(November 7, 1861). The Battle of Port Royal culminated an amphibious operation designed to establish a United States military depot on the southeastern coast to carry out land and sea operations against the Confederacy. On October 29, 1861, a naval squadron organized for the capture of Port Royal Sound left Hampton Roads, Virginia, under the command of Flag Officer Samuel F. Du Pont. It consisted of seventeen warships, twenty-five coaling schooners, and thirty-three transports, which carried approximately thirteen hundred soldiers commanded by Brigadier General Thomas W. Sherman.
Fort Walker on Hilton Head and Fort Beauregard on Bay Point defended Port Royal Sound. Together they mounted thirty-nine guns and were manned by 2,400 men under the command of General Thomas Drayton. Assisting the fortifications was a small squadron of makeshift gunboats under Captain Josiah Tattnall. The Federal forces rendezvoused off the sound on November 3. Four days later, on November 7, Du Pont, on board his flagship, the USS Wabash, led his warships into the sound. Tattnall’s gunboats were chased off, and while the Wabash, Susquehanna, and Bienville maneuvered in front of Fort Walker, the rest of the squadron took up position off the fort’s northwest flank enfilading the work. Later the Federal gunboat Pocahontas arrived off Fort Walker’s seaward flank and added her guns to the bombardment, completing the crossfire. In charge of the Pocahontas was Captain Percival Drayton, brother of the Confederate commander. After nearly five hours of fighting, the Confederates evacuated Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard and fled inland, abandoning Beaufort and the Sea Islands.
The battle cost Union forces eight killed and twenty-three wounded, while the Confederates on Hilton Head had eleven killed and forty-eight wounded. At Fort Beauregard, the Southerners suffered thirteen wounded. In a short time the Northern army and navy established a huge military installation that served as headquarters for the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and the Department of the South. The capture of Port Royal provided the North with an important political and morale-boosting victory. It also heralded a new era of naval warfare by demonstrating that steam-powered warships with heavy ordnance could attack and defeat fixed fortifications. In addition to its effect on the war effort and military science, the battle at Port Royal began a social and economic revolution, for Du Pont’s victory brought freedom to the thousands of slaves who lived in the Port Royal area.
Ammen, Daniel. “Du Pont and the Port Royal Expedition.” In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, edited by Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel. Vol. 1. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1956.
Rowland, Lawrence S., Alexander Moore, and George C. Rogers. The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina. Vol. 1, 1514–1861. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.
Wise, Stephen. “The Battle of Port Royal.” Beaufort Magazine (fall holiday 1994): 57–61.