Monday, September 29, 2014

Visit Fort Macon located on Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

I had the pleasure of living and working in Eastern North Carolina for over a quarter century. I spent many hours lying on the beach or playing in the Atlantic Ocean with my children.

But there is much more to Eastern North Carolina than just the beautiful beaches. If you plan to visit Carteret County or the surrounding area, you must make time to see beautiful Fort Macon.

The entrance to Fort Macon

Fort Macon State Park and Atlantic Beach

Fort Macon is located in Fort Macon State Park just east of Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. The fort was built at the farthest end of Bogue Banks, a 21 mile long barrier island that is a popular North Carolina tourist destination.

Fort Macon State Park offers beaches, salt-water fishing, nature trails, a refreshment stand and a bathhouse. There is no fee for parking, fishing or visiting the fort.

Atlantic Beach has beautiful beaches facing south onto the Atlantic Ocean. It also has beautiful views of Bogue Sound, the stretch of water separating Bogue Banks from the mainland.
Catering to tourists in the summer, Atlantic Beach is a laid-back small town in the off-season.

Early Forts Protecting Beaufort Inlet

Fort Macon was built to protect Beaufort Inlet and to defend the town of Beaufort from invading forces. Beaufort was ransacked by Spanish forces in 1747 and then Great Britain in 1782. The U.S. government realized the entire East Coast's ports were vulnerable to invading armies and pirates. A series of forts were eventually planned and built along the entire eastern shoreline.
The first fort designed for the Beaufort Inlet, Fort Dobbs, was started in 1756 but was never completed.
A second fort, Fort Hampton, was eventually completed in 1807. It was used to protect Beaufort Inlet against the invading British during the War of 1812. Fort Hampton was later abandoned and was washed away by the Atlantic Ocean in 1825.

Fort Macon's namesake

Fort Macon was named after Nathaniel Macon, a United States Representative and later Senator from Warrenton, North Carolina.
He was elected in 1785 to the Continental Congress but declined the office. He was elected again and served from 1791 to 1815.
He resigned from Congress after being elected to the US Senate, where he served until 1828.
Nathaniel Macon was instrumental in procuring the funds necessary to build the new fort.
An aerial view of Fort Macon. Beaufort Inlet is to the east.

The Construction of Fort Macon

The construction of Fort Macon was started in 1826 by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers utilized both paid and slave labor during the building of the fort.

The fort was designed as a pentagon and was built to be not visible from the sea. The waters to the east, north and south could be monitored from the fort, preventing enemy ships from attacking the port at Beaufort.

From the start the building project was beset by problems. When digging started (done mostly by slaves), the holes quickly filled with groundwater. The first bricks made were of poor quality and were not suitable for building. The problems were eventually overcome, and in 1836 the fort was completed for a total cost of $463,790. Further modifications were done in the ensuing years.

Ironically, Robert E. Lee, who was later a general in the Confederate Army, designed a series of erosion control in the 1840's.

The Civil War

At the time the Civil War started in April 1841, Fort Macon was empty except for a ordnance officer and his wife. Two days after Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina and started the Civil War, a group of militia members from the town of Beaufort seized the fort from the United States.
Confederate forces occupied the fort for the next year, bringing in reinforcements and new armaments.
In early 1862, General Burnside defeated confederate forces in eastern North Carolina. He then sent General Parke and his troops to seize Fort Macon. Parke's union soldiers effortlessly occupied nearby Morehead City and Beaufort, and then demanded the surrender of Fort Macon.
Colonel White, a young man with epilepsy, declined to surrender the fort and his 400 soldiers. The Union forces began a two day bombardment of the fort, firing mortars and the newly invented rifled cannons. Flagmen stationed across the inlet in Beaufort aided the union forces with their aim on the fort.
The relentless bombardment heavily damaged the fort. When Colonel White saw the gunpowder casements were in danger of being breached and causing a catastrophic explosion, he raised the white flag of surrender.
Union forces occupied Fort Macon for the remainder of the war. Beaufort became an important port for the repair of Union ships and the delivery of supplies.
If you visit Fort Macon today, you can still see the cracks in the bricks and mortar caused by the bombardment of the fort. You will also find a cannonball embedded in an interior wall, and will see the path a cannonball took as it made its way down a cement staircase.


Post Civil War to Present

Colonel James Young commanded an all
 Black regiment at Fort Macon
Fort Macon was manned by the army until 1877. During this time it was used as both a military and civilian prison.

Spanish-American War

After 1877, Fort Macon again fell into disuse until the start of the Spanish-American War. In the summer of 1898, some of the Third North Carolina Volunteers, an all-Black regiment was stationed at the fort.
They were led by Colonel James Young, who is thought to be first African-American to earn the rank of colonel in the United States' military.


Fort Macon Becomes a state park

Fort Macon was abandoned again to the forces of time and weather. In 1923, Fort Macon was offered for sale as military surplus by the government.
In 1924, Congress turned over Fort Macon and its surrounding acreage to North Carolina for use as a state park.
In 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal program enacted to provide work for Americans, began the work of clearing and restoring the old fort. A few years later the American people began to enjoy the park and its surrounding beaches.

World War II

1941 saw America enter into WWII. German submarines cruised the eastern coast of the United States, sinking ships and striking fear into the hearts of coastal residents. Fort Macon was again put to military use when the Army leased the fort from N.C.
Coastal Artillery regiments were assigned to the fort, and a steady stream of olive-green trucks loaded with men and supplies started to arrive. The casemates were again full of American soldiers who were ready to defend the inlet and American lives.
Though the soldiers saw no direct action, many ships and a German submarine were sunk just off the North Carolina Coast.
On October 1, 1946, Fort Macon was again returned to North Carolina for the public's enjoyment.
The old brick archways inside Fort Macon
is a photographers dream.

Fort Macon Today

Fort Macon has been fully restored to her previous glory. Static displays which showcase life at the fort have been set up in many of the casemates. The original cannons were long ago sold for scrap metal, but they are slowly being replaced with replicas.
During the summer there are many activities planned at the fort. Every weekend musket firing will be demonstrated. An occasional reenactment of the Siege of Fort Macon will be held with men and women dressed in period costumes.

 Concerts are held on some evenings, and there are free guided tours available seven days a week. Many couples chose this historic location for their weddings. The list of scheduled activities can be accessed at this link: Fort Macon.
In addition to the beautiful fort, there is a new building which houses a theater/education center, a bookstore, and a large display room dedicated to the coast's ecology.

Fort Macon is free!

There are no fees to park or tour the fort, but there is a donation box located just inside the new building. The funds are used by the non-profit group Friends of Fort Macon to ensure the fort is well preserved and the public is informed about Fort Macon's long history.
Most of the fort is handicapped accessible and wheelchairs are available upon request. Do keep a close eye on your kids though. As the sign near the fort's entrance says, "Fort Macon was made for war, not safety." There are many steep drop-offs around the inner and outer perimeters.
When you are done touring the fort, you can drive a short distance to the park's beach access. There is plenty of parking, and you can change into your swimsuit and enjoy a dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
Don't forget the sunscreen!

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