Fort Anderson played an important role during the Civil War in North Carolina. The fort was built upon the site of a Revolutionary war era port known as Brunswick Town. British soldiers destroyed the fort in 1776, leaving the area vacant until the construction of Fort Anderson. Confederate forces used the fort as a part of the major defense against Union soldiers. Cape Fear River was a prominent thoroughfare for the military, and an active port throughout the war between the states.
Port of Brunswick
The port town was created and named Brunswick in 1726. The son of a South Carolina territorial governor, Maurice Moore founded the town and named it in honor of George I – King of England. The busy shipping port was primary used for transporting “sticky gold” throughout the United States, the Caribbean and Europe. “Sticky Gold” was a substance obtained from Longleaf pines and was an integral part in ship building. The turpentine, pitch and tar were commonly referred to as “Naval Stores.”
The seaside village grew into a bustling economy and became a political hub for the Colonial Assembly. Tensions over the right of the English government to local merchants in 1765. The European representatives at the port backed down on the tax, and ceased collections from the shipping industry and related village businesses.
Revolutionary War Era
In 1770 an economic decline in Brunswick, due to the increased growth in the town of Wilmington and the royal governor’s decision to relocate. Local historians believe British soldiers burned the village down in 1776 as they came ashore to thwart the colonial resistance. The area fell to ruin with nothing but rotting lumber and scorched stone marking what was once a shining star in the shipping industry.
Civil War Era
In the spring of 1861 a large fort began to take shape on the abandoned land. The Confederacy sought to build a fortification to defend the Wilmington area and ensure the safe passage of supply vessels along the Cape Fear River. The fort was first named Fort St. Phillips and consisted of massive sand bunkers and several artillery batteries. Five canons were placed strategically along the shore, overlooking the water to provide protection for blockade running ships.
During the winter of 1865 Union platoons marched toward Fort Anderson with a desire to overpower the protectors of the river. Fort Fisher had already fallen, weakening the Confederate stronghold along the coast. Three bloody days of fighting took place at Fort Anderson, with Union forces attacking the Confederate soldiers from both land and river. The southern soldiers vacated the fort under the cover of nightfall. Union sailors pointed their gunboats and began firing at what they thought were Confederate soldiers inside the fort. Unaware that the opposition had evacuated and they were firing on their own brothers in arms a series of frantic activity ensued inside the fort. Once the sailors saw white sheets waving near the top of the walls, they soon discovered deadly force was no longer needed.
Lt. General James Longstreet and his Confederate troops made their way south to the remaining strongholds to fight on for the cause of state’s rights. The fighting at Fort Anderson was also referred to as the Battle of Deep Gully and was a part of Longstreet’s Tidewater Operations initiative. Union soldiers moved on toward Wilmington after a small battle near Town Creek. The port city of Wilmington fell into Union hands on February 22, 1865.
Archaeologists scoured the grounds of the old Brunswick port and Fort Anderson area from the latter years of the 1950’s through the early 1960’s. The historical investigators discovered relics and artifacts dating back over 100 years. The remaining brick walls of the St. Philip’s Anglican Church strike an imposing pose on the grounds. The structure dates back to 1754. Tour the Russellborough foundation, which was once used by the territories’ royal governors, also dating back to the Revolutionary War era.
The Fort Anderson Visitor Center offers historical displays from both the pre-Revolutionary War era village and the Civil War fort. Visitors are greeted by a wall mural which depicts an attack on the port village in 1748. In 1986 a Revolutionary War cannon was discovered in the river, and is now proudly on display inside the visitor center. The cannon is believed to have once been a part of the artillery on the Spanish sailing vessel, the Fortuna. The ship was blown up during a battle in which the citizens of Brunswick regain control of the port during the Revolutionary War.
Fort Anderson Grounds
Self-guided walking tours of Fort Anderson allow visitors to walk through history and explore earthen mounds built for protection by Confederate soldiers. While walking around the grounds you will also discover the remains for colonial buildings which were once a part of the prosperous port town. Wooden placards are located throughout the park detailing what occurred on the various batteries and mounds.
Each year bands of Civil War re-enactors converge on Fort Anderson to bring the three day battle back to life. The two day event, held during late February includes battles reenactment on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The first battle scene depicts “The Fight for Fort Anderson” and the second centers around “The Battle of Town Creek.” Additional activities during the 1865 Coastal Carolina Campaign living history saga includes night lantern tours of the grounds, a military hospital display, church services on Sunday morning and an outdoor Civil War outdoor lecture series. Proceeds from the benefit aid the maintenance and upkeep of the Fort Anderson Civil War artifacts and gun batteries.