Epidemic! Wilmington Cut Off – Help Finally Arrives

By Rebecca Taylor  — Part 2 – Epidemic! 

“Wilmington, N.C., September 15, 1862: Mr. Editor: — There has been quite a panic in town for several days past, arising from two or three unmistakable cases of yellow fever. The symptoms are said to be the same as those that carried so many to their graves in 1821 – vis: a pain in the back and head, together with scorching fever, ending with black vomit. The greatest fear now is of its spreading. Families are rapidly leaving town, and if it converts itself into an epidemic, Wilmington will in a short time be deserted of most of its inhabitants. There is much alarm in its spreading, principally from one thing, the steam-mills and distilleries having stopped operations. The health of the City heretofore has been chiefly attributed to them. Today the whole place and entire heavens around are black with smoke. Everyone must, of course, feel a perfect horror of the fever, but the idea of one’s “imagining” himself as having it, is rather ludicrous.  There is great excitement existing; all the troops have been moved out of town. Your correspondent has an idea of leaving, if it continues to develop itself.  — Hon. W. S. Ashe, President of the W & W Railroad” Semi-Weekly Standard (Raleigh, September 20, 1862)

Not only was the market closed and the trains stopped, but by late September the town had no telegraph operator left alive and a plea for someone to operate that essential communication utility.

 By mid-September of 1962, Wilmington was effectively cut off from the rest of North Carolina.

Reports were coming in of cases in such wide spread places as Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Fayetteville, all contracted by people coming from Wilmington. On September 27, the Mayor of Fayetteville issued the following statement:

“In compliance with the pledge given on Thursday, I have to report that a person who reached this place, sick, from Wilmington, on Wednesday last, died this morning. The attending Physician reports that the disease of which he died showed symptoms of yellow fever. All intercourse with Wilmington has been suspended, and sanitary regulations adopted, by which it is hoped no further cases will be introduced. All our Physicians concur in the opinion that the disease cannot spread in this place, and that persons from the country having business here may come and go, as usual, with impunity. – Arch’d McLean, Mayor” Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer, September 29, 1962

However, help was on the way.  On September 25, 1862, Confederate General Beauregard, who was stationed in Charleston, SC, notified Wilmington that:

Dr. Choppin of this staff having offered his services to repair to Wilmington, he accordingly sent him, hoping that his experience and ability acquired at the Charity hospital and in his private practice in New Orleans, might enable him to be of material aid to our suffering community. Dr. Choppin arrived on the next train, as did also Mr. Schouboe with seven nurses from Charleston. Mr. Schouboe volunteered his services and is one of the officers of the Mayor of Charleston. He with the nurses in charge was sent on by Mayor Macbeth.

A report on the conditions of the hospital from the Wilmington Daily Journal of October 21, 1862 reads:

“We paid a visit to the Hospital, corner of Front and Dock streets, under the medical charge of Confederate Surgeon Wragg; the nurses under the direction of Capt. Westerlund, from Charleston.

We found eighteen patients there, about equal numbers male and female. Nearly all were progressing favorably; some decidedly convalescent, some few with high fever on, and one, in the female department, apparently hopeless. The black vomit had appeared in its most decided form. This as we were told was the only hopeless case.”

It didn’t take long for the military doctors to set up a hospital, as many of the poorer patients were being housed in tents. It was announced that: “…the majority of the sick in town would be better off at the Hospital than at home – even those having means, for most homes are half-way deserted, and of those left nearly all are sick, and attendance, even to the extent of cooking food, cannot be obtained for money.”

By early October, Wilmington’s neighboring towns and cities were collecting money and supplies to send to the beleaguered town.

Fayetteville, October 3, At a meeting of the Mayor and Commissioners, held at their office, this day, the following Resolutions were passed. –

Resolved, That this Board deeply sympathizing with the citizens of our sister town of Wilmington, in their afflicted condition, will take all means in its power for their relief.

Resolved, That a Committee be appointed to raise the means necessary to procure supplies for the sufferers in Wilmington, and to purchase, collect and forward everything likely to be necessary and acceptable to the inhabitants of that town, in their present troubles.

Resolved, that the citizens of this town and county be solicited to co-operate and assist in carrying out the purposes of this proceeding.”   Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer, October 6, 1862

From The Charlotte Democrat of October 21, 1862 came the announcement, “ The citizens of Charlotte held a meeting on Monday to make arrangements to afford relief to the people of Wilmington. A resolution was passed requesting the Pastors of the several congregations in the Town and County to take up a collection on Sunday next in provisions or money and forward the same to J. L. Brown at Charlotte.”

A letter from W. H. Jones of Raleigh dated October 16, 1862, reprinted in the Raleigh Register, October 22, 1862, reads: “On behalf of the Committee of our city to collect contributions for your city, I send you my check for $989.13, as a portion of our collections, $1,000 having been sent West to buy provisions for your relief. Hoping you may soon be in the enjoyment of your accustomed health and comforts.”

[The newspaper clippings displayed all come from a search of “yellow fever + Wilmington + 1862” on Newspapers.com]

Next Month:
Part 3: Yellow Fever — The Victims and the Memorials

Epidemic! We’ve Been Here Before: Part I

By Rebecca Taylor

The City of Wilmington and the wider Lower Cape Fear Region have been visited by epidemics that shut down the area a number of times in the past. Records show that the Yellow Fever struck Wilmington in 1819 and 1821 though we have few details or an actual death count. James Sprunt, in his Chronicles of the Cape Fear states:

“In August, 1821, the yellow fever appeared here, introduced by means of the brig John London from Havana. It raged with great violence for about six weeks and a large proportion of the citizens of the little town, numbering only about 2,500 inhabitants, was [sic] swept away by it.”

Then the “big one” came in 1862, during the early years of the Civil War when it was suspected that a blockade runner, generally thought to have been the Kate out of Nassau, brought the deadly disease to the docks of downtown Wilmington.

At the beginning of the war, Wilmington had a population of about 10,000, though by the spring of 1862, the wealthier citizens had already begun to retreat to their plantations further inland in anticipation of a Federal invasion of one of the South’s most important ports. In the notably hot and wet summer of the second year of the war, sailors aboard ships bringing vital supplies to the Confederacy from British ports, such as Nassau in the Bahamas and Bermuda, were turning up sick.

Again, James Sprunt, in his Chronicles of the Cape Fear reports:

“The first victim was a German wood-and-coal dealer named Swartzman, whose business place was on the wharf quite near the landing place of the blockade runner Kate, which brought the infection.* My father was informed promptly of this by our physician, Dr. James H. Dickinson, who advised him to remove his family at once to the country. As my father had seen much of this terrible scourge in the West Indies and South America, he recognized the gravity of the situation, and sent us all to Duplin County, where he had relatives.”

Lemuel Hoyle, a Confederate soldier encamped near Wilmington, wrote to his mother:

The reported appearance of this deadly contagion…created a tremendous panic in the city. The citizens were leaving by scores and hundreds in every manner of conveyance that could be obtained.” [L.J. Hoyle papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill]

James Fulton, the editor of the Wilmington Journal wrote:

Now, we beg our present and absent citizens…to think about this matter a little. Use all proper precautions, as wise men, but do not run in panic like children. Do not go unnecessarily into danger, but do not run away foolishly from the mere suspicion of it.”

 It is believed that as many as 6,000 citizens, including the Bellamys, McRaes, and Lattimers abandoned the city fleeing as far as Fayetteville, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. There is a report by someone who fled to Wallace who could not find a place to stay “anywhere in the town.”

An eyewitness account made years later describes the city:

“It then looked like verily a city of the dead…Throughout the whole extent of Market Street to the corner of Front, I rode, and to the best of my recollection, I did not see a human being – no signs of stir or life, no smoke from the chimneys, no doors or windows opening to the light of day, no men or women going to work. It was a city of silence and gloom impenetrable.” [Wilmington Messenger, March 9, 1906]

By October 11, about four weeks after the official recognition of the epidemic, the Wilmington Journal reported: “Death and sickness were abroad and no one else. The streets were deserted, save now and then by a hearse or a physician’s buggy making its weary rounds.”

In her diary, written in 1862, Eliza Oswald Hill, a native Wilmingtonian who had fled to Chapel Hill: “Everything looks so bright and cheerful today that I can scarcely realize the melancholy truth that hundreds are down in my native town with yellow fever. [By] last accounts, Wilmington was said to be one vast Hospital.” [Eliza Oswald Hill diary, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections, University of Virginia]

Excerpts from the Wilmington Journal, from the October 4, October 8, and October 25 of 1862, show us that anxiety had grown among the citizens, and the city was now facing serious security concerns. By the beginning of October there had been three reported store robberies, but with virtually the entire police force and the court system down sick, the crimes went unpunished. It deeply bothered the citizens that in this time of trouble some of their fellow citizens would steal from one another. It also caused the struggling town leaders to focus on this local problem when they were devoting much of their time to pleading for help and supplies from towns as far  away as Virginia and South Carolina, as well as the Confederate government.

According to the report City of the Dead: The 1892 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Wilmington, NC by Jim Brisson of UNCW he calculates that:

“The Yellow Fever virus was not content to cause only mass hysteria. It came to Wilmington to invade people’s homes, infest their bodies, and inflict pain, suffering, and heartache. Of the 4,000 remaining residents, as many as 2,000, contracted yellow jack.** Of those, between 650 and 800 died, which made the mortality rate approximately 40 percent.”

 One interesting report on the epidemic was written by William T. Wragg, a Confederate surgeon that was published in the Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal in February, 1864, states:

“During July, August, and September the entire county was deluged with rain. Ponds formed on high and dry places where water was never known to accumulate before, and, owing to neglect of the culverts, especially on Front Street, near Robert’s foundry a large, long, and shallow pond was formed, the bottom of which was composed entirely of the sweepings of the street – old shoes, rags, pieces of tin, and refuse matter of all descriptions, which had been thrown in by the town carts, in order to raise the valley to the level with the adjoining streets. This spot is known by the name of the Rouse lot. The bottom of this pond was alternately dry from evaporation and exposed to the intense heat of the sun, and then again filled by fresh rains, when it was covered by green slime, and exhaled a most offensive odor.”***


*Today there is a good deal of discussion that the fever had been in town as early as June or July based on Dr. William Wragg’s contemporaneous report now available to researchers in digitized form through the internet.

** Those who remained were mainly servants and slaves left to care for their masters’ property as well as manual laborers, dock workers, and others with no means out of the city.

*** What is most interesting about this quote is the fact that Yellow Fever was carried by mosquitoes wouldn’t be discovered until after the Spanish American War with Cuba around 1902.

Coming in June’s Newsletter: Epidemic! Cut off from the World… then Help Arrives

and in July: Epidemic! Victims and Memorials

Salisbury Confederate Prison

(Excerpt from Encyclopedia of North Carolina)

by Louis A. Brown, 2006

On July 9, 1861, six weeks after North Carolina seceded from the Union, the Confederate government asked Governor Henry T. Clark if the state could provide a place to hold prisoners of war (POWs). The 20-year-old Maxwell Chambers textile mill in Salisbury, then vacant, was hurriedly fitted for that purpose.

On 9 December, 120 prisoners were  transferred from the Raleigh State Fairgrounds where they became the first prisoners to enter the Salisbury Prison, the first and only Civil War prison in North Carolina.

The prison population increased to about 1,400 by late May, 1862, when the inmates were paroled and returned to the Union. These POWs lived in relative comfort, passing the time by making trinkets, playing baseball, and even engaging in theatrical productions.  After their departure, POWs at Salisbury Prison were outnumbered by Yankee deserters and dissident Confederates.

This period of “normalcy” suddenly ended in early October 1864, when 10,000 prisoners began arriving at a facility that was intended to hold only 2,500. This huge increase, which resulted from the fall of Atlanta and the ongoing siege of Richmond, made it easier for the Union army to rescue its POWs. Salisbury received some of the Richmond prisoners, and after October 1864, the majority of newly captured Union POWs.

The most painful period for the Salisbury prisoners was from October 1864, until their release in February 1865.

Accounts from POW diaries indicate that the prisoners took in about 1,600 calories per day, whereas, 2,000 calories was considered the minimum for survival under the adverse conditions that existed at Salisbury.

It is not surprising that diarrhea was the most common disease as well as the most deadly, due in large part to the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

From December 1861, when it opened, through September, 1864, Salisbury Prison experienced a 2 percent death rate (about 100 deaths). But between October, 1864, and February 15, 1865, the rate soared to 28 percent.

An estimated 4,000 prisoners died at the prison during its existence, for an overall death rate of 26 percent. Bodies were collected daily at the “dead house” and hauled in a one-horse wagon to trenches in a nearby “old cornfield.”

A visitor to the cemetery today finds these 18 trenches to be the most somber, painful, and shocking part of the Salisbury National Cemetery. The total death rate in Union and Confederate prisons is considered to have been about the same at 12 percent.

In the fall of 1864, escape from Salisbury Prison was considered almost necessary to save one’s life. Many POWs escaped, but only about 300 reached Union lines. During an attempted mass escape on  November 25, 1864, none got away and about 200 prisoners lost their lives.

Tunneling became popular with the POWs. The most famous tunnel escape took place in mid-January, 1865, when an estimated 100 managed to flee the prison. According to one prisoner, the easiest way to get “out of this cursed place” was to defect to the Confederacy. Although about 2,100 POWs reportedly defected, these soldiers contributed little to the Confederate cause.

The morale of the prisoners was usually very low. Muggers plagued all Civil War prisons. Prisoners’ diaries often mention their faith in God, and Christian services were held at the prison in the fall of 1864. Occasionally, Salisbury residents would hear the sound of a familiar hymn coming from the prison; as one citizen recalled, it was like “a thought of heaven from a field of graves.” Fraternal organizations such as the Masons and Oddfellows provided some moral support for the prisoners.

All POWs were transferred from Salisbury in February, 1865, about six weeks before Maj. Gen. George H. Stoneman, on 12-13 April 1865, destroyed the prison and other Confederate installations collectively known as the Salisbury Arsenal.

In May Federal troops occupied the town, but in early September, 1865, the Union commander turned over civil control of Salisbury to duly elected town officials. At the end of the war all Confederate property fell into Union hands and in September, 1866, was sold at auction by the Freedmen’s Bureau to the Holmes brothers for $1,600.

In 1866, a U.S. military commission charged Maj. John H. Gee, commandant of the Salisbury Prison during late 1864, with murder and “violation of the laws and customs of war.” After a lengthy trial, Gee was acquitted of both charges.


Interview With Angela Zombek: North and South Behind Bars

By Sarah Richardson

Interview from: History.net

Angela Zombek, assistant professor of history at University of North Carolina-Wilmington, grew interested in military prisons during a visit to Camp Chase, a Union facility in Ohio.

Over time, her studies turned to the 19th-century penitentiary movement, where incarcerated criminals were subjected to solitary confinement and conditions designed to evoke penitence and rehabilitation. How that tradition influenced Union and Confederate military prisons during the crisis of the Civil War is the subject of her book, Penitentiaries, Punishment, and Military Prisons.

CWT: Tell me about the pre-Civil War state of prisons.

AZ: Long term imprisonment developed at the turn of the 19th century when the middle class thought having a public pillory wasn’t a good idea anymore because the danger in that, or in having a public execution, is arousing sympathy for criminals. Penitentiaries and a long-term system of punishment develops. Corporal punishment and executions moved behind penitentiary walls, away from the public.

 CWT: Yet sometimes the public could participate?

AZ: Penitentiary executions were advertised as spectacles, if you were basically middle class, you could buy a ticket to see that. They also decided that they could charge admission so people could see the operation and see how inmates interacted with the guards. Those things came up later in military prisons. Governor David Tod of Ohio, for example, allowed curious people to tour Camp Chase for 20 cents.

CWT: How many were imprisoned?

AZ: People have estimated that about 490,000 people total were incarcerated during the war. That number is just limited to military prisons that got established by the Union and the Confederate governments. That number wouldn’t necessarily include the people who weren’t POWs or were suspected of treason.

 CWT: Did prisons in the North and South face different challenges?

AZ: I think they really did. That is apparent at Andersonville, Ga., which is established late in the war. There aren’t clear lines of authority. That’s not just related to Andersonville. When the prison at Salisbury, N.C., gets established, the first commandant is appointed by the state governor and he doesn’t know if he has the authority to do anything. That was the case at both Andersonville and Salisbury. The commandants had very little authority over prison conditions. Take Henry Wirz, the commander at Andersonville. He became a scapegoat at the end of the war when he was executed. But the things he could actually do to administer the camp were few and far between. For example, he had no power over the commissary. He had the rank of captain. There were literally some commanders of the guard regiments who outranked him.

 CWT: Was there a general understanding about how POWs should be treated? You mention political philosopher Francis Lieber’s 1863 General Orders No. 100 on the conduct of war?

AZ: Both prisoners and officials are looking back on penitentiary imprisonment in the earlier part of the 19th century for guideposts. That’s what Lieber did because he was held as a political prisoner in Europe [in his native Prussia in the 1820s]. He was well aware of the standards that wardens in the state should use to treat incarcerated criminals, and those standards are basically transferred in terms of food, clothing, and cleanliness, over to military prisoners.

 CWT: Prisoners were also worked as laborers in some cases, although Union soldiers often refused to be clerks for the Confederacy.

AZ: Those were basically efforts by Confederate officials to make up for lack of manpower. If they wanted a prisoner to be a clerk, for example, he was made to swear allegiance to the Confederacy. If Union prisoners had to go out to collect wood, that’s one thing because it’s for survival, but if they are going to work in a position sanctioned by the government that is basically shooting arrows at their own cause. There was a lot of resentment toward prisoners who decided to take those positions in the Confederacy.

 CWT: What other kinds of work did prisoners do?

AZ: Lieber wrote in the General Orders No. 100 that prisoners may be made to work for their captors. So officials on both sides used prison labor to make improvements to the camp, to build barracks or forms of shelter, to dig ditches, to clean up waste in various forms.

CWT: You also mention Confederates who brought slaves to prison.

AZ: That was an issue that caused controversy in Columbus, Ohio, when Confederate officers held in Camp Chase brought their slaves with them. Once the civilians in Columbus got wind of that, they were absolutely irate, had no tolerance for it, started writing editorials to local newspapers drawing attention to it and contacting the Lincoln administration to stop that practice, which they eventually did.

 CWT: What happens at war’s end?

AZ: Officials try to send prisoners home as quickly as they could. The Union did it by rank and were much more likely to send home privates than officers. They wanted to keep closer tabs on the people who actually led the companies, maybe even led the armies. That process is slow. The prisons in the South, especially in Richmond, were taken over by the U.S. government and used to help keep order in the city. That’s basically the case with Castle Thunder.

 CWT: Is there a takeaway for the war’s impact on our current prison system?

AZ: Number one, it got the federal government involved. Before the Civil War, there was only one federal prison, the D.C. penitentiary. It was shut down in September 1862. It got reopened toward the end of the war due to the need for space. But, in the latter part of the 19th century, we start to see the opening of federal prisons. Number two, the Civil War generates another reform wave because of Congress’ investigation in 1867 of Southern military prisons and because of what had gone on during the war. The National Prison Association forms in 1870, and is drawn again to the same issues, such as the conditions, the crowding, the food, the treatment. But again the actual reform of the institutions falls by the wayside.

CWT: Anything else you’d like to add?

AZ: The correspondence that prisoners in both military prisons and penitentiaries had with people at home was so moving. In correspondence from family members on both sides, I saw so profoundly that relatives of convicts and relatives of POWs say you have to trust in God and put faith in him.


More about the Lords Proprietors of “Carolina”


(From Wikipedia)

In the beginning of the European colonial era, trade companies such as the East India Company were the most common method used to settle new land. This changed following Maryland’s Royal Grant in 1632, when King Charles I granted George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore proprietary rights to an area east of the Potomac River in exchange for a share of the income derived there. Going forward, proprietary colonies became the most common way to settle areas with British subjects. The land was licensed or granted to a proprietor who held expanse power. These powers were commonly written into the land charters giving the lord proprietor the power to create courts and laws, establish governing bodies and churches, and appoint all governing officials.

Each proprietary colony had a unique system of governance reflecting the geographic challenges of the area as well as the personality of the lord proprietor. The colonies of Maryland and New York, based off of English law and administration practices, were run effectively. However, other colonies such as Carolina were mismanaged. The colonies of West and East Jersey as well as Pennsylvania were distinct in their diversion from the traditional monarchial system that ruled most colonies of the time. This was due to the large number of Quakers in these areas who shared many views with the lords proprietary.

Effective governance of proprietary colonies relied on the appointment of a governor. The lord proprietor made the governor the head of the province’s military, judicial, and administrative functions. This was typically conducted using a commission established by the lord proprietor. The lord proprietor typically instructed the governor what to do. Only through these instructions could legislation be made.

In 1629, King Charles I  granted  Sir Robert Heath (the attorney general) the southern half of the English land in the New World between 36 degrees and 31 degrees north latitude from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The land was named “Province of Carolina” or land of Charles. Sir Robert’s attempts at settlement failed and in 1645, during the English Civil War, he was stripped of all of his possessions as a Royalist supporter of the King. In 1663, eight members of the English nobility received a charter from King Charles II to establish the colony of Carolina. The eight Lords Proprietors were:

  • Duke of Albemarle(1608–1670)
  • Earl of Clarendon(1609–1674)
  • Baron Berkeley of Stratton(1602–1678)
  • Earl of Craven(1608–1697)
  • Sir George Carteret(c. 1610–1680)
  • Sir William Berkeley(1605–1677)
  • Sir John Colleton(1608–1666)
  • Earl of Shaftesbury(1621–1683).

The Lords Proprietors were anxious to secure Carolina against Spanish attacks from Saint Augustine in Florida, and to do so, they needed to attract more colonists. The Lords Proprietors offered English settlers inducements consisting of religious toleration, political representation in an assembly that had power over public taxes, exemption from quitrents and large grants of land. The Lords allowed settlers of any religion, except atheists. The Lords also had a generous headright system whereby they granted one hundred and fifty acres of land to each member of a family. An indentured male servant who served his term received his freedom dues from his master and a grant of one hundred acres from the Lords Proprietors. In order to attract planters with capital to invest, the Lords Proprietors also gave the owner and master the one hundred and fifty acre headright for every slave imported to the Colony. These incentives drew 6,600 colonists to the colony by 1700 compared with only 1,500 in the Spanish colony of Florida. Carolina attracted English settlers, French Protestants (Huguenots) and other colonists from Barbados and the West Indies.

The first government in Carolina began in Albemarle County in 1664 when William Sayle was appointed as the governor. Proprietary authority was weaker near the Virginia border. The Lords Proprietors established a North Carolina with its own assembly and deputy governor. In 1712, the division of Carolina into North and South was completed with the elevation of the deputy governor to governor of North Carolina.

The Lords Proprietors failed to protect the settlers when enemies attacked or threatened the Colony. For example, during Queen Anne’s War (1702–1713), the colonists drove French and Spanish forces away from Charlestown. Again, between 1715 and 1718, the colonists defended themselves against attacks by the Yamasee Indians and pirates. During these times of conflict, the colonists received little or no help from the proprietors.

The elite group of settlers in Carolina, former West Indians known as the Goose Creek Men, grew increasingly frustrated with the Lords Proprietors because they meddled in politics but failed to defend the colony against Spanish and Native American attacks.

In 1719, the South Carolina assembly sent a petition to England requesting that the proprietors be replaced with Crown administration. King George I appointed royal governors for North and South Carolina, converting the colony’s status to that of a royal colony (England ruled the colony but allowed the people self-government). In 1729, the Crown bought out seven of the eight of the Lords Proprietors for £22,500, approximately the amount they had spent on the colony. The eighth proprietor, John Carteret, Lord Granville, refused to sell and retained title to the lands and quitrents in the northern third of North Carolina.


Port Chicago Disaster

Mentioned in the July 2019 program on MOTSU :

“An ammunition ship explodes in the Port Chicago disaster”

(from History.com, the web site of the History Channel)

An ammunition ship exploded while being loaded in Port Chicago, California, killing 332 people in 1944. The United States’ World War II military campaign in the Pacific was in full swing at the time. Poor procedures and lack of training led to the disaster.

Port Chicago, about 30 miles north of San Francisco, was developed into a munitions facility when the Naval Ammunition Depot at Mare Island, California, could not fully supply the war effort. By the summer of 1944, expansion of the Port Chicago facility allowed for loading two ships at once around the clock.

The Navy units assigned to the dangerous loading operations were generally segregated African-American units. For the most part, these men had not been trained in handling munitions. Additionally, safety standards were forgotten in the rush to keep up frenetic loading schedules.

On the evening of July 17, the SS Quinault Victory and SS E. A. Bryan, two merchant ships, were being loaded. The holds were being packed with 4,600 tons of explosives–bombs, depth charges and ammunition. Another 400 tons of explosives were nearby on rail cars.

Approximately 320 workers were on or near the pier when, at 10:18 p.m., a series of massive explosions over several seconds destroyed everything and everyone in the vicinity. The blasts were felt as far away as Nevada and the resulting damage extended as far as San Francisco. Every building in Port Chicago was damaged and people were literally knocked off their feet. Smoke and fire extended nearly two miles into the air. The pilot of a plane flying at 9,000 feet in the area claimed that metal chunks from the explosion flew past him.

Nearly two-thirds of the people killed at Port Chicago were African-American enlisted men in the Navy—15 percent of all African-Americans killed during World War II. The surviving men in these units, who helped put out the fires and saw the horrors firsthand, were quickly reassigned to Mare Island.

Less than a month later, when ordered to load more munitions, but still having received no training, 258 African-American sailors refused to carry out the orders. Two hundred and eight of them were then sentenced to bad conduct discharges and pay forfeiture. The remaining 50 men were put on trial for general court martial. They were sentenced to between 8 and 15 years of hard labor, though two years later all were given clemency. A 1994 review of the trials revealed race played a large factor in the harsh sentences. In December 1999, President Clinton pardoned Freddie Meeks, one of only three of the 50 convicted sailors known to be alive at the time.

The Port Chicago disaster eventually led to the implementation of far safer procedures for loading ammunition. In addition, greater emphasis was put on proper training in explosives handling and the munitions themselves were altered for greater safety. There is now a national memorial to the victims at the site.



Historic Feature — Wilmington after the Occupation by Union Troops

[TAKEN FROM: The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies consists of 138,579 pages with 1,006 maps and diagrams assembled in 128 books, organized as 70 volumes grouped in four series, published between 1881 and 1901.]

District of Wilmington: March, 1865; Major-General Schofield directed the District of Wilmington to comprise all the territory under military control of the army operating from Cape Fear River as a base. Brig. Gen. J. E. Hawley, U. S.

Volunteers were assigned to the command and made responsible for the protection of the depot at Wilmington, Cape Fear Harbor, and the line of railroad in rear of the army and, also, appointed provost-marshal-general for the district. The Second Brigade, First Division, Twenty-fourth Corps was ordered to report to Brigadier-General Hawley for duty in the district. On the 1st of the month Major-General Schofield, with a portion of the Twenty-third Corps, and Major-General Terry, with the Provisional Corps, were in the district, but soon moved northward to combine with General Sherman at Goldsborough.

About 8,600 Union prisoners were released on parole, at Northeast Bridge, ten miles above Wilmington and cared for at Wilmington and, thence, transported north; several thousand of them were put into the hospital. This delivery was wholly unexpected, and the district was almost without proper material to care for them properly. They were in a frightful condition in all respects, and a camp or jail fever broke out among them. Besides, they were all sick of the commands of Major-Generals Schofield and Terry, and when Major General Sherman’s columns reached Fayetteville, he sent down 1,000 or 7,000 miserably destitute refugees, white and black, and 1,000 or 2,000 sick and wounded soldiers.

All the supplies that the rebels had left were seized; citizens and citizen physicians were set at work; a heavy force of contrabands were set at work cleaning the city (perhaps the dirtiest ever seen); requisitions were made for supplies, and the surgeons, Doctors Barnes and Buzzell, who died of fever contracted in the hospitals, and Doctor Jarvis, successively in charge, labored faithfully. A portion of the white refugees was sent to New York, as directed by General Sherman. A few blacks were sent to South Carolina, perhaps 500. A large colony of blacks was established at Fort Anderson and the usual efforts were made to get them food, clothing and work.

Brevet Brigadier-General Abbott (with four regiments) was assigned to the command of Wilmington; the battalion of the Sixteenth New York Heavy Artillery was sent down the river; Major Prince to command at Fort Fisher; Captain Beach at Fort Caswell, and Captain Sheppard at Smithville. A company of engineers, under Captain McClure, assisted by a force of contrabands, was set at work on the railroad bridge over Smith’s Creek (Wilmington and Weldon Railroad), 280 feet long, and it was rebuilt substantially before the regular construction train could get around from Goldsborough to finish the Northeast Bridge.

Captured cotton and tobacco were collected and turned over to the treasury agent and afterward to the quartermaster. During the month about 7,000 men in detachments and provisional organizations reported here and were sent forward to Goldsborough and the front. A large amount of stores accumulated here, and the commands of Generals Terry and Kilpatrick were chiefly supplied, hence, before they started for Raleigh.

No important events occurred during the month. The organization of a company of police guard in each county was completed. A great many refugees (white and black) and paroled and released rebels were sent off toward their homes, public property gathered in, soldiers mustered out from their hospitals. The duties incident to such a district kept the forces busy. Major-General Sherman and Chief Justice Chase visited the district during the month.


Vanishing Venus: Flytraps creeping toward extinction 

By Will Drabold / Will.Drabold@StarNewsOnline.com


The carnivorous plant is finding it difficult to thrive in its natural habitat.

Thousands of little holes in the ground mean one thing to self-described protectors of North Carolina’s internationally renowned plant.

Through years of excessive poaching, development destroying the plant’s natural habitat and fire suppression, the carnivorous plant is finding it difficult to thrive in its natural habitat, an area within 90 miles of Wilmington, scientists, environmentalists and law enforcement officials said.

A plant that grew in 20 counties 50 years ago now grows in only 12, with 40 percent of remaining populations labeled as having a poor chance of survival, according to 2013 data from the State Natural Heritage Program.

The recent theft of roughly 1,000 Flytraps in Alderman Park in Wilmington is likely a fraction of those poached each year, as officers and scientists say they routinely find Flytrap populations with thousands of plants ripped apart by poachers, on public and private lands.

“In single places, I would say there’s definitely evidence of (thousands being stolen),” said Rob Evans, an ecologist with the state Plant Conservation Program. “It’s appalling and frustrating. We’re working to conserve this thing for the benefit of citizens and future generations. … Then someone comes in and digs it all out and leaves this wake of destruction.”

“I’m afraid we’ll look up in 10 years and the only place we will have Flytraps is on the shelf in a Lowe’s and you won’t be able to find them in their natural habitat.”

Working each year to catalog hundreds of species across the state, the State Natural Heritage Program records “element occurrences,” or EOs, of a specific plant. An EO is generally a cluster of multiple populations, or “sub-element occurrences,” of a plant in close proximity to one another, according to Laura Gadd, a botanist with the Natural Heritage Program.

This year, there are only nine Flytrap EOs of “excellent viability” of the 67 recorded, according to program data.

Historically, the Venus’ Flytrap’s highest populations were in Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender and Onslow Counties, according to Dan Ryan, Southeast Coastal Plain Program Director for the Nature Conservancy.

Though the Flytrap’s habitat is theoretically a 90-mile radius around Wilmington, large swaths of that land are not inhabitable for the finicky Flytrap.

Preferring soil high in acidity and low in nitrogen, the plant typically grows in soil that has been disturbed in some way.

Flytraps thrive in long leaf pine savannahs that burn frequently, as they cannot compete with overgrowth that springs up without the flames, Ryan said.

The Nature Conservancy conducts controlled burns on the Green Swamp Preserve in Brunswick County to encourage the Flytrap’s growth, burning about 2,000 acres of the 15,500 acre preserve last year, according to Angie Carl, a fire specialist with the Nature Conservancy.

“At some point, you’re going to lose your large, viable populations (without burning). You may have a few stragglers here and there on roadside ditches, but (not the ones) that people come from all over the world to see,” Carl said.

For Brandon Dean, his job sometimes feels like an exercise in futility.

Tasked with enforcing wildlife regulations on thousands of acres of public lands in Brunswick County, Dean, a field officer with the state Wildlife Resources Commission stationed in District 4, is one of the few law enforcement officers who tries to stop widespread poaching of Venus’ Flytraps.

Along with ginseng, the Flytrap is the most poached plant in the state, according to David Welch, director of the State Plant Conservation Program.

The fine per offense is supposed to apply per plant poached, Welch said. In reality, poachers are never charged for each plant they take, Dean and Criscoe said, saying judges don’t try criminals based on how many plants they take.

The state does not keep records specific to Flytrap poaching and does not keep records of reports of poaching, Kennedy said.

Testimonies from officers, scientists and others show, however, that thousands of Flytraps are poached nearly non-stop during the spring and summer.

Nursery inspectors try to verify Flytraps are bought and sold legitimately, said Michelle McGinnis, Plant Protection Field Supervisor for the State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, but verifying a plant’s origin is difficult.

“All (poachers) have to say is they dug these Flytraps on their own property,” Dean said.

“As far as generally going out, patrolling and looking for folks (poaching), that’s not something we do on a regular basis because we don’t have the resources for that,” Kennedy said. “Not saying it’s a low priority…, (but) it’s not something we do on a daily basis.”

Through several doorways and classrooms, a team of researchers is fighting the Flytrap decline. Scientists at Southeastern Community College, led by Rebecca Westbrooks, are using micro-propagation to create thousands of cloned Flytraps to one day use to replenish poached habitats.

“We have so much poaching going on, it would be a wonderful thing if we could put these back into nature,” Westbrooks said.

By taking one plant, cutting it into several small pieces, feeding the plant a nutrient-rich mixture and chemically encouraging its root and shoot growth, researchers can turn one Flytrap into dozens in a short period of time.

“You do this technique, you get literally exponential numbers on this end,” Westbrooks said. “To date, we’ve cultured over a million.”

Not enough is known about how the DNA of the clones compares to natural Flytraps, making Westbrooks hesitant to place them in the wild, just yet.

“It’s not fairly listed as threatened or endangered.” said Andy Wood, a coastal ecologist. “We’re moving them to get them out of harm’s way but their habitat is still lost.” Wood argues that the destruction of the Flytrap’s natural habitat through development is the plant’s biggest threat going forward.

“The largest populations remaining are within public lands. … Outside those protected areas, we’re losing more and more of the Flytrap population,” said Richard LeBlond, a former biologist for the Natural Heritage Program. “It is good for people to know that they are choosing between economic use and wild Venus’ Flytraps.”


A History of Fort Fisher “The Battles for the Fort” (Part 2 of 3)

By Sandy Jackson

[Originally published in the July, 1995 – FPHPS Newsletter]

Federal forces began plans for a joint army-navy attack on Fort Fisher during the fall of 1864.

Shortly after the southern forces learned on October 24, 1864, of the impending attack, Confederate general Braxton Bragg assumed command of the defenses of Wilmington. He superseded Gen. W.H.C. Whiting, who remained his second-in-command.

The Confederates assembled 1,430 men at Fort Fisher in preparation for the assault. An additional force of 6,000 veterans from Lee’s army under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke were located 5 miles up the river at Sugar Loaf.

The expected Federal fleet finally arrived off Fort Fisher on the morning of December 20 under the command of Admiral David Porter.  Aboard the fifty-six warships that gathered New Inlet was an army unit of 6,500 infantrymen under the command of Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler.

Click for details

Click for details

The first attempt the Federals made to take the fort began on the night of December 23, when the powder ship Louisiana, with more than 215 tons of powder, was exploded within 200 yards of the fort. It was hoped that the blast from the vessel would create a gap in the earthen defense. After a lengthy delay, however, the ship finally exploded at 1:52 AM. doing no damage.

For two days, December 24 and 25, Fort Fisher came under a heavy bombardment that did little destruction.

During the afternoon on Christmas day, 2,000 troops under General Butler made an unopposed landing at Battery Anderson, 3 miles up the coast. Unable to advance upon the fort because of artillery fire, General Butler withdrew his troops.

On December 27 the Federal vessels sailed north along the coast to Beaufort, North Carolina, having been unsuccessful in their initial effort to capture Fort Fisher.

The Confederates were jubilant at having withstood the land attack of General Butler and the naval bombardment from Admiral Porter’s ships. General Bragg, not expecting a renewed attack from the Union forces, ordered Hoke’s 6,000 troops into Wilmington in preparation for a move against occupied New Bern.

Disappointed with the failure of General Butler to take Fort Fisher, General U. S. Grant replaced Butler with Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Terry and ordered an additional 1,500 troops to ready themselves for a second attack on the fortification within the following weeks.

The Federal fleet, then numbering warships mounting 627 guns, reassembled at Beaufort, and proceeded back to Fort Fisher. On the night of January, 12, 1865, the Federal fleet reappeared off Confederate Point. The following morning, the second attack on Fort Fisher commenced when the five ironclads began bombarding the land defenses. The rest of the fleet, which joined in the bombardment of the fort that continued day and night from the thirteenth to the fifteenth. More than 50,000 shells and roundshot were directed at Fort Fisher during this period-the heaviest shelling of any fort during the war.

Map - Fort Fisher 1865

Click for detail

On January 14 Federal troops again landed above Fort Fisher, in the vicinity of Battery Anderson. There the infantry entrenched from the sea to the river and were supported by light artillery brought ashore. To prevent Gen. Braxton Bragg from arriving from Wilmington to enforce the fort, 4,700 men were placed along the entrenchment.

The remaining 3,300 men under the command of General Terry moved against Fort Fisher. At the pre-arranged hour of 3:00 PM. on January 15, the assault began under a covering fire from the Federal vessels.

In an effort to draw the fire away from General Terry’s troops, 400 marines and 1,600 sailors, landed near the fort the evening before and, armed with pistols and cutlasses, attacked the northeast bastion on the beach side.

The main attack by General Terry and his men came along the river at the end battery. During the ensuing battle, General Whiting was mortally wounded and Colonel Lamb severely wounded. The Confederate survivors of the battle fled to Battery Buchanan in hopes of finding boats as a means of escape.

The assault finally ended at 10 o’clock on the evening of January 15 when the last of the Confederate defenders, finding boats no longer there, could do nothing but surrender. Federal casualties had been costly, with nearly 1,300 men lost, but the expedition had finally been successful.

The “last major stronghold of the confederacy” had fallen. Blockade-runners could no longer enter the safety of the Cape Fear River to unload at Wilmington, and in the following month even the city would be occupied by Union forces.



Fort Fisher State Historic Site
1974 “Fort Fisher State Historic Site Master Development Plan”. North Carolina Department of Natural and Economic Resources and North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Lamb, William Colonel
1896 “Defense of Fort Fisher, North Carolina” In Operation on The Atlantic Coast 1861-1865, Virginia 1862-1864.
Vicksburg: Papers of The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts“, Vol. IX, 1912 Boston: The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts.

Powell, William S.
1968 “The North Carolina Gazetteer“. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Sprunt, James
1992 “Chronicles of The Cape Fear River 1660-1916“. Second edition. Wilmington: Broadfoot Publishing Co. Originally published, Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Co., 1916.

[Additional resources]

The Wilmington Campaign  (Dr. Chris Fonvielle)
Fort Fisher I: Folly
North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial – Maps

July, 1995 (pdf) – FPHPS Newsletter

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