Diary of Mary J. White (Age 15) – Part 2

Part 2 of 2
[Editor note: In Part 1, Mary J. described her family preparing to accompany her father, John White, on a buying trip for the Confederacy in England. Attempts to get out of the country by blockade runner had failed for two weeks. The remaining portion of Mary White ’s diary describes their continued efforts.]

Blockade Runner Advance

Blockade Runner Advance

Aug. 15, 1864 – Smithville, NC. I have just written a long letter to Bettie Hunter. The Cape Fear came up just a minute ago and Dr. Boykin, Hugh and Tom have gone to see if there are any provisions on board for us. They just returned and say there are none. We are nearly out of bread and don’t know where to get any.

This morning the pilot of one of the ships lying in the river died of yellow fever. Ships that came in the last few days, say that yellow fever is raging in Bermuda, so the Ad-Vance will not touch there but proceed to Halifax.

Aug. 16, 1864 – Smithville, NC. The boat came down today and brought abundant supplies of bread, bacon, pickles, corn meal, lobsters, tomatoes, watermelons, etc…. We went on the margin of the river and counted ten vessels lying in quarantine near here, besides an old ironclad which they say is worthless from the number of barnacles fastened to the bottom.

Aug. 19: 1864 – Smithville, N.C. Last night we had a most delightful serenade. The serenaders were a Mr. Everett and his violin, and two Mr. Laniers, from Georgia, one with a flute and the other a guitar. They played “Ben Bolt”, “Bonny Jean” and two very spirited waltzes besides two tunes which I do not recollect.

Aug. 20, 1864 – This morning between ten and eleven o’clock, we saw the Ad-Vance coming down beautifully from Wilmington, but she stuck on the bar and had to remain there till the next high tide, which was a little after seven, when she got afloat and came opposite this place and anchored. Father and Mr. Morris came ashore from the Ad-Vance while she was aground.

Aug. 22, 1864 – on board the Ad-Vance – Another attempt will be made tonight to run the blockade. About 13 steamers are in now. Eight large Yankee ships are so near that we can distinctly see them with the naked eye, but we will not encounter them as we go in the opposite direction, but there are five where we will have to go.

Aug. 23, 1864 – Last night at about 8:30 we started off to make the attempt. We went very well until we got to the inner bar and there, as usual, we got aground and while we were vainly attempting to get off, the moon rose and shone very brightly and then of course we were effectively prevented from trying any more. After awhile, we got off and got back to Smithville, where we are lying now.

Aug. 24, 1864 – The Lillian started out last night and it was thought she got through safely, but is not certainly known. We stayed on the cotton bales to see it go out, saw the Yankees throw several rockets, then saw the flashes and heard the reports of 15 guns.

Aug. 26, 1864 – Last night we heard a quantity of guns firing and the occasion was not known until this morning, when it was found that the Hope was aground at Fort Fisher and a couple of sails were raised on board to get her off. The Yankees saw her then for the first time and began firing into her rapidly. The crew thought all was over and deserted the ship. One shot only struck the ship and that knocked a hole in the deck about the size of a man’s fist. The blockaders were fired on from Fort Fisher and that kept them in a measure… They got her off and came down here to quarantine ground to lay. It is a tremendous vessel, carrying 2000 bales of cotton, double the cargo the Ad-Vance carries, and does not draw as much water as the Ad-Vance, but this is thought to be the most trustworthy vessel at sea. The privateer, Tallahassee, is reported to have come in last night.

Aug. 28 1864 – This is Sunday and promises to be more dull than any other day. This morning we saw a little torpedo boat coming down the river…. It is a regular little steam propeller, has an iron rod projecting from the bow to which a torpedo is attached. When they get it near enough to the Yankee ships, the torpedo is made to explode by pulling a string – I think – and the vessel is blown to pieces.

Aug. 30: 1864 – An attack on Wilmington is daily expected. There are nineteen blockaders in sight of here and a turreted monitor.

SS AD Vance

SS Advance

Sept-2, 1864 – Ad-Vance – Last night we got up steam about twilight and started out. We went splendidly, got over the rip as nicely as possible without touching and thought we would certainly go through, When the 1st Officer discovered something on the bar, and when the glasses were turned on, a large blockader was distinctly seen lying directly in our path. She saw us and flashed her light, so of course we had to put back to Smithville. It was supposed to be a monitor, as no masts were seen, and if it was, we would have passed so near that we would have been blown to atoms. On our way back to Smithville we passed the Coquette just going out, but she soon came back also.

Sept 3, 1864 – Last evening we got up steam, heaved the anchor and were just on the point of starting, when Capt. Wylie had a telegram sent him by a physician on shore, saying that he might not be well enough to navigate today if we got out to sea and consequently just had all the steam turned off and the vessel anchored again… It is reported that the Lillian was taken in the Gulf Stream, and the Mary Barnes ran into some obstacle going into Charleston.

Sept. 4, 1864 – Last night we started out, as Capt. Wylie is still unwell, with another navigator to steer in case our Capt. should have a relapse. We got beyond the bar and the range lights were set, so we had to turn back, intending to try again, but the ship was so hard to turn that she had to be anchored and let the tide swing her around. We started out again, but by the time she got to the rips the tide had gone down so much that we could not cross them, so are back again for the night. The City of Petersburg missed the channel and got so far aground that she had to stay there until morning and was slightly injured.

Sept. 5: 1864 – Wilmington – Last night for the 7th time an attempt was made to run out. We got to the rip, got aground and had just started off and were going at half speed, when the Old Dominion, which had started a little after us, actually ran into us. Mother and the small children were down between the cotton bales, while Mrs. Boykin and I were on top of them. One of the stewards, who was on the cotton bales with us, seeing the Old Dominion coming along at speed, said, “Look at the Old Dominion, she’s coming into us. Get a hold, get a hold.” And with that he tumbled off. Mrs. Boykin and I were much nearer the shock, and we thought he was in fun and stayed up there. We saw the boat booming but thought, of course, that they would take care and not run into us, but the first thing we knew there was a most fearful crash…. The bow of the Old Dominion was very sharp and strong, but our ship was so strong that it did not run in until it had scraped the length of three feet and a half… They say if this vessel had not been remarkably strong, it would certainly have gone down.

Sept. 7, 1864 – Ad-Vance – This morning we came down to Smithville and anchored at our same old place. The Will-o-the-Wisp, the Helen, the Owl and the Lynz and other vessels are lying here in quarantine, having just come in.

Sept. 8, 1864 – Last night as our pilot, Mr. Morse, had been ordered on another shift, another pilot was detailed to carry us out. He got on a spree and was not notified he was to go out on the Ad-Vance until about an hour before time for him to come on board. When he did come, the guard had to wake him up and bring him on board as drunk as a fish. Of course, we could not risk ourselves with him and have to wait until tonight.

Sept 15, 1864 – Warrenton, N.C. – On the 8th we made our 9th attempt and failed. We got to sea that night and the pilot had just given the ship over to the Capt, when it was discovered that we were about to be surrounded… She was anchored in sight of the Yankees all day, and everybody thought it would be so perfectly desperate that Father and Dr. Boykin took their families off.

The Ad-Vance got out that night, on the 10th. 35 shots were fired at her were heard at Smithville…. We went to Mr. Parsley’s where we got dinner and started home on a freight train at 4:00 pm … and got home a little after 8:00. Father went to Raleigh yesterday and came back today, He expects to go out on some other vessel on the next moon, but is very doubtful about taking his family.

Father has decided not to take us with him as blockade running is so dangerous now….

Dec. 1864 – A few days after I last wrote in my diary, we were shocked to hear of the capture of the Ad-Vance. She was captured on Saturday, Sept. 11th, off Cape Hatteras.

Father left home on Oct. 22nd, and we remained. He wrote us on Oct. 26th from Smithville, on board the Virginia, that he expected to go out that night and have heard nothing from him since he sailed, which has been about a fortnight, so we suppose he is safe…

He arrived in Bermuda on the 28th, and did not go ashore but stayed on board the Virginia that night and started for Halifax the next day.


[Additional resources:]

Culpepper, Marilyn Mayer. Women of the Civil War South: Personal Accounts from Diaries, Letters and Postwar Reminiscences Jefferson, NC:  McFarland, 2004.  p. 7-10 ….. an excellent narrative.

Ad-Vance
Advance

Mary White’s diary was originally published in the FPHPS Newsletters of Feb 1998 and March 1998

 

Diary of Mary J. White (age 15)

John White, Warrenton NC

John White, Warrenton NC

[Editor’s note:  In 1864 John White, a merchant of Warrenton, NC, was sent abroad by authority of the NC Legislature and Governor Zubulon B. Vance to buy supplies for the NC State Troops during the American Civil War.

He planned to take his family with him through the Federal Blockade at Wilmington on board the state-owned blockade runner, Advance, in August, 1864.

The following was extracted from a diary by John White’s daughter, Mary J. (age 15, born July 21, 1849).  It portrays the difficulties they and others encountered in attempting to run in and out of the federal blockade of Wilmington.

It’s highly recommended that you read the following book excerpt (link) written about Mary White’s diary. It’s a well written narrative inspired by Mary J. White’s diary. It describes well the cultural and social anxieties of 1864 in Wilmington and Smithville.

Culpepper, Marilyn Mayer. Women of the Civil War South: Personal Accounts from Diaries, Letters and Postwar Reminiscences, Jefferson, NC:  McFarland, 2004.]


Mary J White’s diary:
Part 1 of 2:    August 2, 1864 – August 14, 1864

Tuesday, Aug. 2, 1864 – I left our home in Warrenton, NC for England with Father, Mother, Bro. Andrew, Hugh, Kate and Sue.  Father had to go to buy supplies for the NC Soldiers, and things were so awful here and Mother and he suffered so much being separated and our baby sister Lizzie died while he was away, so he promised Mother he would never leave her again. . . . It all seems very strange, but we are going with Father and I hope everything will be all right.

Aug. 8, 1864 – We left Raleigh, Friday the 5th, for Wilmington, where we arrived safely the same night about 10:00 o’clock. . . . We left there Saturday morning for the S.S. Ad-Vance, which was lying in the Cape Fear River, near Wilmington. We expected to run the blockade that night, but there was some mistake in the ship’s papers and before they could be corrected, we were too late for the tide and had to cast anchor and lie there all night. Our family and Dr. Boykin’s went ashore and spent the night. Mr. Parsley said we shouldn’t try the poor hotel accommodations, so we went to his house and spent the night there and started again the next morning about 8:00 for our ship. . . .

We passed Forts Fisher and Caswell and all went well for a time but finally went aground. . . . Not far behind us is the Mary Celestia from Bermuda, in quarantine. It is reported that the yellow fever is in Bermuda and a man died on the Mary Celestia this morning, it is thought from yellow fever. There is also an ironclad to our right.

We passed a good many obstructions in the river, that were put there for the purpose of entangling the Yankees, if they should try to go to Wilmington. The Little Hattie went out the first night that we intended to go. . . . The Helen, which had been lying near us all day, went out, and as no guns were heard and no news from the ship, it is supposed that she escaped uninjured. Today, three more cases of yellow fever were reported on the Mary Celestia.

Aug. 9, 1864 – It is thought, as we did not get out last night, we will try once more tonight, but this will certainly be the last time. Last night the Annie came safely from Bermuda and is now in sight of us. We saw a small boat carrying a coffin to the yellow fever boat, so another of the poor fellows must have perished. . . .

Blockade Runner Advance

Blockade Runner Advance

The Ad-Vance is a very fine steamer, 235 ft. in length, 22 ft. in width, a very fast ship and successful blockade runner. It was fitted up splendidly, for passengers, before it was put to its present use and was named the Lord Clyde. The saloon was removed and cotton bales put in instead and the accommodations for ladies are very poor.

Aug. 10, 1864 – on board the Ad-Vance. Last night, we made a last effort to run the blockade and were over the rip, and it was thought that we would get out without much difficulty, but they did not steer properly and we missed the channel and fastened in the sand.

Aug. 12, 1864 – Wilmington, NC.  Yesterday morning about twelve o’clock, we got off the sand bar and came back to Wilmington. All the passengers came ashore, our family to Mr. Parsley’s again. This morning at 9:00 we expect to go to Smithville with Dr. Boykin’s family, to stay until the Ad-Vance sails. Smithville is a small village on the Cape Fear River, about 30 miles below Wilmington. . . . The house we are staying in belongs to a family named Cowan. . . . It is a very comfortable house with six rather small rooms and three piazzas. . . . The City of Petersburg came in today.

Aug. 14, 1864 Smithville, NC.  Father and Capt. Wylie have just left for Wilmington. Father expects to go home to Warrenton before he returns. He expects to be back the last of next week.

…. Continued in Part 2 ›››

Fort Fisher during World War II Oral History

by:  Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

The Fort Fisher area was used as a military training base during World War II.

The main highway in the area was U.S. 421. The Hewett house was located on the Atlantic side of the road, one block north of the Fort Fisher Gates.

The highway ran maybe 75 yards parallel to sand dunes on the ocean side until it reached the historic ruins of Fort Fisher. At this point (currently The Riggins), the road curved out closer to the Atlantic and was located east of the old civil war main battery and then crossed in front of the Civil War Memorial. From there the road ran south to Federal Point ending at the Buchanan Battery.

In early 1941, the Army started anti-aircraft training along the beach and down on the sandy flats by the bay. The arriving trainees were faced with the sometimes harsh conditions on Federal Point as were those who were in Fort Fisher’s original ww2-machinegunCivil War garrison. A member of the 558th AAA Battalion stated the area was “a forlorn spit of sand and scrub growth pinched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River; a quagmire of sand, sand, and more sand. It was strictly a no-nonsense place designed to put grit and fire in the bowels and brains of its trainees. They had to learn to coexist with the ubiquitous sand and mosquitoes to survive on Federal Point.” I will share a story later about our Federal Point mosquitoes.

There were barracks, mess halls, recreational facilities, warehouses, radio and ww2-soldiersmeteorological stations, a post exchange, photo lab, outdoor theater, guardhouse, an administration building and infirmary.

Passageways made of cinder block and concrete connected some of these buildings while boardwalks connected others.

By the time training operations ceased in 1944, the base covered an area of several hundred acres and had grown to include an 80-seat cafeteria, a 350-bed hospital and a dental clinic.

My early remembrances are just snapshots of what I actually saw during 1941-1944 because I was only two to five years old; what I recall are just flashes of events. Of course, there was evidence of the army being there long after they left the area.

Gun Emplacements Along the Beach
Starting just in front of our house and running south along the beach almost to the historical grounds of Old Fort Fisher were gun emplacements.

I later read that most were 40-millimeter automatic cannons and 50-caliber machine guns. I recall that some of the gun bunkers were quite large. There were at least three large guns between our house and the two large houses just south of the gates.

Actually, there was a 50-caliber machine gun nest just outside of our yard and a 40-millimeter anti-aircraft battery with a searchlight within 30 yards of the edge of our yard on the south side.

Thinking back on it now, it seemed strange to me why the gun emplacements were located outside of the gates and they were located so close to our residence.

FF- WWIII do not remember how long the 50-caliber gun emplacement was located in the edge of the yard. I do have some recollection of the noise and the searchlights at night.  The searchlights were used to help locate the targets. There were also blackouts from time to time.  I never asked Dad about how he was able to sleep in the early days of shift work at Ethyl Dow.

Target sleeves on long cables were towed up and down the beach by airplanes for the gunners to develop their gunnery skills.   South of Old Historical Fort Fisher was a target range for gunnery practice on stationery as well as moving ground targets.  This mechanized target range enabled gunners to receive versatility training and learn to be effective against tanks and other armored vehicles.

After the Army left, there was evidence that the target sleds were pulled across the target range by a cable hooked to pulleys so a bulldozer could pull the target from a safe distance. The targets were rigged so it could be pulled both ways. The mechanized target range was located slightly north of the training facilities’ ammunition bunkers, and the “Rocks” were located a little farther south of the bunkers.

 

Oral History: Remembrances of Life on Federal Point, 1940 -1959 (Part 2 of 2)

by:  Howard Hewett,  Jones Creek, TX – October, 2015   (Part 2 of 2)     (Read Part 1)

Cape Fear Lighthouse 1903-1958 Bald Head Island

Cape Fear Lighthouse 1903-1958 Bald Head Island

Winter Time Camping

In 1951, my scout troop, along with our scout master, Chevis Faircloth, liked to use the abandoned ammunition bunkers in the winter as one of our camping locations. I remember it well because on one occasion a yellow jacket bit my ring finger just in front of my new scout ring. Before I could get the ring off, my finger swelled to the point that I could not remove it. It was good the Chevis had a pair of side cutters.  It is reported that someone known as the Fort Fisher Hermit lived in one of the bunkers for 17 years from 1955 to 1972.

Another one of our favorite camping spots in the winter was Silver Lake.  My friend Jimmy Collier’s dad was in real estate. At the time, he had purchased the lake and the land around it. You could get to it by a dirt road. Jimmy’s dad had poured a concrete slab and had built a fireplace a hundred or so yards off from the lake. This made a good camping spot.

I recall Jimmy and I frying chicken on an open fire in the fireplace. We decided to it would be great if we made some milk gravy. I think we had too much oil so we continue to add flour and milk resulting in a semi-brown mixture. It was definitely a learning experience. Our final product was more like glue than gravy, but the chicken was good.

Summertime Camping on Bald Head Island

From time to time, there were camping trips on Bald Head Island. Our scout leader Chevis Faircloth would organize the trip and someone with a large boat would take us to the south side of Corncake Inlet and put us ashore.

Cape Fear Lighthouse - 1914

Cape Fear Lighthouse – 1914

With our camping gear of fishing poles, some staples, very little clothing and jungle hammocks, we hiked about five miles to the general location of the wrought iron and steel frame lighthouse. We set up camp in dense grove of live oaks within 100 yards or so of the lighthouse because, as I can best recall, there was a source of water there. The grove of oaks was thick enough to enable all of us to hang our hammocks. All of our hammocks were surplus purchased at the Army surplus store at Carolina Beach. They were referred to a “jungle hammocks.” I assume most of them were surplus from the Pacific theater.

The hammock could be used with a spreader – two 30” sticks cut from the brush to hold the hammock open – or without the sticks, which allowed the canvas bottom to come up around you. This was all right when it the weather was cool, but on hot summer nights, I preferred the stick spreaders. Attached to the bottom canvas was a four-wall mosquito net.

Once in the hammock, you would zip yourself in, which was needed because of the abundance of mosquitoes on Bald Head Island. Attached to the top of the netting was a tarp like material, which acted as a tent.  It had eight lines that connected to the corners and sides of the tarp. The lines on the ends could be attached above the rope that was holding up the hammock and the other six could be attached to low hanging branches to form a tent over your hammock. This provided good shelter when it rained.

Because of the heavy population of hogs that roamed the island, it was not unusual to have hogs visit the camp at night; it was good to be sleeping above ground. Some nights when it got too hot in the oak grove, we would slip out to the beach and lay at the edge of the water on our back and watch the stars between the flashes of light from the lighthouse. There always seem to be a sea breeze on the point in the direction of Frying-Pan shoals.

We basically had the island to ourselves, other than the wildlife and occasional Coastguard men, the island had no human inhabitants. Our days were spent fishing and exploring.

There was an old lighthouse that stood on the riverside of the island, which as the time was just called “Old Bald Head Lighthouse.” It was covered in a jungle of grape vines and was a little on the spooky side. At this writing, it is referred as “Old Baldy.” On some trips when the grapes were ripe, everyone got their fill of grapes, and, of course, purple hands.

Hurricane Hazel

Hewett North Carolina HomeI was 15 years old when Hurricane Hazel hit the Carolina coast.  Our house exterior was covered in what’s called 105 siding.  Dad had decided to cover it with asbestos shingles, which was a very popular siding. The project was not completed. So the morning the storm hit, we were outside trying to secure the unfinished siding by nailing strips of wood at the top of the last course of shingles.

I recall my mother coming to the window and saying “Curtis, waves are coming over the sand dunes up toward Kure Beach.” Dad quickly gathered up the Hewett-Lewis clan with some provisions and headed through the back roads of Kure Beach to the Ethyl Dow Office complex which was a strong concrete/brick structure and relatively high off the river.

Dad was Ethyl Dow’s supervisor for the facility at that time. Most of the employees who lived on the Atlantic brought their families to the plant along with those who had no place to go. I do not recall how many folks were there, but families were assigned offices as their personal areas. Dad’s office was a nice-sized one with a desk and a drafting table. The drafting table became my bed. The plant lunchroom became gathering place for coffee and a place to visit.

The main concern was to stay away from exterior windows. I remember a couple of things during the height of the storm. While standing in a protected doorway, I saw a heavy piece of corrugated siding come off one of the buildings and fly through the air. It hit a telephone pole and snapped in two. Later in the day, I saw the export dock float off its pilings.

During a lull in the storm, I was allowed to ride with my Dad and others to the building referred as to the seawater intake. Dad wanted to check for flooding in the pump building. Waves were extremely high and were actively breaking in the intake basin and crashing against the outer wall of the building. Needless to say, we did not stay long. By the time we returned to the office building, the wind had started to pick back up.

I do not recall how long we sheltered at the plant, but it was less than 48 hours. When the storm passed, we returned home and observed devastation all around us. Our home was intact, but houses up and down the beach were gone.  Our beloved sand dunes, in front of our house, no longer existed. There was about 5-6 inches of sand covering the yard and debris from houses everywhere. Recovery and getting back to some normalcy took many weeks.

My dad, Howard Curtis Hewett, Sr., and I have had many discussions over the years about what saved our house. It could have been we were just lucky that the debris in the wave action never reached the house.

Hardpan showing after Hurricane Hazel, 1954.

Hardpan showing after Hurricane Hazel, 1954.

The other mitigating factor that may have contributed to the house’s longevity is the geologic formation in front of the house that dad called “hardpan.”

The material appeared to be a mixture of compacted very black sand-clay substance that had a lot of wood in the composition. Rubbing it would turn your hands black.  I do not know how thick the formation was but during some of the Nor’easters or Northeasters, I was aware of as much as four foot of the formation exposed. This formation was three to four foot under the sand.

After Hurricane Hazel, as the Corp of Engineer were pushing sand around on the beach, Dad had several confrontations with them about damaging the hardpan. There should not be any argument about Dad’s position in that the house has been sitting on the Atlantic Ocean for 77 years as of 2015.

Memorable Fishing Trip After Hurricane Hazel

There was a lot of beach damage during Hurricane Hazel. Our beloved beach hill was completely gone. In the weeks that followed, there were many hours of clean-up and repairs.  One weekend, as a reprieve from all the work, Dad suggested we launch the boat in front of the house and travel down to the blockade wrenches out from Fort Fisher.

This particular day the surf was pounding the bar about 35 yards from the beach with 8 to 10 foot breakers. The waves were running across the bar and emptying in a slough that was approximately 15 yards wide. There was very little wave action on the beach side of the slough.  Because of the distance from the house to the blockade-runner wrecks, we attached our 9.9-horse Johnson motor to the boat.

This was a motor that was purchased from surplus, but was in fairly good running condition. It had a large exposed fly-wheel and required a starter rope to start. After all the preparations were completed, we slipped the boat into the water. I was in the stern seated on a 5-gallon bucket operating the motor and Dad was sitting on the middle bench. We ran down the slough under minimum power as Dad watched for a lull in the breakers.

When the opportunity came, Dad said, “Let’s take her to sea.” Having a history with seafaring people, Dad used this term quite often. He used it to make a lot of things active around the water. Another term for putting on the brakes was “throw out the anchor.”

Anyway, we were on plane before we got out of the slough and we were racing across the bar. As we approached the breakers our motor sputtered and quit. Even with a herculean effort the motor would not restart.

We survived the first wave, but the second broke directly into the boat. The force of the wave pushed us back toward the beach, but we did not turn over. Our boat was full of water up to the gunnels. Dad and I jumped out onto the bar and found we were still in four feet of water. The force of the wave was so powerful that it washed Dad’s wallet out of his back pocket. Dad spotted it floating away, but was able to retrieve it by quick action on his part. The slough was somewhat deeper and it was a struggle to get the boat back to the beach.  We later repaired the motor, but we never used it in that application again.

Federal Point Mosquitoes

The mosquitoes that inhabited Federal Point were as vicious as mosquitoes anywhere. The best example that I can relate took place in 1959 while I was a sophomore at Texas Lutheran College. I went back to North Carolina to spend the summer with my grandmother.

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

During this summer, I worked for the Bame family. My best friend Howard Knox’s father was married to a daughter of the owner of Bame’s holdings. The holdings consisted of a hotel, three full-service gas stations (one station also served as a grocery store), a building supply store and Barbara Boat Sales.

That summer I worked at two of the stations and helped transport building supplies from Wilmington’s rail-head to Carolina Beach when needed. Because Howard Knox and I grew up together starting in first grade and continuing at Sun Set Park and New Hanover High School, we were paired on the same work shift so we could have our free time together.

To promote the boat sales, we were allowed to take the demonstration boat out water-skiing on our days off. You could ski almost all day on a 5-gallon tank of gas and we did not have to buy the gas. But, thinking back, you could buy a gallon of gas for about the same price as a loaf of bread. Both were less than 20 cents.

We were allowed to use the station’s Jeep after hours so we would often check out all the lovers’ parking spots for people who were stuck in sand, which was not unusual and it was a good way to pick up some extra cash.

Over the years of reading and listening to early narratives of Federal Point, most stories contained stories of mosquitoes.  One quote that has always stood out to me is the appraisal by Cpl. Theodore “Ted” Litwin, 445th AAA Battalion, Camp Davis at Fort Fisher. He stated, “Hell hole! The biggest joke we had going were ‘combat mosquitoes’ that were at the airport.  They pumped 50 gallons of gas in them before they found out it was a mosquito.”

My story just adds to the mosquito lore.

One particular night when the mosquitoes were extremely viscous, Howard Knox and I were checking all the lovers’ parking spots south of the gates at Fort Fisher. We came across a couple’s car that was buried to the axle and the mosquitoes were eating the occupants alive. They did not want to wait for us to pull them out; instead, they wanted us to take them back to Carolina Beach as quickly as possible. We put them in the back of Jeep delivered them to their beach cottage.

Upon arrival, the guy gave us his keys and handed us each a $50 dollar bill to retrieve the car. When a guy pays $100 in 1959 to get away from Federal Point’s mosquitoes, it put some perspective on the comments of the soldiers in the early days of Fort Fisher.

Read Part 1:  Remembrances of Fort Fisher

[Additional resources]
John Moseley – Presents: Fort Fisher in World War II
The Hewett Homes in Fort Fisher, NC – FPHPS -Slide show

Read all Howard Hewett’s Oral History postings on FPHPS


[All photos provided by Howard Hewett – Click any image for more detail]

Backyard Beach Hill before Hazel 1952-53

The Beach Hill in front of Hewett home prior to Hurricane Hazel 1952-53

 

Hardpan sitill showing after Hazel

General location of our front yard beach hill after Hurricane Hazel 1954.  Showing hardpan & some tree stumps.

Definition of Hardpan:
(härd’pān’)

A hard, usually clay-rich layer of soil lying at or just below the ground surface, in which soil particles are cemented together by silica, iron oxide, calcium carbonate, or organic matter that has precipitated from water percolating through the soil.

Hardpan does not soften when exposed to water. Also called caliche.

 

 

Bulldozers pushing sand to form a beach hill. The power pole was behind beach hill prior to Hazel.

Bulldozers pushing sand to form a beach hill. The power pole was behind beach hill prior to Hazel.

Looking north toward the Danner Home (at David Rd); south of the Kure Beach City Limits.

Looking north toward the Danner Home (at Davis Rd); south of the Kure Beach city limits.

Hazel - Looking towards Kure Beach

Hazel -Toward Kure Beach City Limits

Hazel - South Kure City Limits

Hazel – South of Kure Beach city limits

Oral History: Remembrances of Life on Federal Point, 1940 -1959

by:  Howard Hewett,  Jones Creek, TX – October, 2015 – (Part 1 of 2)

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

[In this article, I combined several short stories that were originally intended for my grandchildren in my ‘Howard’s Ramblings’ series.]

Fort Fisher during World War II

The Fort Fisher area was used as a military training base during World War II.

The main highway in the area was U.S. 421. The Hewett house was located on the Atlantic side of the road, one block north of the Fort Fisher Gates. (see photos)

The highway ran maybe 75 yards parallel to sand dunes on the ocean side until it reached the historic ruins of Fort Fisher. At this point (currently The Riggins), the road curved out closer to the Atlantic and was located east of the old civil war main battery and then crossed in front of the Civil War Memorial. From there the road ran south to Federal Point ending at the Buchanan Battery.

In early 1941, the Army started anti-aircraft training along the beach and down on the sandy flats by the bay. The arriving trainees were faced with the some harsh conditions on Federal Point, as were those who were in Fort Fisher’s original Civil War garrison. A member of the 558th AAA Battalion stated the area was “a forlorn spit of sand and scrub growth pinched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River; a quagmire of sand, sand, and more sand. It was strictly a no-nonsense place designed to put grit and fire in the bowels and brains of its trainees. They had to learn to coexist with the ubiquitous sand and mosquitoes to survive on Federal Point.” I will share a story later about our Federal Point mosquitoes.

There were barracks, mess halls, recreational facilities, warehouses, radio and meteorological stations, a post exchange, photo lab, outdoor theater, guardhouse, an administration building and infirmary. Passageways made of cinder block and concrete connected some of these buildings while boardwalks connected others. By the time training operations ceased in 1944, the base covered an area of several hundred acres and had grown to include an 80-seat cafeteria, a 350-bed hospital and a dental clinic.

My early remembrances are just snapshots of what I actually saw during 1941-1944 because I was only two to five years old; what I recall are just flashes of events. Of course, there was evidence of the army being there long after they left the area.

Gun Emplacements Along the Beach
Starting just in front of our house and running south along the beach almost to the historical grounds of Old Fort Fisher were gun emplacements.

I later read that most were 40-millimeter automatic cannons and 50-caliber machine guns. I recall that some of the gun bunkers were quite large. There were at least three large guns between our house and the two large houses just south of the gates. (Reference: Federation Point Historical Preservation Society, Oral History, Earl Page-Part 3, “Blue Top Cottages”)

Actually, there was a 50-caliber machine gun nest just outside of our yard and a 40-millimeter anti-aircraft battery with a searchlight within 30 yards of the edge of our yard on the south side. Thinking back on it now, it seem strange to me why the gun emplacements were located outside of the gates and they were located so close to our residence.

I do not remember how long the 50-caliber gun emplacement was located in the edge of the yard. I do have some recollection of the noise and the searchlights at night.  The searchlights were used to help locate the targets. There were also blackouts from time to time.  I never asked Dad about how he was able to sleep in the early days of shift work at Ethyl Dow.

Target sleeves on long cables were towed up and down the beach by airplanes for the gunners to develop their gunnery skills.   South of Old Historical Fort Fisher was a target range for gunnery practice on stationery and well as moving ground targets.  This mechanized target range enabled gunners to receive versatility training and learn to be effective against tanks and other armored vehicles.

After the Army left, there was evidence that the target sleds were pulled across the target range by a cable hooked to pulleys so a bulldozer could pull the target from a safe distance. The targets were rigged so it could be pulled both ways. The mechanized target range was located slightly north of the training facilities’ ammunition bunkers and the “Rocks” were located a little farther south of the bunkers.

Being Staked Out on the Beach  

When I was very young, no more the two or three, my mother was a “Fisher Woman” extraordinaire. Mother and Clara Danner loved to surf fish on the beach in front of the house for blues, trout and Virginia mullets.

The problem that arose was what to do with the new kid on the block. Mother’s solution was to tie a rope around my ankle and connect it to a stake so I could play at the water’s edge; occasionally, I was washed back and forth by wave action. I know this story is true because I heard it from several relatives later in life. Today, they’d probably arrest a mother for child endangerment; although the treatment had no ill effect on me.  Mother’s solution resulted in creating a water bug. Being around water was part of my developmental process and fostered my appreciation and love for the Atlantic Ocean. I became an excellent swimmer and could work magic with my belly board.

Pig for a Pet

Dad and his pet pig “Poli” Dec. 26, 1932

Dad and his pet pig “Poli”
Dec. 26, 1932

After my father Curtis’ death in 1995, a photo surfaced of my dad and his pet pig. A description on the back confirmed that he not only had a pet pig, but he had named it. That Dad had a pig does shed light on the fact that in later years we were also allowed to have a pet pig.  This occurred sometime before the Army closed the base.

Now this was not an ordinary pig; our pig thought he was a dog. He was put in a pen at night, but during the day he would follow us around. Being a city girl, mother was a little embarrassed when the pig would follow us down road when she went visiting the neighbors. She would tell us to make the pig go home.

The service guys from Fort Fisher would pass by in their Army jeeps and would honk their horns, hoot and holler and bang on the doors. To mother’s chagrin, some would “oink, oink” at us as they drove by.

This story did not have a happy ending for the pig. Mother survived all the embarrassment, but unfortunately the pig got too large to handle and, of course, he eventually ended up on the dinner table. Those experiences were all part of growing up.

Remembrances after the Army departed
After the war some of the barracks and buildings were sold as surplus. Some of these became beach homes at Kure and Wilmington beaches and some were used in place.

I recall that one of the warehouses was taken over by a seafood processing plant. My grandmother worked there while it was open. Their specialty was devil crabs. I remember the boiling vats along with the distinctive odor of crabs and spices. The picking and processing room was a screened-in porch. Since there was no air conditioning, the product was moved to refrigeration as quickly as possible.

The Baptist Assembly
The Baptist Seaside Assembly took up residence in some of the buildings left by the Army, which became the summer headquarters for the North Carolina State Baptist Convention in 1948. They used some of the buildings and barracks for an administration building, assembly hall and dormitories. I was quite familiar with the facilities.

My step-grandfather, J. N. Todd, was the caretaker of the buildings for a short time while the Baptist Assembly was active at Fort Fisher. I stayed a number of nights with him and my grandmother. It was one spooky place at night for a 10-year-old. An opportunity to see the hospital morgue at one time did not help control my young imagination.

The Joys of Growing Up
Farmall.Tom-Punk-Jackie-Codo BoysOne of the pleasures I recall in the late forties was when Uncle Crawford Lewis gave my cousin Joe Hewett a set of soap derby wheels.

We made a two-seat cart that required one to steer with his feet and one to act a brake-man. Our first project was to add a mast and a sail to the cart. The best condition for this adventure was when the wind was blowing out of the northeast.  Highway 421 ran south and was a two lane narrow road, which did not allow for any tacking. With a strong wind, it was a wild ride down south. On some occasions, our cart would start coming apart due to the stress and we would have to abort the run. There were several designs changes before we could make a complete run.

With all the terrain being relatively flat on Federal Point, it was hard to find a good incline. My step-grandfather saved the day by allowing us to use the cinder block corridor that ran from the old Army hospital to the Baptist Assembly’s Administration building and assembly hall, which was approximately 100 yards away. The corridor was approximately eight feet wide and ten feet in height. It was basically a concrete cinder block structure with the windows missing. The original windows were spaced about every twenty feet.

As best as I can recall, the slope of the corridor was approximately two feet in 100 yards. This was a perfect place to use our cart especially for a couple of flatlanders. Traveling down this corridor while gaining speed with the sunlight filtering through the window gave a couple of 10-year-olds the illusion of traveling at a high rate of speed. We would spend hours riding our cart down the corridor. But, all good things must come to an end. As I described earlier, the administration building was at the end of our run so it was imperative that our brakes worked properly. When, as one might have predicted, our braking mechanism failed, we ended up going through a set of double doors into the Assembly Hall. The impact of the door did cause us to stop before hitting the exterior wall on the other side of the room. We were fortunate that the double doors did not have a center post. But, nevertheless, we had several cuts and bruises. This ended our favorite escapade down the corridor. We were admonished by my step-grandfather and were required to help with the repairs.

Money in the Sand at Fort Fisher

I am sure this event took place before 1952. The military was using some parts of Fort Fisher acreage for training again. The timing suggests that the activity may have been in preparation for or in response to the Korean War. Most of the World War II barracks had been sold to private citizens for homes and commercial offices so the Army set up temporary structures for barracks that had three-foot walls with canvas tent structures mounted on top. The floors were compact red dirt that was hauled in from somewhere in North Carolina.

I recall seeing these tent barracks many times over a period of a couple of years. Dad had a contract with the Army that gave him the rights to mess hall garbage. We would pick up the garbage every second day after the evening mess and would haul several 55-gallon drums to the pigpens on the River Farm. I have no remembrance of the number of pigs raised and or the numbers sold commercially, but I think Dad did well during this period.  I do remember going to the stockyard in Wilmington on more than one occasion.

When the Army left and things returned to normal, Dad, Grandmother and I were out one day looking for blackberries or wild peaches. We came across the location of the tent barracks and to our surprise, there was money setting on a little red dirty pedestal. Every time it rained more coins were washed to the surface. The denominations were varied in quantity but there were quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Our take may have been as much as dollar to dollar and a half at first. What developed over the next several months was a routine that became a family outing.

This speaks well of how easy it was to entertain a family in early 1950’s. After a good rain, we would load up the old beach buggy (a stripped-down 1938 Ford frame with exposed engine, radiator and firewall/windshield with wood deck designed to carry nets and a small boat) and head out to search for money left behind. Our take varied on each outing, but we found enough money to make the event like a big treasure hunt.

We finally stopped going when our reward and excitement of the search dwindled. I recall Dad would say, “Well, we found enough money to purchase a loaf of bread.”  In retrospect, I think you could buy loaf of bread for 12 cents in those days, so on average our take was not very much, but the outing was what is was all about.

Providing for the Family

Sugar Cane Boiling Pot

Sugar cane vat comparable to one used during the Hewett’s fall hog killing.

As noted in earlier writings, the family fished, farmed and raised livestock. Dad always had pigs that the family would slaughter and butcher on cold fall days.

This yearly event was a family affair with all hands on deck. Uncle Crawford Lewis and my Dad were the primary orchestrators of the slaughter and did all of the heavy lifting.

After the pigs were shot in the head and their throats slit, the pigs were hung in a nearby large oak to allow proper bleeding.  From there they were placed in scalding water in a vat until the hair could be scraped off. The pig was removed to a workbench to complete the cleaning process. Sometimes more than one trip to the vat of scalding hot water was necessary.

Once the pigskin was almost pure white, it was hung again to remove the internal organs. The pigs were allowed to cool to the daily ambient temperature. If the weather was cold enough, the butchering process could take several days. The meat was either salted down and placed in box to cure or smoked in a smokehouse. A portion was made into sausage.

One of the by-products was “crackling,” a fried fat that was added to corn beard which gave the bread a bacon taste. Lye was added to the oil from the fat. This became grandmother’s laundry soap.

Read … Part 2

 

Seafood on Federal Point – 1948-1956 (part 3)

Oral History
by:  Howard Hewett,  Jones Creek, TX – July, 2015 – Part 7.3

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

Shrimping on the Cape Fear River
Some of my fondest memories are of late afternoon trips to the river. Dad had purchased some fairly good shrimp nets on one of our trips to Holden Beach in Brunswick County. With the panels from the net he made a seine net with lead on the bottom rope and corks on the top and two staffs on each end. It is hard to say how long it was, but my guess it was approximately four feet high and 150 feet long.

We would load the whole family, along with those who happened to be visiting on the flat-bed trailer pulled by our Cub Cadet Tractor and head over to the river using Davis Road.

The Davis’ river front property (current Davis Road) was adjacent to the Hewett’s river front property. Living on a beach with the Atlantic at our door, we had a lot of summer visitors. Visitors who wanted to help would split up into two groups with Dad (Howard Curtis Hewett Sr.) manning the staff closest to the shore.

Dad was the director of operations and I was in charge of the other end. We would pull the net out into the river until it was approximately 3-1/2 feet deep. Then we would pull the net parallel to the shore for 50 yards or so; finally, we headed for the shore.

The key was to have both staffs arrive at the same time. This process would yield (depending on the conditions) anywhere from a 2-1/2 to a 5-gallon bucket of shrimp. On lean days more pulls were required. Sometimes the Cape Fear River had such an abundance of shrimp that only a short-haul was necessary to fill a 5-gallon bucket.

On one occasion, I remember a small wave from a ship going down the channel caused shrimp to jump up on the shore, but I only recall seeing that once. By suppertime, we had shrimp peeled and ready for the frying pan.

An eight-foot long sink that was purchased from the surplus sold at the closing of the Ft Fisher Army base after the war enhanced processing the shrimp. I recall it being a four-person process consisting of a couple of peelers, a person to devein, and a quality control inspector.

The inspector was usually my grandmother because she was noted for her food preparation quality control. When it came to seafood, Grandmother’s seafood preparation techniques put her in a league of her own.

I have a special memory about Grandmother Roebuck (Meme) on one of the trips to the river. It was one of those times that we did not have a big group so Meme wanted to help on my end.

Actually, I think she just wanted to get out in the water to cool off. On our second pull, we had moved farther down the beach than normal. This area of the beach had more of a muddy bottom than the usual sandy bottom.

As we started to shore, Meme got bogged down to her knees in the shallow water. To help her, I had to drop the staff. After getting her legs back on the surface of the bottom, she still could not stand up so I rolled her out of the area until she could stand up. Of course, she was laughing all the way.

Now leaving the staff did not make my “no-nonsense” dad happy and I can’t write what he said to me but Meme sat down on the beach and roared with laughter. The more dad fussed with me, the more her laughter increased. To this day I have a hard time not smiling when I think about that afternoon at the river.

Fishing
There was an abundance of fish, but the variety depended on the time of year. The fall mullet run provided the family fish for a good part of the year. It was the only seafood that we salted down for short-term storage. When needed, the mullet was removed and soaked in fresh water until most of the brine was removed. Regardless of the soaking, the fish was always on the salty side.

The surf provided trout, blue fish, some flounder, croakers and Virginia mullet. Offshore there was an abundance of black bass around the wrecks of the blockade runners.

Clam Diggers: Mr Todd, Danny Orr, Addie Jane, Mrs Orr

Clam Diggers: Mr Todd, Danny Orr, Addie Jane, Mrs Orr

The most prolific flounder fisherman of the family was my Uncle Crawford Lewis. Dad may have been a close second. Their method was to pull a small skiff with a rope tied to their waist along the shallow waters of the bays.

Their gigging tools consisted of a three-prong pitchfork and a gas lantern. With one hand holding the lantern and the pitch fork in the other, they would gig a flounder, set the lantern down on the bow of the skiff and in one fluid motion flip the flounder in the boat without actually reaching down into the water. The quantity was not what floundering was all about. Quality and size were more important. They would be looking for large flounders around 4-5 pounds.

Just enough for three families to have baked flounder and sometimes maybe a little fried fish. If the moon and the tide were right, it seemed like they would go every night. This might seem strange, but there was no television back in those days so when it got dark, it was time to go floundering. Providing food for a growing family was paramount. The favorite way to prepare the flounder was to bake the whole flounder in a roasting pot with onions and potatoes.

I think it is important to say that regardless of the abundance of seafood, we only took what we needed.

 

Special Event “Memories of Old Fort Fisher”

Howard Hewett

Howard Hewett

– with Howard Hewett and Friends

Monday,  November 2, 7:30 pm

Mark your calendar now! Howard Hewett will be visiting from Texas and will present a program on his memories of Federal Point on Monday November 2, here at the History Center at 7:30 pm.

We’ve been featuring his stories in past Newsletters and all his writings can be read on our website  – Click here

Now you get to ask him questions, or to elaborate about things he’s written.

This is going to be a very special program which is, of course, free and open to the general public so bring the whole family.


 

John Moseley – Presents Fort Fisher in World War II

John Moseley - Sept-21-2015John Moseley, Assistant Site Manager at the Fort Fisher Historic Site and History Center Board member, spoke on World War II and Fort Fisher at the regular monthly meeting of the History Center on Monday, September 21, 2015.

He started by explaining how Fort Fisher came to be a World War II base. President Roosevelt wanted military installations built where artillery shells could be fired and no one would hear them or be injured by a bad aim. Eastern North Carolina was determined to be the promised land, or at least sufficiently in the middle of nowhere, for such installations.

World War II - Fort FisherSo in 1940, Holly Ridge, with 7 houses and a population of 28, was transformed from a fuel stop for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad into Camp Davis, an anti-aircraft artillery training center that would house 110,000 people by 1943, at the cost of $40 million.

Fort Fisher, 50 miles to the south, became the primary firing range for Camp Davis. Because of the distance between the two, Fort Fisher had to be a self-sufficient base. Although Fort Fisher was critical historically because of its role in the Civil War, in 1940 national defense took precedence over historic preservation.

Building the 'New' Fort FisherFort Fisher was transformed into a tent city, with over 300 tent frames, 48 buildings, mess halls, showers, infirmary, photo lab, radio and meteorological stations, as well as an airstrip running through the middle of the Fort.

Many of the soldiers arriving at Fort Fisher for their weapons training rotations came from the Midwest, and they had to adjust to a new and challenging environment: the barracks were very small, and the mosquitoes were very large.

One soldier described Fort Fisher as “a quagmire of sand, sand, and more sand.” Some complained about the unfamiliar food: clams, fried shrimp, oyster stew.

Fort Fisher Morale BoostersStill, many men enjoyed the beach and ocean, with reports of sunburn and even surfing attempts using government-issued mattresses. There were sports teams, and Fort Fisher had a canine camp mascot named Queenie.

Eventually an indoor movie theater was built for the troops, to the dismay of the local mosquitoes which had enjoyed the original outdoor theater far more than the soldiers had.

Artillery training took place along and above the beaches, much as it had during the Civil War.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) became a critical part of the weapons training as they piloted planes towing aerial target sleeves for the artillery trainees to shoot at. WASPs had to fly every type of aircraft in this role, and also conduct radar deception and tracking missions.

At least 43 anti-aircraft battalions trained at Fort Fisher before heading to battle in Europe and the Pacific.

Before they left, many of those men sent home sweetheart pillows like the beet red satin pillow John shared with the audience near the end of his presentation.

These pillows were popular during World War II, sent to loved ones by young men as a remembrance, along with the fervent hope they would eventually return home safe and reasonably sound.

Fort Fisher Sweetheart Pillow

Fort Fisher Sweetheart Pillow

Sweetheart:
That someone’s thoughts go where you go
That someone never can forget
The hours we spent since first we met
That life is richer sweeter far
For such a sweetheart as you are
And now my constant prayer will be
That God may keep you safe for me.

~ United States Army, Fort Fisher, North Carolina

 

 

Ryder Lewis, Jr. Civil War Park – Sugar Loaf Trail – Sept 15, 2017

Images by Rick Both

 

November 14, 2016 Plans Prepared by SEPI for Town of Carolina Beach


Images of Earlier FPHPS Work on the Earthworks in Ryder Lewis Park.


More pics taken on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017by Andre