February Meeting – Bernhard Thuersam on the Secession Crisis in Wilmington 1860

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, February 17 at 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

This month our speaker is Bernhard Thuersam, of Wilmington. His presentation topic will be “The Secession Crisis in Wilmington, 1860-1861,” which focuses on local people, viewpoints and events leading to North Carolina’s reluctant withdrawal from the political union of 1789. A fundamental point to be examined is prominent North Carolina Whig and Unionist Jonathan Worth’s assertion that his State was “forced out of the Union.”

Early news of the “Star of the West” relief expedition of early January 1861 sent to Fort Sumter by President James Buchanan startled Wilmingtonians who feared Forts Caswell and Johnston would be seized by federal forces. This would be a repeat of the British occupying Smithville some 80 years earlier and thus sealing off the Cape Fear River to commerce. Prominent citizens of Wilmington acted quickly.

In the postwar, the war-widowed wife of Col. William M. Parsley recalled, “In 1861, when, amid great popular excitement and enthusiasm, South Carolina seceded from the Union, the people of Wilmington were deeply stirred by conflicting emotions. Meetings were held and speakers for and against secession swayed the multitudes which attended them. A prominent secessionist was attorney Oliver P. Meares.”

Mr. Thuersam is a Wilmington historian specializing in nineteenth-century American history, especially the Civil War and Reconstruction, and often interviewed by local and international radio/television sources seeking analysis and historical perspective.

Since 2003, he has served as Director of the Cape Fear Historical Institute, an online resource of prominent people, events and history of the Cape Fear region (see: www.cfhi.net). He has served as historian for the North Carolina Azalea Festival, Chairman of the Cape Fear Museum Board of Trustees, and Chairman of North Carolina’s War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission (www.ncwbts150.org).  Mr. Thuersam regularly conducts walking tours of  “Civil War Wilmington,” “Historic Wilmington Architecture,” and “The Defense of Fort Fisher.”

A resident of Key West prior to relocating to Wilmington, Mr. Thuersam is currently researching “Rather Unsafe for a Southern Man to Live Here”: Key West’s Civil War,” to be published this year.  The book follows Key West’s occupation by Northern forces in early January, 1861, subsequent martial law and loyalty oaths, and local men escaping to assist in Florida’s defense.

 

 

Another Anniversary – Fall of Wilmington

ANOTHER ANNIVERSARY — The Fall of Wilmington

February 22, 1865

[Editor: I’ve always wondered what Wilmington was like as it fell to the Union troops.  The following excerpt is the new book; Wilmington’s Lie by David Zucchino, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020.]

“As the Union forces approached Wilmington that February, General Bragg destroyed several railroad lines leading out of the city and set fire to bridges, wharves, and shipyards. Positions of the main rail line – the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford Railroad – remained intact, though some of the rails on the line would later be ripped up for use as scrap iron by Union troops. Before the Confederate soldiers retreated, some looted shops. When Union soldiers arrived, they looted, too. Food shortages broke out. Whole hams were briefly offered for sale at the preposterous price of $525. Corn sold for $40 a bushel and salt pork  for $5 a pound. People begged for food in the streets.

“By the time General Alfred Howe Terry led a column of Union soldiers on bay chargers to city hall to take command of Wilmington on February 22, the city had become a vast refugee camp. Many Union soldiers released from Confederate prisoner of war camps were afflicted with “jail fever” – typhus – a contagion characterized by rash, chills, and fever that killed two doctors who treated them. Carpenters struggled to build enough caskets for the estimated forty to fifty people who died daily. – from jail fever but also from battle wounds, sepsis, and other maladies. Every available house or outbuilding was crammed with people seeking shelter. One visitor claimed that rents in Wilmington were higher than in New York City. Thousands of people lived in camps, tents, and shanties, watched over warily by an occupying force of nearly fifteen thousand Union soldiers, among them blue-suited colored troops.

“The Wilmington Herald reported that despite “a large force of darkies .. cleaning the streets,” the city was an open sewer. “There is not a private residence, kitchen, or business house of any kind that does not have filth enough about and around its doors to make every person in city sick…no person can pass without holding their breaths…cows, pigs, dogs and low negroes are together in this pen.”

 

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Zucchino.  Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020.

The author is a multiple Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and of all the books written on the 1898 Race Riot, this is by far the most broad reaching and readable. His research is impressive; including time at the New Hanover Public Library and the Cape Fear Museum, and even walking the streets of Wilmington with Beverly Tetterton.

He clearly traces the story of race relations in the Lower Cape Fear back to slavery and in the years after the Civil War and how that led to the violence in 1898. Most precisely, he manages to draw the lives of Abraham Galloway, Alfred Moore Waddell, Hugh MacRae, James Sprunt and  into a narrative that clearly presents the tensions and stresses that existed in the town of Wilmington in the Fall of 1898.  – Rebecca Taylor

 

Wilmington, NC,  Orton Hotel Fire, January, 1949

WILMINGTON HOTEL AND BUSINESS PLACES BURN

 [from The Robesonian, Lumberton, North Carolina]

Wilmington, Jan. 21. — (AP) — Fire roared through a 100-room hotel and destroyed six adjacent stores here early today. Loss was estimated at more than $1,000,000.

MRS. HORACE T. KING of Wilmington, reported that her uncle, J. R. MALLARD of Charlotte, had occupied a room in the hotel and that he was unaccounted for. She said her uncle, about 70 years old, was in Wilmington visiting her father, E. F. MALLARD, 67, who is in a hospital here. Whether the aged man had reached safety and failed to notify his relatives, could not be immediately determined.

Forty guests of the 75-year-old five-story Orton hotel were routed from their beds but nobody was hurt. The four-hour general alarm fire was checked shortly before dawn, but firemen continued pouring streams of water on the smoking remains.

Other destroyed buildings housed the Royal Theater, the GLEN MORE clothing store, PAYNE’S Men’s shop, the SALLY ANN dress shop, the Fashion Center and the Cinderella Bootery.

Patrolmen discovered the fire shortly after midnight in the Cinderella Bootery. The flames spread rapidly. All firefighting apparatus and off-duty firemen and policemen were called in.

Sparks from the wind-fanned conflagration set afire a tug boat in the Cape Fear River and woods across the river from the city. Those fires burned only briefly until extinguished.

Firemen described the fire as one of the worst in the history of this river port.

The 40 guests registered in the hotel had ample time to reach safety, said A. Abrams, owner of the building. Police said no one was injured in the fire, which was brought under control about 4:30 a.m. (EST), but two firemen were overcome by smoke and required hospital treatment.

Abrams said the hotel, of brick construction, was a complete loss. He valued the building at $200,000. The loss was only partly covered by insurance, he said.

Firemen gave no estimate of the damage to the adjacent buildings. Unofficial estimates, however, said the damage to these structures probably would range up to between $700,000 and $800,000.

The hotel, on North Front Street immediately opposite the post office in the heart of the downtown business district, recently had undergone an extensive refurnishing.

Two Marines, who assisted in combating the conflagration, suffered minor burns. They were treated at a Wilmington hospital and discharged.

The Red Cross set up an emergency station with a nurse on duty. Coffee was given to weary firemen and hotel guests.

  

The Ghost of the Orton Hotel

To view a great video that explains all about the ghost of the Orton Hotel done by WWAY go to:

https://www.wwaytv3.com/2017/10/19/cape-fear-history-mysteries-the-orton-hotel-fire/

Or just google “Orton Hotel Fire”

 

November Meeting – Travis Souther Speaks on the Orton Hotel Fire

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, November 18, 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Travis Souther is our speaker this month. He will be speaking on the Orton Hotel fire that happened in Wilmington, in January of 1949.

Travis Souther has spent most of his life in North Carolina and has lived in all three regions of the state. Born and raised in the Piedmont, Travis attended school at Appalachian State University in the mountains, and now lives here at the coast. At Appalachian State, he graduated with a Bachelors in History and Education. He earned his Masters of Library and Information Science at UNC-Greensboro in 2015.

When not working in the North Carolina Room at the New Hanover County Public Library, he enjoys many hobbies including participating in living history events from both the Revolutionary War and World War II eras.

Travis’ presentation tells the story of the lovely Orton Hotel. Located in downtown Wilmington, the hotel housed many guests from the time of its construction in 1885 until a disastrous fire in 1949. Utilizing materials from the New Hanover County Public Library, this presentation looks at the 1949 Orton Hotel Fire through a number of different lenses. These lenses are ways that anyone, not just historians and researchers, can use in telling a fuller story of any given historical event.

In 1885 Colonel Kenneth M. Murchison opened the Orton Hotel in the top floors of the Murchison & Giles building at 109 N. Front St. The hotel, named for Murchison’s Brunswick County plantation, expanded in 1888 with a larger building to the north of the original structure that included a two story porch. The two buildings were connected by an arched opening and had 100 guest rooms.

In 1905, a year after Murchison died; Joseph H. Hinton acquired the property and started renovations including the addition of a high-speed electric elevator, electric lights, running water and telephones in each room. — Wilmington StarNews

 

Historic Feature — Wilmington after the Occupation by Union Troops

[TAKEN FROM: The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies consists of 138,579 pages with 1,006 maps and diagrams assembled in 128 books, organized as 70 volumes grouped in four series, published between 1881 and 1901.]

District of Wilmington: March, 1865; Major-General Schofield directed the District of Wilmington to comprise all the territory under military control of the army operating from Cape Fear River as a base. Brig. Gen. J. E. Hawley, U. S.

Volunteers were assigned to the command and made responsible for the protection of the depot at Wilmington, Cape Fear Harbor, and the line of railroad in rear of the army and, also, appointed provost-marshal-general for the district. The Second Brigade, First Division, Twenty-fourth Corps was ordered to report to Brigadier-General Hawley for duty in the district. On the 1st of the month Major-General Schofield, with a portion of the Twenty-third Corps, and Major-General Terry, with the Provisional Corps, were in the district, but soon moved northward to combine with General Sherman at Goldsborough.

About 8,600 Union prisoners were released on parole, at Northeast Bridge, ten miles above Wilmington and cared for at Wilmington and, thence, transported north; several thousand of them were put into the hospital. This delivery was wholly unexpected, and the district was almost without proper material to care for them properly. They were in a frightful condition in all respects, and a camp or jail fever broke out among them. Besides, they were all sick of the commands of Major-Generals Schofield and Terry, and when Major General Sherman’s columns reached Fayetteville, he sent down 1,000 or 7,000 miserably destitute refugees, white and black, and 1,000 or 2,000 sick and wounded soldiers.

All the supplies that the rebels had left were seized; citizens and citizen physicians were set at work; a heavy force of contrabands were set at work cleaning the city (perhaps the dirtiest ever seen); requisitions were made for supplies, and the surgeons, Doctors Barnes and Buzzell, who died of fever contracted in the hospitals, and Doctor Jarvis, successively in charge, labored faithfully. A portion of the white refugees was sent to New York, as directed by General Sherman. A few blacks were sent to South Carolina, perhaps 500. A large colony of blacks was established at Fort Anderson and the usual efforts were made to get them food, clothing and work.

Brevet Brigadier-General Abbott (with four regiments) was assigned to the command of Wilmington; the battalion of the Sixteenth New York Heavy Artillery was sent down the river; Major Prince to command at Fort Fisher; Captain Beach at Fort Caswell, and Captain Sheppard at Smithville. A company of engineers, under Captain McClure, assisted by a force of contrabands, was set at work on the railroad bridge over Smith’s Creek (Wilmington and Weldon Railroad), 280 feet long, and it was rebuilt substantially before the regular construction train could get around from Goldsborough to finish the Northeast Bridge.

Captured cotton and tobacco were collected and turned over to the treasury agent and afterward to the quartermaster. During the month about 7,000 men in detachments and provisional organizations reported here and were sent forward to Goldsborough and the front. A large amount of stores accumulated here, and the commands of Generals Terry and Kilpatrick were chiefly supplied, hence, before they started for Raleigh.

No important events occurred during the month. The organization of a company of police guard in each county was completed. A great many refugees (white and black) and paroled and released rebels were sent off toward their homes, public property gathered in, soldiers mustered out from their hospitals. The duties incident to such a district kept the forces busy. Major-General Sherman and Chief Justice Chase visited the district during the month.

 

Brunswick River Harbored Huge Mothball Fleet

By Ben Steelman
Wilmington StarNews, October 12, 2001

Officially the National Defense Reserve Fleet (and sometimes called “the Ghost Fleet”), the anchored rows of World War II surplus transport vessels, were a presence in Wilmington from 1946 to 1970.

Parked along the Brunswick River, the fleet was described in the press as “the second largest ship graveyard in the world.” (The largest was on the James River near Hampton Roads, Va.)

After World War II, the U.S. Maritime Commission established a “Reserve Fleet Basin” on the Brunswick River to house Liberty ships and other vessels that were no longer needed after demobilization. The first of these vessels, the SS John B. Bryce, arrived at the site on Aug. 12, 1946. Others quickly followed.

During the next few years, ships were moved in and out of the basin; in all, 628 vessels were tied up there at one time or another. The vast majority of these – 542 – were Liberty ships, the mass-produced workhorse freighters like those turned out by the N.C. Shipbuilding Co. in Wilmington. The basin also housed a total of 68 “Victory” ships and 41 vessels of other types, including tankers.

Generally, five of these ships were kept on a high level of readiness, to sail “at a moment’s notice” in the event of a national emergency. The rest were “mothballed,” coated in red-oxide paint, oil and varnish as preservatives to prevent rust.

At its heyday, the U.S. Maritime Administration (which took over the fleet in 1950, after the Maritime Commission was abolished), employed 296 workers on the Brunswick River basin, with a $600,000 payroll.

Many of these were armed guards to prevent theft of the ships’ copper and brass fittings; others were involved in routine maintenance. The ships were lashed and anchored together in groups of five, with each fifth ship moored to pilings driven deep into the river bottom.

Despite these precautions, two of the mothballed freighters broke loose during Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and drifted down the channel, threatening to collide with the U.S. 74 bridge until a tugboat pushed them out-of-the-way.

On Dec. 8, 1958, the SS Edgecomb, a Victory ship, became the last vessel to be tied up at the basin. Beginning in 1958, the government began to sell off older and less fit vessels for scrap, while others were moved to the James River. By 1964, only 152 vessels were left on the Brunswick River, but they remained a formidable sight. “Many motorists stop along the highway to look up the river at them,” said E.W. Thompson, an administrator with the reserve fleet.

By 1968, the total was down to 15 ships. Many were scrapped by Horton Industries in Wilmington; Gilliam Horton, of Horton Iron & Metal, told the Wilmington Morning Star in 1968 that his company could finish off two ships in 90 days.

The last remaining member of the Mothball Fleet, the SS Dwight W. Morrow (named for the father of author Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico) was towed away for scrapping on Feb. 27, 1970.

 

Eight Days Down The Cape Fear River

from Our State Magazine

…   After 170 miles of paddling, downtown Wilmington appears at the confluence of the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear rivers.

We ducked underneath a railroad bridge at Navassa as a large sightseeing boat was bearing down on us. “We love you, Kemp!” screamed a dozen women and girls onboard. Kemp shook his head and smiled. The captain was a friend of his, Kemp said. He wasn’t really that popular.

At 11:30, we paddled underneath another highway bridge at the mouth of the Northeast Cape Fear River, and suddenly we were downtown, passing a Coast Guard cutter and the Battleship North Carolina, waterfront parks, buildings, fountains, and cars. Men and women eating lunch at riverside restaurants watched us take stroke after stroke. Joggers glanced at us. Dogs sniffed in our direction. We sat up straight, and stuck out our chests. We paddled toward Dram Tree Park like runners entering a stadium at the end of a grueling marathon.

We turned left, just above the noisy Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, and pulled onto a ramp, where Cape Fear River Watch volunteers, friends, and onlookers greeted us. We walked up the street to Elijah’s for a big lunch and Endless River beer. It felt like our journey was over, even though we weren’t done just yet. “The worst part of the trip ending?” Chris said. “You don’t get to paddle the next day.”

As we walked, one of the onlookers stopped me. “How was the trip?” she asked.

It was like having a new job, I said. A good job. I got up in the morning, and got to work paddling. At the end of the day, I had dinner, relaxed, and went to bed. The next morning, I got up and did it again. It was simple. As simple as I dreamed it could be.

And with that, on the seventh day, we rested.

The last day of paddling was an afterthought. We had 26 miles to go, and the wind was at our backs, with a falling tide to push us. We’d reach the river’s end by lunchtime. We left Dram Tree Park at 5:30 a.m. with light boats, carrying just some water and snacks. We paddled into the blackness of the 42-foot-deep shipping channel and quickly encountered a container ship, the Maersk Wakayama, being guided by a tugboat to the mile-long State Port just south of downtown. We gave it a wide berth. The ship was almost the size of two football fields and its captain likely couldn’t see us.

The Cape Fear River was now an estuary, and as its water dried on our coats, it left behind a salty residue. The channel was a mile wide. We passed Island 13, a splinter of land bulked up by sand and dirt dredged from the riverbed. Ahead, the water disappeared into the horizon, under a blue sky flecked with high, pink clouds. Pelicans, ibis, and seagulls circled above us.

View images and read the full story of paddling 200 miles down the Cape Fear River at Our State Magazine.

 

World War I and its “Indescribable Desolation”

By Nancy Gadzuk

Jan Davidson, Historian at the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, spoke at the January 16, 2017 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society.

Jan spoke on Service, Sacrifice, and Memorialization: New Hanover County Residents and World War I.

The United States entered World War I in 1917. The war was sold effectively to citizens as a fight for democracy, and colorful propaganda posters promised “Adventure and Action” while serving the country.

World War I was considered a total war that required mobilization on every front. Everything and everyone had to come together: mobilizing business, labor, finances, and, especially, mobilizing “Red Blooded Fighting Men Between 18 and 40.”

Wilmington became the biggest source of draftees in the region, with the majority of its draftees African American. Women were called to serve as nurses.

It was a terrible war, known for its “indescribable desolation” and killing its soldiers both in action and through disease, all the while setting the stage for World War II.

Those soldiers who did return did not come home unharmed. As one North Carolina returnee wrote from a psychiatric hospital, “We aren’t the same animals at all who left home.”

Wilmington’s World War I Memorial was first erected in 1922 to honor New Hanover County’s war dead. The monument was moved, restored, and rededicated along the downtown Riverwalk in 2014.

The following quote from the Roman poet Horace (born 65 B.C.) is inscribed on its base: “Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori. ” This was a well-known rallying call during World War I, translating to: “It is sweet and proper to die for your country.”

Dulce et Decorum Est is also the name of the best known poem from the first World War, written by British soldier Wilfred Owen. Owen was killed in action in France one week before the Armistice.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
Pro patria mori.


Cape Fear Museum’s Historian Jan Davidson:  A Moving Monument – Wilmington’s World War I Memorial

 

The Ghosts of 1898

Ghosts of 1898 - Wilmington

The Daily Record of Wilmington was reportedly the only black owned newspaper in America in 1898. White supremacists destroyed it, killed dozens of peaceful citizens, then posed for this photograph.

Wilmington, North Carolina was a thriving progressive town in the early 1890s where whites, blacks and Indians worked and lived together. Wilmington was North Carolina’s successful hub of business and commerce led by an interracial coalition.

The community built a new political party, the Fusion party, that was more progressive than either the Democratic party, which was controlled  by conservative white supremacists in North Carolina, or the Republican party, which was once the party of Lincoln.

This rise of interracial progressive populism was a grave threat to the slave-wage labor economic model of the wealthy white land owners who had very effectively used racism to divide working class whites from blacks and Indians. If average white folks accepted black leadership and saw that their local economy thrived, elite white landowners and businessmen would lose much of their power.

The feudalistic plantation system, that had ruled the south since the foundation of the republic, when the land was stolen from the Indians, was gravely threatened. The white supremacist elites could not allow a thriving interracial society to develop, but they had a problem.

The African American population in the coastal plain was larger than the white population. The cotton plantations in the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plain depended on enslaved labor. There were more enslaved black laborers than white bosses and workers in eastern North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

The Fourteenth Amendment had given African Americans the right to vote and vote they did. To restore white supremacy and their power, the elites would have to find a way to slash the black vote. In the mid 1890’s the elites revived the white militias that were used by the Confederate States to terrorize enslaved people into submission.

They dredged up the racist white dregs of North Carolina society to make gangs of white thugs called the Red Shirts. The Red Shirts, who lacked equestrian skills, were lower class  than the KKK. The Redshirts began to lynch and terrorize African Americans to keep them from voting and to put them in their place. The Redshirts were egged on by none other than Josephus Daniels owner of the Raleigh News and Observer.

Over 100 years later the News and Observer published an unvarnished report that confessed their historic involvement in the white supremacist coup in Wilmington that set the stage for decades of lynchings and violence against African Americans.

The Ghosts of 1898 WILMINGTON’S RACE RIOT AND THE RISE OF WHITE SUPREMACY

On Nov. 10, 1898, heavily armed columns of white men marched into the black neighbor-hoods of Wilmington. In the name of white supremacy, this well-ordered mob burned the offices of the local black newspaper, murdered perhaps dozens of black residents — the precise number isn’t known — and banished many successful black citizens and their so-called “white nigger” allies. A new social order was born in the blood and the flames, rooted in what The News and Observer’s publisher, Josephus Daniels, heralded as “permanent good government by the party of the White Man.”
The Wilmington race riot of 1898 stands as one of the most important chapters in North Carolina’s history. It is also an event of national historical significance. Occurring only two years after the Supreme Court had sanctioned “separate but equal” segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson, the riot marked the embrace of virulent Jim Crow racism, not merely in Wilmington, but across the United States.