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In Their Own Words

April 11, 1862

Letter on Surrender of Fort Pulaski

From Fort Pulaski, Confederate commander Col. Charles Olmstead wrote to his wife:

“I address you under circumstances of the most painful nature. Fort Pulaski has fallen and the whole garrison are prisoners. Early yesterday morning a flag of truce came over from Tybee Island conveying a demand for the surrender of the fort. Of course, i could give but one answer, that I was here to fight, not to yield. We instantly made all our preparations and at 8 o’clock precisely the enemy fired upon us. We replied slowly at first but increasingly in rapidity as we got the range. It soon became to my mind that if the enemy continued to fire as they had begun that our walls must yield. Shot after shot (of rifled cannon projectiles) hit immediately about our embrasures. Some came through, dismounting our guns, wounding one man very severely and flaking off the bricks in every direction.

“On taking a survey of the fort after the firing had ceased, my worst fears were confirmed. The angle immediately opposite to the fire of the enemy was terribly shattered, and I was convinced that another day would breach it entirely. I went to bed … in my clothes but could not sleep, the excitement of the day, the heavy responsibility resting upon me, and the many grave doubts I felt as to the ultimate result all combined to banish sleep from my eyelids.

“At half past 11, the enemy opened fire again and kept it up at intervals of ten or fifteen minutes during the night. We did not answer, however, until 6 o’clock in the morning, when firing became general again and continued until about half past 2 o’clock in the afternoon, when it was reported to me that our magazine was in danger. I found that the breach in one wall had become so alarmingly large that shots from the batteries of the enemy were passing clear through and striking directly on the brickwork of the magazine. It was simply a question of a few hours as to whether we should yield or be blown into perdition by our own powder. Our position was now as follows: several of our barbette guns had been rendered useless, our traverses giving away, the west side of the fort a complete wreck, and the southeast angle so badly breached as to permit free access of enemy shot to our magazine. I conferred with my officers and they united in advising me to surrender at once to avoid any further and unnecessary bloodshed. Their advice chimed with my own views and I gave the necessary orders for a surrender.

“Oh, my dear Wife, how can I describe to you the bitterness of the moment! It seemed as if my heart would break. I cannot write now all the details of our surrender, it pains me too much to think of them now. But I must tell you of the kind feelings evinced for me by my men. They crowded around me and endeavoured by every means in their powers to show me that they were willing to share whatever fate might be in store for me… .

“The Federal officers who have been in the fort have acted in the most courteous and gentlemanly manner toward us. I am assured that we shall have every privilege granted us consistent with the discharge of their duty… .

“I am still in the dark as to where we will be sent, though I believe New York is our destination. The money I have with me will be useless at the North, so I enclose it to you, something like $90.00. And now darling, I must say good by.”

Source: Mills Lane (ed.), “Dear Mother: Don’t grieve about me. If I get killed, I’ll only be dead.” (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), pp. 111-12.