Fort Caswell, is located at the tip of Caswell Beach at the mouth of the Cape Fear River to the south is the Atlantic Ocean and to the north is the Elizabeth River. Considered one of the strongest forts in the world when it was built in 1825, Fort Caswell originally covered 2,800 acres at the eastern end of Oak Island. It was the first thing constructed on Oak Island and its inhabitants were some of the first people to permanently settle on the island when it was still connected to the mainland by marshlands. Fort Caswell was built simply because Southport and Bald Head Island were havens for notorious pirates, including Blackbeard. Considering that this river highway stretched all the way to Fayetteville and ships were being pirated, Congress authorized the construction of a fort in 1825 to strengthen the area’s defenses.
Fort Caswell was completed in 1838 and was originally built in a pentagonal formation made with earthen mounds that enclosed structure constructed using brick and masonry. A citadel was also constructed on the premises. It was named after the first governor of North Carolina, Richard Caswell who was also a revolutionary hero.
Fort Caswell was such a formidable adversary for the Union, that it saw very little action during the Civil War. During the Civil War no soldier lost his life at Fort Caswell due to combat. Many soldiers did die however, from yellow fever, small pox, and other diseases. This is amazing since Fort Caswell changed hands between Union and Confederate forces four times during the war! When the supply lines were cut off to Fort Caswell after Fort Fisher fell to Union forces in January 1865 the Fort Caswell soldiers had to abandon their fortifications. However, before they did so they ignited the powder magazine with all the gun powder they had left and heavily damaged the fort, the citadel, and the surrounding earth mound fortifications.
In April 1896, the United States appropriated money to reconstruct Fort Caswell and it was repaired by 1916 and still remained one of the most important military posts on the east coast. It was the headquarters of the Cape Fear Costal Defenses and was defended by three companies of Coast Artillery Corps under the command of Col. Charles A. Bennett. The fort was used again as an army training camp during World War I. During World War II, the fort was used as an army base and submarine lookout post.
Fort Caswell has seen military action as recently as the Persian Gulf War. During the Persian Gulf War the fort was used to house one hundred sixty-five military personnel who worked at a nearby ocean terminal loading ships going to the Gulf. After the war Fort Caswell was again used to house troops as they unloaded ships. The same thing was also done during the Haitian War.
On January 31, 1946 Fort Caswell was designated as a war surplus and assigned for disposal. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina purchased the 250-acre fort from the government on September 1949 for 86,000. The remains of the citadel are still intact and are preserved by the Baptist Assembly of North Carolina.