|(Courtesy of Fort Fisher State Historic Site)|
I was intrigued by an accompanying Facebook post Wednesday from North Carolina’s Fort Fisher State Historic Site, which posed this question:
Can you guess what this artifact is?
Hint 1: It came in via the blockade
Hint 2: Used by soldiers in battle
Hint 3: How many pieces are here?
We will reveal the answer tomorrow at 2pm.
I was all in after that -- and read the comments. Most of nearly a dozen readers claimed they were percussion caps for a rifle.
Sure enough, the Civil War site said in a Thursday update, the photo depicts about 300 tiny percussion caps, likely for an Enfield. They were packaged in a metal box about 3 inches wide and an inch deep. They went down with the blockade runner Modern Greece in 1862.
|This painting is believed to depict the Modern Greece (NCpedia)|
The South, which had limitations in manufacturing, turned to other countries, notably England, for such items.
Swift blockade runners carried a mix of war materiel and goods to the port in exchange for exported cotton and other items. The ships carried items to and from Europe, largely via the Bahamas and Bermuda.
|Bowie knife recovered in the early 1960s (FFSHS)|
Wilmington was ideally situated for blockade-running. Located 28 miles up the Cape Fear River, it was free from enemy bombardment as long as the forts at the mouth of the river -- Fisher and Caswell -- remained in Confederate hands.
In June 1862, the Modern Greece, a screw steam freighter, was trying to reach an inlet for its final run up the Cape Fear River. The USS Cambridge and the USS Stars and Stripes opened their guns on the ship. That heavy fire forced the Modern Greece ashore and it ran aground.
The garrison at Fort Fisher and the Union ships traded gunfire, and it was soon apparent the damaged blockade runner’s career was over.
“You have Confederate troops trying to salvage, you have the Union navy trying to pull it from shore, to take the cargo and get prize money,” John Moseley, assistant site manager at Fort Fisher, told the Picket. (Union crews were offered rewards for the seizure of goods from failed runs.)
Today, numerous artifacts from the Modern Greece and other blockade runners are at Fort Fisher, and are rotated on display.
The shores off this part of North Carolina are littered with the remnants of such vessels. The Modern Greece was rediscovered in 1962 and the recovery of items soon began, with early diving by U.S. Navy frogmen.
“During the next two years, researchers from what's now our Office of Archives and History and the U.S. Navy recovered 11,500 artifacts from the Modern Greece shipwreck site,” says the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “Work at the site led our agency to establish one of the nation’s first underwater archaeology programs.”
Among the recovered items are numerous Enfield rifles intended for Confederate units. Other artifacts were items meant for civilians.
The museum at Fort Fisher has shovels, tin sheets, medical supplies and tools, a Bowie knife and a jar of, yes, raisins.
Moseley says the Modern Greece wreck is about 600 yards northeast of the fort and several hundred yards offshore. Over time, the Atlantic Ocean has encroached onshore, taking away a large part of what was once the fort.
|Artillery demonstration at fort several years ago (FFSHS)|
Assistant state archaeologist Stephen Atkinson told the Picket on Thursday that employees are working toward repackaging artifacts for transfer to a state storage facility in Raleigh for future curation and display.
“As for the wet artifacts, they still remain in our care at UAB, as we do not currently have the time/staff/funding/space to treat them all. (You’d be surprised what it would take to conserve hundreds of pick axes and hoe heads! Not to mention the muskets…),” he wrote in an email.
“So we make sure they are well taken care of in their tanks for now. We have not visited the wreck itself for some time but once the pandemic restrictions are lifted we plan to do a comprehensive condition assessment of all known blockade runners.”