Just east of Savannah’s Emmet Park and Washington Square are the remnants of one of Savannah’s oldest forts. Fort Wayne, named for the Revolutionary War General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, was first built in the mid 18th century, when it was known as Fort Halifax.
Later captured by the British, the fortification – one of many lesser-known forts and other defensive structures constructed in and around Savannah during the 18th and 19th centuries – was rebuilt and renamed Fort Prevost, after that side’s General Augustine Prevost.
It acquired its present name after the end of the Revolutionary War. The fort’s remains, portions of the old wall, which can be seen along the southern side of East Bay Street (past the intersection with East Broad), date from the 19th century.
The strategic importance of the spot to the east of the city on the Savannah River bluff was noticed immediately by Oglethorpe and his first group of colonists. Within a year of the founding of Savannah, defenses had been constructed near the eventual site of Fort Wayne, a 12-gun battery erected on the part of the bluff occupied by present-day Emmet Park.
The first fort proper on the eastern bluff was Fort Halifax, a square fort constructed with wood planks, with a caponier (a covered defensive position) at each corner.
The fort, constructed around 1760-1762, occupied the site of the abandoned Trustees’ Garden, an experimental garden in which mulberry, vines, and other plants were (somewhat unsuccessfully) tended by the early colonists in an effort to discover useful crops for the new colony.
In 1779, the British captured Savannah. To defend the city from being retaken by the American side and their French allies, British engineers engaged in extensive works to fortify the town from sea and land attack.
The former Fort Halifax was expanded and reconstructed, the much-strengthened defense renamed Fort Prevost around this time. The new fort was in the rough shape of a star, with bastions on all four sides offering protection against attack from the river and overland. The work was completed by as many as 400 African-American men, mostly enslaved, their labor on the project ordered by Governor James Wright.
Fort Prevost’s counterpart on the west of the city, at the site of present-day Yamacraw Village, was Fort Moncrief, named for James Moncrief of the British Royal Engineers, who served as Chief Engineer responsible for the construction of Savannah’s Revolutionary War era defenses.
Fort Prevost, together with the nearby battery on the Savannah River, effectively prevented the American and French forces from close-ranged attack on city by ship or from landing troops on the river bank near the town.
The American side failed to recapture Savannah, and the British did not evacuate until 1782. Upon their eventual departure, the by-then-completed fort was renamed once more, for American General Anthony Wayne.
Fort Wayne, now under the control of the US Army and the State of Georgia, was of limited military importance after the Revolutionary War, though it still found use as a site of military commemoration. The fort was also at least occasionally involved in Independence Day celebrations.
The death of General Nathanael Greene in 1786 was marked by a firing of guns from the fort, as was the 1789 death of Major General of the Georgia Militia, Samuel Elbert. Both men later had a square named in their honor (Greene Square and Elbert Square, the latter now lost) and General Greene has a monument too.
In the early 19th century, the Second System of coastal fortifications erected a new defensive structure, Fort Jackson, a few miles down the Savannah River. Some Savannah residents were eager that Fort Wayne too should be re-fortified, having fallen into a state of decay in the years since the Revolutionary War.
Federal funds were requested to aid in its reconstruction; slave-owning citizens were asked to donate their male slaves’ labor to the project. The result was a smaller and remodeled Fort Wayne, the southern and eastern works removed and the western wall changed too, leaving a crescent-shaped fortification, completed in 1812.
After the War of 1812, the finished Fort Jackson, together with Fort Augusta on the eastern end of Hutchinson Island, superseded Fort Wayne. The area around the fort was gradually absorbed into the residential and industrial districts on Savannah’s east side, and in 1852, the fort itself was sold to the Savannah Gas and Light Company.
Jim Byous, The Fortresses of Savannah, Savannah Images Project, Armstrong Atlantic State University.
Rita Folse Elliott and Daniel T Elliott, Savannah Under Fire, 1779: Identifying Savannah’s Revolutionary War Battlefield, Coastal Heritage Society, 2009. Free download available from the LAMAR Institute (Report Number 173).