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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

January 03, 1861

Fort Pulaski Captured by Georgians under Lawton

Under an order (see below) from Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown, 134 volunteer militiamen from Savannah under the command of Colonel A.R. Lawton (who would ultimately become a brigadier general in the Confederate Army), took control of Fort Pulaski. The fort was located on Cockspur Island, about a mile upstream from the Savannah River. It was not a major military operation; the fort was “defended” only by a sergeant and caretaker, and was taken without any gunfire. Still, the state of Georgia taking action against a federal fort within its borders received considerable attention around the South.

Headquarters Georgia Militia Savannah, January 2, 1861. Colonel A.R. Lawton, Commanding 1st Regiment Georgia Volunteers, Savannah. SIR: In view of the fact that the Government at Washington has, as we are informed upon high authority, decided on the policy of coercing a seceding State back into the Union, and it is believed now has a movement on foot to reinforce Fort Sumter at Charleston, and to occupy with Federal troops the Southern forts, including Fort Pulaski in this State, which if done would give the Federal Government in any contest great advantage over the people in this State; to the end therefore that this stronghold, which commands also the entrance into Georgia, may not be occupied by any hostile force until the Convention of the State of Georgia, which is to meet on the 16th instant, has decided on the policy which Georgia will adopt in this emergency, you are ordered to take possession of Fort Pulaski as by public order herewith, and to hold it against all persons, to be abandoned only under orders from me or under compulsion by an overpowering hostile force. Immediately upon occupying the fort, you will take measures to put it in a thorough state of defense, as far as its means and ours will permit; and for this purpose you will advise with Captain Claghorn, Chatham Artillery, who has been charged with all matters relating to ordnance and ordnance stores and their supply. You will further arrange with Captain Claghorn a series of day and night signals for communicating with the city of Savannah, for the purpose of calling for reinforcements, and for other necessary purposes. And you will arrange with Mr. John Cunningham, Military purveyor for the time being, for the employment of one or more steamboats, or other means of transportation by land and by water that may be necessary, and for other supplies (except for ordnance stores, for which you will call upon Captain Claghorn) as may be required. If circumstances should require it, the telegraph will be placed under surveillance. I think from our conversation you fully understand my views, and relying upon your patriotism, energy and sound discretion in the execution of this important and delicate trust, I am, sir, very respectfully, Your obedient servant, Joseph E. Brown Governor and Command-in-Chief