Fort Fremont on St. Helena is quiet now.
The strategically-placed fort was built in 1898 during the Spanish-American War to serve as a defensive post should war come to the waters around Parris Island.
But the wakes of warring ships never stirred the calm waters of Port Royal Sound.
As part of the coastal defenses built after the Civil War during the Endicott Era (named for former Secretary of War William Endicott), the fort was a small, one-company, coastal artillery post. It was designed to use modern weapons to defend strategic locations.
These modern weapons came in the form of Battery Jesup, a set of three large, concrete, battery-mounted 10-inch naval guns on moveable carriages with a firing range of nearly eight miles. If ithat sounds complex today, imagine how it appeared then. There were a number of levers and gears involved in making the gun disappear, but all that is left now is the gun emplacements.
When the U.S. went to war with Spain, the troops stationed there never even got to fire them in anything other than practice drills. Most of the fighting between the United States and Spain took place in and around the waters of Cuba.
There were barracks, a mess hall and a hospital on the grounds.
Since there was no actual fighting, the hospital was likely the least used building and the only one surviving today.
Before the troops left, however, they did manage to get in one skirmish with some locals over rumors of an affair. One soldier – Private Frank Quigley – was shot and killed over the matter. The ghost of Pvt. Quigley is but one explanation for the ghostly lights at Land’s End.
It is somehow fitting that the fort never saw action in a war that was based upon false premises. In a period that featured both yellow fever and yellow journalism, no one could ever prove the Spanish actually fired on the USS Maine in Havana Harbor. But the ship’s sinking provided provocation for war.
With the re-stationing of the troops to a post in Texas in 1911, the fort was more or less abandoned and officially deactivated in 1921. It was then sold into private ownership until 2004, when preservation efforts got serious.
For children growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s world of GI Joe and The A-Team, Fort Fremont was a great place to play soldier.
Unfortunately, it also became a place for people with nothing better to do than practice their graffiti skills.
Thankfully, the Friends of Fort Fremont and Beaufort County have stepped in and helped preserve the site. Their efforts ensure generations to come can still heard echoes of the “quiet” fort.
Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visiting Fort Fremont
At the intersection of U.S. 21 and Martin Luther King Blvd on St. Helena Island, turn right onto Martin Luther King Boulevard and drive for eight miles. The entrance to Fort Fremont Preserve will be on the right. Note that Martin Luther King Boulevard becomes Lands End Road after passing Penn Center.
The park is open to the public at no cost, but docent-led tours are available once a month.
For more info visit www.fortfremont.org