Fort Macon State Park
Defending Beaufort Inlet

Beaufort, NC

November 3rd, 2001

While visiting North Carolina, we took a side trip to a portion of the outer banks known as Bogue Banks where the Fort Macon State Park stands majestically defending the Beaufort Inlet. Since the beginning of European settlement in North America, the Atlantic seaboard has been subject to repeated attacks. When not being assaulted by the likes of the Pirate Blackbeard and others, it was the Spanish, the French and finally the English who's warships prowled the coastline looking for an opportunity to devastate a coastal town. Indeed, Beaufort, the only deep water port on the North Carolina coast at the time was captured and plundered by the Spanish in 1747 and again by the British toward the end of the Revolutionary war in 1782. In response to such incursions, the American Government built a series of forts, right on top of one another at the entrance to the Beaufort Inlet. The War of 1812 demonstrated the weakness of the existing coastal defenses of the United States and propelled the US government into beginning construction on an improved chain of coastal fortifications for national defense. This ambitious undertaking was to involve construction of 38 new permanent forts as a national chain of defense along the coast of the United states. These became known as the "third System", for Mason became a part of this chain. It was constructed over 8 years beginning in 1826. However with an easing of the European threat, the Fort was garrisoned by a single ordnance sergeant acting as caretaker. Such was the situation on April 14, 1861, just two days after the firing on Fort Sumpter in South Carolina. The Garrison Sgt. was summoned to the front gate by a large contingent of the North Carolina militia from Beaufort who informed him that the Fort was now under Confederate control and offered him a hasty exit to the north by his own means, for which he regrettably, but hastily, accepted. The War between the States was on, and the Fort was to be a key protection point. Some 400 volunteers were placed under the command of a youngster, 26 year old Col. Moses J White. A West Point graduate, second in his class he was appointed a Brevet Second Lieutenant in 1858 only to resign his commission in 1861 to accept a position as First Lieutenant in the Confederate Army Artillery. He also began to suffer serious attacks of epilepsy. Fifty-four of the Confederacy's best cannons were moved to the walls to fend off any Union attack. By 1862, White had been promoted to full Colonel and in command of the defense of the Inlet. North Carolina was not to be spared the ravages of war. Early in 1862 Union forces under General Burnside swept through eastern North Carolina and Beaufort fell. Burnside sent General John Parke to take Fort Macon. It was once said "Where bravery meets technology, bravery often loses", and so it was to pass. With all the strength and power he could muster, Col. White defended his position. Even when gun boats sailed in supporting floating artillery batteries, the Fort continued firing and fighting. But Union forces were armed with the new Parrot rifled cannons and in the 11 hours of continuous bombardment these superbly accurate weapons hit Fort Macon some 560 times according to the official record. It was not because of the shambles such fire had made of the Fort that caused Col. White to capitulate. It was the increasing damage being done to the full magazine room, threatening to detonate and turn the Fort into a large crater that finally caused the Confederate flag to be lowered and a simple white flag run up as a replacement. The early rules of engagement of the Civil War called for such gallantry to be rewarded. The survivors were paroled as prisoners of war and sent walking back to the southern lines with a promise not to engage in the war again. Col. White would continue to contribute to the war effort although epilepsy would continue to destroy his health. He would not live to see the end of the war, dying of the disease in 1865. The Fort would survive for several more decades. In time of war, it would be quickly beefed up and re-outfitted, and then when the threat of war had vanished it would slip back into obscurity and obsolescence, only to be revived again at the next threat to National security. It would never again receive fire from an aggressive force and in 1936 it became North Carolina's first functional State Park. It was temporarily repossessed by the Federal Government during W.W.II to again protect the assets along the coast but at the end of the war reverted back to a State Park, which it remains today. Although raised in NC, I never developed that distinctive drawl so complimentary to a "Tar heel", yet I do love to hear that sound. Should you pass by the Fort, be sure to hit the play button in the commander's quarters and listen to Col. White describe his plight. The story is good, the voice is wonderful.

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