The day Union forces invaded Horry County, 150 years ago this week

Most tourists who visit the Grand Strand have no idea of the area's significance during the Civil War. But something quite significant happened 150 years ago this week in what is now Myrtle Beach.

It happened near Withers Swash, perhaps best known today as the location for the Family Kingdom Amusement Park.

Back in the 1860's, the area was the site of a major salt works.

Ted Gragg, curator of the South Carolina Civil War Museum in Myrtle Beach, says salt was made there by pumping sea water into iron pots.

"The pots were heated over open flame and the works evaporated the water, leaving the salt in a crystalline form," Gragg said.

On April 23, 1864, a Union raiding party from the gun boat USS Ethan Allen attacked the salt works at Withers Swash.

A Marine squadron came ashore and destroyed the plant, three warehouses and 2,000 bushels of salt.

Gragg says the attack was well planned and executed.

"Best records, you're probably talking about a 600-man-plus invasion force. That's a lot of people, for one little salt works with 12 kettles in it."

Today most of us think of salt as being something we put on our popcorn or French fries to make them taste better, but during the Civil War era salt was quite an important commodity.

"Salt was used to preserve food. It was also used in some forms as medication. Everything we used in the way of being able to feed ourselves and supplement ourselves came from salt," said Gragg.

Other salt works in the Murrells Inlet and Little River areas were also destroyed by Union forces.

Gragg adds Horry County's importance to the Confederate war effort didn't end with salt.

"We were providing crucial supplies, like turpentine and pitch, naval stores, salt, meat."

Gragg says the salt works attack was a real blow to the Confederate cause.

It also marked a milestone in the history of the Marine Corps.

"What's interesting is this is the site of the first land invasion ever enacted by the United States Marine Corps. That's sort of unusual," Gragg said.