Winnabow, NC – One of the historic sites that I visited on my road trip to the Wilmington, NC area was the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site in Winnabow, NC. It’s the site of the ruins of a colonial town an the remains of a Civil War Confederate earthwork fort, so it’s a mix of Colonial and Civil War History in one place. It’s also has connections with other historic sites in the Wilmington area: Moore’s Creek National Battlefield and Fort Fisher. It’s Visitors Center is currently closed for repairs/renovation, but you can still walk the trail on the site and view the ruins of Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson along with the interpretive signs along the trail.
Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson sits on the Cape Fear River in present day Winnabow, NC across from Pleasure Island and upriver from Fort Fisher. It’s location on the Cape Fear is important for both historical roles it fulfilled. During the Colonial era, Brunswick Town served as a port. During the Civil War, Fort Anderson helped protect Wilmington.
Brunswick Town was founded in 1726 on land granted to Col. Maurice Moore, son of South Carolina Governor James Moore. Brunswick Town grew rapidly, becoming a port that exported naval stores derived from the area’s longleaf pine trees and the county seat of New Hanover County and political center of the Cape Fear region. In September 1748, Brunswick Town was attacked and taken by the Spanish then quickly retaken by the Colonists. During the fighting, a Spanish ship exploded and was abandoned in the Cape Fear River. By selling what was confiscated from that ship, the Colonists were able to raise the funds to build St. Phillips Church, the ruins of which still stand on the site. Later in the Colonial Era, North Carolina Governor William Tryon moved his residence from Brunswick Town to New Bern and along with the growth of nearby Wilmington, Brunswick Town began to decline. During that period, however, it was the site of one of the first instances of armed resistance to British Rule when Patriots in Brunswick Town organized to arrest the town’s royal officials in February 1966 as part of protests against the Stamp Act. During the Revolutionary War, Brunswick Town was raided and burned twice by the British. After the war, a few families tried to return, but it was abandoned by 1830.
In 1862, the Confederate Army built Fort St. Phillip (named after the church) on the site, but renamed it Fort Anderson in 1863. Fort Anderson was one of the forts built around the Cape Fear area to protect Wilmington from the Union blockade of the coast and service blockade runners that made it through the blockade. After taking Fort Fisher in January 1865, the Union worked its way up the Cape Fear toward Wilmington, attacking and capturing Fort Anderson the Battle of Fort Anderson, 17-19 February 1865. On the morning of the 19th, the Confederates evacuated the fort, barely getting out before the Union forces began their assault; only a rear guard remained and was captured.
If you’re in the Wilmington are and visit Fort Fisher, I’d highly recommend visiting Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson as well. The two historic sites complement each other and work together to tell the story of the fall of the last Confederate port. For those in the Coastal Georgia area, you could easily think of the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson Historic Site as a blend of Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island, Fort McAllister in Richmond Hill, and the Sheldon Church ruins in South Carolina.