April 2007: Fort Fisher State Recreation Area


Kure Beach, North Carolina

The largest earthwork fort in the Confederacy was constructed here to keep Wilmington open to blockade runners during the Civil War. Until July 1862, Fort Fisher was little more than several sand batteries mounting fewer than two dozen guns. Colonel William Lamb, working on designs created in Russia for the Crimean War, employed as many as 1,000 men, many of them slaves, to create one mile of sea defense and one-third of a mile of land defense.

The Union had long planned an assault on Fort Fisher but did not feel confident to do so until December 24, 1864. For two days the sand and earth fortifications absorbed Union shells and the force withdrew. On January 12 the fort was bombarded by land and sea and finally capitulated after six hours of fierce fighting. It was considered the greatest land-sea battle of the Civil War and helped seal the ultimate fate of the Confederacy. 

Most canine hikers will bring their dogs to Fort Fisher for its seven miles of tail-friendly white sand beaches. Head south from the Visitor Center and you will discover nothing but open, dune-backed beach ahead of you.

But there are a couple of fun options here as well. The Basin Trail slips almost unnoticed from the south end of the parking lot into what appears to be a maritime forest. You twist through a maze of wax myrtles for only a few steps, however, before bursting into the open with nothing but a flat expanse of sand in every direction. Forging on, you cross a marsh and soon bring your dog to an old World War II bunker. Further on, your destination is a a platform overlooking The Basin a half-mile away.

On the north boundary of the park is the Fort Fisher State Historic Site where you can hike among the formidable earthwork mounds that give a clear view of the Cape Fear River and the strategic importance of the site. A captured cannon and relics recovered from sunken blockade runners are among the tresures on display.

In 1955, 62-year old Robert Harrill left behind a wake of failed jobs and relationships in the Carolina mountains for a life of solace at the seashore.
He came to settle in the old World War II bunker at Fort Fisher where he would live for 17 years. He was tabbed the "Fort Fisher Hermit" but he was far from alone. He welcomed all visitors and more than 100,000 made the pilgrimmage over the years to listen to his philosophies of simple life. In 1969 the state of North Carolina called him the Tarheel State's second largest tourist attraction behind the battleship North Carolina. Not that Robert Harrill ever lived truly alone - he often had a dog by his side. 

From Wilmington follow US 421 South. Five miles south of Carolina Beach turn left on Loggerhead Road into the recreation area.