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Fort Macon in Carteret County, North Carolina was one of a series of forts originally built to protect the state’s main deep ocean port, known as the Beaufort Inlet.
The perceived threat was from countries such as Spain and Britain, who had both invaded the port in the eighteenth century. Whilst several attempts had been made before Fort Macon, they had been incomplete or unsuccessful.
In fact, Fort Macon was built in the aftermath of the War of 1812, as part of the Third System plan to protect America’s seacoasts. A sturdy five sided structure of brick and stone, construction of Fort Macon began in 1826 and, by 1834, the fortification was garrisoned.
However, the first major battle at Fort Macon was not with another country, but during the American Civil War. Initially seized by Confederate forces, Fort Macon was later recaptured by the Union in the Battle of Fort Macon, which occurred between 23 March and 26 April 1862. By this time, the fort was unable to withstand the new developments in weaponry, something which had blighted all Third System structures.
Fort Macon was later used as a base in World War Two. Today, it is part of a state park, in which visitors can tour the fort.
Siege of Fort Macon
The Siege of Fort Macon took place from March 23 to April 26, 1862, on the Outer Banks of Carteret County, North Carolina. It was part of Union Army General Ambrose E. Burnside's North Carolina Expedition during the American Civil War.
In late March, Major General Burnside’s army advanced on Fort Macon, a casemated masonry fort that commanded the channel to Beaufort, 35 miles (56 km) southeast of New Bern. The Union force invested the fort with siege works and on April 25 opened an accurate fire on the fort, soon breaching the masonry walls. Within a few hours the fort's scarp began to collapse, and in late afternoon the Confederate commander, Colonel Moses J. White, ordered the raising of a white flag. Burnside's terms of surrender were accepted, and the Federal troops took possession of the fort the next morning.
Third System (1816-1867)
Established to protect the entrance to the harbor at Beaufort and Morehead City, North Carolina.
Fort Macon is a Third System fort designed by Brigadier General Simon Bernard and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1826 and 1834. From its completion in 1834 until the start of the U.S. Civil War in 1861 it was garrisoned for less than six years and in the hands of a single caretaker most of that time.
The inner structure of the fort is shaped like an irregular pentagon and constructed of brick and stone masonry. It has 26 casemates enclosed by walls that average 4 1/2 feet thick. Three of the five sides face seaward. The inner structure is surrounded by a ditch with two drawbridge entrances. The ditch is surrounded by a high earthwork with additional gun emplacements. The fort was designed to mount 51 seacoast cannon. See Weaver, pages 139-141 for a detailed description.
The fort was upgraded between 1841 and 1846.
Fort Macon: A History
This is a story of Fort Macon, one of America’s most visited forts, describing the many dramatic parts it has played in our history. Paul Branch, a ranger/historian at Fort Macon has illustrated his book with original engineering drawings, maps, sketches, and photographs from the 1800s to the present. He begins with the need for coastal defense in 18th century North Carolina and the construction of Fort Macon. He describes the pre-Civil War years leading to its seizure by the Confederacy. The battle for possession of the fort and the subsequent Union occupation is related in vivid detail and illustrated with several maps. Use of the fort and its armaments during the Spanish-American War and World War II are examined. Today the site is in a state park which attracts over one million visitors each year.
Chapters include: Early Problems of Defense, Fort Hampton, Construction of Fort Macon, The Antebellum Years, Confederate Occupation, The Siege of Fort Macon, Union Occupation, Postwar Years, and The Twentieth Century. Appendices include: Garrisons of Fort Macon, Armament of Fort Macon, Soldier Life, and Casemate Uses. A wealth of photographs and illustrations several maps a glossary, a bibliography and an index of full-names, places and subjects adds to the value of this work.
The Siege of Fort Macon, 1862
On March 23, 1862, U.S. forces under Brig. Gen. John G. Parke began the siege of Confederate-held Fort Macon. At the time the fort was commanded by Col. Moses J. White of Mississippi, and was defended by 54 pieces of artillery and a garrison of five companies.
In January 1862, a Federal force under Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside arrived off the North Carolina coast. After taking Roanoke Island in February and New Bern in March, Burnside’s next objective was Fort Macon. After White refused to surrender on Parke’s arrival, Parke laid siege to the fort with the support of the Union’s blockading squadron.
In mid-April Burnside arrived with reinforcements to take direct command of the siege. On April 25 the fort was bombarded from both land and sea. Although cannon blasts from Union ships did little damage because of the fort’s strong seaward defenses, the land bombardment did major damage. White surrendered the next day.
The fall of Fort Macon gave the Federals access to the sea via Beaufort and Morehead City, strengthening their control over much of eastern North Carolina.
The fort was constructed by the federal government from 1826 to 1834 to guard Beaufort Harbor, and was seized by North Carolina militia only two days shots were fired on Fort Sumter.
Visit: Fort Macon is now one 39 state parks. The park will commemorate its battle anniversary in April.
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A Little Bit of History: Fort Macon
Drive a little more than two hours from Wilson, Rocky Mount, or Zebulon to Atlantic Beach. Then, make a left and drive up East Fort Macon Road until you run out of road. You’ll be at Fort Macon State Park, ready to explore an amazing “local” structure: Fort Macon.
Construction of Fort Macon began in 1826, according to www.ncparks.gov, the website of the NC Division of Parks and Recreation. Five-sided, made of brick and stone, Fort Macon’s layout includes 26 vaulted rooms enclosed by thick outer walls.
The first troops occupied the fort starting in 1834. The fort was manned by different armies over the years, through multiple wars, even serving as a coaling station and a prison. For some time, it was even abandoned.
In 1923, Fort Macon and the surrounding reservation were sold for one dollar to North Carolina, for use as a public park.
After restoration by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Fort Macon State Park to opened in 1936. For part of the 1940s, the US Army occupied the park, returning it to the state following World War II.
Walking through the fort, visitors can view exhibits showing life in prior times. They can also scale the steps to the grassy “roof” and look over the surrounding walls and beyond. A family can easily pass several hours exploring Fort Macon and the surrounding trails and visitor’s center.
The Fort Macon State Park address is 2303 E Fort Macon Road, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. For more information, call 252.726.3775.
Fort Macon courtyard viewed from inside passage. Photo: Frank and Kay Whatley.
Steps to the top of Fort Macon, viewed from the courtyard. Photo: Frank and Kay Whatley.
Most recently updated October 15th, 2020
Fort Macon State Park is located on Bogue Banks near Atlantic Beach on the North Carolina coast.
Opened in 1936, at only 424 acres in size, the park is one of the smallest state parks in North Carolina.
But with 1.3 million visitors annually, despite it’s small size, Fort Macon State Park is the second most visited state park in North Carolina.
I’ve always been too busy on my Coastal visits to be one of those visitors.
But I made up for my previous neglect a couple of weeks ago on a spontaneous overnight trip to the Coast.
A visit to Fort Macon was the main thing on my “must-do” list. I was delighted with what I found!
The park surrounds the US Coast Guard Station
The park completely surrounds the United States Coast Guard Station Fort Macon, and park visitors can catch a glimpse of one of the Coast Guard Cutters that are moored there.
The infamous pirate Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, has been discovered in shallow water right off the Park in the Atlantic Ocean and is being recovered.
The park is also the site of the Battle of Fort Macon, which was fought there March-April 1862, during the American Civil War.
A map of Fort Macon State Park
In addition to tours of the fully restored fort, the park offers both sound-side and surf fishing, hiking trails, ranger guided tours, a protected swim area, a refreshment stand, and a bathhouse.
Beaufort was one of the first harbors designed as a port of entry during colonial times. Along with this distinction came a high risk of invasion by seafaring pirates and enemy warships alike.
Early on, coastal colonial towns and local sailors were often attacked by Blackbeard and other pirates.
The need for defense was made very clear in 1747, when Spanish raiders attacked English colonists at Beaufort, captured the town and held it for several days. British raiders also captured and occupied Beaufort in 1782.
To defend the coastal region against future attacks from the sea, plans were developed for the construction of four defensive forts along the eastern seaboard, one of which was to be built at Old Topsail (now Beaufort) Inlet.
The road into the fort, with the Visitors Center in the background.
Construction began in 1756 the fort (Fort Dobbs) was never completed, and the harbor remained defenseless until 1808 when Fort Hampton was built on the tip of Bogue Banks.
Situated about 300 yards east of the present site of Fort Macon, the small brick-masonry fort protected the harbor for more than a decade. It was later deserted and, in 1825, was washed into the inlet by a hurricane.
Queen Anne’s Revenge
The pirate Blackbeard was one of those that was known to haunt the waters around the inlet, just off the coast of what is now Fort Macon.
In 1996, the wreck of the pirate’s ship the “Queen Anne’s Revenge” was found nearby in the Atlantic Ocean.
Blackbeard’s famous flagship was a 200-ton vessel believed to have been built in 1710.
Edward Teach Commonly Called Black Beard
The ship was captured by Blackbeard and his pirates on 28 November 1717, near the island of Saint Vincent in the West Indies.
Blackbeard made the vessel into his flagship, adding more heavy cannon and renaming the ship Queen Anne’s Revenge.
The name may come from the War of the Spanish Succession, in which Blackbeard had served in the Royal Navy.
Blackbeard sailed this ship from the west coast of Africa to the Caribbean, attacking British, Dutch, and Portuguese merchant ships along the way.
Soon after blockading Charleston harbor in May 1718, and refusing to accept the Governor’s offer of a pardon, Blackbeard ran Queen Anne’s Revenge aground while entering Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina on June 10, 1718.
He stranded several crew members on a small island nearby, where they were later rescued by Captain Stede Bonnet. (Some suggest Blackbeard deliberately grounded the ship as an excuse to disperse the crew.)
First Landing State Park’s beach at Cape Henry on the Virginia coast.
Shortly afterward, he surrendered and accepted a royal pardon for himself and his remaining crewmen from Governor Charles Eden at Bath, North Carolina.
However, it didn’t take long for Blackbeard to return to piracy. He was killed in combat near First Landing State Park in November 1718.
Discovery and Excavation
Model of the Queen Anne’s Revenge in the North Carolina Museum of History
Intersal Inc., a private research firm, discovered the wreck believed to be Queen Anne’s Revenge on November 21, 1996.
The shipwreck lies in 28 feet of water about one mile offshore of Fort Macon State Park .
Thirty-one cannons have been identified to date and more than 300,000 artifacts have been recovered.
The 1747 Spanish Intrusion
Even decades after Blackbeard’s death, the harbor at Cape Lookout still provided an excellent base for Spanish privateers to attack passing ships.
In October 1741, a Spanish privateer with eighty men in its crew captured a schooner from Boston off Bogue Inlet about twenty-five miles west of Beaufort.
To defend against these kind of attacks, in 1743 the colonial government passed an act ordering magazines of ammunition to be provided for each County.
The Carteret County Court acted promptly on this measure and Beaufort merchant Arthur Mabson was appointed keeper of the magazine. The preparations were soon put to good use.
On June 4, 1747, a band of Spanish privateers sailed boldly into Beaufort harbor and captured the “Several Vessels” that were anchored there.
But only thirteen of the local militia responded to the alarm, and with the Spanish in control of the harbor, there was not much they could do.
The enemy sailed away, taking their prizes with them.
View into the courtyard at the Visitor’s Center.
But the local militia soon got another chance.
On August 26, 1747, Spanish privateers sailed into the harbor, landed and invaded the town itself.
But when the militia arrived, the battle turned and the militia prevailed.
The militiamen remained on constant duty for the next three days, before they were divided into groups which rotated until late in September.
(The 1747 attack and battle is re-enacted each year during the Beaufort Pirate Invasion, a festival in held in Beaufort, NC each summer.)
Nevertheless, the colony was shocked at the activities of this band of privateers and sought to prevent it happening again.
Governor Gabriel Johnston, addressing the Assembly which met at New Bern in October, 1747, described the attacks and the need for ongoing defense.
The Assembly appointed a committee to draft a bill to raise money for “building fortifications in this Province. . . .”
The committee acted promptly, and a bill providing that forts were to be built at Ocracoke, Beaufort, and Bear inlets, and at Cape Fear, was adopted by the Assembly in 1748.
Historical information is provided for self-guided tours at the Fort.
War of the Rebellion: Serial 009 Page 0289 Chapter XX. SIEGE OF FORT MACON, N.C.
the mortars, but owing to the distance of the camp from the battery and hard walking in the loose sand we did not reach there till 3.30 p.m. and before we could open fire I was ordered by you to await further orders before doing so. The men remained in the battery during the night, and I opened fire, as your ordered, about 5.30 a.m.. The first shells falling shot, the charges were increased and a good range was obtained in a short time. A steady and effective fire was kept up from each piece until 11 p.m. when the bolster of No. 4 was broken by the recoil, and that was not worked until about 1 p.m. when, having been repaired, it was again opened. At 3 p.m.. I received an order from you that a reserve of ammunition should be kept for contingencies during the night, and from 3.20 p.m.. to 5 but two pieces were used. At that time firing was suspended, the enemy showing a white flag. The firing during the afternoon was very fine, nearly every shell bursting within or over the fort. During the night of the 25th shell and ammunition were brought, and at daylight of the 26th the men were at their posts, and everything in good order to open fire, had it been necessary.
Very efficient service was rendered me by Lieutenants Thomas and Kelsey, and the conduct of the men was beyond praise.
I am happy to report that no casualties occurred but two of the enemy's shell bursting in or over the battery.
M. F. PROUTY,
Lieutenant Co. C, 25th Mass. Vols., Commanding 8-inch Mortar Battery.
Lieutenant D. W. FLAGLER.
No. 5. Report of Captain Lewis O. Morris, First U. S. Artillery.
FORT MACON, N. C., April 28, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of Company C, First Artillery, during the siege and reduction of Fort Macon:
As you are aware, I was ordered to leave my light battery at New Berne and report to you with three Parrot 30-pounder guns as part of the siege train for the reduction of Fort Macon, and that they did their work well the sequel has proved.
After the investment of the fort and a careful reconnaissance it was decided to place my battery at a distance of 1,500 yards from the fort, the 10-inch mortar battery about 200 yards in rear, and the 8-inch mortar battery about 200 yards to the right and front. As these batteries were constructed under fire, much of the work was done at night, which, added to the fact that guns, ammunition, and materials were transported through deep and some 3 1/2 miles, will prove that it was no light labor which the men performed so cheerfully and so well.
The company, having worked all night, completed the battery, on the morning of the 25th of April, and at 5.30 I opened fore on the fort the first shot striking the parapet. The mortar batteries followed immediately, and shot and shell were poured rapidly into the fort, which returned the fire with spirit. For several hours the fire from the fort
19 R R-VOL IX
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Civil War Fort in Atlantic Beach NC. Learn More About History
Information and discussions about Fort Macon Civil War Fort at the east end of Atlantic Beach, NC in Carteret County NC are located below the following video.
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General information: Phone: (252) 726-3775, Hours of operation: 9am – 5pm, Fort tours are available and a newly constructed visitors center sits at the main entrance which serves to to help you learn more about the history of the era this fort operated under and how Carteret County NC was pivotal during colonial days. Operated by NC State Parks.
The fort was built in 1826 and garrisoned in 1834.
Fort Macon was held by both Confederate and Union forces throughout history and Blackbeard the pirate was documented to pass alongside the fort through Beaufort Inlet during his travels along Eastern NC.
The U.S. Army leased the fort during the World War 2 and maintained troops at the facility as a coastal force to protect nearby facilities. In 1946 the U.S. Army gave back control of Fort Macon to the State of NC.
Carteret County NC. While a popular tourist attraction in the area, school children from all over Eastern NC take field trips to this interest during the school year to learn more about NC history. However, keep in mind that there are very steep drop-offs at this facility so it is important to watch children if you are visiting or touring this historical marker.
Atlantic Beach NC places of attractions As with all articles on this website, we ask for your discussions below to help others learn more about Fort Macon State Park and Civil War fort so that others can learn more about this attraction.
As a visitor to this historical marker, what were you most surprised to learn about? What did you think of the newly constructed visitors center?
How do you feel this fort contributed to the history of North Carolina?
If you visited this historical attraction in the summer months, did you get to see any of the reenactments the staff of the fort put on?