The Civil War caused massive damage throughout the entire South. Beaufort managed to escape this fate through luck and a subpar town militia. In April, 1862, Beaufort was invaded and the Union forces took over the town as a head quarters. Although slightly embarrassing, Beaufort’s location isolated itself from the rest of North Carolina so support and even news of the takeover were slow to reach important towns in the state.
Good did come from being occupied early in the war; little damage befell the predominantly wooden buildings and underhanded forms of aid popped up. Beaufort acted as a beacon for scattered Confederate soldiers in the area on the run because of the Union hold of the coast. Espionage became a popular occupation for the women of Beaufort.
Emeline Pigott, Beaufort’s most famous Civil War spy, smuggled relief items, such as mail, food, extra clothing, and boots, to the Confederate soldiers using inventive techniques such as hiding them under her large hoop skirt. While Ms. Pigott supported the Confederates, freed black men used Beaufort as a halfway camp of sorts.
The Union’s hold on the town created a safe harbor for freed slaves in the South that provided an easier location to attain instead of the distant North states. This created a unique dynamic for Beaufort during and after the war as the country finally came to peace.
Once peace was established, Beaufort returned to its usual way of life: living off the sea, supporting tourism, and surviving the coastal North Carolina elements one day at a time.