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A Civil War era Confederate shipwreck appears in North Carolina

Ian Harvey
Source Georgiana Fry

Marine archaeologists were near the mouth of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina when they came upon a shipwreck. They think it is the wreck of a Confederate ship from the Civil War Era. Sonar imaging has revealed the 226-foot long shipwreck on February 27th. The Underwater Branch of the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology and the Institute of International Maritime Research gave a news release shortly after the discovery.

Billy Ray Morris is a North Carolina deputy state archaeologist who is in charge of managing underwater operations. After checking historical documents it became clear that three runners used during the blockade of the port of Wilmington are in fact located in the area. The wreckage was found just 27 miles downstream from Wilmington, North Carolina, which is near Fort Caswell. Morris has a team of workers who plan to head back to the site to make final conclusions regarding the discovery.

The vessel appears to be in good shape, and researchers have confirmed that this would be the first Civil War ship found in this area in decades. Morris stated, “Nobody’s found a new Civil War wreck in decades. With a high-energy maritime environment like you have off the coast of North Carolina, ships are broken apart. This one is relatively intact. You can see that it looks like a ship.” His team of researchers is trying to identify the ship as soon as possible.

This is an exciting discovery because three blockade runners are known to have been lost in the surrounding area; they are the Agnes E. Fry, Spunkie, and Georgianna McCaw. Morris is confident that his team of archaeologists and a couple of grad students will be able to determine which ship this new find is. However, it is not 100% certain that this ship is any of those three blockade runners.

Since the Civil War, wrecks of 27 blockade runners have been found in the area that includes the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean around islands like Oak Island. It has included both Confederate ironclads and Union ships that were used during the blockade. Morris feels it is the single best assemblage of Civil War shipwrecks in the entire world.

Blockade runners played a crucial role in the war. They were known as the cigarette boats of the era; they could move fast with unarmed captains and crew members who used their talents to avoid the Union ships while trying to get their goods to land. General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia relied heavily on military supplies arriving via trains that set off to Weldon in northern North Carolina.

Morris also explained that civilian supplies were sold by the dockside. It was mostly items that the Confederacy could not make, but the wealthy were all too happy to purchase. This included items such as wine, liquor, fancy fabrics, books, and shoes. From 1861 to January 1865, the Union blockaded the port of Wilmington. In 1865, the Union troops closed the port and took over Fort Fisher.