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

 

No Reward for Finding Gold

By Bill Reaves

(Wilmington Morning Star, June 17, 1927)

Erosion at Ft. Fisher

Click

D. R. Connor, 97 years old, and a native of Robeson County, NC died on June 16, 1927, at the home of his daughter, Mrs, A. M. Roberts, 309 Dawson Street, in Wilmington, NC. He served in the War Between the States with North Carolina troops. He was among the defenders of Fort Fisher when that stronghold fell and was made a prisoner at the time of its capture.

Following the death of Connor, the Wilmington historian, Andrew J. Howell, recalled a story that he had been told by the deceased when they had a visit together earlier. Connor told Howell about finding a satchel of geld coins in the surf at Fort Fisher while he was a soldier there.

It was on the beach below the “Mound Battery” at the southeastern corner of the Fort, which has since been washed away. One morning he went to a secluded spot, where he often went for secret prayer, when he noticed an object in the shallow water close to the shore. He went for it, and found it to be a satchel containing some heavy material. When he opened it, his eyes fell upon a quantity of gold coins!

This was too big a discovery for a mere private to keep so he carried the bag to the headquarters of his company and was given the information that the officers would make the proper disposition of the money. He naturally expected to be rewarded with some of the prize, but he said he never received any of it. He felt pretty sure, however, that he afterwards could trace the whereabouts of at least some of the money.

Rose O'Neil Greenhow

Rose O’Neil Greenhow

The satchel was supposed to have been the property of Mrs. Rose Greenhow, the Confederate secret agent, who lost her life in the breakers while attempting to land from the blockade runner, Condor, on September 30, 1864.

Mr. Connor was an honored citizen of the Fair Bluff area of Columbus County, NC, and was much beloved by his fellow Confederate veterans, at whose reunions he was often seen.

(Wilmington Morning Star, June 17, 1927; June 19, 1927)

[This article was originally published in the January 1998 – FPHPS Newsletter]

Fort Fisher Revetment Project Nears Completion (March 1996)

[Originally published in the March, 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter]

At last month’s [Feb, 1996] meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society, Mr. Bill Dennis, a civil engineer with the US. Army Corps of Engineers – Wilmington District, presented a thorough site history and review of the Fort Fisher revetment project to a well-attended audience. Mr. Dennis, a native of New Jersey, began his slide presentation and discussion with a quick overview of the Federal Point area and how changes in its shape led to a need for a protective seawall to save the fort.

In 1761 a hurricane drastically reshaped Federal Point when it opened a passage known as New Inlet between the ocean and the Cape Fear River.

New Inlet, however, later played an important role during the Civil War as an entrance for sleek, fast blockade runners to slip past the Union fleet and enter the river under the protective guns of Fort Fisher. These ships were able to successfully deliver their valuable cargoes to Wilmington and on to the rest of the Confederacy until early 1865.

The Rocks2

‘The Rocks’ from Battery Buchanan to Zeke’s Island

Following the war, Federal Point again underwent a major transition in appearance when the US. Army Corps of Engineers closed New Inlet to improve river navigation. During the 1870s and 1880s the Corps built a stone structure known as “The Rocks” in two sections across the inlet and swash that still exists today.

The upper section of the dam extended from Battery Buchanan on Federal Point to Zeke‘s Island, a distance of 5,300 feet. The continuation of the lower section known as the Swash Defense Dam from Zeke’s Island to Smith’s Island [Bald Head Island], a distance of 12,800 feet, made the entire closure just over 3 miles in length.

Ft Fisher vs Erosion

Erosion at Ft. Fisher

In addition to the natural deterioration of Federal Point, serious erosion problems occurred near Fort Fisher alter the state intentionally removed coquina rock from the shore just north of the earthworks during the 1920s for use as road construction fill. Since that time approximately 200 yards of sea front has been lost to wave action.

This loss forced the state in the early 1950s to realign the very same highway that had been built with the use of the coquina rock. The North Carolina Highway Department, and later aided by local communities, then began dumping concrete and other large construction debris along the sea front near Battle Acre. As a further means of slowing erosion at Fort Fisher, the state placed a line of rocks along the shoreline in 1970. Storms since that time showed the revetment to be too short. Shoreline erosion continued at a rate of nearly 10 feet per year.

Since the end of the Civil War the ocean has claimed nearly half of the fort.

A more substantial solution to the site erosion problem came in 1995 when matching federal and state funds for a larger revetment project became available. The state and Corps of Engineers approved a plan for a permanent seawall based upon a design of Mr. Dennis.

After two years of planning, an acceptable design called for the construction of a 3,040-foot seawall to extend from south of Battle Acre to north of the Fort Fisher mounds.

Bids went out for the construction of the seawall. Selected for the construction project was Misener Marine Construction, Inc. of Tampa, Florida, at a bid of 4.6 million dollars.

Fort Fisher Rocks and BeachWork on the project began in June 1995, and included a multi-layered rubble revetment with circular tie-ins to natural ground on both ends of the site.

Beginning on the south end, the construction company dug a trench to 3.5 feet below mean sea level in which to lay the revetment ends. Within the trench at both ends, and along the shoreline, a fabric liner was first applied topped by a layer of gravel. Slightly larger bedding stone was then applied and finally a layer of armor stone.

The armor stone, weighing approximately two tons apiece, came from a quarry near Raleigh, while the smaller bedding stone was mined near Castle Hayne.

Approximately 68,000 tons of rock form the seawall.  Along Battle Acre the revetment overlaid most of the preexisting rubble. To prevent the new stone from washing into the sea from the sloping shoreline, Misener Marine placed a line of concrete sta-pods at the toe of the protective stone. Nearly four hundred of the pods, weighing 5 tons each and shaped like a tri-pod, were interlocked in a parallel row to the shoreline.

Reventment - Ft FisherSticking slightly above the water, marine algae soon covered the sta-pods.  On December 15 , 1995, Misener Marine placed the last rock in the revetment—nearly three months ahead of schedule.

The revetment rises slightly above the natural ground elevation at about 12-15 feet above sea level. Behind the revetment, sand was placed to form a gentle slope from the crest of the revetment to the existing ground. Currently landscaping with trees and scrubs is occurring near the revetment.

3,200-foot seawall completedat Fort Fisher Museum and Earthworks.

3,200-foot seawall completed (April, 1996)
at Fort Fisher Museum and Earthworks.

A security fence, walkway with stairs leading down to the beach on either end, and two observation gazebos are being constructed. The landscaping and construction projects are expected to be completed by April.

The new revetment should halt the ocean-side erosion of Federal Point for the next fifty years.

Mr. Dennis summarized his work on the design and construction of the seawall project when he jokingly indicated, “It took a Yankee to finally save Fort Fisher.”

 

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

Changes to the Federal Point Landscape – webpage – Federal Point Historic Preservation Society

US. Army. Corps of Engineers:
Revetment stability study,  Fort Fisher State Historic Site

Local Shows Feature Federal Point History

‘The Hermit of Fort Fisher’
by David Wright, Directed by Steve Vernon

Big Dawg Productions brings the story of Robert Harrell back for another run. If you missed it the first time, here’s your chance. The play will run at 8 pm for 5 nights, July 29-August 2nd,,2015 at the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Tickets ($20.00) can be ordered at the web site: http://www.bigdawghermit.com/ or purchased at the door.

Big Dawg will be keeping the same cast as the original Wilmington and Southport productions and the same director so the show is only bound to grow stronger as the cast and director are well versed in this history and truly immersed in the roles of their characters.

 

summers seabreeze #2‘Summers at Seabreeze’
Songs and Remembrances from Freeman Beach

TheatreNOW’s summer dinner theater show features a look at an often overlooked aspect of Federal Point’s history.

Shows run at 7pm on Fridays and Saturdays through July 25, 2015. Tickets are $34.00 ($26.00 for children and seniors) include dinner that includes a menu drawn from Seabreeze’s original cuisine – including the famous “clam fritters.” Or tickets for the show alone are $20.00.

To book tickets, and see the full dinner menu visit their website: http://www.theatrewilmington.com/

Wilmington Star-News Review:  “‘Summers at Seabreeze’ feels particularly timely, even as its focus is on the past. It’s a reminder that, no matter what those filled with hate may think, the history of the African-American community has a value, and a beauty, that can’t be taken away and won’t ever be forgotten.”~ John Staton.

 

Walter’s Place at Fort Fisher

[This article appeared in the Wilmington Dispatch on September 1, 1923, and comes from the William M. Reaves Collection]

Walter's Place

Walter’s Place

There is a little wooden shack, almost at the point of the peninsular in the southern end of New Hanover County and situated between “The Mound” at Fort Fisher and the sea. The shack serves to designate the establishment known as Walter’s Place.

Fort Fisher and its history have come down to us from the Civil War, and its flag-topped mound, its monument and its strategic location and inspirational surroundings are not new, but Walter’s Place is a creation of the year 1923.

Situated on the final loop of the Fort Fisher highway, Walter’s Place offers many attractions to visitors and fishermen alike. The establishment is run as a cool drink stand and bath house. But it is becoming famous for its fish suppers and lunch service for fishing parties. Cold drinks, hot sandwiches and lunches are readily available and will be specially prepared upon-notice.

Walter’s Place – on right
Click

From Walter’s Place you can go fishing in the river, bay at the “Rocks” or out to sea. Boats, tackle and bait are kept on hand for deep sea fishing and the old banks and wreck of Modern Greece offer the best place for this sport.

Fort Fisher Fishing Pier 1936-1954.

1936-1954
Confederate Memorial at Battle Acre in background

“The Cribben,” Buzzard’s Bay, “The Rocks” and the river are also within easy distance. A Ford car and a motorcycle are kept on the beach to take fishing parties quickly along the beach sands to the inlet or any of the other places nearby.

The owners of this popular shore establishment are Walter Winner and his pretty sister, Iona Winner. The latter keeps shop while the former is away with fishing parties and in quest of supplies.

[Originally published in the August 1996– FPHPS Newsletter]

Oral History – Ed Neidens – Fort Fisher Radar Station

Ed NiedensInterviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon – March, 2007

I first came to Fort Fisher in the spring of 1956.  The Air Force took me off of a radar site on a mountain in northern Japan and said ‘we want you to go to Kure Beach.’  And at that time, Kure Beach was not on the map.  … Fort Fisher was on the map. This is actually the Fort Fisher radar site.

I was in the Air Force here at Kure Beach in ‘56 and ‘57.  I was discharged in Oct of 57, and went to work for what is now the federal aviation agency as an air traffic controller: Montgomery Alabama, Charleston, Miami, Pensacola, Wilmington. I was a control intercept technician – a radar operator.

Ed Niedens #2Actually the radar site was part of the old fort – the Fort Fisher Army Airfield WW II hospital area because that was the best part.  The rest of the area was done away with.

They actually opened the Air Force base in ’55 I believe. Hurricane Hazel hit in ’54. And then it must have been doing some construction. I don’t know anything about the Army base prior to ’56.

You have to understand the Cold War was here.

In ‘56 and ‘57 we had some 250 people down at the base. We had 4 crews, 24 hour operations, and maintenance for a base with a mess hall and everything else that goes on, not only radar maintenance but everything like vehicle maintenance.

And we had a high fence around the compound where the gate was guarded 24 hours a day. We had dogs that roamed the fence. At that time it was top secret.

The road from US 421 into the base was nothing but a little 2 lane road with bushes on either side of it. The Air Force Radar Station base was to the right back of the chain link fence. The museum wasn’t in there. That was an old run way – an empty grass runway. They put the museum right in the middle of the runway.

We were keeping track of all the aircraft going up and down within 300 miles of Kure Beach. They had fighter jets at Seymour Fort Fisher Radar StationJohnson AFB, Langley, Virginia, Goldsboro, NC and then down to South Carolina.

We could scramble fighter jets from any of those facilities to intercept air craft to determine what kind of air craft it is and identification. The only time we didn’t was when we knew what the aircraft was.  And if it was out of Carolina they gave us identification on that. So we knew the airliners and other people. But if it was coming in from the ocean, or somewhere, they definitely got scrambled. We were part of the early warning system.

Unless you knew the kind of aircraft from the identification of some means, you wouldn’t know, ’cause it was just a radar blip. Now-a’days [2007] everything on the computer has a tag on it that tells them what the aircraft is, the height and everything else. It’s got a transponder. Back then transponders had 3 modes. Now they have like 88.

In the b&w picture the towers behind me are both height radar. They determine the height of the air craft – how high up in the sky. It went like this and the beam went up and down and it showed up on a screen, a blip on the screen, and of course, it was calibrated as to what height. The one in the middle looks like it was under construction and a new radar. There is no antenna on top of it.

We had a great time. We had tours of duty. We were on 8 hours and then the rest of the day was ours. We wore civilian clothes off base. We’d come up to Kure and Carolina Beach. All the locals knew us. We had just a great rapport with all the people.

 

[Additional resources]
History of Fort Fisher Air Force Station – Wikipedia
Radar Station Location: Google MapsBing Maps

Carolina Beach Today – Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area

My Friend the Enemy

The Battle at Fort Fisher as recalled by Colonel Lamb, CSA and General Curtis, USA

Colonel William Lamb – Confederate Commander of Fort Fisher and General Newton Martin Curtis leader of the Union force meet again at Fort Fisher as great friends after more than thirty years.

The American Civil War marked a new era in military science and technology. More powerful rifled artillery and ammunition along with armored gunships created a need for stronger coastal defenses throughout the Confederate South.

Col. William Lamb

Col. William Lamb

This challenge faced Colonel William Lamb upon his taking command of Fort Fisher, a vital part of North Carolina’s lower Cape Fear River defense system on July 4, 1862. Colonel Lamb’s competence and natural engineering skills enabled him to build Fort Fisher to become the strongest bastion in the South by the end of the war.

After two assaults by the largest fleet yet assembled by the United States military forces, the Fort Fisher garrison of 1,900 men and boys were eventually overpowered by 8,000 Union soldiers and sailors on January 15, 1865, during one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the War Between the States.

Lamb distinguished himself in the January action, leading the Confederate forces in an ill-fated defense of the Fort till he was felled by a gun shot wound that fractured his hip bone. In the ranks of the opposing forces and equally conspicuous in the vanguard of the assault was Brevet Brigadier General Newton Martin Curtis.

General Newton Martin Curtis

General Newton Martin Curtis

Despite receiving several lesser wounds during the contest, Curtis continued to command his brigade of Federal troops until he was struck by a shell fragment that destroyed his left eye. Neither Curtis nor Lamb would fight in that war again; they were each just twenty-nine years of age.

In the wake of the battle both Lamb (as a-prisoner of war) and Curtis were evacuated to the U.S. Army’s Chesapeake Hospital near Fort Monroe in Virginia. Initially, it was feared that their wounds would prove mortal. In fact, at one point, a coffin had been ordered for Curtis.

In spite of their dreadful injuries, according to an article written by the Reverend WHT. Squires D.D. that appeared in the February 5, 1943 edition of the Norfolk-Ledger Dispatch, entitled, “Norfolk in By-Gone Days,” a curious introduction occurred at the hospital that illustrated the mettle of these two warriors.

Among the wounded taken to the Hampton hospital was General N. M. Curtis, the Federal officer who led the assault that had successfully conquered Fort Fisher. General Curtis was so badly wounded that he could not walk or stand alone; however, when he learned that Colonel Lamb was in the same hospital, he had two hospital attendants take him to Colonel Lamb’s room where he congratulated him warmly on his skillful defense and on his unsurpassed courage and fortitude. He said, “I am proud of you as an American.” Colonel Lamb replied, “I’m not an American I’m a Confederate.”

General Curtis then said, “We Will not discuss that subject. Your side or mine will control this country, it Will not be divided. You and I will be in it and I offer you my hand and friendship. Let it begin now, not years later.” They then joined hands.

In the remaining 44 years of Lamb’s life, General Curtis was to become one of his best friends, and they would work together to improve fraternal relations between the North and South.

William Lamb - Later Life

William Lamb
in Later Life

Eventually the Colonel would come to refer to the General as “my friend the enemy. But for the soldiers and the country it would take time for the scars and wounds of the War Between the States to heal. On May 1, 1865, having taken the Oath of Allegiance and with the conflict all but over, Lamb was released from the hospital, though he was far from well.

That September he was operated on to remove the bullet that was still lodged in his hip. He would require the use of crutches for the next seven years and would be frail in health for the rest of his life. For the bravery and leadership exhibited in the second Battle of Fort Fisher, the partially blinded Curtis would be promoted to Brigadier General, United States Volunteers. He mustered out of the army the following year, as a Brevet Major General, having served four years, eight months.

Finally, some thirty years later in 1891, Curtis was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Fort Fisher. He being, “The first man to pass through the Stockade, he personally led each assault on the traverses and was four times wounded.”

About a year and a half after Curtis was issued his medal, Lamb and a host of Confederate Veterans, with reporter T. W. Clawson of the Wilmington Messenger tagging along, revisited Fort Fisher.  It had been eighteen years since Lamb had last toured the site of his old command in 1875 and was only the second time that he had returned since its capitulation in 1865.

That evening at the Y.M.C.A. auditorium in Wilmington, NC, at the behest of the Cape Fear Camp No. 254 United Confederate Veterans, the old colonel delivered an address on “the history of Port Fisher.” That address was published in its entirety in the next day’s June 15, 1893 edition of the Wilmington Messenger.

A few months later in October, at the suggestion of General Curtis, Colonel Lamb joined him and again returned to the Fort.

With reporter Clawson once more in tow, the two old officers, one time nemesis and long time friends, inspected the works. At some point in the tour the party took to the Cape Fear River in a sail boat. While trying to put ashore the boat grounded in the shallows a few yards from the embankment. Intending to wade in, the robust Curtis simply stripped off his shoes, rolled up his pants legs and stepped out of the boat. Lamb on the other hand, ever cautious about his health, was reluctant to follow suit. In response to Lamb‘s dilemma, Curtis offered to carry him to dry land on his back. But before he could do so, Clawson interposed on behalf of the General, and so the Colonel rode the scribe ashore instead.

Afterwards Clawson, “…wanted to kick himself for not allowing Colonel Lamb to ride his ‘friend the enemy,’ for he could have witnessed the remarkable instance of a brave and distinguished Federal officer carrying on his back the distinguished Confederate, who, in the years that are gone, was raising Old Harry with shot and shell to keep the General at a safe distance.”

Before the year was out Curtis was working on his own version of the Battles of Fort Fisher. Referencing Lamb’s address, the General composed the definitive Yankee account of the expeditions to take the Fort. His paper was later presented to the Military Order of The Loyal Legion of the United States and published by the Commandery in 1900.

My Friend the EnemyNow for the first time the complete accounts of these two principle participants in the Battles for Fort Fisher are juxtaposed in publication. That their individual interpretation of events is not dissimilar is not surprising.

For in many respects, whether friend or foe, Lamb’s and Curtis‘ lives often mirrored one another. They were roughly the same age, both having been born in 1835. Both attended college and each studied law. And though neither was a military man per say prior to the out break of hostilities, each exhibited a natural military acumen.

After the war both men pursued a career in politics. Lamb was elected mayor of his home town of Norfolk, Virginia, for three terms; while on the other hand, Curtis became a state legislator for New York and a three-term member of Congress. Naturally, they were active in veterans’ organizations.

Sadly, they were both widowers, Curtis lost his wife in 1888, Lamb in 1892. Neither ever remarried. In March of 1909 William Lamb died. Newton Martin Curtis did not last much longer, the following January he too passed away. But their legacy would live on inextricably bound on the common ground of Fort Fisher. Forever and anon, from their respective provinces north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Colonel Lamb and General Curtis would be regaled as the “Hero of Fort Fisher.”

Ray Flowers, Site Historian – Fort Fisher Historic Site,  May 2007

My Friend the Enemy
Produced by Federal Point Historic Preservation Society

[Additional resources]

My Friend the Enemy – is available at the History Center Bookstore

Col. William Lamb
William Lamb (1835-1909)

Newton Martin Curtis