Crystal Coast History 101: Fort Macon



Crystal Coast History 101: Fort Macon

Since Fort Macon was named North Carolina State Park of the Year, it got us thinking about the wonderfully rich history that's part of our beautiful Crystal Coast. The Crystal Coast History 101 series is inspired by the local history and is going to spotlight the many historical sites, facts, stories and even some legend of this gorgeous and intriguing part of Eastern North Carolina.

You'll want to follow our Sun-Surf Realty blog to be sure not to miss any of our upcoming Crystal Coast History 101 features. Stay tuned and be ready to share what you learn with your family and friends on your next Emerald Isle beach vacation.

What better place to start than with Fort Macon, since it was recently honored and is always a local and visitor favorite. See what it has to offer!

Fort Macon Facts

Where to begin? Fort Macon has a history that spans centuries. Here are some of the highlights.

Origins of Fort Macon

This part of the eastern North Carolina coastline (the Beaufort Inlet on the eastern end of Bogue Banks) was highly vulnerable to naval attacks in the 18th and 19th centuries from plundering pirates to enemy warships and under constant threat. Blackbeard and other pirates passed through Beaufort Inlet at will, while successive wars with Spain, France and Great Britain during the Colonial Period set the stage for ongoing raids.

North Carolina leaders recognized the need for coastal defenses to prevent future attacks and began efforts to construct forts on the best determined location—the eastern point of Bogue Banks where entrance to the Beaufort Inlet could be closely guarded.

In 1756 construction began there on a small fascine fort known as Fort Dobbs, which was never finished, so the inlet remained undefended during the American Revolution.

The War of 1812 & The Construction of Fort Macon

Fort Macon Musket Firing

The War of 1812 demonstrated the weakness of existing coastal defenses so the U.S. government decided to construct an improved chain of coastal fortifications for national defense. It involved the ambitious construction of thirty-eight new, permanent coastal forts known as the Third System. The forts were built between 1817 and 1865, including Fort Macon as part of this system. Fort Macon guarded Beaufort Inlet and Beaufort Harbor, North Carolina’s only major deep-water ocean port.

Fort Macon was designed by Brig. Gen. Simon Bernard and built by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was named after North Carolina’s eminent statesman of the period, Nathaniel Macon. Construction began in 1826, lasted for eight years, and was completed in December of 1834. Further modifications continued from 1841-46.

Fort Macon During the War Between the States

The War Between the States began on April 12, 1861, so North Carolina Confederate forces occupied the fort for a year, preparing it for battle and arming it with 54 heavy cannons. Early in 1862, Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside swept through eastern NC, and part of Burnside’s command under Brig. Gen. John G. Parke was sent to capture Fort Macon. Colonel Moses J. White and 400 North Carolina Confederates in the fort refused to surrender even though the fort was hopelessly surrounded. On April 25, 1862, Parke’s Union forces bombarded the fort with heavy siege guns for 11 hours, aided by the fire of four Union navy gunboats in the ocean offshore and by floating batteries in the sound to the east. While the fort easily repulsed the Union gunboat attack, the Union land batteries, utilizing new rifled cannons, hit the fort 560 times. There was such extensive damage that Col. White was forced to surrender the following morning, April 26. The Union army held Fort Macon for the remainder of the war.

Fort Macon as a Prison

During the Reconstruction Era, the U.S. Army actively occupied Fort Macon until 1877. For about 11 years, since there were no state or federal penitentiaries in the military district of North and South Carolina, Fort Macon was used as a civil and military prison until 1876.

Regarrisoned for the Spanish-American War

Fort Macon was deactivated after 1877 only to be regarrisoned by state troops once again during the summer of 1898 for the Spanish-American War.

Fort Macon Becomes an NC State Park

In 1903, the U.S.Army completely abandoned the fort. It was not even used during World War I and in 1923 it was offered for sale as surplus military property. However, at the bidding of North Carolina leaders, an Act of Congress gave the fort and surrounding reservation to the state. Fort Macon State Park officially opened on May 1, 1936, as North Carolina’s first functioning state park.

Fort Reoccupied During World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, the U.S. Army leased the park from the state and actively manned the fort with Coast Artillery troops once again to protect a number of important nearby facilities. The fort was occupied from December, 1941, to November, 1944. On October 1, 1946, the Army returned the fort and the park to the state.

Fort Macon Today

Interested in learning more about the rich and diverse history of Fort Macon? Visit the Friends of Fort Macon website. You'll find it is an amazing resource! See why Fort Macon is one of North Carolina’s most visited state parks, receiving more than a million visitors a year.

Fort Macon Events

Experience living history at its finest with the special events hosted by Fort Macon throughout the year. Here are the recurring annual events, but for a complete listing of current Fort Macon State Park events and programs, consult the North Carolina State Parks website. Fort Macon Aerial View

  • Daily Fort Tours: April through October

  • Civil War Reenactments: May through September

  • Musket Firing Demonstrations: Memorial Day through Labor Day

  • Cannon Firings: April through September

  • U.S. Coastguard Fort Macon Evening Gun: June through August

  • Coastal Education & Visitor Center: Open daily 9a.m.–5p.m.

  • Nature Tours & Talks: Call 252-726-3775
  • Fort Hours: Open daily 9a.m. to 5:30p.m, closed Christmas Day

Fort Macon FAQs

How much is the admission fee for Fort Macon?

Admission is free.

What else is there to do at the park in addition to touring the fort?

Fort Macon State Park offers hiking, swimming (in designated areas), fishing, and picnic facilities in addition to the fort, Coastal Education Center & Visitor Center, and bookstore.

What do I need to know about the beach at Fort Macon?

Fort Macon’s beach is a popular source of recreation. A seaside refreshment stand and bathhouse are open June through Labor Day. Lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Due to strong currents, swim only in the protected swimming area. Surfing is not allowed in the protected swimming area. Swimming, wading and surfing are not allowed on the inlet beaches.

Do I have to pay to park?

No. Parking is available free of charge at the state park entrance and at the fort entrance.

You can learn more about Fort Macon State Park and what it has to offer on the North Carolina State Parks website and on the Friends of Fort Macon website.

*Photo Credit: Friends of Fort Macon


What do you love most about Fort Macon and the surrounding state park? The history? The coastal views? The beach? Tell us! We'd love to hear from you.