State archaeologists focusing on blockade runners

Posted: 10/17/2011 in all marine news

Journal Now – 

Their career began 150 years ago and lasted just a few seasons, but for a while they made Wilmington, in the words of Civil War writer Clint Johnson, “the most important city in the Confederacy.”

They were the blockade runners, merchant ships that sped past Union warships in the dark to bring supplies into Southern ports.

After the U.S. Navy and ground forces effectively sealed off Charleston S.C., in 1863, that meant Wilmington.

Arms, ammunition, medicine and much-needed supplies slipped into the Port City, usually under the protective guns of Fort Fisher. These were then loaded onto the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad for shipment north to, Va.

Now, state archaeologists are beginning to take a new look at the blockade runners and their cargoes. The wrecks of 21 blockade runners lie in shallow waters off the coast in what is one of the few maritime National Register historic districts.

“There’s probably twice as many still out there,” said Mark Wilde-Ramsing an assistant state archaeologist who heads North Carolina’s Underwater Archaeology Branch at Fort Fisher.

A typical early blockade runner was the Modern Greece, a steam freighter originally used in the Baltic timber trade. At 200 feet long, with depth of more than 17 feet, it was probably oversized.

On the night of June 27, 1862, the Modern Greece ran aground and was shelled by Union warships. Scuttled, it sank three-fourths of a mile offshore, in about 30 feet of water.

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