Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fort Macon, North Carolina

After the War of 1812 and the destruction of Washington, D.C. by the British, the United States Government realized the need for more coastal defenses along the line of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Only the strategic placement of that fort prevented the capture of Baltimore by the British. Foreign invasion was getting to be a problem. The Spanish had invaded Beaufort in 1747 and the British had come the same way in 1782. Public sentiment after the last minute victory in New Orleans in 1814 demanded action.

So between 1817 and 1834 the U.S. government built 40 more forts from Maine to the Gulf Coast and even in California. Fort Macon, located in Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina was one of these forts. The fort is designed as a pentagon, much like Fort McHenry in Baltimore with a series of trenches, redoubts and moats. All of the brickwork is beautifully done. The structure is so pleasing to the eye that it is hard to think of it as a place of battle.

Construction began in 1826 and the work was completed in 1834 at a cost of $463,000. A good look at these arches, which comprise the main structural integrity of the fort, give you an idea of their beauty. They circle the entire fort on the inside and enabled the defenders to move about the fort with relative safety. Imagine the cost of this brickwork now!

Most of the materials for the fort were found locally. Clay and sand for the bricks were readily available, as were large quantities of wood. The fort was manned intermittently from 1834 until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. During most of the intervening years the fort held only an Ordinance Officer to oversee the safety of the guns and powders stored there.

Sgt. William Alexander and his wife were the acting caretakers on April 14, 1861 when the Beaufort Harbor Guards, a local Southern Militia, demanded its' surrender. It was home to the Confederacy until April of 1862 when the fort was retaken by Union forces. The cannon marks are still clearly visible on the outside walls.

At the conclusion of Civil War the fort became a penitentiary from 1867 through 1876. At that time it was returned to "caretaker status", meaning that only an Ordinance Officer and his family remained in the fort. There would be no more troops quartered there until 1898 and the Spanish-American War. At this time the fort was manned by African-American soldiers under African-American Command. This was pretty surprising to me as North Carolina was still legally segregated at the time.

These floors were made locally by cutting down and slicing the trunks of trees and then making the slices into square tiles. They have more than stood the test of time. They also bear testimony to the use of local materials in the forts construction.

In 1903 the guns were removed and sent to Federal Arsenals to be used as scrap metal. In 1924 the fort was sold to North Carolina for $1. It became the states second Public Park. In 1934 the Civilian Conservation Corps refurbished the fort and it became a tourist attraction until the outbreak of World War Two.

Coastal Artillery Units manned the fort for the duration of the war as a deterrent against the Nazi U-boats, which, at the time were exacting a heavy toll on Allied shipping. At the end of the war the fort reverted back to its main role as a State Park and continues to attract over 1 million visitors a year.

Located just down the road from Atlantic Beach, it is a nice addition to the stark beauty of the beach. A nice stroll and a look into the hardships of the past can sometimes put a different spin on the troubles we all face today.

This bird was trying to share a sandwich with me on the balcony of our hotel room. It has no relation to this story and is included here only to lend a little color, and perhaps humor, to an otherwise straightforward historical piece. Kind of like a reward for reading this all the way through.

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