Cockspur Island Lighthouse - In The Line of Fire

February 02, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

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Cockspur Island Lighthouse - In The Line of Fire

Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, Georgia (to the left side and out of view in this photo) was fully occupied as a Confederate fort with a garrison of about 361 men at the beginning of the Civil War. But the Union wanted to end the choke hold that allowed the South to protect the port of Savannah. On April 10, 1862, Union forces began firing varying sized rifled artillery rounds from 11 artillery batteries equipped with 36 of the newly invented “Parrott” rifled cast iron cannons. Artillery batteries were stretched out along the north beachhead of Tybee Island across the Savannah River. The furthest east battery positions on the beach were still able to reach the walls of the Fort with shells despite being some 3400 yards away. This was entirely possible only because of newly invented precision military technology of the rifled cannon. Closer batteries, with smaller sized ammunitions, were located less than 1600 yards away from the walls of the Fort. After 30 hours of relentless precision bombardment, the Confederate forces surrendered Fort Pulaski. The Fort had been built between 1829 and 1847 with roughly 25 million bricks, 7.5 ft thick walls, 25 feet high, and built by enslaved peoples rented from nearby plantations. It was one of over 42 coastal “Third System” fortifications built by the Federal government after the War of 1812. Once thought invincible to standard cannon ball munitions, the new technology of rifled cannons made the U.S. coastal forts very vulnerable.

The Cockspur Island Light located at the SE tip of Cockspur Island was only accessible by boat or by foot at extreme low tide and was directly in the line of the artillery shelling by 3 batteries easterly positioned on the Tybee Island beach. The Light had been extinguished at the beginning of the Civil War so as to not aid Union naval blockades or assaults. The tower was not the military objective of the Union attacks on the Fort but stood in the direct line of fire of those 3 battery positions. In order to be an effective bombardment on the Fort, the Union’s "Parrott" rifled artillery rounds and percussion shells were hurled in such a trajectory over the brick Lighthouse Tower that it suffered no significant damage. 

Courtesy of Google and American Battlefield Trust here is a Link to the Union Pre-Attack Strategy Map: https://images.app.goo.gl/Vm9f1qZviuYBWfu8A


The original brick Light tower on this site was only intended as a daymark and was built between 1837 and 1839, but was also destroyed by a hurricane in 1839. Six years later, the famous NY architect John S. Norris was commissioned by the US government to rebuild the original lighthouse but as an illuminated tower. By 1848 this Lighthouse and Keeper’s quarters were completed on this islet consisting of oyster shells and rip-rap rock. The brick tower of 1848 was again destroyed by a hurricane in 1854 but rebuilt in 1855 on the same foundation albeit enlarged. This is the current tower shown in the photo. After the Civil War, in 1866, the light was relit. After the hurricane of 1893 it was also painted white to serve as a daymark for navigation . In 1909 this seemingly insignificant little brick tower Lighthouse's beacon was finally extinguished as a navigational light on the Savannah River. By 1909 major commerce was increasing to the Port of Savannah and sea traffic was redirected to the deeper north channel of the River.

By August 1958 President Eisenhower signed into a proclamation a transfer of ownership of the Cockspur Island Light from the US Coast Guard to the National Park Service. Preservation of this Light Tower, Georgia’s smallest, is ongoing. In 2007, the Light was relit for historic recognition.

 

 


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