Hilton Head in the Civil War

On November 7, 1861, a Union naval squadron under the command of Flag Officer Samuel F. Dupont, with General Thomas W. Sherman in charge of the troops, sailed into Port Royal Sound and captured Hilton Head Island on the west and Ft. Beauregard on the east side of the sound.  The Battle of Port Royal was the largest naval engagement ever fought in American waters.  The battle lasted 5 hours before the planters and the Confederate soldiers fled.  Hilton Head was named the Headquarters of the Department of the South, Ft. Walker was renamed Ft. Welles, and the town was called Port Royal.

The soldiers were faced with housing and feeding a large number of slaves, called "Contraband" who lived on the plantations of the island and who came to Port Royal from the mainland for protection.  They set the men to work building barracks for the families, but the lack of privacy proved to be problem for the women and children.  In 1862 General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel was named to command the fort, and he pushed for better conditions for the contraband slaves.  While he only lived on the island for six weeks before perishing of yellow fever, a town that was erected near the fort by the slaves was named Mitchelville.

Mitchelville was the first self-governed freed-slave village where education was compulsory.

The files under the "People" heading below list residents of Mitchelville, the pension records of the 21st Regiment of the United States Colored Troops that was formed on Hilton Head, a register of civilian patients who were treated at the military hospital at Ft. Welles, and a listing of military personnel who died on Hilton Head, were buried in the Government Cemetery on Union Cemetery Road, and subsequently moved to Beaufort National Cemetery after the war.

Click here to see the records.         

Click here to access our Historic Hilton Head teacher resources    



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South Carolina Genealogy & History Library

The Heritage Library Foundation
852 William Hilton Parkway | 2nd FloorSuite A-2
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina 29928
p. 843.686.6560 | f. 843.686-6506