Federals In Port Royal Sound

The Civil War in Beaufort Co:
Hilton Head, Port Royal, Beaufort Town

The first meeting to draft the Ordinance of Secession (by which South Carolina led the withdrawal of the Southern states from the Union) was held at the Milton Maxey House in Beaufort, known today as the Secession House. As a result, Beaufort was an early target of the Federal forces.

South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. In November, 1861, a Federal fleet circled Port Royal Sound, firing at all settlements in the area. By noon of Novermber 7th, the Confederates knew the battle for the area was lost, and fled before the Union forces. Hilton Head Island fell. Pinckney Island was occupied soon afterward. Nearly 80 Union ships had sailed from Virginia to Port Royal carrying almost 14 Thousand troops and laborers and 1500 horses to begin the blockade of the South. Victory that day for the Union meant freedom for 1,000 slaves on the sea islands.

Union Gen. Isaac Stevens occupied Beaufort on the evening of December 11, 1861 --less than a year after secesion. Beaufort town would remain occupied by Federal forces for the rest of the war. Homes were confiscated and used by the Union, but not destroyed. Because of this, an uncommon amount of its historic beauty remains intact.

Fort Mitchel was built on Hilton Head in 1862. It was named for General Ormsby Mitchel, a well liked leader, who died of malaria that year. Hilton Head Island became headquarters for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Eventually, Union Forces reached 50,000 on the island. The blockade of Savannah was accomplished, preventing the Confederacy from exporting cotton and importing supplies from Europe.

Black males on Hilton Head Island and in the surrounding areas were pressed into service, becoming the first black troops for the Union. General Mitchel, before his death, began construction of adequate housing for several thousand homeless slaves who had gathered on the island since the War began. Mitchelville, the first freedman's village in the United States, was established along the present day Beach City Road area. It had almost 1,500 residents. Also, the first school in the South for freed slaves was established during the Civil War at what is now Penn Center on St. Helena Island.

General William Tecumseh Sherman's march through the state at the war's end left a trail of destruction that brushed Beaufort County. The war, while not ruining the area physically, had claimed one fifth of the white male population of the state and its economy was shattered. Poverty would mark the area and the state well into the 1900's.

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