On November 7, 1861 Hilton Head Island was captured by Union forces after their victory during the Battle of Port Royal. The large invasion force consisting of 77 ships, 13,000 troops, and 1,500 cavalry (the largest since WWII) was gradually reduced in the years following as troops were needed elsewhere. With the garrison on Hilton Head Island dramatically reduced, it was deemed necessary that a series of forts be constructed to defend Hilton Head Island from attack.
One such fort was Fort Howell. It was built specifically to protect the freedman’s village of Mitchellville and was constructed with the aid of the 32nd United States Colored Troops and the 144th New York Infantry. Construction took place on an area of previously “…cleared land – either a fallow cotton field or land recently logged” from August 20th to November 23rd under Captain McGuire, the supervising engineer as reported by the Chicora Foundation. The South Carolina Institute of A & A, however, reported that the fort was “…built on the pre-Civil War plantation of Captain William Pope”. The said plantation was known as the Fish Haul plantation and also included the freedman’s village of Mitchelville. The fort was named after General Joshua Howell, who was killed in Virginia. While the fort saw no action, it served as a testament to the excellent skills in military engineering exhibited by the men of the day as a permanent and defensible earth work fort. “The fort was built for 27 guns. Sixteen of these were barbette batteries, allowing the cannon to fire over the parapet. The fort had 10 salients, six of which were protected by guns. All of these were barbette batteries.” It served to protect the village of Mitchelville, the road to Port Royal Sound and the main army depot at Coggin’s Point from attack. Guns placed for defense of the fort were taken from the dismantled Fort Seward on Bay Point. More information on the fortifications and the official correspondence of the Civil War can be found at the National Archives in Washington D.C.
In 1993, Fort Howell was given over to the Hilton Head Island Land Trust for maintenance and preservation so future generations can enjoy learning about this historic site. The fort currently sits off Beach City Road on the left hand side about a mile from highway 278 not far from the former freedman’s village of Mitchelville and the intersection of Beach City Road and Dillon Road. Admission is free and the site is open from dawn to dusk, however parking is minimal. So if one is up for a short hike, Fort Howell is a great place to stop and enjoy the history and the outdoors.
i. Fort Howell Civil War Historic Site, a Hilton Head free family attraction. <http://shoutaboutcarolina.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/fort-howell-civil-war-historic-site-a-hilton-head-free-family-attraction/>
ii. Trinkley, Michael, Debi Hacker, and William B. Barr. A Conservation Assessment and Preliminary Preservation Plan For Fort Howell, Hilton Head Island, Beaufort County, South Carolina. Chicora Foundation Research Series 50. Chicora Foundation, Inc.
iii. South Carolina Institute of A & A original listing. Hilton Head Island Places 1698-1970s. Compiled by Norma Harberger. Vol. 1 A-L. Fort Howell.
iv. Trinkley, A Conservation Assessment and Preliminary Preservation Plan For Fort Howell, Hilton Head Island, Beaufort County, South Carolina, pg. 9