Georgia and the South Carolina Lowcountry. In time new forts downriver, such as Fort Pulaski and Fort Screven, rendered Fort Jackson obsolete or a second line of defense. No battles were fought at Fort Jackson, and the result is a pristine time capsule of history and adventure that makes it a must-see for anyone who wants to catch a glimpse of life in another age.

Owned by the state of Georgia and operated by the Coastal Heritage Society, Fort Jackson regularly features guides and re-enactors dressed in period clothing who delight visitors young and old with a hands-on experience of history. Recently my family and I visited Old Fort Jackson and enjoyed several hours of exploring the fort. With drums tapping and boots keeping time, historical interpreters Brian Carney and Aaron Bradford led visitors into the fort for a guided tour. A Confederate cook prepared lunch over an open fire, a Union soldier instructed my young boys on semaphore flag code, cannons boomed and children smiled.

Visitors can experience this and much more at Old Fort Jackson. "There are several great historic sites in the area," Bradford said. "Fort Jackson has cannon firings and historic demonstrations every day."

A treasure from the past is just a few minutes away and open to all to appreciate.

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