Sugar Loaf Civil War Earthworks

by: Chris E. Fonvielle Jr.

CB Earthworks Clearing

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Historical Significance of Sugar Loaf Civil War Earthworks

The Sugar Loaf Earthworks Preservation Group is committed to preserving and interpreting a section of the Confederate defensive line at Carolina Beach. The long-range plan is to make the historic site, to be called the Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. Civil War Park, accessible to the public for educational purposes and to increase heritage tourism on Pleasure Island.

The Sugar Loaf earthworks served as an auxiliary line of defenses to Fort Fisher, approximately four miles to the south. They helped guard Wilmington, North Carolina, the South’s main seaport for trade with the outside world during the Civil War. To impede the business, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a naval blockade of the South’s coastline and major ports in April 1861.

Confederate commerce vessels, called blockade-runners, attempted to run through the gauntlet of Union ships that appeared at the entryways to Southern seaports, including Wilmington. Many of the smuggling vessels were built, leased, or purchased in Great Britain, which soon became the Confederacy’s main trading partner.

More than 100 different steamships operated as blockade-runners at Wilmington alone, to say nothing of the undetermined number of sailing ships that were also employed as smuggling vessels. To protect the vital trade, Confederate engineers designed and built a vast network of forts and batteries on the beaches of New Hanover and Brunswick counties, and along the banks of the Cape Fear River.

With the exception of Charleston, South Carolina, Wilmington became the most heavily fortified city along the southern Atlantic seaboard. Wilmington became so important to supplying Confederate troops on the battlefront and civilians on the home front that it became known as the “Lifeline of the Confederacy,” In late 1864 General Robert E. Lee warned: “If Wilmington falls, I cannot maintain my army.”

Fort Fisher guarded New Inlet, the northern passageway into the Cape Fear River. By 1864, Fort Fisher was the Confederacy’s largest and strongest seacoast fortification and was referred to as the Gibraltar of the South. Engineers erected auxiliary batteries nearby, including Battery Anderson (then located on the north end of modern Kure Beach) and Battery Gatlin (located on the sea beach across from Forest By the Sea development on Carolina Beach).

As Union forces prepared to attack Wilmington by way of Fort Fisher in the autumn of 1864, Major General W.H.C. Whiting, commander of the District of the Cape Fear, expanded existing defenses to meet the threat. He selected in part a “strong position” stretching from the sound (modern Carolina Beach canal) to Sugar Loaf hill on the Cape Fear River, for an extensive line of earthworks. Sugar Loaf itself was a natural sand dune that stood 50 feet in height on the riverbank. Whiting planned to place a battery of artillery on the summit of the hill.

Acting on General Whiting’s orders, Colonel William Lamb, commandant at Fort Fisher, began constructing an “entrenched camp” at Sugar Loaf “so as to keep up communication after the arrival of the enemy, between the fort” and Sugar Loaf. The work probably commenced in early October 1864. On October 28, 1864, Whiting turned over the project to Captain Francis T. Hawks of Company A, 2nd Confederate States Engineers.2

By December 1864, the earthen fieldworks of the Sugar Loaf lines ran for more than one mile from the sound to the river. Confederate forces continually strengthened them in the winter of 1864-1865. During the first Union attack on Fort Fisher at Christmas 1864, approximately 3,400 Confederate troops defended Sugar Loaf, including 600 Senior Reserves commanded by Colonel John K. Connally.3

After Union forces failed to capture Fort Fisher in December, they returned for a second attempt less than three weeks later, mid-January 1865. The campaign turned out to be the largest amphibious operation in American military history until D-Day, World War II. More than 6,400 Confederate troops of Major General Robert F. Hoke’s Division now defended Sugar Loaf. General Lee had sent them from Virginia to help keep Wilmington in Confederate hands. Improperly used by General Braxton Bragg, the new commander of the Department of North Carolina, Hoke’s Division was unable to prevent the fall of Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865.

General Alfred H. Terry’s forces that captured Fort Fisher quickly turned upriver to strike Wilmington. They reconnoitered and probed the Sugar Loaf lines for a weak spot. On January 19, 1865, the Federals attacked with two brigades of troops, including Colonel John W. Ames’ regiments of U.S. Colored Troops. Unable to break through, they launched an even bigger assault on February 11. U.S. Colored Troops played a major role in what became known as the battle of Sugar Loaf, although the Confederate defenses again proved to be too strong to overrun.

CB Earthworks Clearing

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Unable to breach the Sugar Loaf defenses, the Federals transferred their operations to the west side of the Cape Fear River. They attacked and forced the abandonment of Fort Anderson, directly across the waterway from Sugar Loaf, on February 19, 1865. The Confederate evacuation of Fort Anderson enabled the Union navy to advance further upriver and threaten Sugar Loaf from the rear. Consequently, General Hoke abandoned the Sugar Loaf defenses on February 19 and withdrew toward Wilmington. Union forces temporarily occupied Sugar Loaf before beginning their pursuit of the rapidly retreating Confederates. They captured Wilmington on February 22, 1865.4

With Wilmington now closed to blockade running, General Lee was forced to abandon his position at Petersburg, Virginia. He attempted to escape westward but was caught by General U.S. Grant’s forces. On April 9, 1865, only forty-six days after Wilmington fell, General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, ending the four years long and bloody Civil War.

Much of the earthworks that comprised the Sugar Loaf defenses are in a remarkable state of preservation, despite the fact that they were made almost entirely of sand. However, they are also difficult to access because of their remote location inside Carolina Beach State Park or because they are on private property. The Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. Civil War Park will both remedy public inaccessibility to a section of the Sugar Loaf defenses and promote heritage tourism on Pleasure Island.

Chris E. Fonvielle Jr.
Department of History
University of North Carolina Wilmington

More  …  Fonvielle: Map of Earthworks in Carolina Beach

 1 Whiting to Gilmer, September 16, 1864, U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies 128 volumes (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), series I, vol. 42, pt. 2, 1253 (hereafter cited as ORA).

2 William Lamb, Colonel Lamb’s Story of Fort Fisher (Carolina Beach, N.C.: Blockade Runner Museum, 1966), 11; Hill to Hawks, October 28, 1864, Francis T. Hawks Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

3 Headquarters, Sugar Loaf, December 26, 1864, ORA, vol. 42, pt. 3, 1314.

4 Chris E. Fonvielle Jr., The Wilmington Campaign: Last Rays of Departing Hope (Campbell, California: Savas Publishing, 1997).

The Wilmington Campaign – excerpts

Ann Hertzler Memorial Oral History Fund Established

Ann Hertzler

Dr. Ann Hertzler

In memory of long-time member, Dr. Ann Hertzler, we have established a special memorial fund to purchase equipment and materials to continue the Oral History projects she was so instrumental in establishing.

Dr. Ann Atherton Hertzler was Professor of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise at Virginia Tech, from 1980-2001. She retired as Professor Emeritus of Nutrition in 2001. She then moved to Kure Beach to live near the ocean which she had come to love during her Fulbright year in Australia.

Her awards included recognitions from Penn State, the American Dietetic Association, and as a Fulbright Scholar to Australia. Among her research interests was Nutrition Education for Children.

In 2005 Virginia Tech established the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection. Her initial donation of publications dating from 1910 has grown to nearly 400 items.

In retirement Ann was an active volunteer at the Latimer House and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, along with her work with the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society. She was also the editor for Modern Recipes from Historic Wilmington published by the Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear in 2003.

March 17, 2014 – Richard Neal

March Meeting
Monday, March 17, 2014 – 7:30 PM


Richard  Neal - Frying Pan TowerThe Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, March 17, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Frying Pan TowerOur speaker this month will be Richard Neal.

He will be speaking on the history of the Frying Pan Tower (Light Station) and the set of events that brought a landlubber to be head of the restoration effort ongoing since acquiring it in 2010.

Along with one of the Frying Pan Tower Directors, he will share some video clips and images of the facility over the years as well as during the current restoration projects.

Richard is a software sales engineer and has worked as an engineer, draftsman, industrial chemist, programmer, industrial hygienist, author, several minor C- level positions and business owner but the position he is most proud of is as husband of 29 years to his wife Rhonda, and father of four children.




Letter to Kure Beach Town Council



Subject: Support of FPHPS
Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2014 16:34:41 -0400

This letter is for the Kure Beach Town Council.
First let me say that I am very pleased and impressed with the work that has been done by the Town Council these past few years in Kure Beach. The new park and especially the new street lights and sidewalks are fantastic! It has to be a difficult task to keep a small town progressive all the while preserving it’s wonderful past, but you folks sure do try and succeed.
I love Kure Beach and this island as a whole! Last year, I discovered the Federal Point Historical Preservation Society and joined immediately. I have so much enthusiasm for this organization because I am a direct recipient of all the good work it does just like being a citizen of Kure Beach under your guidance. All work done is done for the good of all.
I know that the Town of Kure Beach has in the past supported the FPHPS and you have been mentioned with applauses in our meetings. Please consider once again supporting us this year as we endeavor to locate, mark, and preserve the valuable history that we are all so very lucky to find all around us.
Thank you for all the things you do for us and for taking time out today to read this letter!!

Tony Phillips
109 Ocean View Ave (Kure Beach)
Carolina Beach, NC 28428

Monthly Meeting Report – Februrary, 2014

Lori SanderlinLori Sanderlin, Curator of Education at the Southport Maritime Museum, spoke on how the American culture dealt with death during and as a result of the Civil War era. She talked about the severe rules of conduct and dress for the affluent widows .

Often the hair of the deceased was turned into decorative or useful items. In the big cities there were even large stores that sold only grieving items.

Funeral customs began to change as many soldiers died far from home in battle and of disease in crowded prisoner camps. Lori presented representative costumes of the ladies in mourning.


Coming Soon! ‘Local Flavor’ Cookbook

Coming! Coming! Coming soon!

After two years of toil and struggle “The Cookbook” is finished and on its way to China to be printed. We hope to have it available for sale by the beginning of June (yes, 2014).

Cookbook - Local FlavorHere’s a recipe from our “Oral History Section.

Oyster Roast

For 3 or 4 people catch 3 or 4 bushels oysters in the marsh. Wash mud off oysters in bay water. Get 2 green poles. Stack oysters in a row about a yard high – no more than 2 or 3 deep or won’t cook. Stack bushes on the windward side so fire blows through the oysters. When burns down, brush debris away. Open with oyster knife and a rag to hold the hot shell. Eat as is. Serve with butter or hot sauce.

Contributed by: Jack Lewis
(Federal Point History Center – Oral History Files)

Chris Fonvielle Leads Walk to Sugarloaf – March 22, 2014




Fonvielle Explaining the Earthworks

Chris Fonvielle – pointing out details of the earthworks within Carolina Beach State Park

Chris Fonvielle Leads: Walk to Sugarloaf

Saturday March 22, 2014 – 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Parts of the Civil War “Battle of Fort Fisher” were fought across the Federal Point peninsula well north of the Fort itself. And if you know where to look you can still see remnants of the trenches and embankments today.

Again this year Dr. Chris Fonvielle will lead this popular narrated walk from the Federal Point History Center (1121 N. Lake Park Blvd.) through the Carolina Beach State Park to Sugarloaf, a landmark on the banks of the Cape Fear River.

The walk will last about 2 hours. A $5.00 donation is requested and can be paid the day of the walk.

There is a limit of 25 participants so everyone can see and hear Dr. Fonvielle’s narration. Reservations may be made by calling the Federal Point History Center at 910-458-0502.


From the President – March, 2014

Barry Nelder

Barry Nelder

President’s Message:

How time flies!Federal Point History Center

It’s time to make our requests for financial support to the towns of Carolina Beach and Kure Beach for the fiscal year 2014/2015!

Demetria and Darlene are busy getting our applications prepared and turned in on time – but WE NEED YOU to support our applications by speaking to, or writing, or emailing, our local town officials.

They need to hear from their constituents just how important the Federal Point History Center is to our community and what their support enables us to accomplish.

Remember, we are asking for funds to keep the History Center open to the general public – not for money for the operation the Society.


From the Editor:

Thanks to Tony Phillips for taking the time and effort to correspond with our local Town Councils – reminding them of the role that the Federal Point History Center serves in our community.

Tony’s letter to Carolina Beach Town Council.

His letter to the Kure Beach Town Council.

Please consider using his example (and emails) in requesting the town’s financial support for the History Center.



Society Notes – March, 2014

Darlene Bright, History Center Director

  • The History Center recorded 44 visitors in February. The gift shop took in $12.00. The History Center was used by Got-‘em-on Live, and the Sugar Loaf Preservation Group
  • Welcome to new life-time member, Brenda Armes of Olde Salty’s on the Boardwalk at Carolina Beach.
  • Thanks to our History Center Volunteer Carl Filipiak who is working on the cataloging of the subject files. Also, thanks to Andre’ Blouin for all the time he’s put into the new website. The website – – is up and it’s chock full of all kinds of great information.
  • Newsletter: Thanks to Cheri McNeill for her always thorough proofing of the newsletter and Lois Taylor for her help getting the Newsletter in the mail.
  • Thanks to Tony Phillips for working on our subject files project. He is searching the internet for all kinds of information about the local area and has already contributed a number of great articles.


Federal Point Chronology 1725 – 1994

Compiled By Bill Reaves

Published by:

New Hanover Public Library &

Federal Point Historic Preservation Society

Wilmington, NC


Bill Reaves - Carolina Beach 1946

Carolina Beach, 1946 — Courtesy, New Hanover County Public Library

The chronology was originally compiled by Bill Reaves (1934 – 2000) who typed it on index cards. Upon his death, the collection was given to the North Carolina Room of the New Hanover County Public Library.

The library shared the typed index cards with the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society whose volunteers typed the 285 page manuscript. Ann Hewlett Hutteman prepared the index for the Federal Point Chronilogy.

The cover photo (below) depicts Carolina Beach in 1897. It is taken from a pamphlet published by The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce entitled New Hanover County, The Sub-Tropical Region of the Old North State (New Hanover County Public Library, Special Collection #92).

The information was gathered from many sources; however the majority of it was taken from Mr. Reaves’ vast newspaper collection.

The entire PDF file (3.8 Mb), the “Bill Reaves – Federal Point Chronology” downloadable here: Bill Reaves – Federal Point Chronology 1728-1994.pdf   The file is presented in chronological order starting in 1728.

If you download the file, using tools such as Adobe Reader or Apple Preview, the large Chronology PDF file can be keyword searchable.

About this web-based version of the Chronology:
The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society used the entire contents of the original 2011 Federal Point Chronology PDF file – breaking the PDF document into pages based on year.  All pages and all articles of the original PDF are included in this web version of the Federal Point Chronology.

The right column on these pages provides access to complete yearly segments of the Chronology.  In addition, this website’s ‘Search’ functionality, located on the top right of every page, provides an excellent capability for searching through all of the documents/pages of this website.

Helpful hint: If searching by ‘Search’ on this website (located on top right of all pages), when opening any of the ‘Search’ retrieved pages, you can then use your browser’s ‘Find’ command – (Ctrl F or Cmd F) to search within that web-page or document.

Bill Reaves - Cover - CB 1897

Carolina Beach in 1897 — (Click to enlarge)