Fort Macon on Alert During Spanish-American War

An image of Fort Macon from the 1950s now held by the State Archives

An image of Fort Macon from the 1950s now held by the State Archives

On February 15, 1898, Charles L. Abernathy, editor of the Beaufort Herald-Dispatch, wrote to U. S. Senator Marion Butler to point out that North Carolina’s Fort Macon was “in a dilapidated condition with a lone sentry in charge of it.  As you are aware our bar has from 18 to 20 feet of water and this port, in the event of a naval engagement, would be of easy access.”  He also pointed out that other ports along the coast had received defense appropriations “while this one has for some reason been passed by unnoticed.”

Troops preparing for the Spanish American War at the State Fairgrounds in 1898. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

Troops preparing for the Spanish American War at the State Fairgrounds in 1898. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

Ironically, that same night the battleship U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana harbor under suspicious circumstances and became an important factor in the United States’ decision to declare war on Spain in April.  “Remember the Maine” became a U.S. rallying cry during the war.

In Beaufort, residents were uneasy that Fort Macon, which guarded the entrance to Beaufort Harbor, had not been prepared for possible war.  However, Fort Macon’s six remaining Civil War-era cannons were soon remounted. The fort was garrisoned for the Spanish American War by part of a company of U.S. Artillery and the all-black 3rd N.C. Volunteers under Col. James H. Young.

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