Walk the Civil War Sugar Loaf Line of Defense

SPECIAL EVENT!

Saturday March 12, 2016. 2pm – 4pm
Starting at Federal Point History Center
1121-A N. Lake Park Blvd., Carolina Beach, NC 28428

Donations requested to Ryder Lewis – Sugar Loaf Civil War Park
Walk limited to 25 people – call 910-458-0502 to register.

Join Chris Fonvielle and John Moseley for a guided history tour of the Confederacy’s last line of defense on the Federal Point peninsula.

Chris Fonvielle Walking TourDr. Chris E. Fonvielle Jr. is professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. John Moseley is the Assistant Site Manager and Education Director at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site.

Walkers will gather at 2 pm at the Federal Point History Center behind the Carolina Beach Town Hall. They will then walk to the Carolina Beach State Park, ending at Sugar Loaf, along the Cape Fear River.  Along the way Dr. Fonvielle will point out the remains of this important remnant of our local history.  John Moseley, will be in Civil War costume and will demonstrate the firing a period gun.

CB Earthworks Clearing - March 2014The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society is currently working with the Town of Carolina Beach and other local history organizations to create a park around some of the remnants of this line of trenches that are located between N. Lake Park Blvd. and St. Joseph St.  Donations to the walk will go into the fund for use in establishing this park.

The importance of the Sugar Loaf Line:
As Union forces prepared to attack Wilmington by way of Fort Fisher in the autumn of 1864, Major General W. H. C. Whiting expanded existing defenses to meet the threat. He selected a “strong position” stretching from the sound (modern Carolina Beach canal) to Sugar Loaf hill on the Cape Fear River, for an extensive line of earthworks.

Engagement at Sugar Loaf - MapSugar Loaf itself was a natural sand dune that stood 50 feet in height on the riverbank. Whiting planned to place a battery of artillery on the summit of the hill.

By December 1864, the earthen fieldworks of the Sugar Loaf line ran for more than one mile from the sound to the river. Confederate forces continually strengthened them in the winter of 1864-1865.

During the first Union attack on Fort Fisher at Christmas 1864, approximately 3,400 Confederate troops defended Sugar Loaf, including 600 Senior Reserves commanded by Colonel John K. Connally.

General Lee sent Major General Robert F. Hoke’s Division of 6.400 Confederate troops from Virginia to try and prevent the fall of Wilmington.

General Alfred H. Terry’s forces that captured Fort Fisher quickly turned upriver to strike Wilmington. They reconnoitered and probed the Sugar Loaf lines for a weak spot. On January 19, 1865, the Federals attacked with two brigades of troops, including Colonel John W. Ames’ regiments of U.S. Colored Troops. Unable to break through, they launched an even bigger assault on February 11. U.S.

Colored Troops played a major role in what became known as the battle of Sugar Loaf, although the Confederate defenses again proved to be too strong to overrun.  [Source: “Historical Significance of the Sugar Loaf Civil War Earthworks” by Chris Fonvielle]

For more information call: Rebecca Taylor, Manager, Federal Point History Center, 910-458-0502 or email: rebecca@federal-point-history.org

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr. Civil War Park

By Rick Both

For those of us interested in the proposed Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr Civil War Park, it’s been a pretty quiet summer. But progress has finally been made and we are expecting more progress soon!

CB Earthworks - Ric

Sugarloaf Earthworks

We completed most of the clearing around the earthworks by early summer and have been waiting for the wetlands areas to be marked so we can plan the location and type of trails or walkways for a park.

We now have the delineation of the wetlands completed and are VERY grateful to Southern Environmental Group, Inc. (SEGi) for providing this work for free, as a donation to our project! This was a significant contribution from them as well as a necessary step for us before we could do any further planning.

April 25, 2015

April 25, 2015

With the wetlands areas now officially delineated, we can proceed working with the Carolina Beach Parks and Recreation Department and Town Planners.

Four members, led by Elaine Henson, met with Eric Jelinski, Director of Parks and Recreation for Carolina Beach on August 2nd to offer our suggestions for walkways and trails. Eric will be meeting with other staff from the town so we will, hopefully, have more progress to report soon.

Thank you all for your work in the past and your continued support.

Be assured we intend to pursue this until we have a new park!

Oral History – Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. – Part 1

Interviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr.

I’m not called by my first name because…you don’t remember the famous black boxer we had, Joe Lewis. I went through high school and always down here, as Ryder. As soon as I got in the military, they go by your first name, middle initial, so Joseph R. Lewis becomes Joe Lewis right quick.

When I got out of the military, and spent my career with the Corps of Engineers, that is an Army outfit. When I came back to Wilmington in ’57, it was Joe Lewis at that office. But it was still Ryder Lewis down here. Somebody might call from down here, up at the office and want to speak with Ryder Lewis and they’d say, we don’t have anybody by the name. Or somebody might come from there, down to here, oh well, we have a Joe Lewis who lives at Carolina Beach. I know you all know him. They don’t know him. It took about a year or so before enough people knew…

 My grandparents lived down here, on the Lewis side, and bought about 150 acres of land in 1907, or somewhere along there. And the deed says they paid $400 for it and it was in the woods, in the jungle. Right where our house was, was in the woods.

They deeded out quite a bit of it to their different children. But when they died, there was still 30 or 40 acres of it that had not ever been distributed. And furthermore, I’m one of the few people in a big family that was able to go to college and get a good job. But, when I started to work with the Corps as a graduate engineer, in 1952, my annual salary was $3,410 a year!

Hazel came along and did some pretty good damage here and that was in ’54 and I was working in Savannah, Georgia, with the Corps at that point in time. My uncle was an old carpenter and a fisherman, he didn’t have much of anything and his wife was very sick and he tried to sell this place. Tried before and after Hazel and nobody would buy it. I told Uncle Henry, in 1955, I said, “Uncle Henry, I will buy that property from you for what you were asking for it before Hazel came and keep it in the family, if you’ll let me pay you $500 every 6 months plus 6% interest, until I get it paid for.” Well, $500, back in 1955, [was a lot of money] for somebody who didn’t have any money and a sick wife, and he said that would be fine. So he sold it to me. When I made the last payment, he wrote on the deed of trust, “paid in full and satisfied.”

It was just like a jungle. And, I had it surveyed after I started doing a little something here. The original survey called for seven and a half acres. The thing about it was, it went out into the Sound area a hundred or more feet, I couldn’t claim that, so I actually wound up with about six acres or something like that.

The old shopping center down here, coming from 421 all the way to St. Joseph’s Street belonged to two aunts. One of the aunts had the old, original Lewis home and she had no income. She was an old maid and the county was giving her something like $30 a month and putting a lease on the property. So I told Aunt Rose that I’ll buy that place, I’ll take your house, and I’ll pay off that lease and I’ll put lights, electricity in the house, which they didn’t have, and I’ll take care of you as long as you live if you’ll deed this property to me. Well, she trusted me enough, she did it. So that was about 8 acres.

The other aunt, she had 8 or 9 acres on out to the highway. I got hers in a similar way. I bought it. And, that’s the way I got started in getting some of the Lewis property. Then they were getting close to building that bridge up here and they moved the highway over some and they got on Lewis property. A good bit of it was on undivided property. So they wanted the Lewis family to come up with one person to deal with the state. Well, all my old uncles and aunts and my old cousins agreed that I should be the one to represent them. So I did.

By the way, I was the only one among my uncles and aunts, and cousins that had a good job. Back in those days. And I was paying property taxes each year on the undivided portions of the estate. After we settled with the state, then a few of my uncles that were left, they said that somebody ought to be in charge of this undivided part of the property anyway. Because a good bit of it was behind somebody else. Anyway, it wound up that all my uncles and aunts and cousins, except 3 cousins, agreed that … Well, I made a proposal to each one of them, and they agreed, except 3 held out on me, and that put me at about 30 or 40 more acres.

Property for Proposed Ryder Lewis Park

Property for Proposed Ryder Lewis Park

Property tax went up and I finally told those three, I said that the time has come for you to buy, to sell, or let’s divide it. I’m not going to pay property tax on the undivided Lewis estate anymore unless I have the title to it. So they said let’s divide it. I said OK. I’ll have it surveyed and have a map drawn. You can pay your portion of that. They agreed to that. After I had the map drawn, I turned the map over to them and I said OK, you tell me how to divide it. And the thing about it was there were about 14 acres down at this area, mostly behind somebody else, and then it was split completely and then it was another 15 acres in between people.

Town of Carolina Beach Property -- Proposed Ryder Lewis Park

Town of Carolina Beach Property — Proposed Ryder Lewis Park

I gave the town a little over 10 acres of land, that most of it was classified as wet land, and I thought they were going to make a park area. But they wound up, it’s only a 100 ft. on the highway and goes back 400 ft., over 10 acres, donated it.

That area is where they put those ugly ponds out there on the highway. I didn’t give it to them for that, either. The mayor at that point in time, Ray Rothrock, he was interested in having another possible site for a well, on the east side of 421. And that’s another reason why I went ahead and donated it.

 

 

Civil War Earthworks at Carolina Beach Underway

CB Earthworks Clearing - March 2014

CB Earthworks Clearing – March 2014

Carolina Beach officials, area historians, professional experts, interested citizens and Historic Society members are currently meeting to develop a plan for preserving Civil War earthworks on Town property donated by Joseph Ryder Lewis, Jr. and family.

The property on the east side of Lake Park Blvd., across from and just south of Town Hall and behind the water retention pond contains approximately 450 yards of works constructed around 1864 by the Confederacy to prevent an immediate assault by the Union in the event Fort Fisher was captured. This portion was part of a line of works reaching from Myrtle Grove Sound to Cape Fear River.

Preservation efforts include clearing of small underbrush (see images on left and below), a thorough survey, educational signage and developing a park setting with possible walking trails and picnic areas. All work will be conducted and supervised by trained professionals in a manner insuring the integrity of this very valuable historic resource.


Activity at the Earthworks site first began in 1995 with the development of Carolina Beach Village.

The following article appeared in the March, 1996 FPHPS Newsletter edited by Sandy Jackson:
Archaeological Testing Conducted at Burris Site and Civil War Earthworks located at Carolina Beach

“In articles that appeared last August and November (1996) in the FPHPS Newsletter, I mentioned that Society president, Lynn Benson, and Mr. Jack Hart visited an archaeological site known as the Burris Site located at Carolina Beach behind the Federal Point Shopping Center. Mr. Hart, a descendant of the prominent Burris family in the Federal Point community, indicated that an old chimney standing on the site was all that remained of a house built by his great-grandfather, James Thomas Burris, in the early 1800’s.

Additionally, Ms. Benson recalled the presence of a child’s grave with a headstone at the site although it could not be located. The grave was believed to have belonged to one of nine children of James Thomas Burris and his wife, Isadora. Also located in the vicinity were the remains of Civil War earthworks. The Burris site and earthworks, unfortunately, were located on property owned and under development by Gulfstream Group, Inc. known as Carolina Beach Village. The developers, required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a cultural investigation of the area, contracted with an archaeological firm to investigate the site and provide a determination on its significance.

Leslie Bright & Chris Fonvielle - Clearing Earthworks 3/14

Leslie Bright & Chris Fonvielle – Clearing Earthworks 3/14

“In late October and early November 1995, Coastal Carolina Research, Inc., of Tarboro, North Carolina, conducted limited archaeological testing and documentation of three areas of the proposed Carolina Beach Village. The firm conducted the study for the Gulfstream Group, in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The purpose of the study was to determine if the three archaeological resources within the study area were potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The first of the three sites was the reported location of the Burris farm. The site included a standing chimney of the original house and remnants of later outbuildings.

The second site was a small lunette, or rifle pit, associated with the defenses of Fort Fisher during the Civil War known as the Sugarloaf Line.

The third site also contained a portion of earthworks associated with the Sugarloaf Line, but was located outside the current permit area for Carolina Beach Village. They were investigated in anticipation of future development of the tract.

CB Earthworks Clearing - March 2014

CB Earthworks Clearing – March 2014

“The house at the Burris site is thought to date around 1840 and appears on Civil War maps of the area. Only the brick chimney survived. This feature measured 4.6 feet wide and 2.3 feet deep. The stack has a single shoulder and was stepped back. There had been a major repair in the front of the chimney with some concrete blocks added, as well as evidence of recent mortar. An archaeological test unit placed at the east base of the chimney yielded a mixture of mortar and recent artifacts. Archaeologists also placed two other excavation units and a number of shovel test holes within the vicinity. Although a number of artifacts found during the investigation dated to the mid-nineteenth century, the material clearly came from disturbed contexts. A substantial amount of modern debris was found on the surface and within the upper soil layer of units.

“The nearby Civil War earthworks associated with the Sugarloaf Line were also examined. At the feature referred to as a lunette, or rifle pit, the archaeologists prepared a topographic map. The lunette was then bisected with a backhoe trench and a profile drawn. The structure measured approximately 20 X 40 feet with the shape of a waxing moon, hence the term lunette. The profile showed that the more vertical, high side of the mound was to the west, sloping to the east. This would have provided the maximum protection to the troops, as expected invasions would have come from the east. The lunette retained its contours and approximate shape. The site appeared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as a feature of the Sugarloaf Line of defenses for Fort Fisher. The documentation at the site served to mitigate the adverse impacts on the site as a result of the construction of the development.

Chris Fonvielle Map - Federal Point

Chris Fonvielle Map – Federal Point (click for larger image)

“The final earthworks are apparently an entrenchment also associated with the defensive line. An entrenchment can be any temporary or permanent fortification that provides shelter from hostile fire, serves as an obstacle to hostile advance, and allows the maximum use by the defenders. They would commonly possess an exterior ditch, which provides not only an obstacle to enemy attack, but also the fill for the embankment. The earthworks appear on maps made of the vicinity during the Civil War. The dissected linear earthworks trend from the southwest to northeast and are outside of the current development boundaries; however, the road that will access that area falls in the break between the two sections. The soil, vegetation, and the expanded trunks of the trees indicate that the vicinity was a swamp prior to extensive drainage in the area.

The earthworks were apparently constructed to the swamp, where they stopped, and were then continued on the other side of the swamp. No artifacts were recovered from the earthworks. The earthworks are well preserved and eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as a component of the Sugarloaf Line. The Gulfstream Development Group plans to erect a fence and an identification sign for both sections of this protected earthwork thereby preserving the site.”

 

From the President – April, 2014

Barry Nelder

Barry Nelder

President’s Message:

The Society would like to express our thanks to Chris Fonvielle for conducting the walk of the Sugar Loaf line again this year. We had 37 people register and take the walk and it was a beautiful and outstanding day. The money collected from the walkers will go into a special fund to be used for preservation of the earthworks on the east side of N. Lake Park. Blvd.

Over the years Chris has been more than generous in giving his time and expertise in support of many projects and programs sponsored by the Society. He is also working closely with our Society and the Town of Carolina Beach on the plans for the Lewis Park.

Speaking of the Sugar Loaf line… We NEED VOLUNTEERS who are willing to help out on “work days” on the Lewis property. Please call Rebecca (458-0502) and let her know if you are available to “cut brush” and “saw trees” or other general cleanup.

 

Sugar Loaf Civil War Earthworks

by: Chris E. Fonvielle Jr.

CB Earthworks Clearing

Click for larger image

Historical Significance of Sugar Loaf Civil War Earthworks

The Sugar Loaf Earthworks Preservation Group is committed to preserving and interpreting a section of the Confederate defensive line at Carolina Beach. The long-range plan is to make the historic site, to be called the Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. Civil War Park, accessible to the public for educational purposes and to increase heritage tourism on Pleasure Island.

The Sugar Loaf earthworks served as an auxiliary line of defenses to Fort Fisher, approximately four miles to the south. They helped guard Wilmington, North Carolina, the South’s main seaport for trade with the outside world during the Civil War. To impede the business, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a naval blockade of the South’s coastline and major ports in April 1861.

Confederate commerce vessels, called blockade-runners, attempted to run through the gauntlet of Union ships that appeared at the entryways to Southern seaports, including Wilmington. Many of the smuggling vessels were built, leased, or purchased in Great Britain, which soon became the Confederacy’s main trading partner.

More than 100 different steamships operated as blockade-runners at Wilmington alone, to say nothing of the undetermined number of sailing ships that were also employed as smuggling vessels. To protect the vital trade, Confederate engineers designed and built a vast network of forts and batteries on the beaches of New Hanover and Brunswick counties, and along the banks of the Cape Fear River.

With the exception of Charleston, South Carolina, Wilmington became the most heavily fortified city along the southern Atlantic seaboard. Wilmington became so important to supplying Confederate troops on the battlefront and civilians on the home front that it became known as the “Lifeline of the Confederacy,” In late 1864 General Robert E. Lee warned: “If Wilmington falls, I cannot maintain my army.”

Fort Fisher guarded New Inlet, the northern passageway into the Cape Fear River. By 1864, Fort Fisher was the Confederacy’s largest and strongest seacoast fortification and was referred to as the Gibraltar of the South. Engineers erected auxiliary batteries nearby, including Battery Anderson (then located on the north end of modern Kure Beach) and Battery Gatlin (located on the sea beach across from Forest By the Sea development on Carolina Beach).

As Union forces prepared to attack Wilmington by way of Fort Fisher in the autumn of 1864, Major General W.H.C. Whiting, commander of the District of the Cape Fear, expanded existing defenses to meet the threat. He selected in part a “strong position” stretching from the sound (modern Carolina Beach canal) to Sugar Loaf hill on the Cape Fear River, for an extensive line of earthworks. Sugar Loaf itself was a natural sand dune that stood 50 feet in height on the riverbank. Whiting planned to place a battery of artillery on the summit of the hill.

Acting on General Whiting’s orders, Colonel William Lamb, commandant at Fort Fisher, began constructing an “entrenched camp” at Sugar Loaf “so as to keep up communication after the arrival of the enemy, between the fort” and Sugar Loaf. The work probably commenced in early October 1864. On October 28, 1864, Whiting turned over the project to Captain Francis T. Hawks of Company A, 2nd Confederate States Engineers.2

By December 1864, the earthen fieldworks of the Sugar Loaf lines ran for more than one mile from the sound to the river. Confederate forces continually strengthened them in the winter of 1864-1865. During the first Union attack on Fort Fisher at Christmas 1864, approximately 3,400 Confederate troops defended Sugar Loaf, including 600 Senior Reserves commanded by Colonel John K. Connally.3

After Union forces failed to capture Fort Fisher in December, they returned for a second attempt less than three weeks later, mid-January 1865. The campaign turned out to be the largest amphibious operation in American military history until D-Day, World War II. More than 6,400 Confederate troops of Major General Robert F. Hoke’s Division now defended Sugar Loaf. General Lee had sent them from Virginia to help keep Wilmington in Confederate hands. Improperly used by General Braxton Bragg, the new commander of the Department of North Carolina, Hoke’s Division was unable to prevent the fall of Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865.

General Alfred H. Terry’s forces that captured Fort Fisher quickly turned upriver to strike Wilmington. They reconnoitered and probed the Sugar Loaf lines for a weak spot. On January 19, 1865, the Federals attacked with two brigades of troops, including Colonel John W. Ames’ regiments of U.S. Colored Troops. Unable to break through, they launched an even bigger assault on February 11. U.S. Colored Troops played a major role in what became known as the battle of Sugar Loaf, although the Confederate defenses again proved to be too strong to overrun.

CB Earthworks Clearing

Click for larger image

Unable to breach the Sugar Loaf defenses, the Federals transferred their operations to the west side of the Cape Fear River. They attacked and forced the abandonment of Fort Anderson, directly across the waterway from Sugar Loaf, on February 19, 1865. The Confederate evacuation of Fort Anderson enabled the Union navy to advance further upriver and threaten Sugar Loaf from the rear. Consequently, General Hoke abandoned the Sugar Loaf defenses on February 19 and withdrew toward Wilmington. Union forces temporarily occupied Sugar Loaf before beginning their pursuit of the rapidly retreating Confederates. They captured Wilmington on February 22, 1865.4

With Wilmington now closed to blockade running, General Lee was forced to abandon his position at Petersburg, Virginia. He attempted to escape westward but was caught by General U.S. Grant’s forces. On April 9, 1865, only forty-six days after Wilmington fell, General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, ending the four years long and bloody Civil War.

Much of the earthworks that comprised the Sugar Loaf defenses are in a remarkable state of preservation, despite the fact that they were made almost entirely of sand. However, they are also difficult to access because of their remote location inside Carolina Beach State Park or because they are on private property. The Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. Civil War Park will both remedy public inaccessibility to a section of the Sugar Loaf defenses and promote heritage tourism on Pleasure Island.

Chris E. Fonvielle Jr.
Department of History
University of North Carolina Wilmington

More  …  Fonvielle: Map of Earthworks in Carolina Beach

 1 Whiting to Gilmer, September 16, 1864, U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies 128 volumes (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), series I, vol. 42, pt. 2, 1253 (hereafter cited as ORA).

2 William Lamb, Colonel Lamb’s Story of Fort Fisher (Carolina Beach, N.C.: Blockade Runner Museum, 1966), 11; Hill to Hawks, October 28, 1864, Francis T. Hawks Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

3 Headquarters, Sugar Loaf, December 26, 1864, ORA, vol. 42, pt. 3, 1314.

4 Chris E. Fonvielle Jr., The Wilmington Campaign: Last Rays of Departing Hope (Campbell, California: Savas Publishing, 1997).

The Wilmington Campaign – excerpts

Chris Fonvielle Leads Walk to Sugarloaf – March 22, 2014

Sugarloaf-Fonvielle

Sugarloaf

 

Fonvielle Explaining the Earthworks

Chris Fonvielle – pointing out details of the earthworks within Carolina Beach State Park

Chris Fonvielle Leads: Walk to Sugarloaf

Saturday March 22, 2014 – 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Parts of the Civil War “Battle of Fort Fisher” were fought across the Federal Point peninsula well north of the Fort itself. And if you know where to look you can still see remnants of the trenches and embankments today.

Again this year Dr. Chris Fonvielle will lead this popular narrated walk from the Federal Point History Center (1121 N. Lake Park Blvd.) through the Carolina Beach State Park to Sugarloaf, a landmark on the banks of the Cape Fear River.

The walk will last about 2 hours. A $5.00 donation is requested and can be paid the day of the walk.

There is a limit of 25 participants so everyone can see and hear Dr. Fonvielle’s narration. Reservations may be made by calling the Federal Point History Center at 910-458-0502.