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History comes alive at the Blue Wall
Shirley Says
shirley column
Fort McAllister interpretive ranger Talley Kirkland makes history come alive. - photo by Photo by Shirley Hiers
It was a cool crisp day when I went to Fort McAllister searching for a missing link in my understanding of Civil War history. Talley Kirkland, Fort McAllister’s Interpretive Ranger, describes and recreates those historical events.  He virtually took me back in time.  Although my parents had taken my sisters and me there many times over the past 50 years, it was as if I was learning history for the first time.  
As I solemnly walked through the bunkers reflecting on what I had been taught about the Civil War, an uncomfortable chill came over me. This beautiful place was once the scene of a decisive battle! As beautiful as the Fort was on that March day in 2010, visions of the undeniably bloody past permeated the air. The smell of sulfur from the Confederate’s rifles and the agonizing screams of wounded soldiers seemed all too real. General William T. Sherman’s Union soldiers were closing in on Fort McAllister!
Talley emphatically explains the history of Fort McAllister and its role in the Civil War. Early in the war, a battery that evolved into a massive earthwork fortification was erected by the Confederate Army to protect Savannah. The Ogeechee River and a vital railroad bridge upstream, as well as rice and cotton plantations bordering the river were vulnerable. Named for the family of Colonel Joseph L. McAllister, the stronghold withstood seven major naval attacks by Federal forces, including the largest guns used by the Union Navy.
It has often been said ‘Dead men tell no tales’. Talley Kirkland disagrees with that age-old proverb. With about 40 years of history-related service with the State of Georgia, he tirelessly shares his knowledge of the Fort’s history. He has literally made the Fort’s past come to life for me and many others.
It was December 13, 1864…it was dusky, getting late in the day…when General Sherman’s army arrived at Fort McAllister after marching its way to the Georgia coast. One can only imagine the fear that gripped the hearts of the Confederate soldiers as they stared down the road, realizing they were being stormed from the west by the Union army. The setting sun temporarily blinded them. Once their eyes adjusted to the fading sunlight, they were able to see Union soldiers by the thousands! 
Talley spoke passionately about that mild and clear December evening, “It must have looked like a blue wall coming toward them!”…a blue wall that did not stop until it totally engulfed them, leaving in its wake 48 dead, 134 casualties, and nearly 200 soldiers captured, as well as 15 large artillery pieces. 
Fort McAllister had withstood prior Union advances, blocking supply lines and the long-sought prize…the city of Savannah. Union Maj. Gen. William B. Hazen led the attack on Fort McAllister that evening. He cleverly aligned his men for the fierce attack. The small Confederate force commanded by Major George Anderson consisted of 230 men from teens to grandfathers. They were no match for the overwhelming Union soldiers, 5,000 strong! That December day was brutal and bloody.
General Sherman observed the attack that evening from an observation platform erected on top of an abandoned rice mill across the Ogeechee river, several miles away. When the Union soldiers proclaimed victory, General Sherman was rowed down the Ogeechee to view the destruction of the fort. He was ecstatic because his supply line was now open.
When the Confederate soldiers were captured and the dead removed, General Sherman’s soldiers’ final act was to burn the wooden interior of the bunkers. The fall of Fort McAllister marked the end of Sherman’s March to the Sea.
For me, Talley Kirkland is the missing link. He vividly connects history with the present. 

Hiers was born and raised in Richmond Hill. You can reach her at  

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