Built in Wilmington – The Confederate Ironclads Raleigh and North Carolina

[Text originally published in the June, 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter, Sandy Jackson, editor]

During the Civil War the Confederates built two ironclad steamers at Wilmington — the CSS North Carolina and the CSS Raleigh.

Benjamin Beery and Brothers built the North Carolina at their “Confederate Navy Yard,” or the “Navy Yard” on Eagles Island, across from Wilmington, while J. L. Cassidey and Sons built the Raleigh, at their shipyard at the foot of Church Street in Wilmington.

CSS North Carolina

CSS North Carolina

The Richmond-class ironclad North Carolina, begun in July 1862, remained nameless until October of that year, when S.R. Mallory, secretary of the Confederate States Navy, instructed that the ship be named the North Carolina.

Built for the Confederate government in accordance with the specifications issued by chief naval constructor John L. Porter, the North Carolina was the largest ship built by the Beery brothers. It measured 150 feet in length, 32 feet in beam, had a depth of 14 feet, and only 800 tons burden.

Nearly all of the wood used in the construction of the ship was fresh cut or “green.” The hull was partially constructed of pine, and the upper works of heavy oak. It was stated that the ironclad steamer had a draft of 13 feet – too deep for crossing the bar and was primarily intended for river defense.

The North Carolina was expected to be completed by October or November 1862, but strikes, shortages, and a yellow-fever epidemic postponed the launching of the vessel for several months.

The guns, railroad iron plating, and engines for both ironclads under construction had to be produced at the Confederacy’s only iron rolling mill, the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, VA.

Instead of waiting for the engine to be built for the North Carolina, Captain Beery was able to locate an engine from another vessel that could be installed in the ironclad. At the beginning of the war Wilmington seized the tug Uncle Ben and removed the engine. Although the engine from the tug proved inadequate for the larger ironclad, it was better than having to wait for the Tredegar Iron Works to build one.

CSS North Carolina -  paper model

CSS North Carolina – paper model

Nearly complete by the spring of 1863, the North Carolina still lacked guns and what would prove a costly omission – lower-hull copper sheathing. There was very little copper to be found in the whole Confederacy in 1863, and the sheathing had to be omitted from the final plans. The specific armament of the North Carolina has never been determined.

Most Richmond-class ironclads were designed to carry two 7-inch and two 6.4-inch Brooke rifles. Both the bow and stem guns were on pivots, able to turn to either broadside to fire. The other two guns were placed at midships on either side of the vessel. That arrangement gave the Richmond class a three-gun broadside potential. Although the Wilmington ironclads were meant to carry, four guns, they may have carried only three, primarily to conserve weight.

Before the ironclad was finished, the navy loaned to General Whiting at Fort Fisher two Brooke 6.4-inch rifles. When the North Carolina was ready to be launched, General Whiting returned the guns. The third gun was probably a 7-inch Brooke rifle.

The Confederate Navy placed the ironclad steamer North Carolina in commission during the later part of the year with Capt. William T. Muse in command of a complement of 150 men. Unable to cross the bar for ocean duty and subject to breakdowns of its old engine, the North Carolina was involved in little action.

It was moored at Smithville [Southport] as a guard ship for the lower entrance to the Cape Fear River. The ironclad spent most of its entire career at Smithville, where it was subject to progressive deterioration below the waterline from teredo worms because of its lack of sheathing.

Lieutenant William B. Cushing of the US. Navy stated in June 1864 that the ironclad “is but little relied upon, and would not stand long against a monitor.” In April Capt. William Maury temporarily replaced Capt. William Muse, who had been overcome by typhoid fever.

When Captain Maury was then stricken with “acute Rheumatism,” Capt. John Pembroke Jones became the final commander of the North Carolina. Jones spent the majority of his time overseeing the “fitting out of a blockade runner” in Wilmington, and the ironclad North Carolina quickly deteriorated during the absence of its captain.

Finally, in September a 1864, the North Carolina sprang a leak while anchored in the river.

Reportedly the Confederates abandoned the ironclad next to Battery Island. In a letter to his sister, Assistant Third Engineer Charles Peek stationed at Smithville wrote: “The old North Carolina is no more. She [is] full of water before I left. The men are now employed taking the iron from her.”

A year after the sinking of the ironclad, Stephen Bartlett, a US. surgeon stationed aboard a ship at Southport, wrote home to his brother about visiting the partially submerged wreck: “Tell Walter I fish from the Rebel iron clad N Carolina which is sunk near us but most of the decks are out of water”.

In the spring of 1868 the Navy Department contracted for the removal of the remaining iron plating from the North Carolina; In late June “some fifty tons of iron, stripped from the ram North Carolina,” was sold at public auction for 2 1/8 cents per pound. Three years later the wooden remains of the old ram North Carolina were intentionally burnt to the water’s edge.


During late 1863, the Confederates laid down the second ironclad, the steam-powered ram Raleigh at the wharf near the foot of Church Street in Wilmington at the J.L. Cassidey & Sons Shipyard.

Ironclad CSS Raleigh - Courtesy of Cape Fear Historical Institute

Ironclad CSS Raleigh – Courtesy of Cape Fear Historical Institute

That Richmond-class ironclad, built to John L. Porter’s plans, was similar to those of the CSS North Carolina, and 150 feet in length stempost to sternpost and 172 feet overall, with a 32-foot beam and a draft of 12 feet.

Two thicknesses of iron plating, or casemate, covered a heavily constructed wooden hull, and formed a ram at the how. The Confederate Navy commissioned the ironclad Raleigh on April 3, 1864, under Lt. John Wilkinson, and shortly thereafter placed it under the command of Lt. J. Pembroke Jones.

The vessel’s compliment numbered 188, and her armament consisted of four 6-inch rifled cannons. The engine for the ironclad may have been removed from the wreck of the blockade-runner Modern Greece, while another source claims the engine was new from Richmond.

On the evening of May 6, 1864, the ironclad left Wilmington and steamed toward the bar at New Inlet accompanied by the wooden steamers CSS Yadkin and CSS Equator, to engage six vessels of the Union blockading fleet.

With the smaller steamers under the protection of the guns of Fort Fisher, the Raleigh was successful in briefly breaking the blockade that evening, allowing a blockade-runner to escape.

Fighting resumed the following morning and by 7:00 AM. the Confederates broke the action.

While attempting to cross back over the bar at the inlet, the Raleigh grounded, “breaking her back” on what was known as New Inlet rip, a narrow and shifting sand strip.

Charles Peek, when assigned to the other ironclad, the North Carolina, then stationed at Smithville, commented in a letter to his sister that “the weight of the iron upon her shield just crushed her decks in.”

By the following morning the water had reached the Raleigh’s gun decks. The severely damaged vessel was salvaged of her guns and abandoned.

The wreck of the Raleigh posed a navigation hazard for several years. In June 1864 James Randall, a young clerk in Wilmington, wrote to his friend Kate returning from a river trip to Smithville. In his letter he noted his sighting of the remains of the ironclad Raleigh “just a few yards from the channel.”

Randall described the condition of the wreck and salvage work in progress: “She was very much sunken at the stern, lifting her bow considerably. Her sides had been stripped of their armor, the smokestack prostrate, and altogether she had the appearance of a monstrous turtle stranded and forlorn. As we passed, the divers were engaged in removing her boilers and machinery”.

Contemporary accounts reported that the “guns, equipment, iron, etc.,” were “being saved.” The salvors, unable to refloat the ironclad, removed the two boilers and destroyed the vessel. The navy sent the boilers to Columbus, Georgia to be used in the steamer Chattahoochee.

In July Capt. William Cushing reported, visiting the site of the wrecked Raleigh, that nothing of the vessel remained above water.

Beery Shipyard 2008 - just North of Memorial Bridge

Beery Shipyard 2008 – just North of Memorial Bridge

The wreck was indicated on navigation charts of New Inlet for many years. In April 1868, the schooner L. Waring, laden with 3,000 bushels of corn, ran upon the sunken ironclad while passing through New Inlet. The ship’s crew made efforts the following day to lighten the schooner and save her from sinking. By late May 1868 the schooner had been raised and repaired at the Cassidey Brothers shipyard .

The Raleigh was partially salvaged again in 1881. A Wilmington newspaper provided the following account of that operation: “Mr. Horton, was cruising in that neighborhood [the rip off New Inlet] a day or two since, when they came across some obstacle on the bottom, whereupon Capt. Loring, an experienced submarine diver, donned his suit and went down, placing two kegs of gun powder in the midst of the obstruction and setting it off.

The result enabled him to ascertain that it was the wreck of a vessel, and he next placed a thirty-five pound package of powder under the wreck and blew it apart, when a portion of the sunken gunboat, which proved to be the front of the turret [casemate], was brought to the surface, hitched on to the schooner and brought to this port, where it was dropped on the railway at Capt. Skinner’s yard and hauled up out of the water.

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

 

[Additional resources]

CSS Raleigh – NCpedia
CSS North Carolina – NCpedia
CSS Wilmington – NCpedia

What’s the story on the Confederate Shipyard on Eagles Island?
Ben Steelman – MyReporter.com

Cassidey’s Shipyard
Bennett L. Steelman –  NCpedia.com

Beery’s Shipyard Marker – photo
The Historical Marker Database

Shipbuilding along the Cape Fear River – FPHPS article

[Editor:  Claude V. (Sandy) Jackson III in his book, ‘The Big Book of the Cape Fear River‘  (p 250-252) details Wilmington’s Beery and Cassidey shipyards work on the CSS North Carolina and the CSS Raleigh.]

 

Bibliography

Mallison, Fred.
1959 “Blockade Busters That Failed.” The State 27, no. 15 (December 26, 1959): 9-12.

Murray, Paul and Stephen Russel Bartlett, Jr.
1956 “The Letters of Stephen Chaulker Bartlett Aboard U.S.S. Lenapee, January to August 1865.” The North Carolina Historical Review 33, no. 1 (January): 66-92.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (ORN). Series I and II. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion (ORA). Washington: Government Printing Office.

Peek, Charles Smith.
“Letters and Papers of Charles Smith Peek, Acting Third Assistant Engineer”, CSS North Carolina. Typed transcripts in the possession of Dr. Charles Perry, Charleston, South Carolina.

Shomette, Donald G.
1973 “Shipwrecks of the Civil War“. Washington DC: Donic Ltd.

Williams, Isabel M. and Leora H. McEachern.
1978 “River Excursions 1864.” Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, Inc. Bulletin 21, no. 3 (May)

Wilmington Daily Journal (Wilmington, NC.) 1864 (Bill Reaves Historic Newspaper Collection).

Wilmington Dispatch (Wilmington, N.C.) 1919 (Bill Reaves Historic Newspaper Collection).

Wilmington Star (Wilmington, NC.) 1868, 1871, 1881

Bill Reaves Historic Newspaper Collection

Changes to the Federal Point Landscape

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

Erosion at Ft. Fisher

Erosion at Ft. Fisher

Mr. Gehrig Spencer, site manager at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site, presented a program at the February, 1995 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society on how the effects of weather and war have reshaped the southern end of Federal Point. Mr. Spencer also discussed how the current implementation of a Seawall is expected to prevent any further deterioration of the fort.

According to Mr. Spencer one of the earliest events having a major impact on the landscape of Federal Point occurred in 1761 when a hurricane opened the passage known as New Inlet between the ocean and the Cape Fear River. Over the years the relatively shallow inlet shifted course slightly to the south.

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

It was the events of man that brought about the next major change to the Federal Point landscape. While natural erosion of Federal Point remained relatively stable during the Civil War, the construction of Fort Fisher drastically changed its appearance.

Sea Face - Fort Fisher

Sea Face – Fort Fisher

Under the supervision of Col. William Lamb, Fort Fisher with its massive land and sea faces took shape as the largest earthen fortification on the east coast.

The landscape of Federal Point changed forever as the builders used great quantities of sand and a covering of marsh and cut sod in the construction of the fort. One single mound known as Mound Battery rose sixty feet in height.

Following the war Federal Point again underwent a major transition in appearance when the US. Army Corps of Engineers began a decade-long process of closing New Inlet.

The Rocks 1

“The Rocks” from Zeke’s Island towards Battery Buchanan

The closing of the inlet allowed the currents to naturally deepen the river channel. During the 1870s, the Corps built a stone structure in two sections across the inlet and swash known as the “The Rocks.”

The length of the upper section of the dam extended from Battery Buchanan on Federal Point to Zeke’s Island, a distance of 5,300 feet.

The continuation of the lower section known as the Swash Defense Dam from Zeke’s Island to Smith’s Island, 12,800 feet, made the entire closure just over 3 miles in length.

The Rocks measured from 90 to 120 feet wide at the base. The average depth of the stone wall was 30 feet over three-fourths of its length. The Rocks still separate the Cape Fear River from the ocean.

Serious erosion problems occurred at Federal Point after the state removed coquina rock from the shore just north of the earthworks during the 1920s for use as road construction fill. Since that time approximately 200 yards of sea front has been lost to wave action.

This loss forced the state in the early 1950s to realign the very same highway that had been built with the use of the coquina rock. As a means of preventing any further erosion of what remained of Fort Fisher, the North Carolina Highway Department added concrete and other construction debris along the sea front during 1969 and 1970.

3,200-foot seawall completedat Fort Fisher Museum

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

The latest effort [1995] in the fight to protect Fort Fisher and Federal Point being claimed by the ocean will be the construction of a 3,200-foot seawall [revetment]. Work on construction of the seawall by a private contractor is expected to begin this spring [1995].

Sand re-nourishment of the beach will not be part of the preservation plan since it might damage or destroy ecologically sensitive areas along the Cape Fear River.

The seawall [revetment] is expected to halt ocean side erosion of Federal Point for the next fifty years.

 

March 1995 Newsletter (pdf) – Federal Point Historic Preservation Society (FPHPS)

Fort Fisher Revetment Project Nears Completion (March 1996)  (FPHPS)

The Closing of New Inlet (The Rocks) 1870-1881

... and the Swash Defense Dam 1881-1891

By Sandy Jackson

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

The Rocks

The Rocks
Zeke’s Island to Fort Fisher

In 1870 the Corps of Engineers made a postwar survey of the Cape Fear River under Gen. J. H. Simpson.

The results of Simpson’s survey supported closing New Inlet, south of Fort Fisher, prior to any dredging in the river, since sand washed in the inlet would quickly refill the channel.

The River Improvements Act of July 11, 1870, appropriated funds for the Cape Fear improvements. General Simpson and Colonel Craighill of the US. Engineers devised a work at the New Inlet breeches to intercept the sand being washed into the river by the northeasterly gales and to then prevent the spilling of vast volumes of water through the breaches.

The works were intended to close the small inlets contiguous to the main inlet, thus forcing the water into the main channel of the Cape Fear River and scouring the channel to a capacity to admit vessels.

The first step undertaken to close the inlet was the erection of a 500-foot deflector jetty from Federal Point on the northern side of New Inlet, that followed a southwesterly line of shoals.

The Rocks - Zeke's IslandThe work of closing the breaches between Smith [Bald Head Island] and Zeke’s Islands, was under the supervision of Maj. Walter Griswold and consisted of placing large, heavy wooden cribs, filled with stone, across the bottom.

The line of crib works started at the northernmost extremity of Smith Island and extended toward Zeke’s Island. For the greater part of its 1,200 feet length, the works were built upon the remains of a stone dike, constructed by Captain Daniel P. Woodbury in 1853.  At the commencement of the work the water on the bar had diminished to the nominal depth of only 8 feet with a narrow channel.

The Rocks3

The Rocks – up to Battery Buchanan

During the 1870-1871 fiscal year the Corps of Engineers reported that a 607-foot section of the breakwater and superstructure had been completed across the most difficult breach that contained the deepest and strongest current. In addition to the construction of the breakwater, Griswold also began erecting sand fences and planting shrubbery and other vegetation on Zeke’s Island to prevent further erosion.

In 1873 the Corps reported that the closing of the breaches between Zeke’s and Smith’s Islands had been completed. The jetty extended 4,400 feet in length and was protected from the currents by sunken flats and thirty thousand sand bags.

Upon inspection it was found that sand had quickly accumulated, forming shoals around the jetty and further strengthening the structure. As a result of the building sand at the breakwater and sand fences, Zeke’s Island was being thoroughly merged into Smith’s Island beach and returning to its former shape before the 1761 storm that caused it to open.

Federal Point, however, and the outer point of Smith Island beach continued to wear. By 1877 Zeke’s Island had entirely lost its identity.

In 1872 the Corps made a proposal to completely close New Inlet, and a board of engineers met in Wilmington, to consider the idea. After careful review the board recommended closure of the inlet. Congress appropriated an additional one hundred thousand dollars for the continued task.

Building 'The Rocks'

Building ‘The Rocks’

Work began on completely closing New Inlet in 1874 by placing an experimental cribwork along a line of shoals 1,700 feet long to the deep water of the channel. The cribwork consisted of a continuous line, or apron, of wooden mattresses-composed of logs and brushwood, loaded with stone, and sunk—that formed the foundation for a stone dam.

Each section of the mattress was 36 feet wide and 36 feet long and was floated out to its proper position and held in place by anchors. Having proceeded at a cautious pace, the Corps of Engineers halted the construction after two years of difficult work and the construction of only 500 feet for further consideration.

Bill Reaves - Carolina Beach The Oceanic Hotel - Rocks - May 15 1893

Click – to read

While reevaluation of the project was under way, it was decided to use any remaining funds to dredge the channels of the river at Horseshoe shoal, the Bald Head bar, and the “Logs,” a submerged cypress stand 7 miles below Wilmington to a depth of 12 feet.

When work on closing New Inlet continued in 1876 the project proved difficult because of the depth of the water and the amount of stone required to be piled on top of the wooden mattresses. The last mattress raft was sunk in June 1876, and it was estimated that 6,200 cubic yards of riprap stone would be required to be placed on the mattresses just to raise the dam to the low water mark.

The first load of stone was dumped on the dam in January 1877. The work continued year to year by piling small stone rip-rap on and over the foundation. As the dam lengthened, the amount of rip-rap needed increased as the current scoured the mud and sand from around the dam, increasing the depth of water.

The Rocks4By 1879, under direction of Asst. Eng. Henry Bacon, the dam had been built to the high water mark for its entire length of 5,300 feet; and one small middle section that had been left open for navigation was closed. More than 122,000 cubic yards of stone had been placed on the dam, and still more was needed to raise the dam to two feet above the high water.

At the suggestion of Bacon to Chief Engineer Craighill, heavy granite capstones were placed on top of the rock dam. The Corps successfully completed the closure of New Inlet in 1881.

 

Swash Defense Dam 1881-1891

While the Corps of Engineers was engaged in the closing of New Inlet, a storm in 1877 opened a breach between New Inlet and the closed Smith’s – Zeke’s Islands swash.

In order to prevent the purpose of the dam from being corrupted by the new opening, it was decided to close the breach by artificial means. The first attempt, made by Engineer Bacon in February 1881, proved to be of insufficient strength and collapsed.

The Rocks2

The Rocks
– walking toward Zeke’s Island

A second attempt to build a sturdier structure followed during the spring and summer of 1881. During that effort over “400 heavy piles eight feet apart in two lines nine feet apart” were driven in a line across the breach. Sand quickly accumulated on the ocean side of the defense, reinforcing the structure.

A series of storms in August and September 1881, however, broke through the beach on the north side of the breakwater, flanking the defense and forcing its abandonment. In order to save the work, Bacon recommended that a line of defense be completed that extended from Zeke’s Island over the shoal water to reduce the tidal difference.

The Corps approved Bacon’s recommendations for the extended defense; without them the effectiveness of the New Inlet dam would have been severely compromised and a great deal of money and time expended with little more than a temporary improvement. A row of mattresses, 40 to 60 feet wide, was laid along the line earlier proposed. On top of the mattresses they piled stone, similar to the New Inlet dam, up to the high-water mark.

Storms again plagued the defense project and forced another swash to open just north of the other two and nearer New Inlet Dam.  As a result, Bacon was forced to lengthen and modify the line of mattresses.

Contractors finally delivered the first load of stone to the works in December 1884 from a quarry on nearby Gander Hall plantation. The placement of the stone continued over the next several years, with minor delays caused by the occasional storm. By 1891 the Corps had completed the 12,800-foot Swash Defense Dam to its proper height and width.

From Battery Buchanan out to The Rocks

From Battery Buchanan
down to The Rocks

The length of the upper section of the dam extended Battery Buchanan on Federal Point to Zeke’s Island, a distance of 5,300 feet. The continuation of the Swash defense dam from Zeke’s Island to Smith’s Island, 12,800 feet, made the entire closure just over 3 miles in length.

“The Rocks,” as the entire dam was eventually called, measured from 90 to 120 feet wide at the base, and for three-fourths of the line the average depth of the stone wall was 30 feet from the top of the dam. The Corps of Engineers topped the Rocks with concrete during the 1930s. The Rocks still separate the Cape Fear River from the ocean.

 

 

 

 

[Editor:  Claude V. (Sandy) Jackson III included this article in a book he later published, ‘The Big Book of the Cape Fear River‘.  

In the ‘The Big Book’, there are 22 pages detailing Historic Navigation and Dredging Projects on the lower Cape Fear including  Snow’s Cut with descriptions, locations and pictures.]

 

Bibliography

Hartzer, Ronald B.
1984 “To Great and Useful Purpose; A History of the Wilmington District US. Army Corps of Engineers“. Wilmington: Privately printed.

Rayburn, Richard H.
1984 “One of the Finest Rivers in the South: Corps of Engineers Improvements on the Cape Fear Below Wilmington, 1870-1881.” Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, Inc. Bulletin 27, no. 3 (May): 1-6.

1985 “One of the Finest Rivers in the South: Corps of Engineers Improvements on the Cape Fear Below Wilmington, 1881-1919.” Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, Inc. Bulletin 28, no. 2 (February): 1-6.

Sprunt, James.
1896 “Tales and Traditions of the Lower Cape Fear 1661-1896“. Wilmington: Lerin Brothers; Reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: The Reprint Co., 1973.

US. Army Corps of Engineers
1870 “Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers to the Secretary of War.”  Washington: US. Government Printing Office

Wilmington Star (Wilmington, NC.) 1873, 1876, 1877, 1886

Wilmington Weekly Star (Wilmington, NC.) 1872


[Additional Resources]

‘The Rocks’ Arial View:  Fort Fisher to Zeke’s Island to Bald Head
Google Maps: ‘The Rocks
Images: Zeke’s Island
Zeke’s Island – NC Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve
The Rocks’ 1761 – 1950: from the Bill Reaves Files
‘The Rocks’ in the News

November 1995 Newsletter (pdf) – Federal Point Historic Preservation Society

 

Shipbuilding along the Cape Fear River

By Sandy Jackson

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

Native Americans - Hollowed Out LogsThe earliest watercraft along the lower Cape Fear River were dugout canoes, or log boats, used by the native population. The dugout canoe was commonly built from a single cypress or pine log, quite common within the coastal swamp forest. Cut from a large section of tree, the canoe was shaped by ax or adze and hollowed to its appropriate thickness by slow-burning embers.

Early colonists to the region in the late seventeenth century used steel tools to adapt the dugout canoe to fit their own needs. By splitting a canoe down the middle and installing boards in the bottom, it could be enlarged. This larger version, about 4 or 5 tons, was known as the periauger and could be fitted with either masts for sails or oars for rowing. The larger of the craft were capable of carrying forty or barrels of pitch and tar. Periaugers were sometimes used by the inhabitants as ferries across rivers or larger creeks.

Types of Sailing Ships Built on the Cape Fear River

Types of Sailing Ships
Built on the Cape Fear River

During the early eighteenth century, settlement of the lower Cape Fear River quickly increased as royal governors granted to various individuals large sections of land along the liver and major tributaries.

On these large sections of land, called plantations, crops or naval stores were often produced and transported by flat, also called a pole boat, to deep-water points, where they were loaded aboard seagoing ships. The flatboat, so named because of its flat bottom and squared sides, was larger than the earlier periaugers and built of boards.

The majority of those transport vessels and small sailing craft were constructed at plantation landings. Often flats were used as ferries across major waterways.

Deep-water sailing craft known as sloops gradually became the watercraft commonly used to transport products between coastal ports. Sloops were as small as 5 tons burthen, or as large as 60 to 70 tons. They had a single mast with a large mainsail and one or more headsails on a bowsprit. The larger sloops were primarily used in long ocean voyages and had one or more square sails in addition to the usual fore-and-afi sails .

Second in popularity and use after the sloop was the brigantine or brig, from 30 to 150 tons. The rig of this craft has varied with time and location. Generally, before 1720, the brigantine has been described as being a two-masted vessel, square-rigged on the foremast, fore-and-aft rigged on the main, but also with a square topsail.

After 1720, the main square topsail was omitted in most brigantines. Other vessel types in use during the late seventeenth and eighteenth century included the ship, schooner, bark, snow, pink, and shallop.

Single-masted sloops were eventually found to be too small to carry the increasing amount of commerce on the Cape Fear River. The need for a larger vessel capable of transporting more cargo led to the development and use in the early eighteenth century of a two-masted, fore-and-aft-rigged craft known as the schooner.

The Schooner allowed distribution of the sail canvas on two masts and made it feasible to build this type of craft in tonnages exceeding those of the sloops. The smaller sail sizes also required fewer crew to operate. The design and operation of the two-masted schooner proved both popular and economically beneficial. The schooner quickly became the most common vessel type until the mid-nineteenth century. Sloops and schooners were constructed at several of the shipyards located along the lower Cape Fear River. Some of the last wooden schooners built during the early twentieth century at Wilmington were four-masted.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century steam-powered vessels began plying the waterways of eastern North Carolina and effectively replacing much of the sail- or oar-powered craft in use. Large, and often dangerous, steam engines and boilers converted, steam into a mechanical motion that turned wooden side or stem paddlewheels. Fueled by either coal or firewood (found plentifully along the river banks), the shallow-drafted steamboats proved to be an efficient means of transporting produce and other farm goods plantation landings to market.

As a result of the improved means of transportation, steamboat companies developed and provided regular scheduled service for passengers and the transportation of freight between coastal ports, plantations, and river towns. Until the early twentieth century steamboats of a wide variety of sizes and designs were the most popular form of transportation on the Cape Fear River. Several shipyards within the Wilmington vicinity specialized in the construction and repair of this type of vessel.

Naval technology developed significantly in response to the Civil War. The success of early vessels of a new type known as ironclads brought about changes in the materials and methods used for the construction of ships. The building of wooden vessels highly susceptible to fire, decay, and destruction by enemy attack during war slowly declined as an increasing number of iron ships were constructed.

During the Civil War at least three ironclads were built in Wilmington. While the upper structure of this class of vessel was covered in iron, the lower portion of the hull below the waterline was wooden. The need for vessels completely encased in iron ended with the conflict, but the method of ship construction established with the ironclads continues to this day.

Beery Shipyard - just North of Memorial Bridge

During World War I, Wilmington was established as a prime shipbuilding location for a new method of building vessels of concrete. In April 1918 the US. Shipping Board selected Wilmington as one of its sites for a government yard. Seven concrete ships were planned to be built at the city. The larger of the vessels, 7,500 tons, would be used as tankers with capacities of 50,000 barrels of oil. The smaller, 3,500-ton, vessels would be cargo ships.

The new type of cargo vessel, or “stone ship,” required approximately 300 tons of concrete and was poured in three sections-bottom, sides and decks. Drying of each section had to occur before the next section could be poured. When all three sections were complete, the vessel had to “set” for a month before launching. Some of the last large wooden ships were also constructed at Wilmington during this period.

Liberty Ships - built in Wilmington

Liberty Ships – built in Wilmington

The greatest boom in shipbuilding on the Cape Fear River occurred during World War II.  Wilmington was again selected as the site for construction of cargo ships needed for the war effort. Two types of cargo vessels were built in Wilmington: Liberty ships and Victory ships.

The Liberty ships were officially designated as the EC-2 (Emergency Cargo) type. The standard Liberty was more than 441 feet in length, with a beam of 56 feet and a draft of 27 feet. Libertys often carried more than their stated capacity of 9,146 tons of cargo with a full load of fuel. The ship had five holds: three forward of the engine spaces and two aft. One hundred twenty-six of these class vessels were produced at the Wilmington shipyard.

1949 - Mothballed Liberty Fleet in Wilmington

1949 – Mothballed Liberty Fleet
along Brunswick River in Wilmington

The second vessel class, the C-2 or Victory ship, was also constructed at the Wilmington yard. It was hoped that this type of vessel could be used as merchant ships following the war. The C-2 ships were 460 feet long, 63 feet in beam, and had a dead-weight tonnage capacity of 8,500 tons. The North Carolina Shipbuilding Company produced 117 vessels of the C-2 type.

There were many variations in the C-2 design that caused considerable delays when compared to the amount of time required to build an EC-2-type vessel. Each variation of the C-2-type ships required different means of propulsion and prevented standardization. The Liberty ship was much easier to produce by comparison.

Mothballed Libertys - Brunswick River

Click

Shipbuilding along the river drastically declined during the last half-century.

When military vessels were not being built in Wilmington, private shipbuilding companies constructed small river craft, yachts, or speedboats on the sites of the abandoned war shipyards.

Presently only fishing boats or small craft for government use are built along the shores of the lower Cape Fear River.

 

[Editor:  Claude V. (Sandy) Jackson III included this article in a book he later published titled: ‘The Big Book of the Cape Fear River‘.  

Following this article in the ‘The Big Book’, there’s an extensive (42 page) listing of all the Shipyards, Boatyards, Repair Yards and Marine Railways along the lower Cape fear River, along with descriptions, locations and pictures.

All but one of the images included on this page are from ‘The Big Book of the Cape Fear River‘.

Google Maps: Brunswick River in Wilmington, NC

 

September, 1995 (pdf) – FPHPS Newsletter]

The Confederate Ironclads Raleigh and North Carolina – built in Wilmington

Bibliography
Alford, Michael B.
1990 “Traditional Work Boats of North Carolina“. North Carolina Maritime Museum. Harkch Island, N.C.: Hancock Pub.

Chapelle, Howard I.
1935 “The History of American Sailing Ship“. New York: Bonanza Books.

Johnson, F. Roy.
1977 “Riverboating in Lower Carolina”. Murfreesboro, N.C.: Johnson Publishing Company.

Still, William N., Jr.
n.d. “Shipbuilding in North America: A Case Study in the South’s Maritime Heritage.” Unpublished data base.

Wilmington Dispatch (Wilmington, NC.) 1918, 1919.

Wilmington Star (Wilmington, NC.) 1918, 1919, 1941.

Wilmington News (Wilmington, NC.) 1941.

Happy Birthday to Us! FPHPS Founded: March 28, 1994

Can you believe the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society was TWENTY ONE years old as of March, 2015?  Here are a few highlights from the Society’s early history.

Ballroom Blast, 1994

Ballroom Blast, 1994

The 1990’s

  October 21, 22, 23, 1994: First fundraiser “Ocean Plaza Ballroom Blast” Featuring Chicken Hicks

  June 22, 1994: First Speaker, Catherine Bishir of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Historic Preservation Section

∞  Fall 1994: First Newsletter, editor Sandy Jackson

∞  December 1994 – October 1995: First Preservation Campaign – Protection and preservation of the historic plantation ruins of Sedgeley Abbey

∞  March 1995: Lighthouse logo, created by Martin Pebbles, was adopted

∞  Spring 1995: Agreement with Town of Carolina Beach for the construction of the Beauregard Shipwreck Overlook

∞  April 1995: Bingo fundraiser

∞  April 1995: Ocean Plaza and Joy Lee Apartments nominated to the National Register of Historic Places

∞  July 1995: Fort Fisher Revetment Project, advocacy, support, and ground  breaking

∞  October 20-22, 1995: Second Annual Ocean Plaza Reunion

∞  March, 1996:Received $10,000 grant from North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources for compiling an inventory of known historic sites and cartographic inventory of Federal Point, directed by Sandy Jackson

∞  May 26th, 1996: Hosted a celebration marking the 50th Anniversary of the Ocean Plaza Building. Wilmington Concert Band performed, followed by a fashion show in keeping with the original opening in 1946

∞  August 18, 1996:  Participated in Belk “Preservation Celebration” fundraiser

∞  June 22, 1997:  Oakdale Cemetery guided tour by E. F. “Gene” Risley Jr.

∞  October 18, 1997:  Barbeque fundraiser

∞  November 15, 1997:  Traditional Holiday Decorating Workshop, hosted by Fort Fisher State Historic Site, with demonstrations by staff members of Tryon Palace

∞  February, 1998:  First Cookbook

∞  February, 1999: – Entered into a lease with the  Town of Carolina Beach for Gazebo structure to be converted into the Federal Point History Center

∞  March 1998:Published Monuments & Markers of Federal Point, North Carolina compiled by Sandy Jackson

∞  May, 1998: Fundraiser: Raffle of framed art print of the Federal Point Lighthouse by Kay Robbins

∞  Summer, 1998: Entered into an agreement with MOTSU to maintain, prepare signage and protect the Newton Homesite and Graveyard. Work began with construction of a wooden fence

Newton Homesite and Cemetery

Newton Homesite and Cemetery

∞  February, 1998: – House Plaque Committee was formed and drafted guidelines for plaguing historic buildings

∞  September, 1998: – the first historic plaques were awarded to the Loughlin Cottage, Burnett Beach Cottage, and Ocean Plaza Ballroom, all over 50 years old and of significance to the community

∞  December 5, 1998: “Down East” Barbecue fundraiser

∞  April 1999: Sugar Loaf Battle marker moved from Dow Rd. to Federal Point History Center

∞  May 23, 1999: First fundraising Cruise – Aboard Pirate IV

∞  June 27, 1999: Commemorative Ceremony held celebrating the listing of Newton Homesite and Graveyard in the National Register of Historic Places

∞  October 22, 1999: Ground breaking for renovation of the Gazebo structure to become the Federal Point History Center

∞  View a Slideshow of the May, 2000 Grand Opening of the History Center.

Reenactment Sale

Fort Fisher Museum – Reenactment Sale — Kenny Koch, Darlene Bright, Leslie Bright