Atlantic Beach on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina has more to offer than just sun, sand and surf. I discovered this grand Live Oak tree on a trail at the Hoop Pole Creek Nature Preserve. Known by locals as the Portrait Tree, it is estimated to be more than 300 years old.

The walking trail where the tree is located meanders through a patch of natural maritime forest that appears much as it did during the Civil War when it was the site of maneuvering by Union forces before the siege of nearby Fort Macon.

In March 1862, Union General John G. Parke’s brigade advanced from New Bern to capture Beaufort Harbor and Fort Macon. Parke sent a message to Colonel White at Fort Macon, demanding his surrender.

White reportedly replied, “I have the honor to decline evacuating Fort Macon.”

On March 29, a detachment of the 4th Rhode Island Infantry crossed Bogue Sound from Carolina City and established an outpost camp on Bogue Banks at Hoop Pole Creek, which is about five miles from Fort Macon. This camp became the base from which Parke conducted his siege. Over the next two weeks a total of 22 companies of Union infantry and artillery crossed over to the camp from Carolina City.

hoop poll creek

Walkway that leads to the trail at the preserve.

Three batteries of siege cannons and mortars were ferried across the sound to the camp, using old barges, scows and one light-draft stern-wheel steamer. The water was so shallow that Park had to cross his troops and equipment at high tide.

Once unloaded from the vessels, the heavy artillery had to be manhandled through the muddy salt marsh and sand to reach the camp. From Hoop Pole Creek, the artillery was then dragged almost four miles up the beach and set up in artillery emplacements from which to fire on fort Macon.

I can see why it took until April 25 for Parke’s forces to start their bombardment. Despite the fact that I was covered with insect repellant during my walk, I felt like I was being eaten alive! Plus the vegetation is heavy, the water is swampy, and the sand is deep. I can only imagine how hot and humid it was as well.

Once the 11-hour bombardment began, the Confederates didn’t last long. They surrendered the following day.

For vacationers who get tired of the beach or the water, the Crystal Coast offers natural areas like Hoop Hole Creek in Atlantic Beach, the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Area at Pine Knoll Shores and Emerald Isle Woods in Emerald Isle.

See related post on Fort Macon.

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