Fort Macon (1834-1877, 1898-1903, 1941-1945) - A U.S. Army Third System masonry fort begun in 1826 and first garrisoned in Dec 1834. Named after Nathaniel Macon, 6th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senator from North Carolina. Abandoned by the U.S. Army in 1903 but reoccupied by U.S. Army troops from Dec 1941 to Nov 1944 during World War II and finally returned to the state 1 Oct 1946.
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.
U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)
The fort was in the hands of a caretaker when the U.S. Civil War began on 12 Apr 1861. The North Carolina Militia seized control of the fort two days later and began upgrading the armament in anticipation of a Union attack. The fort remained in Confederate hands for a year before Union forces under Brigadier General John G. Parke mounted a siege. The siege included land base gun and mortar batteries south of the fort, a fleet of gunboats offshore and floating batteries in the sound. Some of the Union land batteries were using the new rifled cannon and their fire proved too much for the masonry fort. When the fort's magazines became exposed and vulnerable, the Confederate fort commander, Colonel Moses J. White, surrendered on 26 Apr 1862. The fort remained in Union hands for the duration of the war.
After the war, the fort became a Federal prison for both civilian and military prisoners. In 1877 the fort was placed back in caretaker status.
Endicott Period (1890-1910)
In 1898, during the Spanish American War, the fort was garrisoned by North Carolina troops briefly. The importance of the sound and Beaufort harbor had declined and Fort Macon was not selected to receive any of the Endicott Period concrete gun batteries. Older guns were remounted and batteries reactivated that included two 100-pounder Parrott rifles, two 10" siege mortars and two 12-pounder field guns. By 10 Oct 1903 the fort is listed as having no armament and in poor condition with a number of arches about to fall owing to the irregular settlement of the foundation. The fort was completely abandoned in 1903.
On 4 Jun1924 President, Calvin Coolidge signed into law a bill that gave the State of North Carolina the Fort Macon Military Reservation except for the area occupied by the Coast Guard Station for the sum of $1. The reservation became the second state park in North Carolina. During the depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on the fort and on the infrastructure to support it and on 1 May 1936, the park was opened to the public.
World War II (1941-1945)
Fort Macon was taken over by the Federal government and regarrisoned during World War II. A $1 per year lease arrangement with return rights to the State was negotiated and Federal troops arrived 21 Dec 1941. The Temporary Harbor Defense of Beaufort Inlet was created by the First Battalion of the 244th Coast Artillery. Battery B with four, 155mm GPF guns in field mounts was set up just southwest of the old fort. Battery A was set up 2.5 miles west of Atlantic Beach off Salter Path Road also with four, 155mm GPF guns in field mounts. The Headquarters Battery set up shop in the old fort casemates. The guns were proof fired 27 Dec 1941.
The 155mm battery by the old fort was replaced in 1942 by a battery of two 6" Navy guns on pedestal mounts in concrete emplacements with a concrete BC station. The 6" battery was completed 26 Nov 1942. A battery of two 5" Navy guns at Cape Lookout replaced the other battery of 155mm guns. The 5" battery was completed 17 Sep 1942. An HECP station was placed on top of the old fort to control marine traffic through the Beaufort Inlet. A cantonment of barracks and support buildings was later set up outside the walls of the old fort.
In October 1944 the troops were withdrawn and the Temporary Harbor Defense of Beaufort Inlet was deactivated. The post was turned over to the Engineering Department for disposal on 1 Apr 1945.
On 1 Oct 1946, the lease expired and the reservation was returned to the State of North Carolina.
Restored and operating as Fort Macon State Park. Three replica cannons on carriages and two original 10" siege mortars in place. Exceptional visitor center/museum/gift shop. No admission charge. Not pet-friendly. Must see!
Visited: 17 Mar 2012, 19 Mar 2012