Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fort Macon

Fort Macon state park is the second most popular state park in the North Carolina parks system.

I've been going out to Fort Macon since the late fifties. Maybe before that; I just don't remember. Over those decades, the state has done a fine job in restoring the fort and improving the public beach access and services. On our trips to eastern North Carolina, the park has become one of Leece's favorite spots as well. The park offers good, clean beaches, which though sometimes crowded on weekends and especially on holidays, are generally much less so than other public beaches during the week.

The park also has a very well done new visitors' center.

Back in the day - Blackbeard's day - the port of Beaufort and the surrounding area was quite vulnerable to attack from the sea, by either pirates or enemy naval forces. Not much was done about fortifications that far back, but by the early 1800's, the threat from the Royal Navy (remember that War of 1812?) was looming large. So a small fort was built out on the tip of Bogue Banks. Too far out, and not very well constructed, since it washed away by the mid-1820's. You can see a diorama of that fort in the park visitors' center.

The current fort was constructed between 1826 and 1834. But they had problems with erosion along the beach which threatened the stability of the fort, so along came Captain Robert E. Lee of the Army's engineers. Yep. That Robert E. Lee. He constructed a system of jetties which are still in use today, and that greatly relieved the situation. Those jetties are a popular fishing spot, and I've caught more than a few bluefish from those rocks.

The fort was the scene of a battle in April of 1862 - all part of a larger campaign beginning at New Bern the month before - and was taken by Union forces after a short siege. This was one of the first uses of rifled cannon against such fortifications. The brick structure proved no match for this new weaponry. The fort's armament also included some rifled cannon. Today, donations are being sought to purchase a Parrott for the fort. As a side note, you can find a listing of surviving Civil War artillery pieces here.

The fort served during both world wars. Coastal artillery was emplaced there as late as the World War II era. That may see odd, but remember our posts on Cape Lookout and Operation Drumbeat. No one would have been surprised then to have seen a U-boat come sailing into Port of Morehead City to pot a few freighters. If Gunther Prien could sink HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow, why not expect to find another enterprising young submariner in the Beaufort inlet shipping channel, which was far less challenging.

Here is a more detailed history of the fort.

We have a gallery of images of the fort, and a couple of the beach area (but not the beach access itself, which has a large parking lot, a well-maintained bath house, and boardwalk beach access), here:

Mike and Leece's image galleries

under the Eastern NC June 2011 heading.