Experience Fort Fisher State Historic Site
Gnarled by years of stiff ocean winds the ancient live oaks, shading Fort Fisher, stand testament to the time when this sandy coastline stood as one of the Confederacy’s last strongholds.
Close to the culturally rich Wilmington and surfside fun of both Carolina and Kure beaches, a visit to this state park offers a historic journey without the boredom. Where feet clad in sandals and flip-flops now leave prints, explorers like the Italian Giovanni di Verrazano, Spanish colonists, nefarious pirates and soldiers once tread.
Cape Fear Indians first claimed the coastline’s bounty of clams and oysters. The other regional boon of tar, pitch and turpentine, from the resin of the plentiful longleaf pines, served to create the important port and railroad terminus of Wilmington. Protecting the port city as the Civil War began led to Fort Fisher’s creation in 1861.
Attempting to close off Confederate ports, Union ships formed a barricade around southern waterways. At critical Fort Fisher daring blockade-runners of ships, like the Annie, routinely broke through the line. They brought arms and supplies in, often to blazing guns and bursting shells, and departed with goods – like cotton – to sell in foreign cities.
Stop at the fort’s free museum where well-documented and interesting displays create a comprehensive time line of the area.
An outstanding feature of the facility is its ability to bring the voices and feelings from a century and a half ago alive to modern visitors on all levels. Handsets throughout the museum offer accounts of the fort’s citizens plagued by heat and mosquitoes. Dioramas depict the efforts of slaves and soldiers as they fortified the “Gibraltar of the South” with earth and sand. Objects of 19th century everyday life – like playing cards, coffee mills and wine bottles are exhibited alongside torpedoes, mines and fragments of exploded shells.
The stories of vivid characters of the day – like spy Rose Greenhow – are told. In her attempt to escape a capsized boat Rebel Rose, she put $2,000.00 worth of gold around her neck and jumped into the surf. Her drowned body, without the gold, was found the next day.
A colorful multi dimensional map tells the story of the fort’s final two battles fought between the blue and grey in late 1864 and early 1865. The last southern stronghold fell, as did the Confederacy several months later.
Venture outside and wander under the live oaks as the path curves towards the large stones along the Atlantic wall. Whenever the season nature abounds – especially bird life from terns to peregrine falcons. A towering monument marks the former location of Fort Fisher’s headquarters.
Just past the entrance for the Fort Fisher/Southport Ferry – the ruins of Buchanan Battery can be found at the furthest end of the peninsula.
As gulls and wind create a seaside symphony, listen quietly. The voices of the past are joining the chorus.
Want to know more? Check out the ultimate source for Cultural Resources in North Carolina, NCDCR.
By Linda J. Bottjer
By Linda J. Bottjer
added: December 16, 2008
updated: December 7, 2010