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The Battle of Port Royal

November 7, 1861 in Port Royal, South Carolina

Union Forces Commanded by
Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont
Strength Killed Wounded Missing/Captured
12,000 8 23 ?
Confederate Forces Commanded by
General Thomas Drayton
Strength Killed Wounded Missing/Captured
36 (Cannon) 11 48 7
Conclusion: Union Victory

To sustain and strengthen its blockade of Southern ports, the Union Navy needed to have a coaling, refitting, and supply station located somewhere on the southeast coast. A good candidate for this sort of operation seemed to be the site at Port Royal. Port Royal was located in the strategically critical area between Charleston and Savannah. Even better for the Union forces, the Confederate garrisons at Port Royal Sound were undermanned and known to be short of ammunition.The harbor entrance was bracketed by two forts. The first, Fort Beauregard, was on Phillips Island to the north, located at Bay Point. Fort Walker was about 2.5 miles south across the Sound on Hilton Head Island. Defense of Hilton Head and its earthwork fort are under command of Brig. Gen. Thomas Drayton

In late October, Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont assembled a fleet of 75 warships, with 12,000 troops in transport. Their objective was Port Royal Sound, which was guarded by an earthwork on either side of the harbor entrance-Fort Beauregard at Bay Point and Fort Walker on Hilton Head Island.
An expedition of 77 vessels with more than 12,000 soldiers embarked departed on October 29th.

On November 3, only 8 ships arrived off Port Royal. During the transit, the fleet encounter gale winds and seas and was seriously dispersed. Several vessel were sunk or heavily damaged.

Du Pont's plan would take full advantage of the steam powered vessels at his command. He would pass between the two forts engaging first Fort Beauregard on the north and then turn toward Fort Walker with 8 of his heavily armed vessels, together mounting 123 guns. Steaming in an ellipse in the channel, these warships could keep both Forts under continuous fire, while the remaining nine armed vessels would position themselves north of the main action to enfilade undefended north face of Fort Walker and prevent the 4 small gunboats of the Confederate Navy from doing any harm.

On November 7, the expedition ships finally gathered and conditions right for the ships to cross the bar, Du Pont's ordered the signal to "Weigh Anchor." The defenses surrounding Port Royal Sound appeared very formidable at first glance. On the north side at Bay Point on Eddings Island lay Fort Beauregard sporting 13 cannon but only one [6-inch Brooks rifle] that could reach across the 2.5 miles wide Broad River. On the south side was Fort Walker on Hilton Head Island. Although the fort was incomplete, also having 23 guns, Fort Walker would be the greater threat.

At 9:00 A.M., Du Pont led his naval squadron into Port Royal Sound, steaming straight in between the 2 forts. A Confederate flotilla of 4 vessels could do very little to oppose the force of such superior numbers. Circling slowly, the fleet pounded the earthworks of Fort Walker, and then of Fort Beauregard. The inexperienced Confederate gunners found it difficult to hit the moving targets, and the men of the U.S. Navy planted shot after shot into the forts.

Reluctant to give up though their chances were nil, the Confederates fought on through the morning and into the afternoon. But between 2:00 and 3:30 P.M., with their ammunition supply all but exhausted, they were forced to flee their forts and withdraw inland to form a new line of defense. Port Royal Sound was secured as an important refueling depot for the Union blockaders operating in the area.

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