Fort Caswell, North Carolina
The North Carolina Militia took
possession of Fort Caswell
three months before Southern
troops fired on Fort Sumter.
(Photograph by Heather LaBone) - Fort Caswell, North Carolina - Fort Caswell, North Carolina
Fort Caswell from the Air
The outline of the old citadel of Fort Caswell can
still be seen from the air. The 19th century fort
played a roll in the CIvil War.
(USGS Photo)
Battery at Fort Caswell
The long structure in the
center of this aerial photo is a
post-Civil War artillery battery
at Fort Caswell.
(USGS Photo)
Battle of Fort Fisher
The capture of Fort Fisher on
January 15, 1865, led to the
evacuation of Fort Caswell
just two days later.
(U.S. Navy Historical Center)
Oak Island Lighthouse
North Carolina's newest
lighthouse, completed in
1958, stands on the tip of Oak
Island adjacent to the ruins of
Fort Caswell.
(Photograph by Heather LaBone)
Fort Caswell - Oak Island, North Carolina
Swords to Plowshares...
Guarding the Cape Fear River from the end
of Oak Island, Fort Caswell was an important
defender of the North Carolina coast during
the 19th and early 20th century. Today it
exemplifies the beating of swords into
plowshares, serving as a coastal retreat and
conference center for the North Carolina
Baptist Convention.

Please note that the fort is not open the
general public because it is used as a retreat
and center by the Baptist Church.

Because the defenses of the Cape Fear
River was insufficient, the U.S. Congress
authorized funds for the construction of Fort
Caswell in 1825. Building of the original fort,
a strong brick structure, began the following
year and continued until 1836. It was named
for Governor Richard Caswell, a North
Carolina hero of the American Revolution.

Designed in the shape of a pentagon and
intended to mount 61 cannon, Fort Caswell
was constructed to defend the lower Cape
Fear and the major port of Wilmington from
enemy attack. For 25 years it served this
purpose, but in 1861 everything changed.

As the Southern states began to secede from
the Union, concerns grew in the area that the
guns of Fort Caswell might become a base
for operations against local communities,
homes and families. A local military
organization, the Cape Fear Minutemen
moved on the fort, seizing it from the only
person stationed there, a lone U.S. Army

Trying to avoid a military confrontation with
the United States Government before his
state decided its direction in the secession
crisis, Governor John Willis Ellis ordered the
fort returned to its caretaker. When President
Abraham Lincoln declined to evacuate Fort
Sumter in Charleston Harbor prompting a
Confederate bombardment of that fort,
however, North Carolina troops again took
Fort Caswell.

For the next four years, the fort was part of the
Confederacy's tiered defenses of the Cape
Fear River. In conjunction with Fort Fisher,
Fort Holmes, Fort Johnson, Fort Anderson
and other defenses, Fort Caswell helped
keep the Cape Fear and Wilmington open to
blockade running until 1865. The Union
contemplated a number of different attacks
on the fort but none were actually carried out.
Not a single person was killed at the fort by
enemy fire during the entire Civil War.

When Fort Fisher on nearby Federal Point fell
to a combined land and sea assault on
January 15, 1865, Confederate authorities
ordered the evacuation of Fort Caswell. Two
days later the barracks of the fort went up in
flames set fire to the wooden parts of the fort
and marched away. The sound of Caswell's
exploding gunpowder magazines could be
heard 100 miles away and the explosion
demolished an entire wall of the original fort.
The fall of the forts at the mouth of the Cape
Fear River closed the river to blockade
running, shutting off a vital source of supplies
for the Confederate army. Most historians
believe that it was the blow that began the
final collapse and surrender of General
Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

When the threat of war with Spain emerged
during the 1890s, the U.S. Army again built
defenses at Fort Caswell. Concrete mortar
and rapid fire gun batteries centered around
the ruins of the old fort, but never came under
fire during either the Spanish American War
or World War I.

After being used as a station to watch for
enemy submarines during World War II, Fort
Caswell was declared surplus property by
the U.S. Government.

Now owned by the North Carolina Baptist
Convention, the North Carolina Baptist
Assembly at Fort Caswell is a retreat and
conference center and is not open to the
general public.
Please click here to visit their
website for more information.

If you are visiting the area, however, be sure
to see the adjacent
Oak Island Lighthouse,
the grounds of which are open to the public
and provides an outstanding view of the river
that Fort Caswell was built to defend.

Also of interest are the many historic sites in
nearby Southport and North Carolina's oldest
lighthouse, Old Baldy, across the channel on
Bald Head Island (accessible by ferry from
Color Photos by Heather LaBone
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.