Read the 1962 story on items recovered from sunken Civil War vessel

STAFF WRITERMarch 8, 2012 

Editor's note: Reprinted from the March 23, 1962, edition of The News & Observer.

FT. FISHER -- A crew of Dixie Divers, 100 years late, were bringing up more material from a sunken Confederate Blockade Runner here Thursday in what appears to be one of the biggest finds of souvenirs uncovered during the Civil War Centennial.

Six U.S. Navy Divers, working in 35 feet of water 100 yards off shore, brought another collection of bullet lead. British made rifles, artillery shells and sheet tin from the wreck of the steam schooner tentatively identified as the "Modern Greece" and 180 foot Blockade Runner which went down on June 27, 1862, before it could make port at Wilmington, the Confederacy's major coastal supply point.

All Southerners

The divers, commanded by a Lt. from Texas, are all southerners. True to the make-due tradition of the Confederacy they are using a pair of ice tongs to grapple the 100 year old cargo from the wreck.

They are expected to spend another 10 days at the task of rescuing more material that would have been a big help to the Rebel cause.

Now the cargo will become display material for museums. The Navy is giving all the historic treasure to the N.C. Department of Archives and History, which maintains the site of Ft. Fisher, the giant coastal bastion which barred the way to Wilmington against the Union army.

The divers are from the Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal at Indian Head, Md. They started their search for the sunken ship this week, and have since been given official orders to spend this week and next at the site.

They are working from a rented shrimp boat commanded by E. L. Lewis of Carolina Beach.

Lewis took his boat, the Wayne R., back to the site of the sunken ship Monday night after Archive and History officials became worried that a Wilmington salvage firm might try to claim salvage rights at the spot during the night.

As long as the Wayne R. is at the scene of the wreck, rights continue in the name of the Navy and the state.

Work continues

The divers will go down again all day Friday and hope to continue during the weekend if the weather doesn't interfere. Yesterday they brought up thirteen 170 lb. ingots of bullet lead, several rifles, about 15 projectiles for the "Whitworth Rifle", a dozen ingots of an unidentified bullet metal, marked with an English firm's name and trademark, and a dozen suitcase packets of sheet tin.

While diving they also marked the outlines of the ship which they say is lying on its bottom with some of the upper deck structure less than 10 feet from the surface.

They hope to get additional diving equipment today which they hope will help them speed up the operation that is expected to yield several hundred rifles, several tons of bullet metal and projectiles and perhaps other ordinance.

Museum pieces

The find has attracted museums across the country. The Smithsonian Institution of Washington is expected to send an expert to the site next week to give advice about how to preserve the finds.

Meanwhile Al Honeycutt of Archives and History, the director of the Ft. Fisher site, is using his bathtub to preserve some of the items. The Navy men brought up about 40 rifles in their operations last week.

In order to keep them from rusting away they must be kept for some time in a salt water-formaldehyde solution, and treated with other chemicals.

Honeycutt rushed through a preservation job on one of the eight foot long guns, its brass trigger guard is still shining brightly after a 100 years in the ocean, and the gun metal is so well preserved that the serial numbers are still visible. The gun is on display at the Ft. Fisher Visitors Center.

Discovery of the treasure trove of Civil War Artifacts started on March 13, when the divers came to N.C. inquiring about the Civil War Ordinance. They visited Ft. Fisher, and Honeycutt told them of the 100 year old wreck just off shore. They brought up two rifles on March 14 and came back in earnest last weekend, when more than 4,000 visitors flocked to the beach to watch the operations.

Fishing spot

Local folks were amazed. The wreck had long been a fishing spot, but no one had ever searched it for souvenirs.

Identification of the ship has been tentatively made on the basis of the Whitworth Rifles projectiles. Confederate Naval Records show that the "Modern Greece" was carrying the artillery pieces, one of the earliest breech loading guns, and a favorite of Confederate Artillerymen. Four of the guns were salvaged by the Garrison of Ft. Fisher and used as a Mobile Battery. The Naval records also list the Enfield Rifles, a gun used extensively by both Confederate and Union Armies.

Records show that the Ft. Fisher Garrison also salvaged clothing and whiskey.

The recovered bullet metal ingots are still plainly marked with the maker names. The lead ingots marked: "Baggitt Works, Newton Keates Co. Liverpool". The unidentified lead-like ingots are marked: "T. Bolitho and Sons. Pencance", and also have an embossed trademark of a horse and rider with a flag.

The Modern Greece was less than two miles from the safety of the entrance of the Cape Fear River when it was trapped by Union ships. Naval records say the Ft. Fisher guns deliberately fired to scuttle the ship after she was cut off.

The Navy Divers who are at last bringing in her cargo are Lt. jg Alan Fouts and Lt. jg Martin and enlisted men T. T. Hershey, J. G. Greene, B. R. Steele and Peter Aiken.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service