150 years after his gunboat battered Confederate forts during the Battle of Port Royal, Navy Commander Percival Drayton returned to Hilton Head Island.
Portrayed by island resident John Witherspoon, Drayton told a crowd of hundreds who gathered Saturday at the historic site of Fort Walker about the largest Union fleet that ever assembled during the Civil War -- in the waters just behind him.
On Nov. 7, 1861, those warships forced Confederate troops commanded by his brother, Brig. Gen. Thomas Drayton, to retreat.
Brother fighting brother was hardly an uncommon tale. The Civil War saw family pitted against family throughout, according to Michael Coker, author of "The Battle of Port Royal."
In the case of the Draytons, the fight was an unbalanced one. The Union flagship alone had nearly as much firepower as the Confederate strongholds of Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard combined, Coker said.
"The fact that the Confederates mounted a defense at all ... is a testament to their courage," Coker said.
The battle lasted for five hours and led to federal occupation of Hilton Head Island for the remainder of the war, with Union forces using the island as a supply base and headquarters.
According to Island Packet columnist and master of ceremonies David Lauderdale, it was a day when freedom becamse a possibility for an entire people.
To mark the anniversary of the battle, the Port Royal Plantation Association of Landowners opened up the private community to the public on Saturday.
Reenactments and exhibitions dotted the field where Fort Walker once stood, showcasing Civil War-era prints and rifles. Demonstrators, meanwhile, discussed the sometimes-chilling medical techniques of the era.
The CSA Waccamaw Light Artillery from Charleston fired shells from a cannon throughout the program, sending smoke billowing over the podium where speakers recounted the events of the battle.
Reenactor Jim Craig hand-built his cannon from antique plans for a popular 1863 model. His regiment will be participating in numerous sesquicentennial events this year.
"Once I pulled the lanyard, I was hooked," Craig said.
The event concluded with a rededication of the Drayton brothers memorial. The Charles Devens Jr. Camp No. 10, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and the Gen. Richard H. Anderson Camp No. 47, Sons of Confederate Veterans, laid wreaths after a rifle salute.
"It looks like a place of history now," said event organizer Will Dopp, "when before it was an empty lot."
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.
- Re-enactors bring Civil War battle to life, Oct. 30, 2011
- Drayton descendant returns to Lowcountry to learn about family, Oct. 30, 2011
- Sea Foam: 150 years after the Battle of Port Royal, the legacy lives on, Oct. 24, 2011
- Area historical groups plan events to mark start of Civil War, Sept. 25, 2011