Because I have free time at this moment, this day is brought to you by Curtis! Day 2 of our 3 day camping trip to Hunting Island – read about day 1 here!
We woke up in our tent having slept well (or at least better than other camping trips) and made our way to the beach to watch the sunrise. This sounded like a romantic idea, but proved to be much colder than we would’ve liked, so we left prematurely to warm up at our campsite. We made up our breakfast of homemade granola and yogurt. Besides wanting to see the sunrise, we were up early because we wanted to have a full day in Georgia, and because when camping, one tends to wake up at dawn. (As a side note, I read an interesting article once that proposed that indigenous people wake up at the coldest point of the evening. I believe it, it’s always cold in the morning while camping).
We tidied up our camp and then headed off to Savannah. The roads we took brought us on back highways until we picked up Interstate 95 near Hardeeville, SC. We crossed the Savannah River into Georgia, grabbed a letterbox just off the interstate and then headed downtown. We didn’t quite have a plan for what we would do today. Just a list of letterboxing clues, a couple “must see points”, and a full day.
We parked in a rather empty garage near the courthouse and then headed north towards the river walk. I am rather glad that we did as there was a very informational set of signs along the river walk giving a general history of Savannah and Georgia. And of course I must tell you all about it, for after all – a new state means new history to learn, appreciate, and most importantly relate back to what history we already know.
During the colonial age, the land that comprises Georgia was contested ground. Spain claimed all the land south of the Savannah River, while England laid claim to all the land north of the Altamaha (River north of the border between Florida and Georgia). As Spain’s power waned and British power waxed, the British became more and more bold in their claims to the Georgia coast culminating in the granting of a Royal Charter for the Colony of Georgia (named after King George II) to General James Oglethorpe in 1732. Oglethorpe then personally led an expedition of settlers to the coast and up the Savannah river and laid the foundation for the city of Savannah. The rest of colonial Georgian history and its relationship with Florida is really quite interesting, but we’ll save that for another post.
Savannah quickly established itself as an important port during the Revolutionary and continues to be so today, as evident by the large freighters that came up the river while we were walking down it. One of them blew his horn quite often which startled poor Charlotte.
Leaving the river (after two failed attempts at boxes) we started into town, heading south generally towards the Cathedral of John the Baptist. Here we began to see the physical remnant of Oglethorpe’s plan for Georgia.
Known now simply as the “Oglethorpe Plan”, Oglethorpe envisioned creating a colony according to ideas from the Enlightenment. Republicanism, Individualism, Order, Freedom and Equality. A Colonial Utopia in the wilderness if you will. But, most of the non-physical essence of this plan disappeared when Georgia became a Royal Colony. What remained though was a city layout that is lauded over by many people who study such things.
Oglethorpe designed Savannah to be in a grid lay out, with each square of the grid composing a “ward”, at the center of which would be a green space common square. North and south of the park would be residential quarters, while east and west would be commercial centers.
This is so well preserved in Savannah today, the parks all have monuments, the residential areas feature beautiful Georgian architecture. It really is no surprise why during the Civil War (1864) Gen’l Sherman decided to offer Savannah as a “Christmas Present” to President Lincoln instead of burning it like he did the rest of Georgia.
But enough talk of city planning and more to us.
We wandered south, passed through the Colonial cemetery, home of the “who’s who” of Georgia (including at one time Revolutionary General Nathaniel Greene who was later disinterred and is now buried under one of those numerous monuments in the parks). Grabbed a letterbox, and saw the Cathedral (along with many other beautiful buildings). We then made our way to one of our “must see” places. Chippewa Square. Do you know what happened in Chippewa Square?
Why, it’s where Forrest Gump sat on a bench and told his amazing life story that is now a movie. Yep, that square features a large and rather fabulous statue of James Oglethorpe that can be seen in the background of the bench scenes. Unfortunately there is no bench, the bench used in the movie is now in a museum. We think they should put a replacement bench at the very least, with a statue of Tom Hanks sitting on it.
Our tour of Savannah proper now complete, we decided to push on towards the shore to Fort Pulaski. Now I must confess that I did no research whatsoever prior to going to the Fort. I figured we would pass it by in favor of visiting Tybee Island. Fortunately, my wife is much smarter than that and we went to see yet another awesome fort.
Fort Pulaski (now a National Monument) is on Cockspur Island near the mouth of the Savannah River. In truth, it is the third fort to occupy that sight. This fort was built following the War of 1812 in the Third System of coastal defense (Fort Moultrie being included in that as well). It saw no action during the Mexican-American War, but following the Declaration of Cessation of South Carolina and the Federal “reinforcement” of Fort Sumter, militant Georgians deemed it necessary to seize the Fort in order to protect Savannah’s commerce. Shortly thereafter, Georgia, like the rest of the south, seceded from the Union.
Now if you recall from my previous history post on Beaufort, one of the first moves by the Federal Government during the War was to systematically blockade or capture Confederate ports, basically starting with Beaufort (Nov. 1861). With Beaufort well under control and Federal forces firmly entrenched on Hilton Head Island, the next logical target would be Savannah. But in order to effectively blockade the river, the Fort would have to be reduced first.
So Federal forces landed on Tybee Island at the mouth of the River and began building batteries all while being watched by Confederate gunners at the Fort. Nothing was done by them, for nothing could be done. The Island was out of range, and so, it was presumed, was the Fort from the Island. Let them pack sand.
But unbeknownst (or perhaps beknownst but unheeded) the Feds had in their possession, new rifled cannon. Cannon that could fire accurately and effectively at the distances required of them. When the batteries were completed (a process that took almost 5 months), and the opposing commanders offered and refused surrender, the Federals opened fire on the fort on April 10 with deadly accuracy. Not to the men inside, but to the Fort itself. The Confederates could do very little against these advanced guns and within 30 hours, the SE corner of the Fort was reduced. Under normal conditions, the soldiers would attempt to essentially wait it out and hope the Feds gave up, but directly opposite the breached corner was the powder magazine and the rifled guns were firing right into it. The fort commander could do nothing but surrender.
And so ends (essentially) the Siege of Fort Pulaski, and so too did it usher in the age of Rifled artillery. But for all its effort, the Federals were unable to take Savannah itself until Dec. 1864 when General Sherman marched across the state. Today, the breach in the Fort has been repaired, although cannon holes in the masonry along the walls remain.
We of course learned all of this by walking around and reading placards in the Fort itself. We also got to see two cannon demonstrations which is always fun. But more fun was how Charlotte reacted to it. She could clearly tell something was going to happen when the “officer” started calling orders. And backed away out the Fort, but not so far that she couldn’t continue to investigate.
Following our tour of the Fort it started to rain, and while Jess and Charlie stayed warm in the car I ran around the Fort trying to find a trail to go see a lighthouse…only to have my phone die on me so I couldn’t get pictures of it (or the walls with the holes).
With the end of the day coming we started heading back to Hunting Island, but got side tracked when Jess saw that we would be passing by Bonaventure Cemetery. There was a box there so that was good enough for me. It was quite a nice cemetery, as far as those things go. Very large with many different monuments, mausoleums, obelisks, and statues. The live oaks with spanish moss and the grey sky only added to the atmosphere.
The cemetery also houses many more recent Savannah famous, but it is more famous for a single statue that was featured on the cover of the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, known more by our parents’ generation than ours. Unfortunately, the “Bird Girl” statue has been removed and placed in a museum after essentially 50 years of anonymity. The Bird Girl statue is special to Jess because her grandparents have a replica of it in one of their many beautiful flower beds.
We enjoyed walking all the way through the large cemetery, and were rewarded with a letterbox. We then crossed back in to South Carolina over yet another massive suspension bridge and headed back for a very wet night…To be continued! [Read about day 3 and our very wet camping experience here!]
Jess: Thank you for stepping in, dear husband! 🙂 If you want to see more pictures from this adventure, visit savingtimeinabottleimages.tumblr.com.