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.

Sources
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)

Walk of Fame Recipient – Captain John Harper

By Elaine HensonCaptain Harper

Captain John William Harper was born in the Masonboro area of Wilmington, NC on November 28, 1856.  At age 16 John went to work as a deck hand on the Steamer Eastern owned by his brother James.  By 1883 the brothers formed the Harper Brothers Steamship Company and ran steamers between Southport, Fort Caswell and Wilmington carrying mail and cargo.

Later in the 1880s Captain Harper was at the wheel of the Steamer Passport and often made stops at the recently completed New Inlet Dam. Some say it was Captain Harper who first called the project “the rocks”.

In 1886 Captain Harper and others formed the New Hanover Transit Company with the idea of making a resort at Federal Point. The first step was a transportation system to access the pristine mostly undeveloped land that would become Carolina Beach. They planned to bring visitors downriver from Wilmington on a steamer.

The company constructed a pier on the Cape Fear River, first near Sugar Loaf, later at Doctor’s Point where steamship passengers could board a train to carry them over to the sea beach. The train, called the Shoo-Fly, had a wood burning steam engine and pulled open passenger cars as well as flatbed cargo cars. As they neared the beach, the tracks ran along present day Harper Avenue which is fittingly named for Captain Harper.

The transit company built a pavilion on the ocean just south of the terminus of Harper Avenue. The pavilion was designed by Henry Bonitz who also designed Lumina at Wrightsville Beach.

They also built the Oceanic Hotel and a restaurant and had all of them open for the first season in June of 1887. The new resort proved to be so popular that by the end of July the Passport’s 350 capacity was enhanced by pulling a 150 passenger barge called the Caroline. An article in the September 30, 1887 Wilmington Star reported that between 17,000 and 18,000 people had visited the beach by the end of that first season.

Steamer WilmingtonOver the next few years the resort grew by leaps and bounds with other business establishments and cottages.

Captain Harper bought the Sylvan Grove in 1888 to bring excursionists to the new resort.Three years later it burned to the water line while in winter storage near Eagles Island.

He replaced it with the handsome Steamer Wilmington in 1891 which he purchased in Wilmington, Delaware. It was the perfect choice since it was already named the Wilmington. She had three decks providing ample room for its 500 passengers to dance to the music of an on board band and made four round trips in the season of 1892 with the ticket price of 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. The Wilmington is the best known of his steamers and the one most often associated with Captain Harper.

James Sprunt has a picture of the steamer and its captain in the front of his book Tales and Traditions of the Lower Cape Fear. Sprunt published the volume as a tribute to his friend Captain Harper in 1896.

The Cape Fear Transit Company was later sold to other investors but the Steamer Wilmington and Shoo Fly train continued to bring visitors until about 1919 when a fire destroyed the pier at the river and improved roads made automobiles the preferred mode of travel.

Captain Harper died on September 18, 1917 and was mourned by all who had known the jovial and popular gentleman who was known by his generous deeds as well as his skills as a steamer captain. We remember him as one of the founders of Carolina Beach.

Walk of Fame Dedication – Jan. 2015

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)

 

Bibliography

(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]

Bibliography

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]

Bibliography

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.

 

My Friend the Enemy

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

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

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

Col. William Lamb

Col. William Lamb

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

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

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

General Newton Martin Curtis

General Newton Martin Curtis

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Lamb - Later Life

William Lamb
in Later Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Friend the Enemy
Produced by Federal Point Historic Preservation Society

[Additional resources]

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

Col. William Lamb
William Lamb (1835-1909)

Newton Martin Curtis

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.

 

 

Bibliography
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