Local History – This week (Feb. 6-9, 2015)

♦  The Battle Of Forks Road – Wilmington, Feb 7 and 8, 2015


♦  The Stonewall of Forks RoadGeneral Robert F. Hoke and the Battle of Forks Road

Subsequent to the fall of Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865, Northern forces began a cautious advance on the city of Wilmington from both sides of the Cape Fear River.

After the evacuation of Fort Anderson on the west side of the river on February 19, Major General Robert F. Hoke had to abandon his defensive position across the river from that fort, at Sugar Loaf.

Without any strong fortifications to fall back on, Hoke knew that making a stand between the enemy and Wilmington would be difficult. … Read more ..

Carolina Beach in 1897 – A Delightful Ocean Resort

from: The Wilmington Messenger, August 22, 1897

The Wilmington - from 'A Colonial Apparition, A Story of the Cape Fear', 1898 – by James Sprunt

The Wilmington – from ‘A Colonial Apparition, A Story of the Cape Fear’, 1898 – by James Sprunt

Carolina Beach, as a seaside resort, has great advantages, as reported in The Wilmington Messenger, dated August 22, 1897. The best proof of this is that it is visited by thousands annually. It has become the Mecca of excursion parties.

In the summer of 1896, the steamer Wilmington, which conveys passengers to the beach from Wilmington, sold, as it is shown by its returns to the inspector of steamboats, 32,000 round trip tickets.

During this summer since the opening in May, 1897, to the present date, the steamer Wilmington, has taken up, in round numbers, 48,000 round trip tickets.

Of these, Captain Harper estimates that one-half were visitors from the Wilmington area and one-half were visitors from other section of North Carolina and other states, and this number of tickets does not represent the whole number of persons carried, for no charge is made for children under the age of 10 years, and there are thousands of these that annually visit the beach.

One might write volumes in description of Carolina Beach, and yet could write nothing that would praise in higher terms the attractions of this resort than this simple recital of facts.

Opened in 1885
Carolina Beach and Captain John W. Harper are associated together in the public mind. Previous to 1885, he commanded the steamer, Passport, plying between Wilmington and Southport, and during the summer months, carried many excursion parties and passengers down the river.

Capt John Harper

Capt John Harper

He conceived the idea of a seaside resort on the ocean beach, with a railroad across the narrow peninsula lying between the ocean and the river, there to connect by steamer with the City of Wilmington. He organized the New Hanover Transit Co., which constructed the railroad, and located the resort at the lower end of Masonboro Sound immediately on the Atlantic Ocean.

He named the place Carolina Beach and in the summer of 1885 the resort was first opened to the public. The little steamer, Passport, the pioneer in this river excursion parties, now out of service, is pleasantly remembered in association with the beach. From the first the resort was a favorite. At first, patronized chiefly by the Wilmington people, it has since grown into larger proportions and now includes in its frequent visitors people from all sections of this and other states.

How Reached – Steamer Wilmington
Steamer WilmingtonThe steamer, Wilmington, runs between Wilmington and the river pier, conveying passengers and freight. It is a comfortable, swift, and commodious steamer, designed especially for her present character of transportation.

She is in length 135 feet, breadth 23 feet, tonnage 110 net, double decked, compound engines, and is allowed by the United States steamboat inspection service to carry 600 passengers a trip.

She can carry 2,000 passengers a day, as she makes five trips daily. The steamer is owned and commanded by Captain Harper. He likewise owns a controlling interest in the beach and the railroad across from the river to the ocean. To this fact may be ascribed, for he is a man of executive capacity and experience, the safe, smooth, and easy system by which the large crowds are handled.

Captain Harper has had an experience of twenty-one summers in handling passenger steamers on the Cape Fear. In this time he has never lost a day in the service, nor ever had an accident on any of the boats under his command. He commands order and requires of his crew and passengers a courteous consideration for the pleasure, comfort and rights of the many who travel under his care.

Sail Down the River

The visitor boards the steamer, Wilmington, at her pier, in the City, the foot of Market Street, and the steamer having cast her moorings he finds himself swiftly gliding down the river, which is a broad and beautiful stream, passing on either side scenes of historic interest and natural attractiveness.

The sea breezes, which sweep up the river, refresh and invigorate, while passing ships, steamers, tugs, both domestic and foreign, which ply along the river, engaged in local, domestic and foreign commerce, enliven the scene, as the steamer speeds on to the pier of the New Hanover Transit Co. – a distance down the river of about fifteen miles.

New Hanover Transit Company

Shoo-fly Train at Carolina Beach

Shoo-fly Train at Carolina Beach

At the pier of the New Hanover Transit Co., which is the river terminus of the railroad running between the river and the Atlantic, Ocean, in length three miles, the passenger is transferred to the railroad car, and after a few moments ride on the train through woodland scenery, he is landed at Carolina Beach, in jumping distance of the great ocean.

He has made the trip from Wilmington in one hour and fifteen minutes.


from 'A Colonial Apparition, A Story of the Cape Fear' – by James Sprunt

from ‘A Colonial Apparition, A Story of the Cape Fear’, 1898 – by James Sprunt

Its Location
The site of Carolina Beach has been well selected. The hotel, pavilions and cottages are all situated on the beach, fronting the ocean. There is a stretch of twenty miles of beautiful beach. It is wide, hard, smooth and slopes gently to the ocean, extending northward to Masonboro Inlet, which divides this beach from the beach at Wrightsville, and southward as far as the celebrated Fort Fisher.

Behind the cottages lay the waters of the lower end of Masonboro Sound, which affords delightful still water bathing and opportunities for fishing and sailing; back of the site are pine groves, water oak and woodland scenery.

It is within one-half of a mile of what is known as Camp Wyatt. Here in the Civil War the Confederate soldiers stood guard of the coast defenses. As one looks out upon the Atlantic, he sees the wrecks, still two or three blockade runners, which failing in their attempt to run into New Inlet and escape the blockade, were destroyed rather than permit them to pass into the hands of the enemy.

Carolina Moon Pavillion NHC Library - LT Moore Collection

Carolina Moon Pavilion c. 1907
NHC Library – L.T. Moore Collection

Its Advantages and Pleasures
It is perfectly healthy, for the land upon which it is situated is dry and well drained. The visitor breaths only the pure air of the ocean. The sea breezes make it always cool and refreshing. The surf bathing is rendered comparatively safe by the gentle slope of the beach.

To say that the ocean water is better here than elsewhere on the coast might strike an inland man as exaggerated. The fact is, however, the water of the ocean further south is too warm and insipid; farther north it is chilled and one can remain in it but a few moments. The temperature of the water here, as along this Carolina coast, is neither to warm or too cool; it has a delightful temperature.

It is nothing for surf bathers to remain in the surf for an hour, with impunity, and as in this time one is undergoing continuous active exercise, accompanied by the pleasure of bathing, the benefit is greater than where his bathing is made necessarily short by the discomfort of the water. there are all the facilities, of course, for surf bathing and protection to bathers while in the enjoyment of the sport.

There are splendid opportunities for fishing either in the ocean or in the sound, and sailing, either over the smooth waters of Masonboro or the rolling billows of the ocean. The sheep-head, drum and sea-trout are the fish usually landed by the sportsman. The beach excellent facilities for driving and bicycling, and is a play ground for the children of endless interest and amusement to them. All the pleasures of the sea are here.

Oceanic Hotel
Bill-Reaves-Carolina-Beach-The-Oceanic-Hotel-Rocks-May-15-1893The Oceanic Hotel is kept by Mr. R. A. Jenkins. It is the rendezvous of excursion parties. The proprietor does not undertake to serve Delmonico meals, but one may have at all times well served sheepshead, soft shell crabs, shrimps and, in season, oysters, as well as all the delicacies that come out of the sea. The hotel comfortably accommodates a limited number of transient boarders.

Cottage Life
There are forty private cottages at Carolina Beach, owned by residents at Wilmington, Charlotte and elsewhere. The housewife has comparatively little trouble in keeping house. Merchants of Wilmington send daily to the cottages for orders and deliver goods at the door. The fisherman and truckers deliver in like manner fish, game and vegetables. Water is supplied by water works and sanitation provided in modern methods.

The cottage life of this resort is one of the most agreeable and peculiar features. The afternoons and evenings are spent in many kinds of social enjoyment and in the interchange of hospitalities between the cottagers. Time passes among them, not in the nervous and enervating excitements of fashionable life, but in the quiet, peaceful life and occupation suggested by the fresh air and natural environments of the place.

The management reserves at all times the best of order, although there are few temptations to invite on the part of anyone the least disorderly conduct, and as a result of the excellent decorum alike among permanent and transient visitors, there is a feeling in the cottage life of security and protection that lends additional pleasure to the resort.

Of course, one is not here out of the world, as the newspapers are delivered to him by 7 o’clock in the morning and there are two mails a day each way to Wilmington.

Its Future
Carolina Beach is no longer an experiment. It is an assured success. Every year has marked an increase in visitors. The coming years will show it’s still greater development. Captain Harper realizes that another year will be under the necessity of running two instead of one boat to the beach. There is in contemplation the erection of a fine club house in another year. Enlarged hotel facilities will come. The prospect of this pioneer of seaside resorts along the Cape Fear shores is destined to become one of the famous resorts of the Atlantic seaboard.

[Feb. 2015: This article’s text was originally published in the May 1997 – FPHPS Newsletter (pdf)]Walk of Fame - Harper Marker

[Bill Reaves provided FPHPS with this story from ‘The Wilmington Messenger’, August 22, 1897 · Page 12]

(Editor’s Note, 1997:  Bill Reaves, a long time supporter of our Society and a foremost historian of the Cape Fear area, has recently completed Volume III of the History of Southport, the most recent of a long line of publications to his credit. Bill is a regular contributor of materials from his extensive research. The Southport Historical Society has declared June 1, 1997, to be ‘Bill Reaves Day’)

A noted historian, Mr. Reaves was involved in over fifty local history publications and genealogical abstracts, covering New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender and Duplin counties. A charter member of the Southport Historical Society, he wrote a remarkable four volume history of Southport. He was the author of Strength Through Struggle, The Chronological and Historical Record of the African-American Community in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1865-1950, for which he received a national award from the American Association of State and Local History. – (New Hanover County Public Library)

View excellent pictorial descriptions of Carolina Beach in the late 1890’s by local authors:
1.   Carolina Moon Pavilion – by Ann Hewlett Hutteman
and ..
2.   The Pavilion was called many names – by Elaine Blackmon Henson
‘Carolina Moon, Carolina Club Casino, Carolina Club’

Captain John Harper – from the Bill Reaves Files – a FPHPS webpage

A brief history of the steamer, Wilmington



James William Craig – A Veteran Cape Fear River Pilot

[Editor’s Note (1997): The following article was published in the ‘Wilmington Star’ on May 14, 1911, and comes to us from the collection of William Reaves.]

James SpruntNHC Public Library

James Sprunt
NHC Public Library

[Editor’s Note (2015) – The author of this piece was James Sprunt. This article was later published (1916) in his book, Chronicles of the Cape Fear River, 1660-1916.

“Our ship’s company numbered forty-eight men, and now, after a lapse of forty-seven years, we two, James Sprunt, purser, and J. W. Craig, pilot, are the only survivors of them all.”]

His name is the Reverend James William Craig, Methodist Preacher, but I like to think of him as Jim Billy, the Cape Fear pilot of war times, on the bridge of the swift Confederate blockade runner Lynx, commanded by the intrepid Captain Reed. . . . My shipmate, Jim Billy, is growing old, and so am I.

Some days ago I drew out of Jim Billy the following narrative, which I have set down as nearly as may be in his own words, and I trust it may serve to interest and instruct some of the readers of the Star, who do not often hear a true sailor’s yarn:

I was born in May 1840, and piloted my first vessel into the Cape Fear River when I was seventeen years of age. At that time Mr. P.W. Fanning, of Wilmington, was chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Navigation and Pilotage, and the present custom of issuing branches or licenses was not in vogue. I acted under the protection of my father, who was a branch pilot; in other words he was permitted to carry in vessels of any depth suitable for the water then available. I was an apprentice with him.

When the war broke out I was twenty-one years of age, and in view of certain circumstances favorable to my reputation, I was given by the Board of Commissioners of Navigation and Pilotage a license for twelve feet, the laws having been changed a year or two before the war in respect to the method of issuing licenses.

My father, James N. Craig, lived a short distance from Fort Fisher on the river side at a place called Craig’s Landing, and his house and landing were both used later by the commander of Fort Fisher, Col. William Lamb, who was so intimately engaged with my father that he gave him general charge of the duty of setting lights for the benefit of blockade runners, under certain restrictions which had been provided.

I was therefore engaged for nearly two years after the outbreak of the war in assisting my father, and became more familiar with the channel and the approaches of the channel than many other pilots who had not the opportunity of sounding, as we had frequently, under government instructions.

The first proposal made to me to take a ship through the blockade was by Captain E.C. Reed, commander of the celebrated cruiser Sumter. This vessel had been dismantled of her guns on account of her slow speed and general unfitness for a cruiser, after her destruction of many vessels of the enemy, and she was sent into Wilmington with a cargo of war stores, conspicuous among which were two enormous Blakely guns, which were subsequently used in the defense of Charleston.

Blockading fleet of Wilmington, North Carolina - New Inlet. -- December 3, 1864, Harper's Weekly

Blockading fleet of Wilmington, North Carolina – New Inlet. — December 3, 1864, Harper’s Weekly

After the discharge of the cargo at Wilmington the Sumter was loaded with cotton, and Captain Reed brought her down to Old Brunswick landing and anchored, before he made arrangements for the engagement of a pilot to take him out. In coming into the Cape Fear, Captain Reed had, through a successful ruse, passed through the blockading fleet by hoisting the US. ensign and pretending to be one of the fleet. The blockaders did not discover his true character until he was under the guns of Fort Fisher, and consequently they were very eager to capture him on his voyage outward.

At that time of the tide it was impossible to take over the Rip Shoal or across either of the bars a ship drawing more than eleven feet. The Sumter drew eleven feet of water and grounded repeatedly in attempting to go out. Captain Reed offered me $1,000.00 in gold if I would take the ship out successfully and reach Bermuda, where he would discharge me and proceed to England with his cargo.

I made several ineffectual attempts to get the Sumter outside, but owing to the lack of water and the vigilance of the blockading fleet, we were baffled repeatedly. At last I took her out successfully over the New Inlet bar, the fleet in the meantime having concentrated at the western bar, expecting to capture her there, and Captain Reed subsequently told me that he proceeded to Bermuda and to England without sighting a single hostile vessel during the whole voyage.

A short time after that I piloted the steamship Orion in over New Inlet successfully, that vessel having arrived off the bar without a pilot, and very luckily for the ship as well as for me, hailed me while I was setting some lights for another vessel, the Cornubia, ready to go out in charge of pilot C. C. Morse.

Some months afterwards a very fine blockade runner called the Don, under command of Captain Roberts, (whose real name was Hobart, a son of the Earl of Buckinghamshire, a Post Captain in the British Navy and who had obtained leave of absence in order to try his skill at blockade running), was brought successfully to Wilmington by pilot St. George, who was there taken sick and I was requested to assume his place.

On my return to Wilmington in the Don, I relinquished this vessel to her former pilot, St. George, and made a contract with the agent in Wilmington, of a firm which owned a number of blockade runners – a notable one being the Hansa – to pilot any vessels which he might designate and be subject to his orders at any moment, the term of engagement being three months.

Immediately afterwards, I was ordered to proceed to Nassau in the blockade runner Fanny (formerly the Orion), and report to Captain Watters, of the blockade runner Annie, for duty on that ship.

Blockade Runner

Blockade Runner

I remember that we left in the Fanny on Saturday night and arrived in Nassau before daylight on Tuesday morning, where I found the Annie loaded and ready for sea and waiting for me. We accordingly left about 4 o’clock that afternoon and arrived without incident inside the Cape Fear bar on the Friday night following.

I made a second voyage through the blockade in the Annie, passing within a cable length of two of the Federal fleet, who failed to observe us. We again loaded the Annie in Nassau and cleared for Wilmington, but fell in with a hurricane shortly afterwards and were obliged to heave to for about forty hours, during which we lost our reckoning, and failing to get observations for three days, waited until the gale subsided and then anchored the ship in smooth water, by a kedge, until the captain succeeded in getting an observation of the North Star, by which he worked out his position, we then shaped our course straight for the blockade fleet off Fort Fisher.

At that time, and subsequently, it was the custom for the Flag Ship of the blockading squadron to carry a large light, and, this being the only one visible, served the purpose of guiding the blockade runners until they could get the bearings of the Mound Light. .. .

My term of three months service having expired, I was proceeding in my skiff from Craig’s Landing to Wilmington when I was overtaken by a very swift blockade runner, with two rakish funnels, a perfect model of its kind, called the Lynx, and, having been given a tow line, climbed aboard and found, to my great surprise and delight, that the ship was commanded by my old friend Captain Reed, who immediately requested that I would arrange to go with him, as his engagement of a pilot was only for the voyage inward.

To this I consented, on condition that Gen. Whiting would approve of it, and I received a few days afterwards a telegram to go on board the Lynx at Fort Fisher. I was in a hurricane on this ship, in which she fared badly, her paddle boxes, sponsons and bridge deck having been partly washed away, but we at last limped into Bermuda, and, after repairing damages, proceeded again to Wilmington.

The longest chase of which I was a witness during the war, occurred while I was on the Lynx, which was chased by that very fast cruiser Fort Jackson for fifteen hours. The Fort Jackson’s log and official report subsequently showed that she was making sixteen knots an hour, which at that time was considered phenomenal speed, (the average blockade runner seldom exceeding fourteen knots an hour), and on this occasion I remember that the safety valves of the Lynx were weighted down by the iron tops of the coal bunkers, which of course imperiled the life of everyone on board, but increased the speed of the Lynx to more than sixteen knots an hour and enabled her ultimately to escape.

After making two round passages in the Lynx and running the blockade four times in this vessel, several times under fire, I joined at Wilmington the Confederate steamer Lilian, under the following peculiar circumstances. Quite a number of the Wilmington pilots had been captured by the enemy, and the force available for ships waiting in Bermuda and Nassau, belonging to the Confederate Government, was greatly reduced in consequence thereof.

The regular pilot of the Lilian was Thomas Grissom, and I was one of four extra pilots, (the three others being Joseph Thompson, James Bell and Charles Craig), who were ordered by Gen. Whiting to proceed to Bermuda and take charge of certain ships to be designated by Major Norman S. Walker, the Confederate agent at that port.

Trouble began before we got outside. An armed barge from the fleet had come close inside the Western Bar and lay in our track in the channel, and, immediately upon our approach, sent up a rocket and fired a gun, which was instantly answered by the whole fleet outside and I remember that we crossed the bar in a bright flash of Drummond lights and rockets which made the night as bright as day.

Every one of the blockaders was firing at or over us as we headed out to sea and when next morning dawned which was Sunday, we had just succeeded in dropping the last of the cruisers which had chased us all night. We were congratulating ourselves after breakfast that morning that we would have a clear sea towards Bermuda and by the way the sea was as smooth as glass, when the lookout in the crow’s nest reported a vessel of war ahead, shortly afterwards another on the starboard bow, and a little later a third one on our port bow, and in a few  minutes a fourth one on our beam.

We had unfortunately run into the second line of blockaders, called the Gulf Squadron, and it was not more than two hours before they were all in range and pelting us with bomb shells. The chase lasted until half past one in the afternoon when a shell from the cruiser on our starboard beam, called the Gettysburg and which was formerly the blockade runner Margaret and Jessie, struck us below the water line, making a large hole through which the water rushed like a mill stream.

All our efforts to stop the leak with blankets were unavailing. We had previously thrown over our deck load of cotton, but it was impossible to reach the hole from the inside, as the hold was jam of cotton, and in a short time the vessel began to steer badly and gradually sank almost to the level of the deck.

Finding further efforts to escape utterly fruitless, our Captain stopped the ship and surrendered to the boats which immediately surrounded us. I remember that when the ship was hove to and the Federal officers came on board, our sullen and dejected commander was standing on the starboard paddle box, with his arms folded and his back turned to the approaching Federals, when one of them, with a drawn sword, approached and asked if he was in command of the ship.

Captain Martin responded with an oath: ‘I was commander, but I suppose you are captain now.’  Although every effort had been made to escape, those of us who knew Captain Maffitt, the former commander of the Lilian, regretted very much his absence on this occasion, as he would most likely have been more fortunate in getting away.

Knowing how eager the Federals were to identify the pilot of the ship, they being in blissful ignorance that there were no fewer than five Wilmington pilots on board, we all agreed to personate firemen or members of the crew, and succeeded in passing ourselves as such. Subsequently all of us escaped except the ship’s pilot, who was detained at Point Lookout until the end of the war.

Our ship’s company numbered forty-eight men, and now, after a lapse of forty-seven years [1911], we two, James Sprunt, purser, and J. W. Craig, pilot, are the only survivors of them all.

After our escape from prison, we made our way to Halifax, Nova Scotia, through the medium of some gold coins, which I fortunately kept next to my body in a waist band and which paid the passage of four of my companions, including Mr. Sprunt. I pointed the steamer Bat at Halifax, and proceeded as pilot of her to Wilmington.

When off the bar, and in the midst of the blockading fleet, which was firing heavily upon us, my captain lost his nerve, and notwithstanding my expostulations, persisted in stopping the Bat.

The cause of the captain’s excitement was due to this remarkable incident: one of our sailors was a survivor of the desperate battle between the Alabama and the Kearsarge off Cherbourg [France] some months before, he having served on the Alabama, but, instead of proving to be, as might have been expected, a very brave man under the fire of the blockading fleet, he became terrified and hid himself far forward under the turtle-back in the eyes of our ship as he could squeeze himself.

During the firing of the fleet a shot struck the exact spot where this poor fellow was hiding and cut off his leg, causing him to utter such shrieks as to demoralize our captain, who ignobly stopped and anchored his ship in the midst of the enemy, when he might just as well have gone on, with less risk of destruction. The ship that boarded us that night was the US. steamer Montgomery.

For the second time I was made a prisoner of war, under the following circumstances, which I have never mentioned but once.

Before I became engaged in the blockade running service, I was acting as mate on the Confederate steamer Flora McDonald, a transport on the Cape Fear river, and when the Confederate privateer Retribution sent a prize schooner into Wilmington which she had captured at sea, in charge of one of the Retribution‘s officers named Jordan, who had shipped with Captain Joseph Price in Wilmington, I assisted in towing that vessel from the bar to Wilmington. . . .

When I was captured by the Montgomery, I was taken to the Portsmouth navy yard, when we were boarded by a Federal officer in a Captain’s uniform, who proved to be none other than my quondam Confederate Jordan, who had gone over to the enemy, and who immediately recognized me and informed against me.

I was then put in irons and sent on board the US. man-of-war Sabine, where I was most kindly treated by its commander, Captain Loring, and while a prisoner on his ship I was repeatedly approached by the Federal officers, who offered to pay me any sum I would name if I would join their fleet Fort Fisher and take part as a pilot in their attack against my home. I told them that the United States Government did not have enough money to induce me to accept such a proposition, and I accordingly remained a prisoner at Point Lookout until after the war was over.

I may add that while I was a prisoner on the Sabine, two of the Cape Fear pilots, C. C. Morse and John Savage, were brought on board as prisoners, under suspicion of being pilots, and, although they were intimate friends of mine, I took particular pains to treat them as total strangers and paid no attention to them, lest it might get them into further trouble.

They were much relieved when they discovered my purpose. Savage was subsequently released, but Morse, having been identified later by some other means, was made a prisoner with me until the end of the war. The monotony of prison life so few incidents worth mentioning that this experience is hardly worth recalling, and yet, I remember some diversions, which gave us much merriment at the time.

While our friends of the Lilian were confined for several weeks in a casemate of Fort Macon, that garrison consisted of what the Yankees called the First Regiment of North Carolina Volunteers. . . . Every day an officer and guard took us outside our gloomy casemate and permitted us to stretch our legs along the beach, while we gazed with longing eyes across the intervening sound to Dixie’s Land. The marsh grass was of sand fiddlers, which scuttled away at our approach.

I pretended to be surprised and asked the guard what these things were, as they called lobsters in my country if they were larger. The old renegade looked at me with a most contemptuous expression, and replied: ‘You know what they are; you’ve got millions of them at Smithville, whar you come from.’

Another daily experience was the persistent, though unsuccessful, effort of the officer of the day to tease out of our young purser, James Sprunt, whom he thought an easy mark on account of his youth (17 years), a betrayal of our pilot, little dreaming that we were five Wilmington pilots.

A warm attachment began in that prison life, between Mr. Sprunt and myself, which has been true and steadfast through all these intervening years. We little thought then that our lives would be so long united in the bonds of Christian fellowship and commercial enterprise.

During my subsequent confinement on the Sabine as a prisoner of war, a large number of blockade runners who had been captured at sea were brought to that school ship for confinement, and Captain Loring tried in every way to surprise those suspected of being pilots into an admission of the fact.

One fine day, while the prisoners were lying on the deck, Captain Loring, looking like an old seadog, and hearty, paced up and down among them, and suddenly, turning on his heel, he called out: ‘All the North Carolinians stand up ..’ [torn page] eyes over a number [torn page] themselves, but not a man stirred, and old Loring, who was really a good fellow and kind to us, went on his way.

And I hope it may not be amiss in the conclusion of these reminiscences to allude to the fact that, although I have been all these years engaged as a Cape Fear pilot, in the duties of my vocation, it has pleased God to call me also to the higher duty of preaching His Gospel, as a Methodist Minister, and to make me the humble instrument, in His Hands of guiding some of my fellow men to their eternal rest, as I have guided the ships to the haven. .

.. . [The End].


[Text was originally published in the February 1997 – FPHPS Newsletter (pdf)]

James William “Jim Billy” Craig – NCSU

Chronicles of the Cape Fear River, 1660-1916
‘James William Craig – A Veteran Pilot’  – By James Sprunt

A Colonial Apparition, A Story of the Cape Fear – by James Sprunt
Published by the ‘Wilmington and Southport Steamboat Line’


Built in Wilmington – The Confederate Ironclads Raleigh and North Carolina

[Text originally published in the June, 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter, Sandy Jackson, editor]

During the Civil War the Confederates built two ironclad steamers at Wilmington — the CSS North Carolina and the CSS Raleigh.

Benjamin Beery and Brothers built the North Carolina at their “Confederate Navy Yard,” or the “Navy Yard” on Eagles Island, across from Wilmington, while J. L. Cassidey and Sons built the Raleigh, at their shipyard at the foot of Church Street in Wilmington.

CSS North Carolina

CSS North Carolina

The Richmond-class ironclad North Carolina, begun in July 1862, remained nameless until October of that year, when S.R. Mallory, secretary of the Confederate States Navy, instructed that the ship be named the North Carolina.

Built for the Confederate government in accordance with the specifications issued by chief naval constructor John L. Porter, the North Carolina was the largest ship built by the Beery brothers. It measured 150 feet in length, 32 feet in beam, had a depth of 14 feet, and only 800 tons burden.

Nearly all of the wood used in the construction of the ship was fresh cut or “green.” The hull was partially constructed of pine, and the upper works of heavy oak. It was stated that the ironclad steamer had a draft of 13 feet – too deep for crossing the bar and was primarily intended for river defense.

The North Carolina was expected to be completed by October or November 1862, but strikes, shortages, and a yellow-fever epidemic postponed the launching of the vessel for several months.

The guns, railroad iron plating, and engines for both ironclads under construction had to be produced at the Confederacy’s only iron rolling mill, the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, VA.

Instead of waiting for the engine to be built for the North Carolina, Captain Beery was able to locate an engine from another vessel that could be installed in the ironclad. At the beginning of the war Wilmington seized the tug Uncle Ben and removed the engine. Although the engine from the tug proved inadequate for the larger ironclad, it was better than having to wait for the Tredegar Iron Works to build one.

CSS North Carolina -  paper model

CSS North Carolina – paper model

Nearly complete by the spring of 1863, the North Carolina still lacked guns and what would prove a costly omission – lower-hull copper sheathing. There was very little copper to be found in the whole Confederacy in 1863, and the sheathing had to be omitted from the final plans. The specific armament of the North Carolina has never been determined.

Most Richmond-class ironclads were designed to carry two 7-inch and two 6.4-inch Brooke rifles. Both the bow and stem guns were on pivots, able to turn to either broadside to fire. The other two guns were placed at midships on either side of the vessel. That arrangement gave the Richmond class a three-gun broadside potential. Although the Wilmington ironclads were meant to carry, four guns, they may have carried only three, primarily to conserve weight.

Before the ironclad was finished, the navy loaned to General Whiting at Fort Fisher two Brooke 6.4-inch rifles. When the North Carolina was ready to be launched, General Whiting returned the guns. The third gun was probably a 7-inch Brooke rifle.

The Confederate Navy placed the ironclad steamer North Carolina in commission during the later part of the year with Capt. William T. Muse in command of a complement of 150 men. Unable to cross the bar for ocean duty and subject to breakdowns of its old engine, the North Carolina was involved in little action.

It was moored at Smithville [Southport] as a guard ship for the lower entrance to the Cape Fear River. The ironclad spent most of its entire career at Smithville, where it was subject to progressive deterioration below the waterline from teredo worms because of its lack of sheathing.

Lieutenant William B. Cushing of the US. Navy stated in June 1864 that the ironclad “is but little relied upon, and would not stand long against a monitor.” In April Capt. William Maury temporarily replaced Capt. William Muse, who had been overcome by typhoid fever.

When Captain Maury was then stricken with “acute Rheumatism,” Capt. John Pembroke Jones became the final commander of the North Carolina. Jones spent the majority of his time overseeing the “fitting out of a blockade runner” in Wilmington, and the ironclad North Carolina quickly deteriorated during the absence of its captain.

Finally, in September a 1864, the North Carolina sprang a leak while anchored in the river.

Reportedly the Confederates abandoned the ironclad next to Battery Island. In a letter to his sister, Assistant Third Engineer Charles Peek stationed at Smithville wrote: “The old North Carolina is no more. She [is] full of water before I left. The men are now employed taking the iron from her.”

A year after the sinking of the ironclad, Stephen Bartlett, a US. surgeon stationed aboard a ship at Southport, wrote home to his brother about visiting the partially submerged wreck: “Tell Walter I fish from the Rebel iron clad N Carolina which is sunk near us but most of the decks are out of water”.

In the spring of 1868 the Navy Department contracted for the removal of the remaining iron plating from the North Carolina; In late June “some fifty tons of iron, stripped from the ram North Carolina,” was sold at public auction for 2 1/8 cents per pound. Three years later the wooden remains of the old ram North Carolina were intentionally burnt to the water’s edge.

During late 1863, the Confederates laid down the second ironclad, the steam-powered ram Raleigh at the wharf near the foot of Church Street in Wilmington at the J.L. Cassidey & Sons Shipyard.

Ironclad CSS Raleigh - Courtesy of Cape Fear Historical Institute

Ironclad CSS Raleigh – Courtesy of Cape Fear Historical Institute

That Richmond-class ironclad, built to John L. Porter’s plans, was similar to those of the CSS North Carolina, and 150 feet in length stempost to sternpost and 172 feet overall, with a 32-foot beam and a draft of 12 feet.

Two thicknesses of iron plating, or casemate, covered a heavily constructed wooden hull, and formed a ram at the how. The Confederate Navy commissioned the ironclad Raleigh on April 3, 1864, under Lt. John Wilkinson, and shortly thereafter placed it under the command of Lt. J. Pembroke Jones.

The vessel’s compliment numbered 188, and her armament consisted of four 6-inch rifled cannons. The engine for the ironclad may have been removed from the wreck of the blockade-runner Modern Greece, while another source claims the engine was new from Richmond.

On the evening of May 6, 1864, the ironclad left Wilmington and steamed toward the bar at New Inlet accompanied by the wooden steamers CSS Yadkin and CSS Equator, to engage six vessels of the Union blockading fleet.

With the smaller steamers under the protection of the guns of Fort Fisher, the Raleigh was successful in briefly breaking the blockade that evening, allowing a blockade-runner to escape.

Fighting resumed the following morning and by 7:00 AM. the Confederates broke the action.

While attempting to cross back over the bar at the inlet, the Raleigh grounded, “breaking her back” on what was known as New Inlet rip, a narrow and shifting sand strip.

Charles Peek, when assigned to the other ironclad, the North Carolina, then stationed at Smithville, commented in a letter to his sister that “the weight of the iron upon her shield just crushed her decks in.”

By the following morning the water had reached the Raleigh’s gun decks. The severely damaged vessel was salvaged of her guns and abandoned.

The wreck of the Raleigh posed a navigation hazard for several years. In June 1864 James Randall, a young clerk in Wilmington, wrote to his friend Kate returning from a river trip to Smithville. In his letter he noted his sighting of the remains of the ironclad Raleigh “just a few yards from the channel.”

Randall described the condition of the wreck and salvage work in progress: “She was very much sunken at the stern, lifting her bow considerably. Her sides had been stripped of their armor, the smokestack prostrate, and altogether she had the appearance of a monstrous turtle stranded and forlorn. As we passed, the divers were engaged in removing her boilers and machinery”.

Contemporary accounts reported that the “guns, equipment, iron, etc.,” were “being saved.” The salvors, unable to refloat the ironclad, removed the two boilers and destroyed the vessel. The navy sent the boilers to Columbus, Georgia to be used in the steamer Chattahoochee.

In July Capt. William Cushing reported, visiting the site of the wrecked Raleigh, that nothing of the vessel remained above water.

Beery Shipyard 2008 - just North of Memorial Bridge

Beery Shipyard 2008 – just North of Memorial Bridge

The wreck was indicated on navigation charts of New Inlet for many years. In April 1868, the schooner L. Waring, laden with 3,000 bushels of corn, ran upon the sunken ironclad while passing through New Inlet. The ship’s crew made efforts the following day to lighten the schooner and save her from sinking. By late May 1868 the schooner had been raised and repaired at the Cassidey Brothers shipyard .

The Raleigh was partially salvaged again in 1881. A Wilmington newspaper provided the following account of that operation: “Mr. Horton, was cruising in that neighborhood [the rip off New Inlet] a day or two since, when they came across some obstacle on the bottom, whereupon Capt. Loring, an experienced submarine diver, donned his suit and went down, placing two kegs of gun powder in the midst of the obstruction and setting it off.

The result enabled him to ascertain that it was the wreck of a vessel, and he next placed a thirty-five pound package of powder under the wreck and blew it apart, when a portion of the sunken gunboat, which proved to be the front of the turret [casemate], was brought to the surface, hitched on to the schooner and brought to this port, where it was dropped on the railway at Capt. Skinner’s yard and hauled up out of the water.

June 1996 Newsletter (pdf) – Federal Point Historic Preservation Society


[Additional resources]

CSS Raleigh – NCpedia
CSS North Carolina – NCpedia
CSS Wilmington – NCpedia

What’s the story on the Confederate Shipyard on Eagles Island?
Ben Steelman – MyReporter.com

Cassidey’s Shipyard
Bennett L. Steelman –  NCpedia.com

Beery’s Shipyard Marker – photo
The Historical Marker Database

Shipbuilding along the Cape Fear River – FPHPS article

[Editor:  Claude V. (Sandy) Jackson III in his book, ‘The Big Book of the Cape Fear River‘  (p 250-252) details Wilmington’s Beery and Cassidey shipyards work on the CSS North Carolina and the CSS Raleigh.]



Mallison, Fred.
1959 “Blockade Busters That Failed.” The State 27, no. 15 (December 26, 1959): 9-12.

Murray, Paul and Stephen Russel Bartlett, Jr.
1956 “The Letters of Stephen Chaulker Bartlett Aboard U.S.S. Lenapee, January to August 1865.” The North Carolina Historical Review 33, no. 1 (January): 66-92.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (ORN). Series I and II. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion (ORA). Washington: Government Printing Office.

Peek, Charles Smith.
“Letters and Papers of Charles Smith Peek, Acting Third Assistant Engineer”, CSS North Carolina. Typed transcripts in the possession of Dr. Charles Perry, Charleston, South Carolina.

Shomette, Donald G.
1973 “Shipwrecks of the Civil War“. Washington DC: Donic Ltd.

Williams, Isabel M. and Leora H. McEachern.
1978 “River Excursions 1864.” Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, Inc. Bulletin 21, no. 3 (May)

Wilmington Daily Journal (Wilmington, NC.) 1864 (Bill Reaves Historic Newspaper Collection).

Wilmington Dispatch (Wilmington, N.C.) 1919 (Bill Reaves Historic Newspaper Collection).

Wilmington Star (Wilmington, NC.) 1868, 1871, 1881

Bill Reaves Historic Newspaper Collection