Fort Pulaski is the site of one of the earliest photos of baseball
Located on Cockspur Island between Savannah and Tybee Island, Fort Pulaski is one of more than forty coastal forts built in the 19th century. Construction of Fort Pulaski began in 1829 and was completed in 1847 with the intention of protecting the Port of Savannah from attack.
The assumption was that the heavily fortified 11-foot thick walls would be impenetrable since the smoothbore cannons of the time did not have the range to do much damage to the fort.
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However, on April 10, 1862, the Union Army used rifled artillery for the first time against Fort Pulaski. After 30 hours of bombardment, a corner wall was pierced dangerously near the powder magazine, and the commander of the Confederate garrison, Colonel Olmstead, surrendered the fort.
The success of the rifled cannons against Fort Pulaski proved that the brick fortifications were obsolete. Nearby Fort McAllister has shown that earthworks forts are much more resistant to cannon fire.
After President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Fort Pulaski became a stop on the Underground Railroad and was a refuge for former slaves. Many freedmen would join the 1st and 3rd Volunteers of South Carolina, one of the first divisions of the colored troops formed during the Civil War.
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Later in the war, Fort Pulaski was used as a prison for “The Immortal Six Hundred”, a group of Confederate officers who survived brutal conditions.
Of course, not all of the stories on Fort Pulaski relate to the war. There is also a surprising sports history attached to the fort.
Take me to Pulaski
Baseball has been played for several centuries in one form or another, but it took a war to solidify it as “America’s hobby.” Baseball evolved from cricket and round balls, which came from England to America. The first rules of modern baseball began to be codified in New York in 1845, then known under the code name Knickerbocker.
During the Civil War, Union soldiers took this form of gambling and spread it west and south. There was a lot of downtime during the war, so thousands of soldiers picked it up to pass the time. When the war ended, the soldiers brought this improved version of baseball home to teach others.
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Fort Pulaski in Savannah was not immune to the baseball bug during the war. In fact, one of the first photos of a baseball game was taken at Fort Pulaski in 1863. In the photo, H Company of the 48th New York Regiment poses for a photo, but in the background you can see the rest of the soldiers playing baseball. Considering the origin of the regiment, one would assume that they brought the Knickerbocker style to the south with them.
There were still some differences from the game as we know it today.
The rules required the “howling” to throw the ball rather than throw it, meaning it had to be a sneaky throw like a horseshoe. It wasn’t until 1884 that players were able to add some warmth with an overhand throw. Baseball gloves weren’t used yet, but then again, they probably didn’t need them since balls were usually made of pieces of wood wrapped in rags. Batters were known as “forwards”, balls on the ground were called “daisy cutters” and the player could be caught by a flying ball or a single bounce.
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It may just be a coincidence, but if you look at an aerial view of Fort Pulaski, you will notice that the structure is exactly the shape of marble. The expanse of greenery in the middle of the fort is perfect for a pickup game, but there is no sign of knocked-over home runs on the fort’s walls.
Pro Tip: For dog owners, Fort Pulaski has the only beach in the area that allows pets.
Christopher Berinato is the author of Secret Savanna: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure.