Website User Agreement
Copyright ©2009 Beaufort County Library
A Department of Beaufort County Government
LEARN ABOUT THE CIVIL WAR IN BEAUFORT DISTRICT (SC) HISTORY
The history of the Civil War in Beaufort District  South Carolina is far different than the history of the Civil War elsewhere in the nation. Secession  was nursed to maturity in Beaufort District. Port Royal Sound  was among the first Southern harbors to fall into Union hands. The "Port Royal Experiment"  was fashioned here during the long Federal occupation.
Serious talk of separating the Southern states from the Federal government began under the boughs of the Secession Oak in Bluffton in 1844. Robert Barnwell Rhett,  the United States Congressman for this area known for his extreme views was invited to a homecoming dinner in Bluffton on July 31, 1844. It is said that 500 people showed up to hear his speech:"If you value your rights you must resist."
(Courtesy of the Civil War Trust)
The Federal forces saw their first significant victory of the Civil War at the Battle of Port Royal Sound  on November 7, 1861, "the Day the Big Gun Shoot." Because the white residents had evacuated Beaufort and the Union need buildings for headquarters and hospitals, the town was spared the torch. The Union held Port Royal Island, St. Helena Island, Lady's Island, and Hilton Head Island for the rest of the Civil War period.
The Beaufort District Courthouse (located in Gillisonville since 1848) operated until the final days of the war in South Carolina. The courthouse burned down in early 1865, destroying most of Beaufort District's early records. The mainland of Beaufort District remained primarily under Confederate control from 1861 to 1865 though several military engagements occurred in the area: Battle of Port Royal Ferry,  31 December 1861 - 1 January 1862; Battle of Pocotaligo,  22 October 1862; Combahee River Raid,  2 June 1863 during which Harriet Tubman  "the Moses of her people" and local hero Robert Smalls  played major roles; the burning of Bluffton  on June 4, 1863, and the Battle of Honey Hill,  30 November 1864.
(Beaufort District Collection Map 164)
Approximately 200,000 men of color would serve in the Union Army or Union Navy  during the Civil War. Some of the men were free black men from Northern states; some were former enslaved men from the states which seceded from the United States of America. Because the area around Port Royal and St. Helena Sounds was occupied by the Federal government so early in the Civil War, three of the four regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT)  soldiers raised in South Carolina were organized here.
(Left image: Beaufort District Collection / Right image: Library of Congress)
The abandonment of the enslaved and the arrival of Union troops followed shortly thereafter by abolitionist missionaries, doctors, nurses and teachers  had a profound effect on the subsequent course of American history as Beaufort District became the testing ground for educating the freedmen at Penn School  and plantation schools, extending civil rights to African-Americans,  leading to the establishment one of the first villages under black leadership at Mitchelville  on Hilton Head Island.
(Beaufort District Collection)
Here are some reading suggestions and links to get you started exploring the unique Civil War era history of Beaufort District:
Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861-1893  by Stephen R. Wise and Lawrence S. Rowland, with Gerhard Spieler; foreword by Alexander Moore, 2015. This title is volume 2 of the History of Beaufort County South Carolina,1996 - 2015.
Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment  by Willie Lee Rose,1964.
The Bluffton Expedition: The Burning of Bluffton, South Carolina during the Civil War  by Jeff Fulgham, 2012.
The Battle of Port Royal  by Michael Coker, 2009.
Department of the South: Hilton Head Island in the Civil War  by Robert Carse, 1961.
Suggested Materials about Important People in Beaufort District's Civil War History
Clara Barton 
Charlotte Forten 
Rachel C. Mather 
Robert Smalls 
Laura Towne 
Harriet Tubman 
Suggested Materials about Important Places in Beaufort District's Civil War History
Penn School 
Suggested Materials about Important Events in Beaufort District's Civil War History
Scheduled Tours of Civil War Historic Sites or Exhibits sponsored by Beaufort County Historical Resources Consortium member organizations:
Civil War Related Posts in Our WordPress Blog:
This page was created as one of Beaufort County Library's contributions to the Living History Civil War Encampment project of the Beaufort History Museum and Penn Center held in the Arsenal March 11 - 13, 2016.