From Barracks to Beach Cottage

Part II – The Barracks Today

The Society is currently trying to document and catalog all the cottages on Federal Point that were relocated and remodeled from the original buildings at the WWII Fort Fisher installation.

We got a huge start from Punky Kure, Jim Dugan and John Batson who took a golf cart and drove the streets of Kure Beach and identified almost 50 buildings for us – but we hear there are more!

We would also like to help any of the owners of these historic buildings memorialize their importance to our local history through our Plaque Program.

PLEASE let us know if you own one of these cottages – we’d love to get pictures inside as well as outside. Call Rebecca or Cheri at 910-458-0502.

From Barracks to Beach Cottage – in 2021

Oral History: Remembrances of Life on Federal Point, 1940 -1959

 

From Barracks to Beach Cottages

Fort Fisher WW II – Part I

Camp Davis, located between Wilmington and Jacksonville, NC, was built in 1941, as one of seven anti-aircraft training bases for the U.S. Army’s First Army, Fourth Corps.

Though there were originally five training sites as the reservation expanded, the Fort Fisher site — located 50 miles south of the main base — became the primary firing range for Camp Davis. And as Fort Fisher’s importance grew, so did its facilities.

Original specifications called for a host of features that would make the remote firing range a self-contained post. These included 48 frame buildings, 316 tent frames, showers and latrines, mess halls, warehouses, radio and meteorological stations, a post exchange, photo lab, recreation hall, outdoor theater, guardhouse, infirmary, and an administration building.

In addition to these facilities, the site featured a 10,000-gallon water storage tank, a motor pool, a large parade ground, and three steel observation towers along the beach.

The crowning addition to these improvements was the construction of a large airstrip at Fort Fisher — an endeavor that destroyed a sizable portion of the once-formidable “land front” of the 80-year-old bastion. In these unstable times, national defense took precedence over historic preservation.

By the time anti-aircraft training operations ceased at Fort Fisher in 1944, the facility had grown to include an 80-seat cafeteria, a 350-bed hospital and dental clinic, and covered an area of several hundred acres.

 After the War

Camp Davis and its satellite ranges closed in October 1944, — with nearly one full year of war yet to be waged in both theaters of conflict. The government quickly sold off the buildings to locals – at fire-sale prices and many locals purchased them and moved them to locations, primarily in Kure Beach. Today there are quite a number of these buildings still standing, being used today as businesses and beach cottages.

Next Month: Fort Fisher – Part II



The Barracks Today

How many of the old Fort Fisher barracks can you spot before next month when we run a list drawn up by A. Kure, J. Batson and J. Dugan of the barracks that remain? Would you believe there are at least 49?

 

Christmas During the 1918 Pandemic

(Click Image)

by Rebecca Taylor

[excerpts from The ATLANTIC (3/3/2020) and USA TODAY (11/24/2020)]

In December, 1918, in the midst of the pandemic, 1,000 public-health officials gathered in Chicago to discuss the disease which had by then killed an estimated 400,000 people over three months. They did not know the cause of the epidemic, they had no treatments, and they had little idea how to control its spread.

Face masks, which were then being worn by a large portion of the general public, offered no guarantee of protection (and that remains true of face masks today). Many health officials believed that the masks provided a false sense of security. Perhaps that was correct, but there was still a value in providing any kind of security.

Chicago’s health commissioner made this clear. “It is our duty,” he said, “to keep the people from fear. Worry kills more people than the epidemic. For my part, let them wear a rabbit’s foot on a gold watch chain if they want it, and if it will help them to get rid of the physiological action of fear.”

Just as cases rose after Armistice Day celebrations, they rose again after Thanksgiving. Dallas, Minneapolis, San Antonio, San Francisco and Seattle saw surges. Omaha relaunched a public health campaign. Parts of Cleveland and its suburbs closed schools and enacted influenza bans in early December.

In this 1918 photo made available by the Library of Congress, volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tend to influenza patients in the Oakland Municipal Auditorium, (Edward A. “Doc” Rogers/Library of Congress via AP)

On Dec. 6, the St. Paul Daily News announced that more than 40 Minneapolis schools were closed because of the flu, below the headline “SANTA CLAUS IS DOWN WITH THE FLU.”

Health officials asked “moving picture show” managers to exclude children, closed Sunday schools and ordered department stores to dispense with “Santa Claus programs.”

On Christmas Eve, health officials in Nebraska made influenza a mandatory quarantine disease, and fines ranged from $15 to $100 for violations. Approximately 1,000 homes in Omaha were placarded, meaning their occupants were unable to leave for at least four days after the fever had subsided.

In Denver, the Salvation Army canceled its annual Christmas parties for children,

Influenza epidemic in United States. St. Louis, Missouri, Red Cross Motor Corps on duty, October 1918. (National Archives)

and the Women’s Press Club canceled its New Year’s Eve ball. School Christmas assemblies were canceled in Fall River, Massachusetts, and families with an influenza patient in their homes were warned not to entertain guests and barred from borrowing books from the library.

On page 7 of its Nov. 23 edition, the San Francisco Examiner reported “‘Flu’ Masks To Be Ousted Thanksgiving.”
Image Provided by Influenza Encyclopedia Graphic by Karl Gelles, USA TODAY.
(Click Images)

By January, the USA was fully engulfed in its third wave of influenza.

The virus spread throughout the winter and spring, killing thousands more. It infected one-third of the world’s population and killed approximately 675,000 Americans before subsiding in the summer of 1919.

“What did they do wrong? That’s hard to say, but all of these measures are like Swiss cheese. They have holes, so you try to use as many layers as possible,” Markel said. “To me, those surges just represented whether there was social distancing or not. Flu didn’t stop circulating, the question was when did people go out and get exposed to it? And that’s what’s going on now.”

 

 

 


Quarantine 1918

*  No Internet; Facebook, Twitter, Zoom
*  No Cell Phones
*  No Streaming – or Television
*  News came from the daily newspaper or radio
*  No curbside pickup restaurants
*  No Grubhub, Door Dash, Uber Eats
*  Fresh Food refrigeration limited to “ice” box
*  No Air Conditioning           

“How bad do we have it?”

Then and Now – Part 2

Seabreeze

There’s not much left to see in the old Seabreeze community.  To view the few bits remaining, turn down S. Seabreeze Rd. at Pelican’s Snowballs. Scattered among the large newer contemporary homes, you will pass several small buildings that have survived the many hurricanes and modern development that have decimated most of the rest of the community’s once significant infrastructure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you drive all the way to the Intracoastal Waterway, there’s a gravel parking lot at Carolina Beach Jet-Ski Rentals that affords you a view of the old pilings from one of the restaurants built over the water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are lucky, you just might find one of the last Seabreeze fishermen casting his line.

 

Then and Now – Part 1

For those of you who are new in town, and those who enjoy a trip down memory lane now and then, here are some local sights that are lost, but not forgotten.

The Shoo-Fly Train

In 1887, when Captain Harper began bringing beach goers to the new resort of Carolina Beach, the road to Federal Point was a sandy wagon track. Instead, people took the steamer, Passport, and later the Wilmington, down the Cape Fear River from Wilmington.

But, it was a long, hot, buggy walk from the dock on the river to the beach, so he bought a small, three car train and constructed tracks across the peninsula from Sugar Loaf (and, later, Doctor’s Point) to the first ocean side building.

 

January 14, 1887: The Carolina Beach Company, recently formed, had begun work on a railroad which was to run from near Sugar Loaf, about 13 miles below Wilmington on the Cape Fear River, across the peninsula to the Atlantic coast, near the head of Myrtle Grove Sound, and just below old Camp Wyatt.  The iron rails have already been purchased and the rolling stock provided.  The railroad work was to be completed in about two months, and the line was not to be more than two miles in length. At the terminus of the railroad on the ocean side there will be a “playground” for the excursionists where they can go and enjoy themselves.  WILM.STAR   1-14-1887

 

May 1, 1887: Capt. Beach was to have charge of the hotel which was to be erected at the new summer resort being developed south of Wilmington.  The building was to be put up as soon as the railroad from the river to the beach was completed and made available for the transportation of building materials received from Wilmington. WILM.STAR   5-1-1887

 

May 4, 1887: A locomotive for the railroad extending from the Cape Fear River to old Camp Wyatt and then to the ocean beach was sent down from Wilmington.  WILM.STAR   5-5-l887

May 5, 1887: Three railroad cars, intended for use on the railway from the river to the beach at Carolina Beach, were taken from the shops of the builders, Messrs. Burr & Bailey, to the wharf at the foot of Dock Street, for shipment. WILM.STAR   5-6-1887

Harper Avenue

Did you know?

You can still see where the old tracks ran in places in the Carolina Beach State Park.

You can also see them very plainly, right down the middle of Harper Avenue, which is why it curves as it approaches Dow Rd., instead of running exactly perpendicular from the ocean to the river.

 

 


 

Fort Fisher Radar Base

Fort Fisher Air Force Station was opened in 1955, on part of the Fort Fisher AFS installation as USAF Permanent System Radar Station “M-115” during a $1 billion increase for US continental defense after the Air Force approved the Mobile Radar program in mid-1954. It was assigned to Air Defense Command as part of a planned deployment of forty-four Mobile Radar Stations. Fort Fisher AFS was designed as site M-115 and the 701st Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was assigned on August 1, 1955.

Initially, the Air Force Station functioned as a Ground control intercept and warning station to guide interceptor aircraft toward unidentified intruders picked up on the squadron’s radar scopes.

During 1962, Fort Fisher AFS joined the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system, initially feeding data to Fort Lee AFS, Virginia. After joining, the squadron was re-designated as the 701st Radar Squadron on July 1, 1962. The radar squadron provided information 24/7 to the SAGE Direction Center where it was analyzed to determine range, direction, altitude, speed, and whether or not aircraft were friendly or hostile.

The 701st Radar Squadron (SAGE) was inactivated and replaced by the 701st Air Defense Group in March 1970. Just before inactivation, the squadron earned an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for exceptionally meritorious service for the period from December 1, 1968, through February 28, 1970. The upgrade to group status was done because of Fort Fisher AFS’s status as a Backup Interceptor Control (BUIC) site. BUIC sites were alternate control sites in the event that the SAGE Direction Centers became disabled and unable to control interceptor aircraft. The group was inactivated and replaced by 701st Radar Squadron (SAGE) in January 1974, as a reduction to defenses against manned bombers. The group and squadron shared a second Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for the period January 1, 1973, through December 31, 1974.

Fort Fisher AFS came under Tactical Air Command jurisdiction in 1979, with the inactivation of Aerospace Defense Command.

The base closed on June 30, 1988, and the USAF retained the housing complex and converted it into the Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area. Supervision of the Recreation Area was transferred to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base when Myrtle Beach AFB closed in 1993.

Ground Equipment Facility J-02 continued use of the USAF radar in the Joint Surveillance System and “in 1995, an AN/FPS-91A performed search duties.” A portion of the base was returned to the State of North Carolina, which turned much of it into the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and historic site.

The Fort Fisher site is used by the National Guard as a training area and also hosts the Annual Seafood, Blues and Jazz Festival.

 

Our Favorite Stories and Articles Published on the Web

Howard Hewett

In 2015 Howard Hewett, who grew up on a farm south of Kure Beach, wrote a series of articles about life as a boy. His father was a supervisor at the Ethyl-Dow Plant, and Howard also donated his collections of wonderful black and white pictures of the plant in the 30s. You can find many of them in a slide show in the oral history Howard did with Monroe Shigley,  Plant Manager at Ethyl Dow.

 

Seabreeze

Among our most visited pages cover the six part series on the history of the Freeman family and Seabreeze. Published in the Spring and Summer of 2016, we’ve received numerous calls and emails from as far away as Atlanta and Washington, DC.  We even had requests from the Smithsonian and the North Carolina State Archives to use pictures from the articles.

Chris Fonvielle

Our most popular speaker, Chris Fonvielle, has talked about and written on many subjects of Civil War History over the years. The many pages that come up when you search ‘Fonvielle’ include not only articles on Fort Fisher and the Sugar Loaf Line of Defense as well as reviews of his many books. Other pages lead to reports on his  Sugar Loaf walks, Fort Fisher Reenactments, and other society fund raisers to which he’s generously contributed.

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