Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Men of Fort Macon

Fort Macon is one of North Carolina's most visited state parks.  Its history is a little odd, actually, so going through the museum is far from boring.  And as Mimi pointed out, "Who can resist a man in a uniform?"   The truth is, I was a bit mesmerized by the recorded voices.  The deep male voices were sultry and languid.  In that sexy southern drawl, the men outlined their duties at the fort and bared their souls with tales of hardship, boredom and home sickness.  I lingered here a little too long listening to the recordings a second time over.  (Two other ladies joined me!)   My travel buddy finally walked in and said, "Oh, so here you are.  I've been looking all over for you."
North Carolina seceded from the union, after the Battle of Fort Sumter, on April 12, 1861.  Two days later a local militia demanded Fort Macon's surrender.  Since the fort was occupied by only a sergeant and his wife who had been acting as caretakers, there wasn't much of a fight.  Three days later, the North Carolina governor ordered seizure of all U.S. Military installations.  When troops arrived at the fort, they were surprised to see it was already in confederate hands.

It did not, however, remain in confederate hands for long.
One year later on April 25, 1862, as part of the largest amphibious operation of the Civil War, it was seized by Union troops as part of the "Burnside Expedition".  Commanded by Union General Ambrose Burnside, the objective of this expedition was to gain control of the islands, sounds and rivers of North Carolina.  The confederates held out for nearly eleven hours and frankly, I'm amazed it took that long.  They were simply outnumbered and outpowered.  The Union's Parrott rifle cannons easily penetrated the forts's walls.  So powerful, they broke through railroad iron and disabled the fort's cannons.  Soldiers, on both sides, watched the bombardment in complete awe.  They had never seen such total destruction before.  Seven confederate soldiers were killed that day; the union lost only one.
Fort Macon was then turned into a military prison.  Most of the prisoners were their own soldiers who had been charged with desertion, theft, alcohol abuse or disciplinary problems.  The routine for the soldiers guarding the prison consisted of drills, inspections and guard duty.  They had a lot of time on their hands so they read, played games, hunted, fished and swam--a far different (but safer)  life than their brothers to the west of them.  Being from the north, their main complaints were of the unbearable heat and humidity and the constant scratching due to bedbugs.

Even after the war, the fort continued to be used as a prison as there were no penitentiaries in the Carolinas.   However, the men's families were finally able to join them.  Cottages were built outside the walls.  The long and costly reconstruction of the south had begun.
"What an ugly outfit," Mimi chimes in.  "Put me in that diorama and I guarantee those men will get their minds off bedbugs."

"I'm sure you would, Scarlet!"
Not only is the history of Fort Macon interesting, but its locale is beautiful.  Surrounded by Bogue Sound and the Beaufort inlet, it's a wonderful place to picnic and to walk on the beach.  While leaving the fort, I couldn't help but think of the men who lived here and how the words of Charles Dickens, although describing a war a century before on another continent, seem so fitting:

  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness . . .

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