Earthen Union Civil War Fort
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Owned and maintained by the Land Trust, Fort Howell is an essentially pentagonal enclosure constructed of built-up earth. The Fort is quite discernible despite natural erosion and the growth of trees and other vegetation over a period of almost 150 years. Today, it is an historic site that is open to the public with adjacent areas for parking and several interpretive signs. There is a kiosk with signage which explains the history surrounding the Fort and a gravel pathway encompassing the Fort. Metal figures representing soldiers and others, created by local artist, Mary Ann Ford, are placed about the grounds. Admission is free and the Fort is open from dawn to dusk. Additionally, guided tours are provided in partnership between the Land Trust and the Coastal Discovery Museum. Learn more about the Land Trust's plans for Fort Howell by reviewing our Fort Howell Master Plan.
The Fort is an earthworks fort built in 1864 during the American Civil War by the 32nd United States Colored Infantry Regiment (Union) from Pennsylvania and the 144th New York Infantry - regiments belonging to the Hilton Head District, Department of the South, United States Army. It was constructed from late August or early September to mid-October 1864, using shovels, spades, picks, and axes, and working under the supervision of Captain Patrick McGuire of Company A, 1st New York Engineers and the officers and enlisted men of several companies of that regiment. It was built as a semi-permanent fort designed to be manned by artillerymen serving a variety of garrison, siege, or "seacoast" artillery pieces. The Fort's primary purpose was to protect the approaches to the nearby freedman's village of Mitchelville. Mitchelville was the nation's first feedman's community. The Fort was constructed on an open site just southwest of the settlement, likely on a recently logged site or a fallow cotton field.
While the Fort saw no action, it served as a testament to the excellent skills of Chief Engineer and Captain Charles Suter, and military engineering exhibited by the men of the day as a permanent and defensible earthwork fort. The exterior of the fort featured a moat and wooden palisade - sharpened logs driven into the ground to slow advancing troops. The area directly adjacent to the fort walls was further protected by guns mounted in bastions. It features two bastions and a priest-cap, four magazines, and emplacements for mounting up to 27 guns, 16 of them garrison guns (also called “seacoast” or siege guns) but the other 11 of them field guns.
Fort Howell is one of the most intact and best preserved Civil War field fortifications in South Carolina, and is particularly significant as a fine example of a sophisticated Federal earthwork built in an area occupied by the United States Army for an extended period. The Fort has been recognized on the National Register of Historic Places and as a site on the National Park Service's Network to Freedom - Underground Railroad and the Civil War Discovery Trail. While its method of construction—built-up earth, reinforced by wooden timbers and supplemented by wooden platforms as necessary—was typical of field fortifications for infantry and artillery alike, its design was necessarily more elaborate than those manned by infantry, as it was intended to maximize the effectiveness of an artillery fortification whose guns were fixed, or essentially so. Though designed by engineers, it was constructed by infantrymen under their supervision.
The Land Trust strives to preserve the Fort in its original state and provide education information about the Fort's role in our country's history.