All roads lead to Fort Walker? The Port Royal Battle, the Blockade, the Charleston Siege, and the first Gullah town (Hilton Head historic tour)

The Hilton Head Island history is rich and powerful, with the Civil War period as its most fascinating and nation-impacting act. We were lucky to experience it last summer, during the “Forts of Port Royal” tour provided by the Coastal Discovery Museum.

Things to know before you go
• The cost is $12 for adults and $7 for children ages 4-12 (subject to change check the museum website for latest prices). The tour lasts ~1:45 minutes, with the first half hour spent inside Westin Hotel, listening to a

Battle of Port Royal Civil War historic site

Here was fought the largest naval battle in US waters...

historic overview.

This part is the hardest to digest and enjoy by young kids. Amazingly, my then 4 years old, was happy to just doodle on the couch next to me.

• You are expected to drive your own car to Westin (where the tour starts) and the Fort Walker / Fort Sherman ruins inside Port Royal Plantation. Our guide courteously offered to drive us in his car, which we did.

• There is not much left of Fort Walker, just some earthen mounds surrounded by huge oak trees. The only visible ruins are from Fort Sherman (built on top on Fort Walker). However, the views of the Port Royal Sound are spectacular! Added bonus you can catch a glimpse of Ted Turner’s personal island…

• It gets very hot during summer. Bring a hat and water; wear sunscreen and insect repellent. Once on the fort grounds there is very little walk involved.

Incredible facts and funny trivia about the Port Royal Battle and Hilton Head
• Before the Civil War, South Carolina was one of the richest states. Thanks to its staple crop, the extra long and super fine Sea Island cotton, Hilton Head was believed to house the world’s most millionaires per square feet!

Port Royal forts ruins

Civil War Battle of Port Royal

• Fort Walker was the first fort built on the island, near the spot claimed by British Captain William Hilton during its famous expedition in 1663.

Erected in a hurry in 1861, the fort was meant to protect the South Carolina coast against Union attacks.

• On November 7, 1861, the “Battle of Port Royal” became the largest naval battle ever fought in American waters. 18 Union warships and 55 supporting craft led by Admiral S. F. DuPont, carrying 13,000 troops, 1500 horses, 500 surf boats, and 1,000 laborers, bombarded for over 4 hours Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard.

• The Battle of Port Royal established Hilton Head as the headquarters for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, started the war-long attack on Charleston, and led to the creation of Mitchelville, the first town developed specifically for the newly freed slaves.

Mitchelville became the birth of the rich Gullah culture and was also the sight of the first mandatory education system in the United States!

A bloody family affair – The Confederate troops were under the command

Fish Hall Plantation design at Port Royal Sound

Modern day replica of Drayton-Pope Fish Hall Plantation home

of General Thomas F. Drayton, a prominent local plantation owner, politician, and president of the very profitable Charleston – Savannah railroad.

Amazingly, his brother Commander Percival Drayton will lead the Union Navy attack, including the USS Pocahontas, which was credited to have inflicted the most damage during the battle!

• Despite heavy bombardments there were less than 100 casualties, a significant low number by later Civil War battles standards.

• Following the battle, close to 50,000 Union troops were quartered on the island, more than the number of today’s residents!

• The U.S. Customs House on Robbers Row street, conducted enormous amounts of business as dozens of ships entered the port monthly from as far away as Boston. It is said that most of the goods were sold on the black market to the Confederates…

Here is the virtual tour of Fort Walker:

If you are really into Civil War fort battles, then drive 1 hour south to Savannah and visit the legendary Fort Pulaski. There are live cannon and musket firings in the weekends. Admission to the park is less then $5 (free for kids).


6 Responses

  1. […] great way to see Fort Walker at Port Royal Plantation and learn about Civil War is to take the “Forts at Port Royal” guided tour provided by […]

  2. My intention is to visit the island when I’m over from the UK in November. This is part of my own family’s history -especially the two Drayton brothers who were my ancestors. Do you ever wonder what it would be like to just sit down and talk with people from the past? What kind of people were they? What sort of idea can we get for example from any surviving correspondence? It is SO important that we record preferably audiovisually the memories of older generations. I cannot emphasize that enough!! All the best, Bill Drayton.

  3. Hello!

    Thank you for stopping by. I agree it will be a wonderful experience to talk with your distant relatives and connect with your ancestors.

    When you come to US, try to visit the Drayton Hall home and plantation near Charleston (about 1 hour drive from Hilton Head). You will find lots of artifacts, photos, and documents about your family. I’m sure the people who manage the house will be delighted to meet you.

    More info at:

    Phone +1-843-769-2600

    Have a great trip!

  4. Hi!

    I’ve been in contact with the folks at Drayton Hall for many years. I’ve visited the place on numerous occasions. In fact I’ve a point of going there each time I was in Charleston over the last 5 years. I’m looking forward very much to my first visit to Hilton Head. I’ve been in touch with Dr Emory Campbell, and aim to go on one of their tours, which will include the site of Fish Haul Plantation, and so Mitchelville, as well as the nearby Drayton cemetery.

    All the best,

    Bill Drayton.

    • Seems like you have it all covered! It’s wonderful to be able to connect with your old roots.
      Good luck and best of times visiting Hilton Head!


  5. […] Head Island was captured by Union forces on November 7, 1861 after the Battle of Port Royal. The enormous amphibious invasion force, the largest until World War II, consisted of 77 ships (15 […]

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