Epidemic! Victims, Heroes, and Memorials – Part 3

By: Rebecca Taylor

Of the victims of the 1862 Yellow Fever epidemic, James Sprunt, eminent historian of the Lower Cape Fear, writes:

Among the devoted band of Christians who remained at their post of duty and yielded up their lives while rendering succor to those who could not leave were Rev. R. B. Drane, rector of St. James parish, aged 62 years; James S. Green, treasurer of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, aged 63 years; Dr. James H. Dickinson, an accomplished physician and man of letters, aged 59 years; John W. K. Dix, a prominent merchant, aged 30 years; Isaac Northrop, a large mill owner, aged 67 years; James T. Miller, a prominent citizen and the collector of the port, aged 47 years; Rev. John L Pritchard, a Baptist minister, who fell at his post, never faultering, aged 51 years. Thomas Clarkson Worth, an eminent merchant, after laboring among the sick and destitute, yielded his life to the plague November 1, 1862; Cyrus Stowe Van Amringe, one of nature’s noblemen, who refused to leave and remained to help the sick, died at his post, aged 26 years. Rev. Father Murphy, a Roman Catholic priest, a hero among heroes, worked night and day until nearly the last victim had died, and then fell on sleep.” Chronicles of the Cape Fear,  by James Sprunt.

Many of the town leaders who stayed to care for the sick fell victim to its ravages.

Died in this town, on the 29th inst., of yellow fever, Mr. Wm. H. Pratt, in the 27th year of his age.  Mr. Pratt was a most excellent and skillful druggist and a worthy man, and his death at this time is a severe loss to the community. It is hardly to be doubted that his sickness was hastened, if not brought on, by his arduous exertions in the line of his business, at which he overworked himself to assist in meeting the calls of a suffering community.” Daily Journal (Wilmington) September 30, 1862

 “The Fever – The fever still lingers in our midst, its continuance being mainly due, no doubt, to the return of warm weather. Two new cases are reported as having occurred yesterday, and we are informed that there were two burials in Oakdale Cemetery. We also hear of six deaths last night, amongst them that of the Rev. J. L. Prichard, Pastor of the First Baptist Church in this place.

Mr. Prichard had been sick for some weeks, having been prostrated with Yellow Fever, while faithfully attending to his duties as a minister of religion. He stood at his post and died in the conscious discharge of duty or from disease contracted in its discharge. He was a good, sincere, earnest working Christian, and his death is deeply regretted by the community. He leaves a family to whom his loss is a heavy bereavement.” Fayetteville Weekly Observer – November 17, 1862.

 Not only the wealthy, white population suffered.

“At first colored people seemed to escape, or to have the disease in a very light form. Towards the close, however, they seemed to suffer almost as badly as the whites. The burials in the colored cemetery during the epidemic reached 111. It is likely that all the deaths of colored persons may have reached 150.

Thus, we have the following result of the progress of the disease

                                    Died in town (white) ………….509

                                    Died in town (colored) …..….150*

                                    Died out of town (white) ……..30

                                                                                  680

The number of cases reported by physicians as being actually under treatment did not, we ascertain, at any time show the number of cases actually occurring, as, among colored people and indeed among many white people, no call was made for a physician.   Daily Journal (Wilmington) November 17, 1862.

* In 1860 the population of Wilmington was 45% black of which 573 were free people of color.

Among those listed in the Daily Journal’s Obituaries on September 30, 1862, were Mr. Wm. Hyde, aged 26, a resident of Dock St.; Mrs. Mary A., wife of Thomas Southmayd, aged 35 years; and John McCormick, eldest son of James McCormick, aged 10 years.  By mid-November local obituaries carried several family names, familiar even today. John D. Fergus, aged 27, died on October 19 and Lorenzo Risley, 36, who died on October 12. Of Mr. Risley, his obituary remarked: “Deceased was a native of Hebron, Conn., but for several years a citizen of Wilmington. Possessing in an eminent degree, the characteristic of a noble and generous heart, he had won the respect and esteem of a large circle of friends who deeply lament his loss. A bereaved wife mourns the irreparable loss of a kind, loving and indulgent husband.”    Daily Journal (Wilmington) November 17, 1862

One of the problems in determining exactly how many people in Wilmington died during the 1862 Yellow Fever epidemic is that James Quigley, the superintendent of Oakdale Cemetery, died in the middle of the epidemic. Eric Kozen, the current superintendent, tells about finding incomplete burial records from the Fall of 1862 in an interview with Hunter Ingram for his Cape Fear Unearthed podcast, “Yellow Death” originally broadcast on May 30, 2019.

Today you can visit Oakdale Cemetery and view the memorials and markers that were erected to commemorate those who died in Wilmington’s worst epidemic on record.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A placard lists the names of many who are buried in the mass grave, marked by rows of daffodils today.
Click/tap for larger images.

 

 

 

Epidemic! Wilmington Cut Off – Help Finally Arrives

By Rebecca Taylor  — Part 2 – Epidemic! 

“Wilmington, N.C., September 15, 1862: Mr. Editor: — There has been quite a panic in town for several days past, arising from two or three unmistakable cases of yellow fever. The symptoms are said to be the same as those that carried so many to their graves in 1821 – vis: a pain in the back and head, together with scorching fever, ending with black vomit. The greatest fear now is of its spreading. Families are rapidly leaving town, and if it converts itself into an epidemic, Wilmington will in a short time be deserted of most of its inhabitants. There is much alarm in its spreading, principally from one thing, the steam-mills and distilleries having stopped operations. The health of the City heretofore has been chiefly attributed to them. Today the whole place and entire heavens around are black with smoke. Everyone must, of course, feel a perfect horror of the fever, but the idea of one’s “imagining” himself as having it, is rather ludicrous.  There is great excitement existing; all the troops have been moved out of town. Your correspondent has an idea of leaving, if it continues to develop itself.  — Hon. W. S. Ashe, President of the W & W Railroad” Semi-Weekly Standard (Raleigh, September 20, 1862)

Not only was the market closed and the trains stopped, but by late September the town had no telegraph operator left alive and a plea for someone to operate that essential communication utility.

 By mid-September of 1962, Wilmington was effectively cut off from the rest of North Carolina.

Reports were coming in of cases in such wide spread places as Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Fayetteville, all contracted by people coming from Wilmington. On September 27, the Mayor of Fayetteville issued the following statement:

“In compliance with the pledge given on Thursday, I have to report that a person who reached this place, sick, from Wilmington, on Wednesday last, died this morning. The attending Physician reports that the disease of which he died showed symptoms of yellow fever. All intercourse with Wilmington has been suspended, and sanitary regulations adopted, by which it is hoped no further cases will be introduced. All our Physicians concur in the opinion that the disease cannot spread in this place, and that persons from the country having business here may come and go, as usual, with impunity. – Arch’d McLean, Mayor” Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer, September 29, 1962

However, help was on the way.  On September 25, 1862, Confederate General Beauregard, who was stationed in Charleston, SC, notified Wilmington that:

Dr. Choppin of this staff having offered his services to repair to Wilmington, he accordingly sent him, hoping that his experience and ability acquired at the Charity hospital and in his private practice in New Orleans, might enable him to be of material aid to our suffering community. Dr. Choppin arrived on the next train, as did also Mr. Schouboe with seven nurses from Charleston. Mr. Schouboe volunteered his services and is one of the officers of the Mayor of Charleston. He with the nurses in charge was sent on by Mayor Macbeth.

A report on the conditions of the hospital from the Wilmington Daily Journal of October 21, 1862 reads:

“We paid a visit to the Hospital, corner of Front and Dock streets, under the medical charge of Confederate Surgeon Wragg; the nurses under the direction of Capt. Westerlund, from Charleston.

We found eighteen patients there, about equal numbers male and female. Nearly all were progressing favorably; some decidedly convalescent, some few with high fever on, and one, in the female department, apparently hopeless. The black vomit had appeared in its most decided form. This as we were told was the only hopeless case.”

It didn’t take long for the military doctors to set up a hospital, as many of the poorer patients were being housed in tents. It was announced that: “…the majority of the sick in town would be better off at the Hospital than at home – even those having means, for most homes are half-way deserted, and of those left nearly all are sick, and attendance, even to the extent of cooking food, cannot be obtained for money.”

By early October, Wilmington’s neighboring towns and cities were collecting money and supplies to send to the beleaguered town.

Fayetteville, October 3, At a meeting of the Mayor and Commissioners, held at their office, this day, the following Resolutions were passed. –

Resolved, That this Board deeply sympathizing with the citizens of our sister town of Wilmington, in their afflicted condition, will take all means in its power for their relief.

Resolved, That a Committee be appointed to raise the means necessary to procure supplies for the sufferers in Wilmington, and to purchase, collect and forward everything likely to be necessary and acceptable to the inhabitants of that town, in their present troubles.

Resolved, that the citizens of this town and county be solicited to co-operate and assist in carrying out the purposes of this proceeding.”   Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer, October 6, 1862

From The Charlotte Democrat of October 21, 1862 came the announcement, “ The citizens of Charlotte held a meeting on Monday to make arrangements to afford relief to the people of Wilmington. A resolution was passed requesting the Pastors of the several congregations in the Town and County to take up a collection on Sunday next in provisions or money and forward the same to J. L. Brown at Charlotte.”

A letter from W. H. Jones of Raleigh dated October 16, 1862, reprinted in the Raleigh Register, October 22, 1862, reads: “On behalf of the Committee of our city to collect contributions for your city, I send you my check for $989.13, as a portion of our collections, $1,000 having been sent West to buy provisions for your relief. Hoping you may soon be in the enjoyment of your accustomed health and comforts.”

[The newspaper clippings displayed all come from a search of “yellow fever + Wilmington + 1862” on Newspapers.com]


Next Month:
Part 3: Yellow Fever — The Victims and the Memorials

Epidemic! We’ve Been Here Before: Part I

By Rebecca Taylor

The City of Wilmington and the wider Lower Cape Fear Region have been visited by epidemics that shut down the area a number of times in the past. Records show that the Yellow Fever struck Wilmington in 1819 and 1821 though we have few details or an actual death count. James Sprunt, in his Chronicles of the Cape Fear states:

“In August, 1821, the yellow fever appeared here, introduced by means of the brig John London from Havana. It raged with great violence for about six weeks and a large proportion of the citizens of the little town, numbering only about 2,500 inhabitants, was [sic] swept away by it.”

Then the “big one” came in 1862, during the early years of the Civil War when it was suspected that a blockade runner, generally thought to have been the Kate out of Nassau, brought the deadly disease to the docks of downtown Wilmington.

At the beginning of the war, Wilmington had a population of about 10,000, though by the spring of 1862, the wealthier citizens had already begun to retreat to their plantations further inland in anticipation of a Federal invasion of one of the South’s most important ports. In the notably hot and wet summer of the second year of the war, sailors aboard ships bringing vital supplies to the Confederacy from British ports, such as Nassau in the Bahamas and Bermuda, were turning up sick.

Again, James Sprunt, in his Chronicles of the Cape Fear reports:

“The first victim was a German wood-and-coal dealer named Swartzman, whose business place was on the wharf quite near the landing place of the blockade runner Kate, which brought the infection.* My father was informed promptly of this by our physician, Dr. James H. Dickinson, who advised him to remove his family at once to the country. As my father had seen much of this terrible scourge in the West Indies and South America, he recognized the gravity of the situation, and sent us all to Duplin County, where he had relatives.”

Lemuel Hoyle, a Confederate soldier encamped near Wilmington, wrote to his mother:

The reported appearance of this deadly contagion…created a tremendous panic in the city. The citizens were leaving by scores and hundreds in every manner of conveyance that could be obtained.” [L.J. Hoyle papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill]

James Fulton, the editor of the Wilmington Journal wrote:

Now, we beg our present and absent citizens…to think about this matter a little. Use all proper precautions, as wise men, but do not run in panic like children. Do not go unnecessarily into danger, but do not run away foolishly from the mere suspicion of it.”

 It is believed that as many as 6,000 citizens, including the Bellamys, McRaes, and Lattimers abandoned the city fleeing as far as Fayetteville, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. There is a report by someone who fled to Wallace who could not find a place to stay “anywhere in the town.”

An eyewitness account made years later describes the city:

“It then looked like verily a city of the dead…Throughout the whole extent of Market Street to the corner of Front, I rode, and to the best of my recollection, I did not see a human being – no signs of stir or life, no smoke from the chimneys, no doors or windows opening to the light of day, no men or women going to work. It was a city of silence and gloom impenetrable.” [Wilmington Messenger, March 9, 1906]

By October 11, about four weeks after the official recognition of the epidemic, the Wilmington Journal reported: “Death and sickness were abroad and no one else. The streets were deserted, save now and then by a hearse or a physician’s buggy making its weary rounds.”

In her diary, written in 1862, Eliza Oswald Hill, a native Wilmingtonian who had fled to Chapel Hill: “Everything looks so bright and cheerful today that I can scarcely realize the melancholy truth that hundreds are down in my native town with yellow fever. [By] last accounts, Wilmington was said to be one vast Hospital.” [Eliza Oswald Hill diary, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections, University of Virginia]

Excerpts from the Wilmington Journal, from the October 4, October 8, and October 25 of 1862, show us that anxiety had grown among the citizens, and the city was now facing serious security concerns. By the beginning of October there had been three reported store robberies, but with virtually the entire police force and the court system down sick, the crimes went unpunished. It deeply bothered the citizens that in this time of trouble some of their fellow citizens would steal from one another. It also caused the struggling town leaders to focus on this local problem when they were devoting much of their time to pleading for help and supplies from towns as far  away as Virginia and South Carolina, as well as the Confederate government.

According to the report City of the Dead: The 1892 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Wilmington, NC by Jim Brisson of UNCW he calculates that:

“The Yellow Fever virus was not content to cause only mass hysteria. It came to Wilmington to invade people’s homes, infest their bodies, and inflict pain, suffering, and heartache. Of the 4,000 remaining residents, as many as 2,000, contracted yellow jack.** Of those, between 650 and 800 died, which made the mortality rate approximately 40 percent.”

 One interesting report on the epidemic was written by William T. Wragg, a Confederate surgeon that was published in the Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal in February, 1864, states:

“During July, August, and September the entire county was deluged with rain. Ponds formed on high and dry places where water was never known to accumulate before, and, owing to neglect of the culverts, especially on Front Street, near Robert’s foundry a large, long, and shallow pond was formed, the bottom of which was composed entirely of the sweepings of the street – old shoes, rags, pieces of tin, and refuse matter of all descriptions, which had been thrown in by the town carts, in order to raise the valley to the level with the adjoining streets. This spot is known by the name of the Rouse lot. The bottom of this pond was alternately dry from evaporation and exposed to the intense heat of the sun, and then again filled by fresh rains, when it was covered by green slime, and exhaled a most offensive odor.”***

 


*Today there is a good deal of discussion that the fever had been in town as early as June or July based on Dr. William Wragg’s contemporaneous report now available to researchers in digitized form through the internet.

** Those who remained were mainly servants and slaves left to care for their masters’ property as well as manual laborers, dock workers, and others with no means out of the city.

*** What is most interesting about this quote is the fact that Yellow Fever was carried by mosquitoes wouldn’t be discovered until after the Spanish American War with Cuba around 1902.

Coming in June’s Newsletter: Epidemic! Cut off from the World… then Help Arrives

and in July: Epidemic! Victims and Memorials

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.