Fort Howell Civil War historic site, a Hilton Head free family attraction

Hilton 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 warships), 13,000 troops, 1,500 horses and tons of materials needed to establish the headquarters for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Three years later Fort Howell was built by black Union Army troops to protect Mitchelville, the first town in the South developed specifically for the thousands of newly freed slaves.

Fort Howell historic site is located near the intersection of Beach City Road and Dillon, right across from Hilton Head Airport. Admission is free, the site is open daily from dawn to dusk and it takes about 15-20 minutes to cover all the grounds.

Built by U.S. Troops to protect Mitcheville the first freedmen town in the South

Fort Howell full layout



Fort Howell historic highlights:

• The earthen fort was named after Gen. Joshua Howell, who was killed in the battle of Richmond.
• The newly arrived 500 members of the 32nd U.S. Colored Regiment from Pennsylvania, under the command of Col. Baird and the 144th New York Infantry, were assigned the task of building the fort.
• Fort Howell was built in the middle of a large cotton field near the Port Royal Sound, on 3 acres of land once part of the Fish Hall Plantation of William Pope.
• It was designed for 27 guns, 11 field pieces and 16 siege guns.

After building the fort, the 32nd U.S. Colored Regiment participated in the Battle of Honey Hill, on November 30, 1864, sustain 51 casualties.

Bridge over moat at Fort Howell built in 1864

Traverse and moat

The first black troops in the Union Army enlisted on Hilton Head Island in 1862. Initially, men were reluctant to join the army, not wanting to leave their families and risk being captured by the Confederates which meant a return to slavery and death. Also, many Union troops were openly hostile to escaped slaves. To encourage recruits Gen. Hunter issued a pass to those joining the army:

“Now, be it known to all that, agreeable to the laws, I declare the said person free and forever absolved from all claims to its services. Both he and his wife and his children have full right to go North, South, East, West as they may decide.” D. Hunter Major General Commanding. April 19, 1862.

At the top of the North Bastion

North Bastion location

The unit was disbanded months later. Congress did not allow black men to serve until 1863, when the unit was officially organized as the South Carolina First Regiment. The men in the unit were former slaves from South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

By the end of the Civil War, 179,000 blacks in the Union Army and 20,000 in the Navy have fought for freedom and the end of slavery.

Whats left of Fort Howell at Port Royal sound

What remains from Fort Howell’s earthen fortifications

Moss covered trees at Fort Howell Hilton Head

Peaceful trail withing Fort Howell historic site

More historic sites in the area (data and map from Historical Markers Database website)
• Mitchelville site
• St. James Baptist Church
Battle of Port Royal
• Fish Hall Plantation
• Thomas Fenwick Drayton
• Two Gallant Gentlemen from South Carolina

Here is the map, all markers are within 1 mile from Fort Howell and have free admission.

Advertisements

Free and romantic Hilton Head attractions: mysterous Leamington Lighthouse, a ghost legend and military treasure

Featured on the National Register of Historic Places, the Leamington Lighthouse, is a legendary historic site on Hilton Head Island.

1881 Lighthouse belived to be haunted by light keeper's daughter ghost

1881 Lighthouse belived to be haunted by light keeper's daughter ghost


Originally known as the Hilton Head Range Light Station, the unusual skeleton and cypress wood structure was built to guide ships into Port Royal Sound.

It is the only historic lighthouse on Hilton Head Island and one of few surviving lighthouses in South Carolina

Historic Highlights (courtesy of Friends of the Lighthouse)

• In 1863 Union troops built the island first light, but only 6 years later the original tower was destroyed by a storm.

• In 1881 a pair of range lights was erected to guide vessels into Port Royal Sound. The front light stood 35 feet high right above the keeper’s house while the rear light was served by the 95 feet high skeleton-like tower. The cypress wood lantern and watch room were reached by climbing 112 steps.

• In 1884, a mobile front range light was constructed to track the shifting channel.

Lighthouse cistern ruin

Lighthouse cistern ruin


• In 1932 the lights were decommissioned and during World War II the surrounding area became Camp McDougal, a training facility for Marines men, dogs and horses.

• In the 1960s, the keeper’s dwellings were moved to Harbour Town at Sea Pines Plantation Resort.

Currently, one dwelling serves as a Bakery and Cafe, while the other is home to the Sea Pines Real Estate Company.

• In the mid 1980s the lighthouse was incorporated into the new Arthur Hills Golf Course at Palmetto Dunes Resort.

• Today the only remains are the old brick oil house and the cistern.

The Lady in Blue Ghost Story… (from “Ghosts of the Carolina Coasts”, by Terrance Zepke, 1999)

In 1898 a powerful hurricane washed over the island. Keeper Adam Fripp rushed to protect the lights.

Drenched in heavy rain, Fripp made his way to the tower and up the spiral staircase. A powerful gust of wind shattered one of the glass panes in the lantern room.

The strain of the ascent coupled with the shock of the exploding glass was more than Fripp’s heart could handle.

What was once Camp McDougal WWII, a Marines training site

What was once Camp McDougal WWII, a Marines training site

His daughter Caroline noticed her father’s prolonged absence and went in search of him.

She discovered him inside the tower who, with a last breath, implored her to “keep the light burning no matter how dangerous the storm.”

Several days passed before anyone made it to the island. Caroline had managed to tend the light throughout the storm, but her sorrow and exhaustion proved too much, as she died shortly thereafter.

People say that on dark rainy nights a girl in a blue dress may be seen on the beach or near the skeleton tower signaling with her arms to “Go back… Go back”.

Avid for more ghost stories and romantic sites? Drive to Sea Pines Plantation to wander around the haunted Stoney-Baynard Ruins and 4,000 years old mystery-filled Indian Shell Ring.

Life is good at Sea Pines! Hilton Head free fun things to do with kids

On our second Hilton Head vacation I finally got a chance to explore the amazing Sea Pines Forest Preserve.

On the Buggy Gut swamp trail

On the Buggy Gut swamp trail


Admission is free, however visitors need $5 all day guest pass to get inside the Sea Pines Plantation.

In less than 2 hours we came close to alligators, anhingas and blue herons, and stepped back in time along the old Lawton rice fields and the prehistoric Indian shell ring.

That’s about all the outdoor trekking my 5 year old could take…so I drove to the Harbor Town playground, her favorite spot at Sea Pines.

Fun things to do and see

• Walk or bike on the historic trails through lush maritime forests and around pristine lakes. The most popular one is the 1 mile Boggy Gut board walk that takes you along an 1840 rice fields operation. Here is a detailed map along with the preserve overview.

• Admire the abundant wildlife, plants and trees. Common reptiles: alligators, snakes (copperhead, cottonmouth, black racer, Eastern King and yellow rat) and yellow-bellied turtles. The forest is a bird paradise, home or winter rest to over 200 species. Popular plants are the cat tail, saw grass, swamp willow, duck weed and marsh perry-wart.

Cute baby alligator resting on a log at Sea Pines

Cute baby alligator resting on a log at Sea Pines

• Fish at one of the several freshwater lakes inside the preserve. Only children can fish at Lake Joe. You can drive or walk to Fish Island. There are picnic tables, a shelter and restrooms. Permits can be for free obtained at the CSA Security Office. More info by phone at (843) 671-7170.

Organized “catch and release” fishing is provided by Sea Pines Plantation guides on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 10:30 AM. Fish for large mouth bass, crappie, bream and catfish with tackle provided by Shakespeare. Reservations are required, call (843) 842-1979.

Family fun fishing at Lake Joe

Family fun fishing at Lake Joe

• Walk around a replica of a 4,000 years old Native American ceremonial site made out of oyster shells. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Indian Shell Ring remains a mystery as no signs of permanent settlements have been found to date. Experts believe the area was used only for celebrations and hunting rituals.

In the middle of a 4,000 years old shell ring replica

In the middle of a 4,000 years old shell ring replica

Tips to know before you go
• Bring a bug spray! No see ums and mosquitoes really own the place. Apply sunscreen generously every 2 hours.
• Make sure to carry water with you, there are no water fountains around (at least none that I could see / use)
• Expect the unexpected…you never know what wildlife you may encounter. Some attractions look better on paper (like the shell ring)… while pleasant surprises pop up at every corner (we ran into a Christmas Present poem, a funny buck head like tree stomp and a baby gator)

Hi there Anhinga bird!

Hi there Anhinga bird!

Spend an hour with the earth and her nature
And I promise that you will surely see
The truest meaning of the season
The one best present you could receive
– The Christmas Gift

Make sure to also visit the rewarding Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn plantation for nature and turtle walks, exclusive history tours and beautiful butterflies! (admission is free, donations welcome)

Here is a virtual tour of our favorite historic sites you can visit on Hilton Head Island.

Live curious in the South Carolina Lowcouuntry!