The conquest of the Sea Islands by a Union fleet in November 1861 was the beginning of more than a century of U.S. naval involvement with Port Royal Sound. With nearly thirty feet of water over the bar at all tides, Port Royal Sound is the deepest natural harbor on the Atlantic seaboard south of New York. With the completion of the Port Royal and Augusta Railroad to the harbor in 1873, the U.S. Navy was able to stockpile coal for its new steam-powered warships. In 1876 many of the capital ships of the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet spent the winter in Port Royal Sound to escape ice in northern ports. In 1877 Port Royal Sound was officially designated as a fourth-class naval station and dubbed “United States Naval Station, Port Royal, South Carolina.” In 1883 the navy began purchasing land on Parris Island in Port Royal Sound to build wharves and shoreside facilities. In 1890 the U.S. Navy appropriated more than $500,000 to build the largest dry dock in the United States on Parris Island. The dry dock was completed in 1895 and was the centerpiece of the Port Royal Naval Shipyard. During the Spanish American War, the Port Royal Naval Station was one of the principal support stations for U.S. naval actions around Cuba.
In 1901 Ben Tillman, an influential member of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee, arranged to have the annual appropriation for the Port Royal Naval Station removed to Charleston. This marked the end of the Port Royal Naval Station and the beginning of the Charleston Naval Shipyard. In 1903 a company of U.S. Marines was sent to oversee the government facilities on Parris Island, which later reemerged as the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.
McNeil, Jim. Charleston’s Navy Yard: A Pictorial History. Charleston, S.C.: Coker Craft, 1985.
Report of the Hearings before the Committee on Naval Affairs Relative to the Proposed Transfer of the Naval Station from Port Royal, South Carolina to Charleston, South Carolina. 56th Congress, Senate Document No. 156. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1901.