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)

Marybeth Ray – March Meeting

Marybeth Ray croppedThe Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, March 16, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our speaker will be Marybeth Ray, Captain of the MV Southport ferry.  Marybeth Ray is one of just three women among the 60 Captains of the North Carolina ferry fleet.

Working seven 12 hour days on followed by 7 days off, she pilots the MV Southport across the Cape Fear River in all kinds of weather and conditions.

Ferry signMarybeth grew up as a “military brat,” her family moving all over the Southeast. When she was twelve her family settled on Andros Island in the Bahamas and her love of boats, sailing and all things involving salt water was born. Her early work experience involved working for the U.S. Navy at their Undersea Test and Evaluation Center as a civilian contractor.

MV Southport

MV Southport

Of her 1995 move to Wilmington, Ray says, “We fell in love with this area. Obviously, its very water oriented and Wilmington had a lot to offer as far as downtown.”   Soon after resettling she got a job working as a “deck hand” with the North Carolina ferry system. By 2003 she had worked herself up to full time Captain.

Now a resident of Southport, on her weeks off she and her husband run Southport Paddle and Sail offering paddle board activities ranging from lessons and guided excursions to SPS-Logoyoga “on the water.”

They also offer sailing lessons and tours of the area from their schooner Kitty Hawk and their catboat Catnip.

 

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

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.

 

Chris Fonvielle – February Meeting

Chris-Fonvielle-portrait-1The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, February 16, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our speaker this month will be Dr. Chris Fonvielle. He will be talking about his newest book, To Forge a Thunderbolt; Fort Anderson and the Battle for Wilmington.

Fort Anderson played an important role in the history of North Carolina during the Civil War. It was the Confederacy’s largest interior fortification in the Lower Cape Fear, and guarded the Cape Fear River and western land approaches to Wilmington. Beginning in late March 1862, Confederate engineers built massive earthen defenses at Brunswick Point, the site of the colonial port town of Brunswick, located halfway between Wilmington and the mouth of the river. The works were comprised of elevated artillery emplacements mounting heavy seacoast cannons and an adjoining line of imposing fieldworks that extended westward for more than a mile, from the Cape Fear River to Orton Pond.

By early 1865, General Ulysses S. Grant was so determined to capture Wilmington, the Confederacy’s principal seaport and To Forge covermost important city, that he traveled from Virginia to the Cape Fear to finalize plans for an attack by way of Fort Anderson. His forces had recently captured Fort Fisher and sealed the harbor to blockade running. Grant now wanted to take Wilmington as a means of assisting General William T. Sherman’s legion on its march through the Carolinas toward Virginia to help defeat General Robert E. Lee’s beleaguered, but strongly entrenched, army at Petersburg.

Dr. Chris E. Fonvielle, Jr. is a native of Wilmington, North Carolina, with a lifelong interest in American Civil War, North Carolina, Lower Cape Fear and Southern history. His in-depth research focuses on Civil War coastal operations and defenses, blockade running, and the navies.

Fort AndersonAfter receiving his B.A. in Anthropology at UNC-Wilmington, Fonvielle served as the last curator of the Blockade Runners of the Confederacy Museum. He subsequently received his M.A. in American history at East Carolina University and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina.

Dr. Fonvielle returned to his undergraduate alma mater at UNC-Wilmington in 1996, where he now teaches courses on the Civil War, Wilmington and the Lower Cape Fear, the Old South and Antebellum America. He also teaches extended education courses on the history of the Lower Cape Fear through the university.


James William Craig – A Veteran Cape Fear River Pilot

[Editor’s Note (1997): The following article was published in the ‘Wilmington Star’ on May 14, 1911, and comes to us from the collection of William Reaves.]

James SpruntNHC Public Library

James Sprunt
NHC Public Library

[Editor’s Note (2015) – The author of this piece was James Sprunt. This article was later published (1916) in his book, Chronicles of the Cape Fear River, 1660-1916.

“Our ship’s company numbered forty-eight men, and now, after a lapse of forty-seven years, we two, James Sprunt, purser, and J. W. Craig, pilot, are the only survivors of them all.”]


His name is the Reverend James William Craig, Methodist Preacher, but I like to think of him as Jim Billy, the Cape Fear pilot of war times, on the bridge of the swift Confederate blockade runner Lynx, commanded by the intrepid Captain Reed. . . . My shipmate, Jim Billy, is growing old, and so am I.

Some days ago I drew out of Jim Billy the following narrative, which I have set down as nearly as may be in his own words, and I trust it may serve to interest and instruct some of the readers of the Star, who do not often hear a true sailor’s yarn:

I was born in May 1840, and piloted my first vessel into the Cape Fear River when I was seventeen years of age. At that time Mr. P.W. Fanning, of Wilmington, was chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Navigation and Pilotage, and the present custom of issuing branches or licenses was not in vogue. I acted under the protection of my father, who was a branch pilot; in other words he was permitted to carry in vessels of any depth suitable for the water then available. I was an apprentice with him.

When the war broke out I was twenty-one years of age, and in view of certain circumstances favorable to my reputation, I was given by the Board of Commissioners of Navigation and Pilotage a license for twelve feet, the laws having been changed a year or two before the war in respect to the method of issuing licenses.

My father, James N. Craig, lived a short distance from Fort Fisher on the river side at a place called Craig’s Landing, and his house and landing were both used later by the commander of Fort Fisher, Col. William Lamb, who was so intimately engaged with my father that he gave him general charge of the duty of setting lights for the benefit of blockade runners, under certain restrictions which had been provided.

I was therefore engaged for nearly two years after the outbreak of the war in assisting my father, and became more familiar with the channel and the approaches of the channel than many other pilots who had not the opportunity of sounding, as we had frequently, under government instructions.

The first proposal made to me to take a ship through the blockade was by Captain E.C. Reed, commander of the celebrated cruiser Sumter. This vessel had been dismantled of her guns on account of her slow speed and general unfitness for a cruiser, after her destruction of many vessels of the enemy, and she was sent into Wilmington with a cargo of war stores, conspicuous among which were two enormous Blakely guns, which were subsequently used in the defense of Charleston.

Blockading fleet of Wilmington, North Carolina - New Inlet. -- December 3, 1864, Harper's Weekly

Blockading fleet of Wilmington, North Carolina – New Inlet. — December 3, 1864, Harper’s Weekly

After the discharge of the cargo at Wilmington the Sumter was loaded with cotton, and Captain Reed brought her down to Old Brunswick landing and anchored, before he made arrangements for the engagement of a pilot to take him out. In coming into the Cape Fear, Captain Reed had, through a successful ruse, passed through the blockading fleet by hoisting the US. ensign and pretending to be one of the fleet. The blockaders did not discover his true character until he was under the guns of Fort Fisher, and consequently they were very eager to capture him on his voyage outward.

At that time of the tide it was impossible to take over the Rip Shoal or across either of the bars a ship drawing more than eleven feet. The Sumter drew eleven feet of water and grounded repeatedly in attempting to go out. Captain Reed offered me $1,000.00 in gold if I would take the ship out successfully and reach Bermuda, where he would discharge me and proceed to England with his cargo.

I made several ineffectual attempts to get the Sumter outside, but owing to the lack of water and the vigilance of the blockading fleet, we were baffled repeatedly. At last I took her out successfully over the New Inlet bar, the fleet in the meantime having concentrated at the western bar, expecting to capture her there, and Captain Reed subsequently told me that he proceeded to Bermuda and to England without sighting a single hostile vessel during the whole voyage.

A short time after that I piloted the steamship Orion in over New Inlet successfully, that vessel having arrived off the bar without a pilot, and very luckily for the ship as well as for me, hailed me while I was setting some lights for another vessel, the Cornubia, ready to go out in charge of pilot C. C. Morse.

Some months afterwards a very fine blockade runner called the Don, under command of Captain Roberts, (whose real name was Hobart, a son of the Earl of Buckinghamshire, a Post Captain in the British Navy and who had obtained leave of absence in order to try his skill at blockade running), was brought successfully to Wilmington by pilot St. George, who was there taken sick and I was requested to assume his place.

On my return to Wilmington in the Don, I relinquished this vessel to her former pilot, St. George, and made a contract with the agent in Wilmington, of a firm which owned a number of blockade runners – a notable one being the Hansa – to pilot any vessels which he might designate and be subject to his orders at any moment, the term of engagement being three months.

Immediately afterwards, I was ordered to proceed to Nassau in the blockade runner Fanny (formerly the Orion), and report to Captain Watters, of the blockade runner Annie, for duty on that ship.

Blockade Runner

Blockade Runner

I remember that we left in the Fanny on Saturday night and arrived in Nassau before daylight on Tuesday morning, where I found the Annie loaded and ready for sea and waiting for me. We accordingly left about 4 o’clock that afternoon and arrived without incident inside the Cape Fear bar on the Friday night following.

I made a second voyage through the blockade in the Annie, passing within a cable length of two of the Federal fleet, who failed to observe us. We again loaded the Annie in Nassau and cleared for Wilmington, but fell in with a hurricane shortly afterwards and were obliged to heave to for about forty hours, during which we lost our reckoning, and failing to get observations for three days, waited until the gale subsided and then anchored the ship in smooth water, by a kedge, until the captain succeeded in getting an observation of the North Star, by which he worked out his position, we then shaped our course straight for the blockade fleet off Fort Fisher.

At that time, and subsequently, it was the custom for the Flag Ship of the blockading squadron to carry a large light, and, this being the only one visible, served the purpose of guiding the blockade runners until they could get the bearings of the Mound Light. .. .

My term of three months service having expired, I was proceeding in my skiff from Craig’s Landing to Wilmington when I was overtaken by a very swift blockade runner, with two rakish funnels, a perfect model of its kind, called the Lynx, and, having been given a tow line, climbed aboard and found, to my great surprise and delight, that the ship was commanded by my old friend Captain Reed, who immediately requested that I would arrange to go with him, as his engagement of a pilot was only for the voyage inward.

To this I consented, on condition that Gen. Whiting would approve of it, and I received a few days afterwards a telegram to go on board the Lynx at Fort Fisher. I was in a hurricane on this ship, in which she fared badly, her paddle boxes, sponsons and bridge deck having been partly washed away, but we at last limped into Bermuda, and, after repairing damages, proceeded again to Wilmington.

The longest chase of which I was a witness during the war, occurred while I was on the Lynx, which was chased by that very fast cruiser Fort Jackson for fifteen hours. The Fort Jackson’s log and official report subsequently showed that she was making sixteen knots an hour, which at that time was considered phenomenal speed, (the average blockade runner seldom exceeding fourteen knots an hour), and on this occasion I remember that the safety valves of the Lynx were weighted down by the iron tops of the coal bunkers, which of course imperiled the life of everyone on board, but increased the speed of the Lynx to more than sixteen knots an hour and enabled her ultimately to escape.

After making two round passages in the Lynx and running the blockade four times in this vessel, several times under fire, I joined at Wilmington the Confederate steamer Lilian, under the following peculiar circumstances. Quite a number of the Wilmington pilots had been captured by the enemy, and the force available for ships waiting in Bermuda and Nassau, belonging to the Confederate Government, was greatly reduced in consequence thereof.

The regular pilot of the Lilian was Thomas Grissom, and I was one of four extra pilots, (the three others being Joseph Thompson, James Bell and Charles Craig), who were ordered by Gen. Whiting to proceed to Bermuda and take charge of certain ships to be designated by Major Norman S. Walker, the Confederate agent at that port.

Trouble began before we got outside. An armed barge from the fleet had come close inside the Western Bar and lay in our track in the channel, and, immediately upon our approach, sent up a rocket and fired a gun, which was instantly answered by the whole fleet outside and I remember that we crossed the bar in a bright flash of Drummond lights and rockets which made the night as bright as day.

Every one of the blockaders was firing at or over us as we headed out to sea and when next morning dawned which was Sunday, we had just succeeded in dropping the last of the cruisers which had chased us all night. We were congratulating ourselves after breakfast that morning that we would have a clear sea towards Bermuda and by the way the sea was as smooth as glass, when the lookout in the crow’s nest reported a vessel of war ahead, shortly afterwards another on the starboard bow, and a little later a third one on our port bow, and in a few  minutes a fourth one on our beam.

We had unfortunately run into the second line of blockaders, called the Gulf Squadron, and it was not more than two hours before they were all in range and pelting us with bomb shells. The chase lasted until half past one in the afternoon when a shell from the cruiser on our starboard beam, called the Gettysburg and which was formerly the blockade runner Margaret and Jessie, struck us below the water line, making a large hole through which the water rushed like a mill stream.

All our efforts to stop the leak with blankets were unavailing. We had previously thrown over our deck load of cotton, but it was impossible to reach the hole from the inside, as the hold was jam of cotton, and in a short time the vessel began to steer badly and gradually sank almost to the level of the deck.

Finding further efforts to escape utterly fruitless, our Captain stopped the ship and surrendered to the boats which immediately surrounded us. I remember that when the ship was hove to and the Federal officers came on board, our sullen and dejected commander was standing on the starboard paddle box, with his arms folded and his back turned to the approaching Federals, when one of them, with a drawn sword, approached and asked if he was in command of the ship.

Captain Martin responded with an oath: ‘I was commander, but I suppose you are captain now.’  Although every effort had been made to escape, those of us who knew Captain Maffitt, the former commander of the Lilian, regretted very much his absence on this occasion, as he would most likely have been more fortunate in getting away.

Knowing how eager the Federals were to identify the pilot of the ship, they being in blissful ignorance that there were no fewer than five Wilmington pilots on board, we all agreed to personate firemen or members of the crew, and succeeded in passing ourselves as such. Subsequently all of us escaped except the ship’s pilot, who was detained at Point Lookout until the end of the war.

Our ship’s company numbered forty-eight men, and now, after a lapse of forty-seven years [1911], we two, James Sprunt, purser, and J. W. Craig, pilot, are the only survivors of them all.

After our escape from prison, we made our way to Halifax, Nova Scotia, through the medium of some gold coins, which I fortunately kept next to my body in a waist band and which paid the passage of four of my companions, including Mr. Sprunt. I pointed the steamer Bat at Halifax, and proceeded as pilot of her to Wilmington.

When off the bar, and in the midst of the blockading fleet, which was firing heavily upon us, my captain lost his nerve, and notwithstanding my expostulations, persisted in stopping the Bat.

The cause of the captain’s excitement was due to this remarkable incident: one of our sailors was a survivor of the desperate battle between the Alabama and the Kearsarge off Cherbourg [France] some months before, he having served on the Alabama, but, instead of proving to be, as might have been expected, a very brave man under the fire of the blockading fleet, he became terrified and hid himself far forward under the turtle-back in the eyes of our ship as he could squeeze himself.

During the firing of the fleet a shot struck the exact spot where this poor fellow was hiding and cut off his leg, causing him to utter such shrieks as to demoralize our captain, who ignobly stopped and anchored his ship in the midst of the enemy, when he might just as well have gone on, with less risk of destruction. The ship that boarded us that night was the US. steamer Montgomery.

For the second time I was made a prisoner of war, under the following circumstances, which I have never mentioned but once.

Before I became engaged in the blockade running service, I was acting as mate on the Confederate steamer Flora McDonald, a transport on the Cape Fear river, and when the Confederate privateer Retribution sent a prize schooner into Wilmington which she had captured at sea, in charge of one of the Retribution‘s officers named Jordan, who had shipped with Captain Joseph Price in Wilmington, I assisted in towing that vessel from the bar to Wilmington. . . .

When I was captured by the Montgomery, I was taken to the Portsmouth navy yard, when we were boarded by a Federal officer in a Captain’s uniform, who proved to be none other than my quondam Confederate Jordan, who had gone over to the enemy, and who immediately recognized me and informed against me.

I was then put in irons and sent on board the US. man-of-war Sabine, where I was most kindly treated by its commander, Captain Loring, and while a prisoner on his ship I was repeatedly approached by the Federal officers, who offered to pay me any sum I would name if I would join their fleet Fort Fisher and take part as a pilot in their attack against my home. I told them that the United States Government did not have enough money to induce me to accept such a proposition, and I accordingly remained a prisoner at Point Lookout until after the war was over.

I may add that while I was a prisoner on the Sabine, two of the Cape Fear pilots, C. C. Morse and John Savage, were brought on board as prisoners, under suspicion of being pilots, and, although they were intimate friends of mine, I took particular pains to treat them as total strangers and paid no attention to them, lest it might get them into further trouble.

They were much relieved when they discovered my purpose. Savage was subsequently released, but Morse, having been identified later by some other means, was made a prisoner with me until the end of the war. The monotony of prison life so few incidents worth mentioning that this experience is hardly worth recalling, and yet, I remember some diversions, which gave us much merriment at the time.

While our friends of the Lilian were confined for several weeks in a casemate of Fort Macon, that garrison consisted of what the Yankees called the First Regiment of North Carolina Volunteers. . . . Every day an officer and guard took us outside our gloomy casemate and permitted us to stretch our legs along the beach, while we gazed with longing eyes across the intervening sound to Dixie’s Land. The marsh grass was of sand fiddlers, which scuttled away at our approach.

I pretended to be surprised and asked the guard what these things were, as they called lobsters in my country if they were larger. The old renegade looked at me with a most contemptuous expression, and replied: ‘You know what they are; you’ve got millions of them at Smithville, whar you come from.’

Another daily experience was the persistent, though unsuccessful, effort of the officer of the day to tease out of our young purser, James Sprunt, whom he thought an easy mark on account of his youth (17 years), a betrayal of our pilot, little dreaming that we were five Wilmington pilots.

A warm attachment began in that prison life, between Mr. Sprunt and myself, which has been true and steadfast through all these intervening years. We little thought then that our lives would be so long united in the bonds of Christian fellowship and commercial enterprise.

During my subsequent confinement on the Sabine as a prisoner of war, a large number of blockade runners who had been captured at sea were brought to that school ship for confinement, and Captain Loring tried in every way to surprise those suspected of being pilots into an admission of the fact.

One fine day, while the prisoners were lying on the deck, Captain Loring, looking like an old seadog, and hearty, paced up and down among them, and suddenly, turning on his heel, he called out: ‘All the North Carolinians stand up ..’ [torn page] eyes over a number [torn page] themselves, but not a man stirred, and old Loring, who was really a good fellow and kind to us, went on his way.

And I hope it may not be amiss in the conclusion of these reminiscences to allude to the fact that, although I have been all these years engaged as a Cape Fear pilot, in the duties of my vocation, it has pleased God to call me also to the higher duty of preaching His Gospel, as a Methodist Minister, and to make me the humble instrument, in His Hands of guiding some of my fellow men to their eternal rest, as I have guided the ships to the haven. .

.. . [The End].

~~~~~~~~~~~

[Text was originally published in the February 1997 – FPHPS Newsletter (pdf)]

James William “Jim Billy” Craig – NCSU

Chronicles of the Cape Fear River, 1660-1916
‘James William Craig – A Veteran Pilot’  – By James Sprunt

A Colonial Apparition, A Story of the Cape Fear – by James Sprunt
Published by the ‘Wilmington and Southport Steamboat Line’

 

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

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

 

Battle for Fort Fisher – 150th Re-enactment

Saturday January 17th – 9 am to 9 pmfort fisher #5

Sunday January 18th –    9 am to 5 pm

 

The program will span two days and will be packed with events, Civil War re-enactors, speakers, tours and vendors. This year’s theme will look at the sacrifice made by both sides and the recognition by veterans of the fight that there was “glory enough for all” to go around during the second attack on Fort Fisher in January 1865.

Fort Fisher #1

An official opening observance is scheduled for 11:00 am on Saturday prior to the battle tactical. It will feature National Park Service Historian Emeritus Ed Bearss and selected State officials. A closing commemoration will be following the Sunday morning tactical.

During the day on Saturday and Sunday, Civil War Era music will be provided by The Shanty Men and The Huckleberry Brothers.

fort fihser #2Saturday night, Fort Fisher Historic Site will be offering a guided lantern tour at which visitors will  hear about the first hand experiences of individuals connected to Fort Fisher and the battle.

During the weekend, Fort Fisher State Historic Site will feature national and local historians and authors covering topics varying from North Carolina’s soldiers in the Civil War, the African-American experience in the Civil War, the attacks on Fort Fisher, Fort Fisher’s role in the Wilmington Campaign and Fort Fisher’s role in the end of the Confederacy.

Confirmed speakers scheduled for Saturday and Sunday are Ed Bearss, Rod Gragg, Chris Fonvielle, Michael Hardy, Jamie Martinez, and Richard Triebe. The authors have been invited to remain at the site during the program to meet the public and sign copies of their books.

fort fisher #6The highlight of the 150th commemoration will be a tactical demonstration of the Union attack on Shepherd’s Battery.

Conducted only once every five years, over 300 re-enactors are scheduled to give spectators an idea of what the scene might have looked the afternoon of January 15, 1865.

The battle reenactment will start promptly at 1:30 pm on Saturday and 10 am on Sunday. Viewing positions for the spectators will be indicated due to need for safety of the spectators.

Fort Fisher Program Jan 17-18, 2015Before and after the battle-tactical program, the United States Marine Corps Historical Company will be across US 421 South in the grove of trees adjacent to the ocean. They will be discussing the role of the US Marine Corps in the attack on Fort Fisher. They will be conducting the 1860 Marine Corps drill and conducting firing demonstrations. During the weekend, they will also be illustrating the process for loading and firing a bronze 6-pound cannon. This is a non-firing demonstration and will include opportunities for pictures and hands-on learning.

During the day on Saturday and Sunday, there will be kid’s activities conducted on the south airstrip. The activities will include learning about being a soldier, signal flags and chippers and codes.  A demonstration of the Confederate Torpedo service and how it protected the Cape Fear River and was suppose to protect Fort Fisher will be conducted on the Fort’s land face.

After the battle tactical on Sunday, artillery and infantry units will be on hand to talk with visitors about camp life, garrison duty and conduct the manual of arms and firing demonstrations.

The artillery will consist of the Historic Site’s Rifled and Banded 32-pound cannon and the Site’s bronze 12-pound Napoleon cannon. The schedule will alternate between the infantry and Artillery drill. Also on site will be Harry Taylor, who will be available to take wet plate photography as well as many Civil War sutlers (merchants.)
fort fisher #3Fort Fisher State Historic Site will also be dedicating a new exhibit called “Colonel Lamb: Guardian Angel of Blockade Runners.” This exhibit will look at Col. William Lamb’s role in constructing Fort Fisher to protect the Confederacy’s blockade running ships and the Port of Wilmington.

The program is free and open to the public.

The site encourages visitors to arrive early to allow time for a trolley departure from the event parking lot at the Air Force Recreation Base, which is just north of Fort Fisher State Historic Site on US Hwy 421.

All Fort Fisher programming is made possible with the support of the Friends of Fort Fisher and its sustaining members. The Friends of Fort Fisher is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing this national treasure.