Trees And Shrubs Of The Maritime Forest

by Susi Clontz

Maritime Forest at Fort Fisher

Maritime Forest at Fort Fisher

The vegetation along the lower Cape Fear coastline has always been a part of its beauty, but it has also played a major role in the livelihood and survival of the coastal people. Behind the dunes we find a unique habitat called maritime forest.

Maritime means “near water.” This forest is unlike any other because the trees and shrubs that grow there must be tolerant of the sandy, dry soil plus the wind and salt spray the ocean.

Southern Live Oak

Southern Live Oak

Some of the trees and shrubs found in the maritime forest are Live Oak, Wax Myrtle, Red Cedar, Sable Palmetto, Sassafras, and Loblolly Pine.

Wedged together and pruned by the wind and salt, these trees take on a sheered look slanting away from the ocean. This unusual formation is a protective barrier for the salt-sensitive trees growing behind the maritime forest.

For a period between the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States, Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) came into great demand for ship building.  Its dense hardwood proved ideal for the hulls and frames of wooden ships.

Yaupon Holly Leaf

Yaupon Holly Leaf

In colonial times the leaves from the Yaupon Holly (Ilex opaca Ait) were toasted and brewed into a pleasing tea. Yaupon was also shipped north to supply the American colonists defying the British tea tax.

During the War Between the States, the United States naval blockade of southern ports forced the Confederates to turn once again to the brew used by the colonist and Indians of the southern Atlantic states.

Yaupon was the most commonly used tea substitute during the war. Oddly enough, the leaves were also used as a coffee substitute.

Wax Myrtle

Wax Myrtle

Candles were scarce in the Confederacy during the war. To make do, the southern people followed a practice used by the early colonist. The berries and leaves the Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) were boiled in water. A translucent and very aromatic floating wax would then be skimmed from the top and used to make candles. This process required a great deal of work considering it took several pounds of berries to make one pound of wax.

Sassafras (Sasafias albidum) was used by the Indians for a variety of cures and as a medicinal tea by the early settlers. The roots of the Sassafras became the first cash crop exported back to Great Britain from the new colonies. It later became the main ingredient in the beverage we call root beer. Sassafras was believed to be a cure all by the colonists and early explorers.

Loblolly Pine

Loblolly Pine

In 1963 the North Carolina General Assembly named the pine as the official state tree. The Loblolly (Pinus taeda) is one of three species of pine found in our coastal area.

Starting in colonial times and continuing for almost two hundred years, the residents of the lower Cape Fear processed and exported naval stores. The resin from the pine trees was refined to make tar, pitch, turpentine, or resin. These products were used in the building and maintaining of the ships by caulking seams and waterproofing wood giving it the name naval store.

Nature Guide to the Carolina Coast – Peter Meyer
Civil War Plants & Herbs – Patricia B. Mitchell
“Making Do” During the Civil War – Virginia Mescher
Living the Land – Dr. Thomas K. Squier, M.D., M.H.

[Text was originally published in the November 1996 FPHPS Newsletter (pdf)]


Lighthouses of the Lower Cape Fear River

[Text was originally published in the December 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter]

by Susi Clontz

Lighthouses of the Lower Cape FearBecause of North Carolina’s treacherous coastline, our shores have been graced with coastal lighthouses. These tall, circular structures tower above the sand banks at scattered intervals along our Atlantic shoreline. Mariners have used these lighthouses for centuries as guides for safe passage through the narrow channels, sounds, inlets, and up interior rivers.

Old Baldy

Old Baldy

At present [1996] North Carolina has eight remaining lighthouses (a good overview of NC Lighthouses).

Three lighthouses are located on the southern end of the Cape Fear River and can be seen from the Southport/Fort Fisher ferry.

The first lighthouse built in North Carolina was affectionately called “Old Baldy” located at Bald Head Island. Its purpose was to warn mariners of the dangerous Frying Pan shoals and provide guidance into the mouth of the Cape Fear River.  It was completed in 1818 at a cost of $15,915.45. It stands 109 feet high and is brick covered with plaster.

The state discontinued using Bald Head lighthouse in 1935. All that is left standing is the tower that serves as a distinctive day marker and the oil shed that stored the oil used to light the lamps.

Price's Creek Light

Price’s Creek Light

On August 14, 1848, Congress passed a bill allowing the installation of a series of lights along the Cape Fear River. The cost was six thousand dollars for two beacon lights at Price’s Creek. The lights

Oak Island Lighthouse

Oak Island Lighthouse

allowed the pilots safe passage as they steered through the channel. One light remains, making it the only inland lighthouse left standing in North Carolina.

In 1958 a silo-style lighthouse was built at the Oak Island Coast Guard Station. Its purpose was to assume the duties of the discontinued tower on Bald Head Island.

The Oak Island Lighthouse stands 169 feet tall and has eight-inch-thick reinforced concrete walls. The foundation is 70 feet deep and rests firmly on bedrock. The paint is integrated into the concrete, the top third black, middle third white, and bottom third gray. The tower never has to be painted. The main light is a rotating, four-arrow beacon. Each light is lit with 1000-watt bulbs that can be seen 24 nautical miles offshore. It is one of the last manually operated lighthouses in the United States.

Source: North Carolina Lighthouses, David Stick.

[Text was originally published in the December 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter – images were added in 2015]


[Additional Resources – Lighthouses]

Bald Head: The History of Smith Island and Cape Fear – FPHPS article

Frying Pan Shoals Light

Lights of the Lower Cape Fear – Some Important Dates

Graveyard of the Atlantic – by David Strick – Book available in the History Center Bookstore

North Carolina Lighthouses: Stories of History and Hope
by Bruce Roberts and Cheryl Shelton-Roberts – Book available in History Center Bookstore

North Carolina Lighthouses – web-based history, pictures …

Federal Point Light – Wikipedia –  showing 2015 active & decommissioned NC lighthouses (at the bottom of page)

List of lighthouses in North Carolina (active and decommissioned)

Doctor’s Point and Creek

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

Doctor Point, or Caintuck Landing as it was historically known, is located on the eastern shore of the Cape Fear River above Snow’s Cut and almost directly west of the plantation remains of Sedgeley Abbey. The point was referred to by both names following the Civil War, with a variation on the spelling of Caintuck until the early twentieth century.

The origin of Caintuck is not known. Doctor Point is probably named for Dr. John Fergus, who maintained a plantation known as Bellmeade near the sound. In 1805 an advertisement in the local paper indicated that a person was needed to “take charge of the Plantation formerly the residence of Doctor John Fergus, deceased. ”

Doctor Point (top left) - Google Maps

Doctor Point (top left) – Google Maps

During the late 1880s a pier was built at Doctor’s Point (Caintuck Landing) for the steamer Sylvan Grove owned by Captain W. Harper.

Passengers could then board a train at the pier and travel from the Cape Fear River to Carolina Beach.

Doctor’s Point is shown on a US. Coast and Geodetic Survey map drawn in 1901. By 1902, however, the “Kentuck or Fergus Tract,” once owned by the doctor, was offered up for sale by a D.L. Gore.

By November 1902, L.B. Rogers and his wife transferred the deed to the tract to the Myrtle Grove Building and Trust Company for $200. At that time the tract contained 320 acres. The possessive spelling of Doctor’s Point is not shown on maps done after 1929. Today the jut of land is still shown as Doctor Point.

Doctor‘s Branch was described in 1919 as being located on Federal Point. Although, the exact location of the creek is not known, the following is an account of how it came to be named:

[During the late nineteenth century] a family lived on the Federal Point road and had their family physician from Wilmington. A member of the family was taken ill one night, and the physician sent for.

He was away to see another patient, and a substitute doctor secured. While the substitute was attending the patient the regular physician returned and immediately hurried towards the family home. The substitute started back to Wilmington, and the two met at a little insignificant branch.

An argument followed regarding professional ethics and a fight was the outcome. It was a merry battle, and before the dust had cleared away, the two had done so much damage to each other that it required the services of a third physician to patch them up. Since that time the little stream has been known as Doctor’s Branch (Wilmington Dispatch, ,March 2, 1919).

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

Google Maps: Doctor Point (top left)

Sylvan Grove: Bill Reaves Newspaper Files

April 13, 1888
“Many of our people will be glad to learn that this season the SYLVAN GROVE, a fine excursion steamer from New York, will ply between Wilmington and Carolina Beach. The SYLVAN GROVE makes 16 miles an hour and was one of the finest boats in New York harbor. She is to be commanded by Capt. John W. Harper, who was formerly the captain of the steamer PASSPORT.” (Star 4-13-1888)



(Wilmington Gazette, April 9, 1805; Wilmington Daily Journal, November 10, 1866; Wilmington Evening Dispatch, April 28, 1902; Wilmington Star, November 12, 1902; Deed Book 30:84-86, Book G-213; Hall 1975:172).

Hall, Lewis P., “Land of the Golden River”. Vol. 1. Wilmington, NC: Wilmington Printing Company, 1975.

New Hanover County Deed Book 30:84-86; Book 6-213;

Wilmington Daily Journal, (Wilmington, NC) 1866

Wilmington Evening Dispatch, (Wilmington, NC) 1902, 1919

Wilmington Gazette (Wilmington, NC) 1805

Wilmington Star, (Wilmington, NC) 1902

A History of Quarantine Stations on the Cape Fear River (Part 2 of 2)

By Sandy Jackson

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

In 1889 the state legislature failed to appropriate funds to improve the quarantine facilities. Plans for the selection and construction of a new quarantine hospital at the mouth of the Cape Fear River were again considered by the state in 1893-94.

The state proposed $20,000 for construction of a quarantine station, provided that Wilmington would contribute $5,000 for the purpose. Wilmington could not raise its appropriate share, and the state funds were never provided.

A suggestion was made by the board to petition the federal government to maintain a quarantine hospital on the Cape Fear River.

With the appropriation of $35,000 by Gen. Robert Ransom under the 1894 River and Harbor Act, the US. government would maintain the hospital site chosen to be located near Southport. The most promising site for a new quarantine station was at White Rock, southeast of Price’s Creek lighthouse. “It possessed the advantage of being fairly well protected wind and water, did not endanger Southport, was well isolated, and it was out of the way of regular river traffic”.

Bids were opened for the construction of a wharf and buildings at the new US. Quarantine Station. Frank Baldwin of Washington, DC, was the lowest bidder, at $18,500; however, Baldwin was unable to complete the service in 1895 and the project was then awarded to William Peake (one of the bondsmen for Mr. Baldwin) in the amount of $8,176.66. The State Quarantine Station near Southport was transferred to the US. government on July 18, 1895. There was no charge for inspection or disinfection.

For the prevention of the spread of cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, typhus fever, plague, or other such infectious diseases, the following vessels were subject to the quarantine regulations:

1) All vessels, American or foreign, that had any sicknes’s on board.
2) All vessels from foreign ports, except vessels from the Atlantic or Pacific coasts of British America, not having on board passengers or the effects of passengers not resident in America for sixty days; and except foreign vessels arriving by way of non-infected domestic ports.
3) All vessels from infected domestic ports.

Constructed on pilings located within the Cape Fear River, the new quarantine station consisted of four houses: the disinfecting house, the hospital, the attendants quarters, and the medical officers’ quarters. The quarantine complex was described as follows:

The station has been carefully laid out on the east side of the channel of the river half way between the upper end of Battery Island and No. 4 beacon light (Price’s Creek). The location is entirely in the water and the nearest point to the shore is fully a half mile. The station is one mile east of Southport. As before stated the station will be out in the water and will be constructed on a pier, the caps of which will stand ten feet above mean low water. The pier will be in the shape of a cross .

The quarantine station pier was 600 feet in length and ran north by northwest. It was constructed on a shoal in the river with water from 18 to 20 inches in depth. The disinfecting house was constructed at the west end of the pier and included tanks for disinfectants, sulfur furnaces, a steam boiler and engine, and hose and pumps for applying the disinfectants under pressure. Vessels that required fumigation laid alongside with their hatches closed. A hose was run down into the vessel and the fumes and disinfectants forced in by steam until the ship was entirely covered.

The hospital, built on the south wing of the cross pier, contained wards for the sick, a dispensary, and a kitchen. The third building, the barracks or attendants’ quarters, occupied the center of the cross pier.

The remaining medical officers’ quarters was a two-story house on the north wing that contained an office, living apartments, kitchen, and dining room. At the east end of the pier a ballast was built for the deposit of ballast from quarantine vessels.

Before ballast from contaminated vessels could be dumped into the crib, it had to be disinfected. From 1898 to 1928, about $75,000 was appropriated by the federal government for construction of various additions at the quarantine station. The additions included: men’s quarters, 1898; quarters for detained crews, 1901; wharf, 1914; water tank, 1920; launch shelter, 1921; remodeling 1926; and extension of gangway, 1928. An artesian well, 400 feet deep, was also added to the station in 1897.

The’ United States marine hospital service tug John M Woodworth arrived in November 1895 and was immediately placed under the supervision of Dr. J.M. Eager, quarantine officer, who had assumed charge of the quarantine station in June. The Woodworth was “an iron hull boat of 88 tons, 80 feet in length, 17 feet beam, and draws 7 feet 6 inches.” The tug was designated to be used as a “boarding steamer” but was tied to the end of the quarantine pier and used as attendants’ quarters until the station was completed.

Until the new station was completed, the Cape Fear quarantine vessel served only as a boarding service, and all vessels needing fumigation or treatment were sent to another port.

The quarantine station apparently continued operation until 1937, when it outlived its usefulness and was placed in a surplus status under a caretaker.

It appears on several maps until that period. The station is indicated as late as 1937 on a US. Army Corps of Engineers map. Health services for seamen were transferred to a shore facility, located next to the Stuart house in Southport.

By 1939 maps described the station as “Decommissioned.” With improvements in the control of contagious diseases, a need for quarantine stations no longer existed. In 1946 the Southport station’s status was changed to first class relief station. The status of the shore station again changed about 1953, when it became an outpatient office of the US. Public Health Service and operated as such until 1970.

The abandoned quarantine station within the river was left to deteriorate. The caretaker, Charles E. Dosher, retired in 1946 and five years later – on August 19, 1951 – a large part of the old quarantine station was destroyed by fire. Presently only the concrete platform for the steel tower and water tank remain

[Editor:  Claude V. (Sandy) Jackson III included this article in his book: ‘The Big Book of the Cape Fear River‘,  available at the Federal Point History Center]


Brown, Landis G.
1973 “Quarantine on the Cape Fear River. ” The State 41, no. 6 (November).

Reeves, William M.
1990 Southport (Smithville): A Chronology (1887-1920). Vol. 2. Southport, NC: The Southport Historical Society.

United States Army Corps of Engineers.
1937 Cape Fear River Below Wilmington, N.C. in Front of Southport. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Office Map, Wilmington, NC.

1939 Cape Fear River Below Wilmington, N.C. Southport to Fort Caswell. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Office Map, Wilmington, N.C.

Wilmington Messenger (Wilmington, NC.) 1895

Wilmington Star, (Wilmington, NC.) 1894, 1895


[Additional resources]

February, 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter (pdf)

Epidemic! Quarantine! – a July, 2014 FPHPS Article describing issues related to the ‘deteriorating’ quarantine station.


A History of Quarantine Stations on the Cape Fear River (Part 1 of 2)

By Sandy Jackson

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

In the decade preceding the Civil War the sanitary regulations of the port of Wilmington were under the control of the Commissioners of Navigation and Pilotage who established quarantine stations on the river.

When the Civil War began, however, the quarantine laws that applied to the port of Wilmington were waived because supplies and food were desperately needed by soldiers and civilians. As a result of the waiving of quarantine regulations, an epidemic of yellow fever began with the arrival of the steamer Kate, a blockade-runner from Nassau.

On August 6, 1862, after slipping by the Federal blockade, the steamer Kate entered the Cape Fear River loaded with bacon and other food supplies and anchored at the foot of Market Street.

In the absence of a sufficient quarantine practice the infectious disease spread to the inhabitants of the town, resulting in a great loss of life before it was finally brought under control several weeks later.

As a result of an outbreak of yellow fever in Wilmington, health authorities implemented improvements in quarantine regulations. By 1864 all vessels bound for Wilmington were required to stop at Fort Anderson, on the site of old Brunswick Town, for inspection.

Following the war, quarantine regulations for the civilian trade briefly came under the jurisdiction of the quarantine medical officer, while the military continued to enforce its own policies.

Under provisions stated in “An act for the preservation of the public health, by establishing suitable Quarantine regulations for the Port of Wilmington, NC.” (1868), notice concerning inspection and or quarantine of vessels possibly carrying infectious diseases was given to pilots, masters, and owners of vessels.

The act called for the establishment of a quarantine station “opposite Deep Water Point, near the mouth of the Cape Fear River . . .” and the appointment of a physician by the governor. At the nearest convenient station upon the shore, a hospital was to be built for the sick removed from restricted vessels.

All vessels from ports south of Cape Fear had to stop at the station near Deep Water Point for inspection by the quarantine physician and be “quarantined for fifteen days, and thoroughly fumigated.” A fee of five dollars was required of each ship inspected; for every sick person taken to the hospital a quarantined vessel, a fee not exceeding three dollars a day” was charged.

Any vessel that knew it had a sickness on board was required to stop at the station regardless of the port from which it sailed. Any ships to which the above regulations did not apply could proceed directly to Wilmington without detention.

Under military General Orders issued for the district, quarantine regulations stated that “All vessels coming directly, or indirectly, from a port where any infection exists, are required to remain in quarantine as long as the quarantine officer shall think necessary.”

The military assumed the control of all quarantine regulations and established quarantine stations at Fort Caswell and Fort Fisher. It was required that the quarantine ground be as near Smith’s Island and Bald Head as the depth of water would allow for arriving ships. A quarantine hospital, storehouse, and trading post were established on the beach about 2 miles Fort Caswell.

In 1869 a quarantine station was built at Pine Creek (probably Price’s Creek) upon a tract of two acres at a cost of two thousand dollars.

The following year an amendment to the quarantine health act was ratified; the amendment created a Board of Quarantine for the Port of Wilmington. The board consisted of “the Board of Navigation and Pilotage, the Quarantine Medical Officer and the Quarantine Commissioners, whose duty it shall be to make such rules and regulations as may be necessary to protect the inhabitants from infectious diseases, and for the government of the Hospital at Deep Water Point . . .”.

An editorial by Dr. Walter G. Curtis, the quarantine physician, that appeared in the Wilmington Star in 1878 praised the success of the quarantine station. The physician stated: “I believe it can be confidently asserted that Wilmington is one of the healthiest cities on the Atlantic Coast. Yellow fever has visited that city but once in thirty years. The quarantine establishment opposite Deep Water Point has intercepted it invariably since its establishment there, and kept it out of your city”.

In a March 1879 letter, Dr. Curtis reported to Gov. Thomas Jarvis that “nothing occurred of importance at this Quarantine Station.” Dr. Curtis did, however, express his concerns over the continued control of vessels arriving from South American ports, where yellow fever and smallpox were prevalent. Although an occasional vessel arrived from South American ports with sickness on board, Dr. Curtis had found no shipboard cases of a contagious nature.

Within three months Dr. Curtis was again in contact with Jarvis, stating that the health of the Port of Wilmington continued to be excellent and unaffected by ships arriving foreign ports. The number of vessels that arrived at the port for inspection did, however, exceed the doctor‘s initial expectations. The policy of inspecting for infectious diseases vessels arriving from ports in South America and the West Indies continued with the approval of the Wilmington inhabitants.

On March 31, 1882, the Quarantine Hospital at “Pine Creek” burnt. It was determined that a fire that started in the roof and was fanned by the strong winds along the river caused the destruction. The keeper and his family managed to save most of the furniture and bedding.

Dr. Curtis suggested to Gov. Thomas Jarvis that a temporary quarantine station might be established at the old lighthouse at Pine Creek. With the support of Jarvis and Senator Zebulon B. Vance, their recommendation was made to the Chief of the Lighthouse Bureau. The Bureau approved use of the old lighthouse, provided that “the property be in as good order as when received, and that it be restored to the custody of the Light House Establishment on due notice.”

The quarantine hospital may have remained located in the lighthouse for several years.

[Editor:  Claude V. (Sandy) Jackson III included this article in his book: ‘The Big Book of the Cape Fear River‘, available at the Federal Point History Center]


Brown, Landis G.
1973 “Quarantine on the Cape Fear River.” The State 41, no. 6 (November).

South, Stanley.
1960 “Colonial Brunswick 1726-1776“. State Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.

Wilmington Star, (Wilmington, NC.) 1868, 1870, 1878

Yearns, W. Buck. (editor)
1969 “The Papers of Thomas Jordan Jarvis“. Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History.


[Additional resources]

January, 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter (pdf)

Epidemic! Quarantine! – a July, 2014 FPHPS Article describing issues related to the ‘deteriorating’ quarantine station.


A History of Fort Fisher “Fort Fisher After the Battles” (Part 3 of 3)

By Sandy Jackson

[Text was originally published in the August, 1995 – FPHPS Newsletter]

When finally in the hands of Federal forces following their successful attack on the earthworks, Fort Fisher was still not spared from further destruction.

On the morning of January 16, 1865, a group of drunken United States sailors in search of loot and souvenirs carried a torch into the fort’s main powder magazine. This, the largest of the reserve magazines, contained 13,000 pounds of powder captured along with the fort. The explosion that followed killed or injured another 300 Union men and destroyed a section of the fortification.

After Federal forces occupied Fort Fisher, they began a series of alterations to the earthworks. Apparently the federal government adopted the policy in order to prevent the Confederates from attempting to retake the fort. One individual with the Union navy wrote in February 1865 the only known account of the fort’s alteration. “The Engineer Corps are at work now on Fort Fisher reducing its size and increasing its strength at the same time. Since the capture hundreds of men have been constantly employed dragging, pulling down, erecting and intrenching, and the appearance of the work is entirely changed”.

Erosional forces of wind and rain and the number of relic hunters that searched the weathered ruins after the war likewise caused changes in the historic earthworks. In late 1896 Fort Fisher was once again considered as a defensive installation when the threat of attack from the Spanish Caribbean seemed possible. In preparation for what would later be the Spanish-American War in 1898, the fort was to be “resurrected and armed in the earliest possible time.” Assigned by the United States government to evaluate the effort were John M. Fisher and two other men from Philadelphia. Little if any changes are known to have been made at the fort during that time.

In 1906 Fort Fisher was considered as a potential national park. Although such a plan never materialized, the underlying public interest in preserving the fort had been established. Until World War II, little modification was undertaken at the fort.

Fort Fisher was reactivated as a military base during World War II as part of the Atlantic coastal defensive network. The fort served as part of Camp Davis, a training center located at Holly Ridge. The Fort Fisher installation served mainly for the protection of Federal Point and Smith Island by detecting enemy submarine activity along the coast. A military battery and radar installation were built at Fort Fisher in the summer and fall of 1941.

The Fort Fisher installation “called for 45 frame buildings and over three hundred tent floors for approximately 2,500 troops from Camp Davis”.

The army used the site to practice with 3-inch guns, 37-millimeter pieces, and 155-millimeter seacoast guns. United States highway 421 divided the practice center into two sections-to the east was the firing point proper and to the west were “the utilities and living quarters”. Subsequently added to Fort Fisher was an airstrip that cut across and destroyed part of the land face.

Over half of Battery Buchanan was carried off during World War II for the construction of the bomb-proofs that protected the ammunition bunkers. Additional batteries were constructed along the ocean front as far north as Carolina Beach.

Kure_Beach_Bud_JoeImmediately following the end of the war, many of the facilities were removed or destroyed. The federal government disposed of numerous buildings, including a 350-bed hospital, under the directions of the US. District Engineer and the Real Estate Division of the War Department. Neither the state of North Carolina nor New Hanover County could find a practical use for the structures inasmuch as many were hastily constructed and were not fireproof. [Many of the barracks structures were moved into Kure Beach].

Other remaining structures were required to be removed in the 1950s when the United States military purchased a large expanse of land on the west side of the river at Sunny Point for the location of an ammunition loading terminal, known as the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU). Nearly all of the lower Federal Point area, including Fort Fisher, fell within the military installation safety buffer zone.

In 1932 New Hanover County purchased one acre of the site from the government and donated it to the state.

Fort Fisher Confederate Memorial at Battle Acre

Fort Fisher Confederate Memorial at Battle Acre

That same year the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a monument at Battle Acre to commemorate the Civil War fort. In the late 1950s, local and state forces joined together to revive the idea of restoring Fort Fisher. A twenty-year-old movement by local citizens to develop Fort Fisher as a park or state historic site was again considered.

With approval and backing for a state historic site, work commenced during the summer of 1960 on a 180-acre tract held by the state of North Carolina under lease from the US. government. A pavilion was constructed at the state site in the fall of 1961. Underbrush was cleared the six mounds and seven gun emplacements within the leased property.

Four years later a museum was built for interpretation of the Civil War fort. In 1962 Fort Fisher became the first property in North Carolina recognized by the Federal Government as a National Historic Landmark — its highest designation for historic properties. The fort is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

During the century since the earthen fort was constructed, sea erosion has obliterated the corner bastion and much of the sea face. Today only about one-half of the land face and Battery Buchanan remain.

Serious erosion problems occurred at Federal Point after the state removed coquina rock the shore just north of the earthworks during the 1920s for use as road construction fill in the building of Highway 421. 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 and to place a small revetment in front of Battle Acre.

By 1968 approximately 200 yards of sea front has been lost to wave action. As a means of preventing any further erosion of what remained of Fort Fisher, the North Carolina Highway Department added a second stone revetment during 1969 and 1970, along the beachfront.

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

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

The latest effort [1995] in the fight to protect Fort Fisher from being claimed by the ocean is the current project to construct a 3,040 foot seawall. Construction of the seawall by Misener Marine Construction, Inc. began in June [1995] and is expected to be completed in one year.

The project, a result of a partnership between the Corps of Engineers and the State of North Carolina, will include multi-layered rubble revetment with tie-ins to natural ground on both ends of the site. Along Battle Acre the revetment will overlay most of the existing rubble. Sand will be placed behind the revetment to form a gentle slope the crest of the revetment to the existing ground. The seawall is expected to halt ocean side erosion of Federal Point for the next fifty years.



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.

1995 “Fort Fisher Revetment Project“. Informational brochure prepared by Fort Fisher State Historic Site, Misener Marine Construction, Inc. and US. Army Corps of Engineers, Wilmington District.

Honeycutt, Ava L. Jr.
1967 “Fort Fisher During World War II“. Unpublished manuscript on file, Fort Fisher State Historic Site, Kure Beach, North Carolina

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.

Massengill, Stephen E.
1977 “The Construction of Fort Fisher“. Unpublished manuscript prepared for the Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Wilmington, North Carolina

Rogers, Henry M.
1928 “Memories of Ninety, Years One Mam and Many Friends“. Boston and New York: Houghton Co.

Trotter, William R
1989 “Ironclads and Columbiads: The Civil War in North Carolina, The Coast“. Winston-Salem: John F. Blair Publisher.

Wilmington Dispatch (Wilmington, NC.) 1896, 1906

Wilmington Evening Post (Wilmington, NC.) 1945

Wilmington Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.) 1941

[Additional resources]

1932 Fort Fisher Confederate Monument

Fort Fisher Army Air Field

August, 1995  (pdf) – FPHPS Newsletter

Revolver Found in Ruins Of Fort Fisher Discharges Its Original Cartridges

[The following article appeared in the Wilmington Star on March 6, 1929, and comes the William M Reaves Collection.]

“A Colt revolver, probably detached from one of the soldiers during the battle of Fort Fisher back in 1864, and found recently by S.P. Deil, 701 South Eighteenth street, this city, with a full charge of five cartridges in its chamber, has fired again and with the same charge with which it was originally loaded.

Recently, while scratching about the sand at the ruins of Fort Fisher, once a Confederate stronghold, Mr. Deil ran across the revolver. He plucked the relic out of the hill and proceeded to clean it and also oil the weapon.

This having been accomplished, he pulled the trigger, and much to his amazement, the revolver discharged. Fact that the weapon fired after it and its cartridges had been buried in the sand at the fort and exposed to the elements for more than three score years is considered remarkable.

Colt Model 1849 Revolver - 5 shooter

Colt Model 1849 Revolver – 5 shooter

The revolver is an old “five shooter” and has eight notches on the barrel, which in the language of the gunman means that its owner killed eight men with the weapon.

The battle of Fort Fisher was fought during the winter of 1864-1865.  A fleet of more than 200 federal warships attacked the stronghold December 22, 1864, and shelling it for days withdrew from the attack. Confederates believing they had abandoned their efforts to capture the fort, withdrew several detachments of the army to another sector.

Colt Army Revolver -1860

Colt Army Revolver -1860

Shortly after the fort’s strength had been reduced the Federals returned, landing an army on the mainland below the stronghold, and at the same time stationing a fleet in front of the mound. They attacked from both sides, and unable to withstand the terrific fire, the Confederates evacuated to Wilmington, and the Federals captured the fort, which had protected the entrance to the port of Wilmington.

Mr. Deil believes his relic was lost by one of the Confederate or northern soldiers during this mighty battle, but frankly admits he will probably never learn who owned the menacing weapon. When found the revolver was red with rust and seemingly in a state beyond repair. But since it has been cleaned and oiled it shoots, and probably with accuracy.”

[Text was originally published in the September, 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter]

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

Colt Army Model 1860 – The most widely used revolver of the Civil War – Wikipedia

Colt Model 1862 – 5 shooter – Wikipedia


Last Christmas at Fort Fisher – December, 1864

[by Bill Reaves – columnist for the Wilmington Star-News, 12-27-1973]

Fort Fisher Palisades,/i>

Fort Fisher Palisades

It was certainly a cheerless Christmas Eve, 133 years ago inside the high earthen walls of Fort Fisher. The weather was frightful and the Confederacy was on its knees. Each soldier attempted to get some kind of dinner in honor of the holiday, and some were fortunate to receive some meager food boxes from Wilmington and surrounding areas. Some were very fortunate indeed whose homes were great distances away and they had nothing whatever delectable which would impart some memory of Christmas in times past.

Great genius was necessary to create a holiday dinner out of a pound of fat pork, six crackers, and a quarter pound of dried apples. It was not impossible to see a bit of culinary art with apple dumplings, with which some sorghum molasses were not to be despised.

All drills, inspections and even guard mountings were suspended during the cold and icy weather, especially when the wind blew from the direction of the ocean. A man hardly dared poke his nose out of the bunkers or tents, except to go for wood and water and to draw his rations.

Every style of camp architecture was to be found within the fort, including hut, hovel, shack and shed, plus the underground bunkers inside the high earthworks around the fort itself.

Some of the men tried to bring some bit of hilarity and cheerfulness into the camp, and then again some did not. There were mixed emotions all the morning with thoughts of family and home and the downfall of the war effort throughout the South.

On the afternoon of December 24th, 1864, the United States fleet opened fire upon Fort Fisher, the heavy cannonading continuing during the following two days. The booming could be distinctly heard in Wilmington.

Bombardment of Fort Fisher 2Despite the terrific bombardment Colonel Lamb noted that the greatest penetration into his sand defenses was a not more than five feet perpendicularly.

The fleet were all floating in a stately line of battle, three abreast, with iron-clads in the van, and the frigates and gunboats, all trimmed for action, ranging behind.

Very late in the day on the 26th, the firing ceased, and the fleet moved further out to sea.

No serious damage was done to the works, and the men gained high spirits over the retreat of the enemy. In the evening they sang “Lorena” and other Southern songs, and their stringed instruments played lively airs.

There was great anxiety in Wilmington as to the fate of the fort especially on Christmas Day when worshipers in church listened to the rumble of the artillery which accompanied the hymns and words of worship and prayer.

When the word was received that the fort had not fallen to the Union forces, more than one hundred Wilmington ladies, loaded with baskets, visited the fort and offered the choicest foods that they were able to prepare, with the many shortages of stores in Wilmington that the civilian population was suffering.

When the feast was over, Colonel Lamb expressed the appreciation of himself and his men to them for their kindness, and assured them that his men would freely give their lives to defend their homes from the invader. His words were punctuated by three rousing cheers from the garrison.

This was the last Christmas dinner inside the great fortress known as Fort Fisher, on the narrow strip of peninsula, then called Confederate Point.

[Text was originally published in the December 1997 Newsletter of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society.  Images and links added in 2015]

Dec 24, 1864: Bombardment of Fort Fisher begins

The Christmas Battle

Yankee Veteran Tells of Fall of Fort Fisher

[Editor: In last month ‘s issue (Oct., 1996) of the Newsletter we presented a Confederate veteran’s account of the fall of Fort Fisher.

This month, in fairness, we present a Yankee’s account of the Fort Fisher battles and aftermath. The following article by Lewis H. Noe, of Sayville, Long Island, New York, was printed on November 17, 1924, in the Wilmington News-Dispatch, and comes from the William M Reaves Collection.]

“The writer was 14 years old when the Civil war broke out, and was one of the northern Yankee boys, who were anxious to join the Union forces and help to put the ‘Rebels’ out of commission in 30 days. The ‘Rebels’ were described as a ‘bunch of southern outlaws with horns.’

My crying about the New York city recruiting offices, with my plea for accepting my enlistment, for a boy of 14 years, was unavailing, as it was figured out the north had sufficient number of big, grown-up fellows to silence the trouble down south without the aid of boys.

So I went home to my parents at Sayville, L.I., where I was born and reared, and where I hoed corn for another year. At the expiration of that time, Uncle Sam decided he could use 15-year-old boys, thinking this might strike terror among  the ‘Rebels,’ the showing up of numbers, at least.

Soon I was one of 29 boys who joined the crew of 500 – all told – of the wooden steam frigate USS Minnesota, and I became special messenger for Commodore Joseph Lanman. In the winter of 1864 our ship was one of the fleet of 53 vessels assigned to the task of bombarding Fort Fisher, under command of Admiral Porter.

Ships of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron bombarding Fort Fisher- January 15, 1865

Ships of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron bombarding Fort Fisher- January 15, 1865

Our fleet formed a crescent shaped position an half mile out from the fort, an earthworks covering several acres at the mouth of Cape Fear river. Our ship was the most easterly one, the new ironsides and two ‘cheese-box’ monitors lay just inside our ship, over which we shot the most of our shells.

Our ship’s battery consisted of 30 nine-inch Dahlgren (smooth-bore) guns, with [a] 200-pound smooth-bore gun on stem. My position during the three days  bombardment was on the bridge with the commodore, and I was able to see the shells as they left our guns and watch their course and note their hits in and about the fort. During the time of rapid firing it was estimated we threw a thousand shells a minute into the fort.

It was noticeable from shipboard that the fort’s guns were dismantled by our fire, but were often replaced in position by the daring ‘Rebels,’ and the same occurred when the fort’s flagstaff was time and again shot down – it was seen to be replaced with the southern flag still intact.

Our fire set in blazes all of the wooden barracks of the fort, and it appeared to be a warm place for the fort’s garrison, any place outside of their bomb-proof retreats. A 32-pound rifle shell from the fort dropped in one of our ships’ launches on the spar deck, and broke through the boat’s bottom and fell in a coil of rope.

Naval Bombardment of Fort Fisher

Naval Bombardment of Fort Fisher – Click

The spar-deck gunners nearest that spot sprang to one side, expecting the shell to explode, when, in my ignorance of danger, I ran and secured the shell and brought it to the commodore on the bridge. The commodore motioned me to throw the shell from the bridge. Having noticed that the shell had its fuse blown out, or probably had been fired as solid shot, I was confident there was no danger explosion. The commodore took courage (possibly from my own coolness), and then made love to the ‘Rebel’ shell, which he kept as a relic of the fight, and the shell has since been engraved on its side, the date of the Fort Fisher battle and fall and that it came from the ‘Rebel’ works as a ‘Christmas Gift.’

On the second day of the battle General Butler landed 6,000 troops under fire of the fleet, but after reconnoitering the ‘Rebel’ works, the federal troops re-embarked. General Butler reported to Admiral Porter that ‘Fort Fisher is impregnable.’

On the third day General Terry, with about 10,000 troops, made the landing and assault on Fort Fisher and this engagement included a hand-to-hand fight from early in the evening until 9 o’clock that night, when the land signals to the fleet announced the surrender of the garrison.

Next morning at sunrise the magazine of the fort blew up, burying alive many of the garrison and Yankee troops, alike, who were at that time enjoying their morning together in the ‘spirit of brotherly reunion.’ At the moment General Terry’s troops made a dash upon the fort, which was faced by a heavy stockade of pine logs, with an inner trench, which had to be passed by means of portable bridges; the crews of the northern fleet manned the rigging and watched the land assault.

Admiral George Dewey, ‘the hero of Manila bay,’ was a lieutenant on board one of the ships in the Yankee fleet. Henry M. Stanley was at the time ship’s clerk on our own ship, the Minnesota. Stanley afterwards became the African explorer, and the writer was a traveling companion of his in foreign lands in 1868 and 1869.

The fall of Wilmington was deeply felt throughout the Confederacy, and by no portion more than by Lee‘s army, which for some weeks had to rely upon the pork brought in through Wilmington to ration his rapidly diminishing troops.

The writer would be pleased to hear direct or otherwise from any of the Confederate garrison of Fort Fisher.”

(signed) Lewis H. Noe.    Aged 76 years in February, 1924.

Union Navy Assault on Fort Fisher

Union Navy Assault on Fort Fisher


Mr. Noe later telegraphed the following to The News-Dispatch:

“Add to my report of the ‘Battle of Fort Fisher:’ One-half of the crews of the Yankee fleet was assigned to making a pretense at storming the face of Fort Fisher, to draw the ‘Rebel’ fire, while General Terry’s troops made the assault from the rear of the fort.

The attacking sailors could do no more than lie flat on their stomachs in front of the palisade.”


[Text was originally published in the November 1996 FPHPS Newsletter (pdf)]

Goliath Falls: Attacks Waged Against Fort Fisher – by Philip Gerard – Our State Magazine


Confederate Veteran’s Account of The Fall of Fort Fisher

[Editor: The following account by Confederate veteran Henry Clay McQueen, then 81 years of age, appeared in the ‘Wilmington Star’, on May 22, 1927.

The article text was compiled by Mrs. Mary B; Heyer, historian of the Cape Fear Chapter of the U.D.C.]

Fort Fisher Mound Battery

Fort Fisher Mound Battery

“My grandfather, James McQueen, came from the Isle of Skye to North Carolina. He married Anna MacRae, my grandmother. Their son, Dr. Edmund McQueen, married Susan Moore, who were my parents. I was born in Lumberton, Robeson county, July 16, 1846.

I enlisted in the service of the Confederacy in 1863 – Company D, First North Carolina battalion heavy artillery, Capt. McCormick.  Major Alex MacRae, father of Capt. Walter G. MacRae, at that time commanding the battalion. I first saw active service at Fort Caswell. I had not been in service long when I was detailed as clerk of the ordinance and next appointed corporal of Company D.

Many of the older men were disgruntled at this but did not show any grudge against me. We were sent to Fort Fisher for the first bombardment. The enemy’s fleet began to assemble December 20, 1864. On Christmas eve a rain of shot and shell was poured on us for five hours. I afterwards learned over 10,000 were fired by the fleet while we were obliged to use ours sparingly and only returned about 670 shots.

Nearly all the soldiers’ quarters were destroyed, many of our guns disabled or dismounted but our loss was insignificant considering the rain of fire we were under. The fleet retired at sun down.

Next day the fleet returned in larger force and a terrific charge of 130 shot and shell a minute was poured on the fort. I have been told that this old town, 20 miles distant, was badly jarred and shaken up. Just before night the firing from the fleet slackened and a body of soldiers having landed under their guns, under General Ben Butler assaulted the fort but was easily repulsed.

Fort Fisher Battle 2Next morning the enemy disappeared. My command returned to Fort Caswell, but we were ordered back. When the fleet returned January 12th in larger force of warships and transports full of veteran soldiers. The ocean seemed covered with gunboats and transports. For three days and nights a furious bombardment continued without cessation from the enfilading ships which formed a semi-circle around our two fronts, tearing the fort to pieces.

Our guns were practically all disabled. About 3 pm. the transports having landed the soldiers up the beach during the bombardment and under our very eyes came at us 10,000 strong. We had about 1,400 or 1,500 men to meet them and they ran over us though the fighting continued within the fort until 9 pm.

I am not guessing at the number of the enemy, I got it from General Curtis who led the assault on our front. Twelve or fourteen of my company were killed outright in the first onslaught, and 25 or 30 wounded.

A few of us were forced back and we fought across the traverses of the fort gradually being forced back by the enemy who had gotten on our flank. One man on my was struck in his head by a fragment of shell and his brains splashed in my face, my hat was shot off and I was shot in the leg.

I got back into a bombproof which had been made a temporary hospital. Here at last after the fighting ceased, came a number of the enemy soldiers and praised us for putting up a good fight, and knowing we had had no grub or rest for three days, emptied their haversacks for us.

I think we lay in this bombproof on the ground for 15 days. Surgeons from the fleet came ashore and dressed our wounds till finally we were put aboard a hospital ship and laid on low cots almost touching one another. During one night the wounded soldiers lying on each side of me died. In the morning the ship’s steward brought the breakfasts around as usual. I ate mine and that of one of the dead men lying along side of my bed.

We were taken to Point Lookout. I was put to bed in a ward of the large hospital. The ward master, a Pennsylvania Dutchman, was kind to me and was amused at the cavalry boots I had on. My clothes and boots were carried off and stored. I never expected to see the boots again. I had bought them in Wilmington a short time before the battles and paid $150. for them.

When my wound healed, I was given crutches and my clothes and boots came back. These boots had high patent leather legs and made me rather conspicuous.  A Yank soldier offered me his shoes and two dollars in greenbacks for them and we traded.

Two real dollars looked mighty big to me at the time. During the last fighting around Petersburg, so many Federal wounded came to the hospital we prisoners had to get out and go in the prison hospital, a mile up the Point. I first got into a ward with several smallpox patients, but as I had been vaccinated when a child, I did not have any concern about that. As I was able to go about, I got along famously being a young fellow, everybody was pleasant to me and I made the best of the situation. Had enough to eat to keep hungry all the time and enjoyed good health.

The “Bullpen” adjoined the hospital enclosure and there were 20,000 men in the “Bullpen.” On the high wooden wall around the prison was a platform. On the platform the guard walked. They were mostly negro soldiers. The men in the pen and those in the hospital were allowed to go swimming in the bay.

One morning I was going through the gate to the water. I was accosted by a negro guard above me who said, “Ain’t you Henry McQueen?” I said “Yes, who are you?” He said he was Glasgow – I recognized him then. He was one of my sister’s servants who had run away and joined the Yankee army. This incident did not interfere with my pleasure, and I was soon plunging in the rolling waves of the Chesapeake Bay.

I had some time before throwing away my crutches, but I still walked with a cane that I had made of a crutch. As I did not want to be ordered out of the hospital into the “Bullpen,” I had made with the hospital people and wanted to stay. I should have mentioned before leaving the general hospital on the Point, news came that President Lincoln had been assassinated in Washington. I was standing reading the bulletin board and a Yankee official came up and said to me, “You had better get inside,” Which I did in a hurry.

I and others were released June 7, 1865 and given transportation by boat to City Point and rail to Petersburg, Danville, Greensboro and on to Raleigh and Wilmington.

Doubtless my experience in the war in comparison with thousands of others in the Confederate army was tame and hardly worth the telling. I have told it this first time at the urgent request of the Daughters of the Confederacy—not that I have any apology for having fought for the right of secession and “pro aris et focis.” Many years ago a French merchant in Paris with whom I was talking about the war said to me, “Your side lost, but not without glory.””

[Text originally published in the October 1996 Newsletter]

Fort Fisher to Elmira – by Richard H. Triebe  – Available at the History Center Bookstore
The South’s Gibraltar  – by Philip Gerard – Our State Magazine