Massive Explosions Rock Fort Caswell, 1865

This is a Civil War map of Fort Caswell.

A Civil War map of Fort Caswell. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill.

On January 17, 1865, Fort Caswell was abandoned as Confederates retreating from Fort Fisher detonated the fort’s powder magazines. The explosion destroyed the entire southeast face of the fort and damaged the western face.

A soldier quoted in The Daily North Carolinian stated:

We were aroused from our slumbers at 2 o’clock yesterday morning by an explosion, which shook our office to its foundation. We have ascertained since that it was Fort Caswell, blown up by our troops after its evacuation.

Another witness recorded from his position at what’s now Southport:

As I looked, a vivid flash of light shot through the darkness and traveled with lightning rapidity, toward the fort, and then, as if a mighty volcano had sprung its blazing contents from the sea into the sky, a great light flashed up from Caswell, accompanied by a roar and a jar that smashed the glass in our house like a wave of an earthquake.

The 1865 explosion ended the most active period of Fort Caswell’s military history, although it was occupied by troops in both the Spanish-American War and World War I.

Today the property is a retreat and conference center for the Baptist State Convention. Remnants of the fort remain on the site.

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