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MARKING HISTORY: Fort Caswell

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OAK ISLAND, NC (WWAY) -- It's the forgotten fort of our area, but Fort Caswell has a storied past.

Step back in time, 175 years. This is Fort Caswell, right on the tip of Oak Island.

The old fort, made of brick, was built in 1828 for coastal defense, decades before its partner to the east Fort Fisher.

"Fort Fisher is really where the big battle took place in the Civil War, so that's why a lot of folks don't hear as much about Fort Caswell, but together, they defended the same river, they defended the same city, so they were part of the same system," said Nathan Sloan, who works at Fort Caswell.

While Caswell wasn't a bloody battleground during the Civil War, it sowed some of the first seeds of the conflict.

Citizens seized the fort in January 1861 months before the war began. North Carolina's governor ordered rebels to hand the fort back over, but it soon became an official Confederate outpost and would defend the Cape Fear till the end of the war.

In the 20th century, the fort saw new purpose. It stood strong against a possible naval attack, like in World War II, when German U-boats were lurking off the coast.

"Germany had sunk many ships, passenger and cargo ships, off the North Carolina's coast," Sloan said. "This was a station to protect the Cape Fear River from any U-boats that might come up the river and threaten Wilmington."

As the nation returned to peacetime, the military looked to unload the land, and the North Carolina Baptist State Convention purchased the property for $86,000.

Today it's a place for retreat, relaxation and learning.

"Different church groups can still come down, retreats for pastors and laymen, but also school groups - public and private, colleges and universities," Sloan said.

In fact now, archaeological digs take place to uncover more about the history that's so rich here.

If you have a piece of interesting history in the Cape Fear area, send Tim Buckley your idea at tbuckley@wwaytv3.com.

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