Battle of Port Royal, SC

Photos/text courtesy of Mike Stroud, Bluffton, SC
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1. Battle of Port Royal: Wikipedia
2. Battle of Port Royal

3. Port Royal Expedition
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Battle of Port Royal
On the morning of November 7, 1861, Du Pont's flagship, the Wabash led the fleet into action. As the Union vessels near the sound Confederate batteries at Forts Walker and Beauregard opened fire. Du Pont, having sent ships to test the enemy's capabilities the day before, concentrated most of his fire on the more heavily armed Fort Walker.
For several hours Union warships dueled the Confederate forts. Shells ripped through Fort Walker, dismounting guns, and killing or wounding some of the garrison. Though valiantly served, the Confederate guns did little harm to the constantly moving ships.
Cutting the Lifeline
At the outset of the Civil War, Federal strategists knew that a naval blockade of southern ports was crucial to stop the influx of supplies from abroad which the South depended upon to conduct war. It would also slow the exportation of goods funding the South.
Situated between the seaports of Savannah and Charleston, Port Royal Sound was an excellent base from which to carry out a naval blockade.
Confederate planners knew the importance of Port Royal Sound. To defend it they constructed two large, earthen forts at its entrance; Fort Walker on Hilton Head Island and Fort Beauregard on Bay Point. Combined they mounted nearly 50 guns.
A Difficult Passage
On October 29, 1861 the largest fleet yet assembled by the United States, under the command of Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont, set sail from Hampton Roads, Virginia. Nearly 13,000 soldiers and Marines accompanied the17 warships, 25 coaling schooners and 33 transports, but their destination had been kept secret.

Three days out to sea, a tremendous gale off Cape Hatteras scattered the fleet and four ships were lost. Opening sealed orders provided in the event the convoy was dispersed, each vessel plotted its own course to a rendezvous point off Port Royal Sound. By November 3, the majority of the squadron had arrived.
Preparing the Attack
As the Union fleet assembled, it was first challenged by four Confederate vessels commanded by Josiah Tattnall. Vastly out-armed, the Southern gunboats continued to contest the advance Union warships for two days while Du Pont positioned the fleet against General Thomas Drayton's coastal fortifications.
Du Pont's innovative plan divided his warships into two parallel squadrons. The vessels would sail into Port Royal Sound between two enemy forts. Once past the defenses, one column would guard against Confederate gunboats while the other circled back in an elliptical maneuver, bombarding the forts into submission.
Brother Against Brother
In a war of divided loyalties, sometimes brother did face brother in battle. Thomas Drayton's younger brother, Percival Drayton, commanded the Pocahontas, which fired more than 70 rounds in one hour at his brother's troops on shore. Confederate Colonel John A. Wagener described the battle from his vantage point at Fort Walker: "The enemy had chosen a day which was entirely propitious to him. The water was smooth as glass. The air was just sufficient to blow the smoke of his guns into our faces, where it would meet the column of our own smoke and prevent our sight excepting by glimpses. No sooner did we obtain his range when it would be changed, and time after time rechanged, while the deep water permitted him to choose his own position and fire shot after shot and shell after shell with the precision of target practice."
Southern resistance continued until mid afternoon when their ammunition ran low, and little damage had been inflicted on the attacking fleet. With many of their guns dismounted, and in danger of being trapped. the decision was made to abandon Forts Walker and Beauregard and retreat inland. Port Royal Sound had been secured by the Union.
For the remainder of the war the area served as Union headquarters for the army's Department of the South and navy's South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, which patrolled the South Carolina, Georgia and east Florida coast.

Sponsor- Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island


(2009) Enlarge Interpretive sign on Hilton Head Island
Enlarged Views: Hit Back Button to Return

(2009) Enlarge Looking toward Port Royal Sound



(2009) Enlarge Battle of Port Royal marker (1961)


(2009) Enlarge Port Royal Sound as seen from Hilton Head Island


(2009) Enlarge Fort Walker marker (1961)


(2009) Enlarge US Navy pivot gun interpretive sign

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