BOGO at Old Fort Jackson
Locals get 2-for-1 admission through January 31 by jessica leigh lebos
JAN 6-12, 2015
With its dramatic daily cannon fire and up-close-and-personal views of passing freighter ships, it’s no wonder Old Fort Jackson is a huge hit with tourists. More than 50,000 people a year find their way to the historic brick military bunker that sits strategically atop Salter’s Island on the banks of the Savannah River, and hundreds leave rhapsodic online reviews about the beauty of the site and its dynamic programming. The 208 year-old landmark—one of the oldest brick forts on the East Coast—has garnered a solid four and half stars on Trip Advisor and is ranked number 12 out of 184 things to do in Savannah. Yet in spite of Old Fort Jackson’s prominence and charm, few locals take the live oak-lined detour off East President Street. In fact, a lot of us don’t even know it exists. “When most Savannah residents think about our old forts, they think of Pulaski or McAllister,” laments OFJ site administrator Brian Lee. “We want to change that.” Lee oversees a robust schedule of historic reenactments that cover the fort’s role in protecting the vital shipping channel and General Oglethorpe’s urban jewel through three wars—the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. To entice local families to check out the fascinating history in their own backyard, Lee and his cohorts came up with “Chatham Days,” offering anyone with a valid photo ID that shows a Chatham County address to receive “buy one-get one free” admission through January 31. First built as a mud battery in 1778, the bricks were piled for the current structure in 1808 at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson. A moat and drawbridge were added after the war of 1812, and it served as defense headquarters for the Confederacy until the graycoats abandoned it in advance of Sherman’s terrifying 1864 “March to the Sea.” The last soldiers to officially occupy Fort Jackson were the African American Union troops from the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Like nearby Fort McAllister and Fort Pulaski, Fort Jackson helped defend Savannah, but unlike those other ramparts, it was never captured. “People assume because it didn’t fall that nothing ever happened here. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” assures Lee, describing how soldiers were 10 burning papers and readying ammunition
The historic interpreters at Old Fort Jackson lead interactive programs that not only tell visitors about what happened here, they bring them into the action.
as they watched plumes of smoke from Fort Pulaski. Lee and a team of professional historic interpreters lead visitors through an everchanging, interactive program that goes beyond following around someone carrying a musket. Visitors don’t just hear the boom of the cannon ball, they get to hold them and imagine what it was like to carry it for 20 miles. And there’s no need to wonder how heavy and uncomfortable those wool uniforms must have been during those pre-AC Savannah summers—you can don a coat and hat and find out for yourself. “Our focus is to get guests involved. Not just, ‘hey, look at this.’ We want to engage the senses,” explains Lee. continued on page 12