Outside the Walls
Of all the buildings and structures that once comprised the Fort Macon military reservation, the only ones still standing today are the fort itself and a brick water cistern outside its walls. Yet while it was in use during the 19th century, the Post of Fort Macon was a small military city that, in addition to the fort itself, was comprised by many other supporting structures no longer standing today. What were these structures? Where were they located and what did they look like? This article is part of a series that will examine the various components of the Post of Fort Macon.
Many people tour Fort Macon each day and contemplate what it was like to be a soldier there over a century ago. As they do, most will eventually wonder about that timeless aspect of humanity that faced the 19th century soldiers just as it does modern visitors: “Where did they go to the toilet?”
Fort Macon was not constructed with any provision for toilet facilities. For those who were stationed at the post, a privy building was built outside the fort to serve their needs in this regard. It was called “the sink.” The location of the sink was almost 200 yards west of the north angle of the fort’s outer wall. It was apparently elevated on pilings and extended out over the marshy headwaters of nearby Cowpen Creek (now the boat basin of U.S. Coast Guard Base Fort Macon). It was reached by a wooden walkway.
Because privies were such ordinary, mundane items in these times, it is not surprising that there is little description to be found of it in the fort’s records. However, one inspecting officer in November, 1869, Lieutenant Colonel James E. Totten, described it as follows: “The privy provided for the enlisted men is a fairly adapted yellow pine frame building, located at a very considerable distance from the barracks occupied by the men–which however cannot well be avoided owing to the contracted character of the fort itself.” Fort Surgeon Elliott Coues wrote of it in 1870: “A large and well-constructed sink is located on the edge of the marsh, within high water mark, so that the excreta are constantly carried away by the tide.”
The officers of the post apparently had a separate privy, probably located in or adjacent to the same building. Lieutenant Colonel Totten found this to be highly objectionable. In his 1869 inspection report he wrote:
“There are no privies whatever connected with the Casemate quarters occupied by officers and their families at Fort Macon; and in consequence, the officers themselves and the ladies of their families are obliged, in obeying the calls of nature, to pass out by the guard and in full view of the entire command, to privies located at least two hundred yards from their quarters, and beyond the limits of the slope of the glacis. It is easy to perceive the inconvenience and indelicacy to which ladies are subjected by this disgraceful condition of things; and it is earnestly recommended for the decency and respectability of the Service; and for the comfort and convenience of the officers &c. concerned, that privies to each set of Casemate quarters occupied by officers at Fort Macon be erected in the main ditch of the work; and that the embrasures of these Casemate be cut down to the floors and otherwise altered into convenient door-ways for communication to the privies.”
The War Department did not act upon this latter recommendation. The officers, enlisted men, wives and children, as well as the prisoners in confinement at the fort after the War Between the States, all continued to make that long walk (or run) down to the sink for relief throughout Fort Macon’s use as a U.S. military post in the 19th century.