Forgotten Forts Series - Fort Johnston (NC)

NFB22

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jun 21, 2012
Location
Louisville, KY
Fort Johnston was a long standing coastal fortification located in what is now Southport, North Carolina. The fortification is located near the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

The original Fort Johnston was constructed by British colonials in the mid-1700s and was named after then-North Carolina Governor Gabriel Johnston. During the course of the American Revolution, the fort was destroyed before being rebuilt as a First System fortification and later updated during the Second System era.


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Leading up to the start of the Civil War, Fort Johnston was under caretaker status with Ordinance Sgt. James Reilly being the sole occupant. On January 9, 1861 a group of residents from Smithville (modern day Southport) and other surrounding areas forced Reilly to yield the fort to them. Governor John Ellis persuaded the garrison to return control of the fort to Sgt. Reilly 2 days later. After the fall of Fort Sumter, Reilly once again surrendered Fort Johnston, this time for good. Reilly would leave the U.S. Army shortly after and eventually became a Major in the Confederate Army and would command the 10th North Carolina during the Battle of Fort Fisher in January of 1865. After Major General Whiting and Colonel William Lamb would fall in the ensuing fight, it was Major Reilly who would surrender the remaining garrison to Union forces.

During the war, Fort Johnston became one of a network of forts and batteries to defend the Cape Fear and Wilmington from Union forces. Most of the existing fort was covered by earthworks which, according to a sketch made after the forts surrender, mounted four guns which faced the river. The fort helped provide a safe haven for blockade runners attempting entry at either the New Inlet covered by Fort Fisher and Battery Buchanan as well as the Western Bar (Old) Inlet guarded by Fort Caswell and Fort Holmes if they were unable to make it up river to Wilmington. During the war, the fort was first renamed Fort Branch in honor of the North Carolina Brig. General Lawrence O'Bryan Branch when he was killed at the Battle of Antietam. The fort was renamed once again in 1864 when it became Fort Pender in honor of another North Carolinian, Major General William Pender who died of wounds sustained at Gettysburg.


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In January of 1865, the garrison of Fort Pender, then under the command of Brig. General Louis Hébert, abandoned the fort after the fall of Fort Fisher with its troops pulling back to further defend Wilmington. Soon after, troops under the command of Lt. William Cushing from the U.S. Navy landed in Smithville and took possession of the fort.

The fort continued to be used in the years following the Civil War but was finally deactivated as a military post in 1881 though the parts of the area were used by other federal agencies into the 2000s. No remnants of the original fortifications exist but its officers quarters now serves as the Fort Johnston-Southport Museum and Visitors Center. Other surviving structures, including the post hospital, still survive around Southport and are now private homes.


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Former Officer's Quarters which now serves as a museum/visitors' center
 

NFB22

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jun 21, 2012
Location
Louisville, KY
Be neat if some of it could be rebuilt to its 1860 appearance.
Unfortunately, land availability on the original site doesn't allow for a reconstruction. The reason they changed the town's name from Smithville to Southport was an effort to promote the town as a port and although it never became a major port, the town did grow significantly from the small fishing village it was prior to the war.
 
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