The blue & gray: Civil War sesquicentennial comes to the Lowcountry
28 Oct 2011
Cannon balls whirled through the early morning air of Port Royal Sound on Nov. 7, 1861, as the largest United States Navy fleet ever assembled at that point simultaneously attacked Fort Walker on Hilton Head and Fort Beauregard on Bay Point near St. Helena Island.
The fleet, accompanied by a flotilla of transports carrying Federal troops, steamed into the waters off the north end of Hilton Head 150 years ago with every intention of invading and occupying Beaufort, Hilton Head and the Sea Islands and setting up bases to conquer the rebellious Southerners, who earlier in the year had captured Fort Sumter in Charleston and won a decisive battle at Bull Run.
The Yankees were not in a good mood, and the fleet’s looping movement through the sound battered the forts into submission within hours. The rebels fled north to Beaufort from Fort Beauregard and west off of Hilton Head into the Bluffton area.
Northerners and Southerners these days are on better terms, and from Dec. 1 - Dec. 4 Civil War enthusiasts and American history buffs will come together peacefully to observe those early months of the War Between the States.
The ambitious commemoration will focus on the first year of the war in the Lowcountry, including the Battle of Port Royal, the occupation of the Sea Islands and the Federal blockades of Beaufort, Charleston and Savannah, said Natalie Hefter, vice president of programs for the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn on Hilton Head.
The Coastal Discovery Museum began planning the local commemoration in the spring of 2010, and met with members of the Lowcountry Civil War Roundtable to organize the event, she said. In all, she estimates that 50 volunteers and staff from various groups have signed on to help bring the commemoration to life.
“We are extremely pleased to have put together a first-rate group of speakers for our event and many special events for the weekend,” Hefter said. “Historians involved are nationally-known and are well known in Civil War circles for their expertise.”
The four-day event will include six lectures, a cruise of the Battle of Port Royal site narrated by Charleston author and historian Michael D. Coker, theatrical performances, exhibitions at the Coastal Discovery Museum, military encampment reenactments, small skirmish reenactments and displays and tours by several local historical organizations, tours of historic Bluffton, Historic Beaufort Foundation’s Verdier House, tours of Mitchelville, and genealogical and artifact symposiums by the Heritage Library Foundation and the Archaeological Society of South Carolina.
Participating partners for the commemoration are the Beaufort Country Historical Society, Beaufort History Museum, Archaeology Society of South Carolina, Historic Beaufort Foundation, Bluffton Historic Preservation Society, Heritage Library Foundation, Hilton Head Island Land Trust, Mitchelville Preservation Project, Port Royal Plantation and the University of South Carolina-Beaufort.
Lectures will be held either at the Coastal Discovery Museum, or if registration numbers exceed capacity, at the Westin on Hilton Head.
The living history encampment and the exhibition are free and open to the public during the museum’s regular hours. For complete and detailed event schedules, click here.
Daily tickets and four-day passes will allow participants to attend the many events, as well as any other activities hosted by the commemoration’s partners (see below for the rundown).
All of these activities — 150 years after the fact — begs the question, why still all the interest?
“I think a lot of it is the incredible amount of information available about the Civil War, and so many sites are accessible to the public,” said the Lowcountry Civil War Roundtable’s Robert Eberly, a veteran of several Civil War reenactments. “And, then you had Ken Burns’ wonderful documentary on PBS several years ago. I became interested in the Civil War as a youngster growing up in Pittsburgh. The family would drive to Atlantic City for vacations, and we’d stop at Gettysburg, and my dad would walk me around the battlefields. I caught the bug early.”
Nowadays, the Hilton Head resident doesn’t take sides. “I’m a retired lawyer, so I’ve tried to look at the Civil War from an objective, historical perspective.”
The commemoration is being marketed locally, regionally and nationally, Hefter and Eberly said. “We’re hoping several hundred people register for the four days of events, and we have 20 to 30 people for each tour,” Hefter said. “Overall, for all the events and free community activities, we hope that several thousand people will be able to learn more about the Civil War.”
“All along the way, we wanted to involve other organizations and partners in the commemoration to try to put the Hilton Head/Bluffton area on the map as being an important place historically (and) to promote this area as having a wealth of historical and cultural organizations that protect, honor, preserve and interpret our area’s history,” Hefter said.
Coker, historian, author and former curator of the visual materials collection at the South Carolina Historical Society from 2000 to 2009, said he’s looking forward to the Beaufort County Civil War commemoration.
“This is one of the best, well-planned and ambitious commemorations I’ve seen,” Coker said. “And there is plenty to talk about and study right there in the Hilton Head and Beaufort areas. One fascinating aspect of those early months of the war is that Gen. Robert E. Lee was right up the road, in Pocotaligo, directing and organizing the defenses of the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, which the South depended upon heavily. Much of the strategy of the Union’s occupation of Hilton Head and Beaufort was to get at
Which, by the way, the Yankees never did — at least not until Sherman finally arrived in Savannah in the winter of 1864.
By Mark Kreuswiezer
Behind the scenes at our cover shoot:
Click here to watch the video.
Schedule of events
Thursday, Dec. 1
Lecture, “The South Prepares for Invasion” – Dr. James Robertson, Jr., retired professor, Virginia Tech and Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, Blacksburg, Va.
Lecture, “Setting the Stage: Plantation Era and Beaufort County’s Preparation for War” – Dr. Steve Wise, Parris Island Museum.
Evening theatrical performance “The Road Home” at Hilton Head High School Performing Arts Center, compiled by Clarence Felder, directed by Chris Weatherhead, produced by Actors’ Theatre of South Carolina.
Exhibitions at the Verdier House, Historic Beaufort Foundation – guided tours Thursday, Friday and Saturday, given on the half hour. www.historicbeaufort.org,
“Finding Historic Mitchelville” panel discussion and tour by the Mitchelville Preservation Project and a tour by the Hilton Head Island Land Trust. www.mitchelvillepreservationproject.com
Bluffton Historic District walking tour by the Bluffton Historic Preservation Society. Guided tour of Bluffton’s National Register Historic District includes a 30-minute tour of the Heyward House and an hour walk through old town. www.heywardhouse.org, 843-757-6293
Friday, Dec. 2
Lecture, “Secession and the Fire Eaters: The War Begins” – William Jack C. Davis, Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, Virginia Tech.
Lecture, “Commodore Samuel Francis DuPont, the Union Blockade and Preparations for the Department of the South” – Col. Kevin Weddle, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, Pa.
Recreation of the Battle of Port Royal Sound, narrated boat tour, led by Michael Coker (author of “The Battle of Port Royal Sound.”)
Evening reception and grand opening of the new temporary exhibition “Civil War in the Lowcountry” at the Coastal Discovery Museum.
Saturday, Dec. 3
Lecture, “South Carolina Volunteers: Gen. David Hunter and Black Regiments in the Civil War” – Dr. Joseph Glatthaar, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Roundtable wrap-up and book signing with Steve Hoffius and Larry Rowland (editors of “The Civil War in South Carolina: Selections from the South Carolina Historical Magazine”)
Civil War living history encampment with re-enactors at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn.
Sunday, Dec. 4
Closing of commemoration service at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn.
Civil War Living History Encampment with re-enactors at the Coastal Discovery Museum.
Get your tickets
Full four-day ticket:
$325 per person (after Nov. 10 - $375 per person) Special pricing is available for teachers. Call the museum for details.
Reservations can be made by calling 843-689-6767, ext. 223, or by visiting the museum’s website HERE.
Thursday: $150 per person
Friday: $150 per person
Saturday: $100 per person