Gallery of Fine Art Photography - Atlanta GA

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Southern Heritage – Conflict

Black and white photographs by Tim Barnwell and others of coastal fortifications in Georgia and South Carolina are an important element of Lumière’s current exhibition Southern Heritage – 500 Years In The Making. This expansive exhibition uses photography as a metaphor for the heritage of the American South.
In the early 1700’s, England established a string of forts along the Georgia and South Carolina coast to act as a check on Spanish aggression.
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As far back as 1513, Spain had been a presence in Florida, beginning when Juan Ponce de Leon landed near land now called Cape Canaveral and established “La Florida” in the name of the Spanish crown. Ponce de Leon’s arrival took place a mere 21 years after Christopher Columbus first set foot in the Bahamas.
Almost 200 years passed as Spain fought off French Huguenots, built a mission system, which was later destroyed, and battled to subdue the Indians and convert them to Catholicism. As British power grew in the American colonies in the 1700’s, English leaders realized they needed to take measures to protect their assets north of Florida.
Fort King George

Fort King George

Fort King George

By 1721, tensions were rising between Spain and England, which led to the creation of Fort King George in what is now Darien, Georgia. Though long decommissioned, Fort King George is the oldest remaining English Fort on Georgia’s coast. The original structures have been rebuilt.
From 1721 until 1736, Fort King George was the southern outpost of the British Empire in North America. The facility consisted of a cypress blockhouse, barracks and palisaded earthen fort built by Colonel John Barnwell and his men.
The next seven years were marked by terrible hardships, including fire, disease and the threat of attack from both the Spanish and the Indians, as well as a harsh coastal environment. Eventually the suffering was too great and the fort was abandoned by the soldiers. All totaled, 140 men died, though none in battle. The fort itself was formally abandoned in accordance with an agreement signed by Spain and England.
However, General James Oglethorpe brought Scottish Highlanders to the site in 1736 and named it, Darien. Darien eventually became an important center for exporting lumber until 1925.
Fort Frederica

Fort Frederica

Fort Frederica

Meanwhile, Oglethorpe had sailed south in 1734 looking for another military site. He decided that St. Simons Island was strategically located, as it sat on bluffs overlooking an inland river passage. The fort and town were known as Frederica, in honor of Frederick Louis, the Prince of Wales. Tim Barnwell’s photograph of the of the fort today document the remains of its battery and gun positions facing the Frederica River.
Aware that the Spanish saw the new fort as a renewed threat, Oglethorpe felt the need to strengthen his position so, he sailed to England in 1737 and returned a year later with a force of 1,000 men. The fort was filled with colonists from England, Scotland and Germany, in addition to its’ military contingence.
By 1739, the British and the Spanish were at war over the slave trade and fighting swept through the Caribbean and up the Georgia coast to St. Simons. Spanish ships and troops invaded St. Simons Island but were ultimately defeated by Oglethorpe in 1742.
This British victory not only confirmed that Georgia was British territory, but it also signaled the end of a need for Fort Frederica. When peace was declared, Frederica’s garrison (the original 42nd Regiment of Foot) was disbanded, and eventually the town fell into decline.
Fort Moultrie

Fort Moultrie

Fort Moultrie

As Charleston Harbor became an increasingly important location for colonial commerce, the British built Fort Moultrie. During the American Revolution, Fort Moultrie proved invaluable as it withstood attack from nine British warships. The soft Palmetto logs that the fort was built from absorbed cannon shot, rather than cracking. Some soldiers even reported seeing cannon balls bouncing off the Palmetto logs.
Following the War of 1812, President James Madison recognized the importance of coastal forts, and Congress created a national sea front network to protect the young country from foreign invaders. Fort Pulaski and Fort Sumter were part of this network which was known as The Third System. These two forts would later play important roles in the Civil War.
Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski was a massive five sided structure whose primary purpose was to protect Savannah from naval attack from its position on Cockspur Island at the mouth of the Savannah River. In 1830, a new West Point graduate named Lieutenant Robert E. Lee headed up the preliminary construction of Fort Pulaski. Lee chose the location and oversaw the implementation of a series of drains and dykes to support the weight of the masonry fort. Lt. Joseph Mansfield soon took over the construction which lasted 14 years.
By the time construction was completed in 1847, the fort boasted 147 cannons, some of which were mounted on the top walls of the fort and some inside casements inside the walls.
In the years before start of the Civil War, Fort Pulaski fell into disrepair, its moat filled with mud and its cannons in place but unmounted. Confederate military forces realized its strategic importance and hurried to return repair the damages using slaves from nearby rice plantations and five companies of troops from Macon and Savannah.
Though Pulaski was repaired in time for battle, its impenetrable appearance proved illusory, and Fort Pulaski fell to Union troops after a siege in 1862. With its new rifled cannons, Union troops were able to blast two 30 foot holes in the southeast side of the fort, and Confederate forces were forced to surrender after just 36 hours. This was a blow to the Confederacy, as the port of Charleston was crucial to the chain of supply.
Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter

The name Fort Sumter is etched into American memory as the site of the first shots fired during the Civil War. At the start of the war Fort Sumter was in Union hands, since the South had only recently seceded from the United States in 1680 to form the Confederacy.
Fort Sumter was originally constructed in 1829 as a coastal garrison on an island in Charleston Bay, named after Revolutionary War hero Thomas Sumter. Seventy thousand tons of granite were imported from New England to build up a sand bar in the entrance to Charleston Harbor. The fort was a five-sided brick structure and towered 50 feel over the low tide mark. Though it never reached capacity, Fort was designed to hold 650 men and 135 guns in three tiered emplacements.
Sumter was the site of two important Civil War battles. On April 12, 1861 newly formed Confederate forces forced the Union troops to abandon the fort the next day, by cutting off all contact with the mainland. Civilians watched the battle, reportedly in a festive mood.
During the The Second Battle of Fort Sumter on September 8, 1863, Union troops tried and failed to re-take the fort. It remained – albeit in ruins – in Confederate hands until General William Sherman marched through South Carolina in February of 1865.
Fort Fremont

Fort Fremont

Fort Fremont

In 1898, with the Spanish-American War in progress, Congress authorized construction of Fort Fremont on South Carolina’s Saint Helena Island. In its heyday, the fort covered 70 acres and contained a hospital, barracks, stables, guardhouses, commissary, and many support buildings. Approximately 110 men and officers of the 116th Coast Artillery were garrisoned here. The fort never saw battle and was decommissioned in 1901. Only two batteries and the hospital building remain.
The coastal forts of Georgia and South Carolina played an important role during 200 years of conflict with the French, Spanish and English, and later during the Civil War. Though these forts are no longer active military sites, they remind us of the strategic importance of the Southern coast from Colonial times to the end of the 19th Century.
See a portion of the exhibition here: Southern Heritage.
Posted in: a Deeper Look

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