Monthly Meeting Report – April, 2014

Chris Fonvielle

Our April speaker, Dr. Chris Fonvielle, talked about his new book and showed a variety of photos from his new book, Faces of Fort Fisher, highlighting many people who were assigned to the Fort or lived nearby.

He explained how more supplies came in through the two entries into the Cape Fear River than into all the other southern ports combined. The success rate for these valuable trips reached about 80%.

Chris showed paintings of many of the blockade runner ships and their masters.

Fonvielle hopes to follow this volume with at least two additional ones as he expands his collection of original photos.

 

Faces of Fort Fisher

Civil War Earthworks at Carolina Beach Underway

CB Earthworks Clearing - March 2014

CB Earthworks Clearing – March 2014

Carolina Beach officials, area historians, professional experts, interested citizens and Historic Society members are currently meeting to develop a plan for preserving Civil War earthworks on Town property donated by Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr. and family.

The property on the east side of Lake Park Blvd., across from and just south of Town Hall and behind the water retention pond contains approximately 450 yards of works constructed around 1864 by the Confederacy to prevent an immediate assault by the Union in the event Fort Fisher was captured. This portion was part of a line of works reaching from Myrtle Grove Sound to Cape Fear River.

Preservation efforts include clearing of small underbrush (see images on left and below), a thorough survey, educational signage and developing a park setting with possible walking trails and picnic areas. All work will be conducted and supervised by trained professionals in a manner insuring the integrity of this very valuable historic resource.


Activity at the Earthworks site first began in 1995 with the development of Carolina Beach Village.

The following article appeared in the March, 1996 FPHPS Newsletter edited by Sandy Jackson:
Archaeological Testing Conducted at Burris Site and Civil War Earthworks located at Carolina Beach

“In articles that appeared last August and November (1996) in the FPHPS Newsletter, I mentioned that Society president, Lynn Benson, and Mr. Jack Hart visited an archaeological site known as the Burris Site located at Carolina Beach behind the Federal Point Shopping Center. Mr. Hart, a descendant of the prominent Burris family in the Federal Point community, indicated that an old chimney standing on the site was all that remained of a house built by his great-grandfather, James Thomas Burris, in the early 1800’s.

Additionally, Ms. Benson recalled the presence of a child’s grave with a headstone at the site although it could not be located. The grave was believed to have belonged to one of nine children of James Thomas Burris and his wife, Isadora. Also located in the vicinity were the remains of Civil War earthworks. The Burris site and earthworks, unfortunately, were located on property owned and under development by Gulfstream Group, Inc. known as Carolina Beach Village. The developers, required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a cultural investigation of the area, contracted with an archaeological firm to investigate the site and provide a determination on its significance.

Leslie Bright & Chris Fonvielle - Clearing Earthworks 3/14

Leslie Bright & Chris Fonvielle – Clearing Earthworks 3/14

“In late October and early November 1995, Coastal Carolina Research, Inc., of Tarboro, North Carolina, conducted limited archaeological testing and documentation of three areas of the proposed Carolina Beach Village. The firm conducted the study for the Gulfstream Group, in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The purpose of the study was to determine if the three archaeological resources within the study area were potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The first of the three sites was the reported location of the Burris farm. The site included a standing chimney of the original house and remnants of later outbuildings.

The second site was a small lunette, or rifle pit, associated with the defenses of Fort Fisher during the Civil War known as the Sugarloaf Line.

The third site also contained a portion of earthworks associated with the Sugarloaf Line, but was located outside the current permit area for Carolina Beach Village. They were investigated in anticipation of future development of the tract.

CB Earthworks Clearing - March 2014

CB Earthworks Clearing – March 2014

“The house at the Burris site is thought to date around 1840 and appears on Civil War maps of the area. Only the brick chimney survived. This feature measured 4.6 feet wide and 2.3 feet deep. The stack has a single shoulder and was stepped back. There had been a major repair in the front of the chimney with some concrete blocks added, as well as evidence of recent mortar. An archaeological test unit placed at the east base of the chimney yielded a mixture of mortar and recent artifacts. Archaeologists also placed two other excavation units and a number of shovel test holes within the vicinity. Although a number of artifacts found during the investigation dated to the mid-nineteenth century, the material clearly came from disturbed contexts. A substantial amount of modern debris was found on the surface and within the upper soil layer of units.

“The nearby Civil War earthworks associated with the Sugarloaf Line were also examined. At the feature referred to as a lunette, or rifle pit, the archaeologists prepared a topographic map. The lunette was then bisected with a backhoe trench and a profile drawn. The structure measured approximately 20 X 40 feet with the shape of a waxing moon, hence the term lunette. The profile showed that the more vertical, high side of the mound was to the west, sloping to the east. This would have provided the maximum protection to the troops, as expected invasions would have come from the east. The lunette retained its contours and approximate shape. The site appeared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as a feature of the Sugarloaf Line of defenses for Fort Fisher. The documentation at the site served to mitigate the adverse impacts on the site as a result of the construction of the development.

Chris Fonvielle Map - Federal Point

Chris Fonvielle Map – Federal Point (click for larger image)

“The final earthworks are apparently an entrenchment also associated with the defensive line. An entrenchment can be any temporary or permanent fortification that provides shelter from hostile fire, serves as an obstacle to hostile advance, and allows the maximum use by the defenders. They would commonly possess an exterior ditch, which provides not only an obstacle to enemy attack, but also the fill for the embankment. The earthworks appear on maps made of the vicinity during the Civil War. The dissected linear earthworks trend from the southwest to northeast and are outside of the current development boundaries; however, the road that will access that area falls in the break between the two sections. The soil, vegetation, and the expanded trunks of the trees indicate that the vicinity was a swamp prior to extensive drainage in the area.

The earthworks were apparently constructed to the swamp, where they stopped, and were then continued on the other side of the swamp. No artifacts were recovered from the earthworks. The earthworks are well preserved and eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as a component of the Sugarloaf Line. The Gulfstream Development Group plans to erect a fence and an identification sign for both sections of this protected earthwork thereby preserving the site.”

 

April 21, 2014 – Chirs Fonvielle

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, April 21, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.Faces of Fort Fisher

This month Civil War historian, Dr. Chris Fonvielle, will talk about his new book: Faces Of Fort Fisher: 1861-1864. The new book takes a closer look at the officers who planned, designed, and commanded the works, and the soldiers who built, garrisoned, and defended them.

The book also explores events associated with the Fort’s fascinating history, including blockade running, Camp Wyatt, President Jefferson Davis’ 1863 visit, the 1864 sortie of the CSS Raleigh, the drowning of the celebrated Confederate spy, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, and much more.

Don’t miss this month’s program as Chris is a natural storyteller and knows as much as anyone about the history of Fort Fisher and the whole Federal Point area, during the Civil War period. Copies of his books will be for sale and Chris will be available to sign them personally.

Sugar Loaf Civil War Earthworks

by: Chris E. Fonvielle Jr.

CB Earthworks Clearing

Click for larger image

Historical Significance of Sugar Loaf Civil War Earthworks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CB Earthworks Clearing

Click for larger image

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

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

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

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

More  …  Fonvielle: Map of Earthworks in Carolina Beach

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

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

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

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

The Wilmington Campaign – excerpts

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area » History

Fort Fisher Recreation CenterTrailPrior to European settlement, the Cape Fear Native Americans, of the Siouan language group, lived in and around the lower Cape Fear peninsula; farming, fishing and hunting. Artifacts of the native culture, including pottery fragments, arrowheads and mounds of oyster shells, or midden piles, have been found in this area.

Early attempts at colonization in the area were unsuccessful, mainly due to conflicts with the Cape Fear Native Americans. Pirating, common in the area during colonial times, also contributed to the struggles of early settlers. About 1730, further upstream along the Cape Fear River from Fort Fisher, the port of Wilmington was settled. Wilmington became a bustling port, particularly important for its exports of naval stores – tar, pitch and turpentine products derived from the resin of the long-leaf pine.

During the Civil War, Fort Fisher, built in 1861, served to protect the valuable port of Wilmington from Union forces. By late 1864 , it was the last southern port open to trade. In this same year the first of two Union attacks on Fort Fisher took place. The fort held strong during the first battle and Union forces withdrew, but the Confederacy was not so lucky the second time.

In early 1865, a fleet of 56 ships bombarded the fort prior to a land assault by a force of more than 3,300 infantry. After a six-hour battle, Fort Fisher was captured and the Confederate supply line was broken. It was the largest land-sea battle fought in any war up to that time. The outcome contributed significantly to the outcome of the Civil War. Approximately three months after the fall of Fort Fisher, the Civil War came to an end.

In the late 19th century, a long rock jetty called “The Rocks” was built west of Fort Fisher to aid navigation by stopping shoaling in the Cape Fear River. Completed in 1881, The Rocks closed the former New Inlet, once used by Confederate blockade-runners to avoid the U.S. Navy, and created a lagoon, now called “The Basin”.

Today, The Rocks and The Basin are part of the Zeke’s Island component of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve, and 1160-acre area of outstanding estuarine and ocean resources with extensive marshes and tidal flats.

The southern tip of New Hanover County became an island (now known as Pleasure Island) in 1929 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged Snow’s Cut (named for Major William A. Snow, Chief Engineer for the Wilmington District). This cut is a canal that connects the Cape Fear River to Masonboro Sound and is now part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

World War II caused huge economic and social changes in the Wilmington area as industrial development and shipyards boomed. Civilian workers and military personnel poured into the area during the war years, causing Wilmington’s population to quadruple.

In late 1940, construction began on Camp Davis, located about 30 miles north of Wilmington. The base used five remote training sites along North Carolina’s southern coast, and Fort Fisher became the primary firing range. The range stayed open until 1944, training many military personnel and aiding the war effort. A bunker still remains along the Basin Trail from the World War II base.

From 1955 to 1972, Robert E. Harrill, who became known as the Fort Fisher Hermit lived in the World War II bunker. He became a celebrity and philosopher of sorts, becoming known to the thousands of visitors who came to Fort Fisher during those years. Harrill relied on nature for much of his food, eating oysters, clams and fish as well as what he would grow. Over time, as his popularity and reputation grew, he also benefited from donations left by his many visitors.

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area was established as a unit of the North Carolina State Park system in 1986 when 287 acres were transferred from the Historic Site to the Division of Parks and Recreation. Today, Fort Fisher offers beach access, educational programming and many other amenities to hundreds of thousands of park visitors annually.

Fort Fisher Rec Area CenterFort Fisher provides a glimpse of the dynamic ecosystem known as a barrier spit where the only constant is change. Sixteen threatened and endangered species can be found at Fort Fisher depending on the time of year.

Loggerhead sea turtles nest on ocean beaches in the warmer months and terns, plovers, and oyster-catchers use bare sandy areas from the beach to the salt marsh for nesting and foraging.

Vast Spartina salt marshes, one of the most productive ecosystems on earth, provide food and shelter for fish and shellfish and shorebirds. Fall brings migrations of warblers, hawks, and peregrine falcons. Winter brings many species of ducks to the marshes.

Storms constantly rearrange the landscape, over-washing dunes, opening and closing inlets and channels, and changing the shape of the beach. Native wildlife at Fort Fisher depends on this constant environmental change to maintain the habitat that it requires.

N.C. Division of Parks & Recreation • Raleigh N.C.

More at:   http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/fofi/main.php