The Sound of Freedom: The 160th Anniversary of the Battle of Port Royal

A historic drawing of soldiers raising an American flag over a fort, with wooden naval ships in the background
At the conclusion of the Battle of Port Royal, US Military personnel raised the flag over Forts Walker and Beauregard, ushering in the Port Royal Experiment and a new birth of freedom in the region.

On November 7, 1861 the boom of cannon roared across the Sea Islands around Beaufort South Carolina, as the United States Navy began the bombardment of Forts Beauregard and Walker, which guarded the Port Royal Sound. By the time the smoke cleared, the Confederates – along with most of the white residents of the region – had fled. They abandoned their homes, their lands, and the thousands of people they enslaved. For these now formerly enslaved people, the big guns of the US Navy were quite literally, the sound of freedom.

On the weekend of November 6 and 7, 2021, Reconstruction Era National Historical Park will mark the 160th Anniversary of the Battle of Port Royal with a series of special programs in collaboration with community partners and member sites in the Reconstruction Era National Historic Network.

Saturday November 6, 2021

2 pm – “The Last Day of Slavery” (60 minutes)

When they went to sleep on the night of November 6, 1861, the enslaved people of the Sea Islands in Beaufort had no idea that this would be one of the last days of slavery. Join Park Ranger Olivia Williams at Darrah Hall on the campus of the Penn Center on St. Helena Island for a special 1-hour program exploring the lives of the enslaved people of Beaufort County, and how the events here in the Fall of 1861 began the transformation out of a 242 year long tragedy.

In addition to this special program on Saturday November 6, regularly scheduled ranger-guided programs will take place at 11 am at the park visitor center in the Old Beaufort Firehouse (706 Craven Street), and at Noon exploring the site of Camp Saxton

Sunday November 7, 2021

2 pm – “The Big Gun Shoot” – 160th Anniversary of The Battle of Port Royal Sound and the Start of Reconstruction in South Carolina (90 minutes)

On November 7, 1861, United States military forces drove the Confederates from the Sea Islands of Beaufort County. Join Park Ranger Rich Condon at the Toni Morrison Bench at Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park on Hilton Head Island for a presentation exploring the story of the fight that spurred Reconstruction in this region, as it was felt on the shores of Hilton Head Island and learn of the experiences of freed people at places like Mitchelville in the wake of what became known as “the day of the big gun shoot.” At the conclusion of the formal presentation, there will be an optional guided walk out to the beach to overlook the waters where the battle took place.

1 pm to 4 pm – Veteran Guard and Wreath Laying at Mitchelville

To mark the 160th Anniversary of the Battle of Port Royal, the staff at Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park on Hilton Head will host a wreath laying by local military veterans, who will then stand watch from 1 pm to 4 pm, marking the approximate time length of the battle.

Last updated: October 22, 2021

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Beaufort, SC 29902


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