Civil War-Era Shipwreck Discovered off North Carolina's Coast

North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources / North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

North Carolina’s coast has been called The Graveyard of the Atlantic thanks to a series of sandbars and currents that have sunk watercrafts over the centuries. Recently, an important wreck—believed to be a 150-year-old blockade runner steamer from the Civil War—was discovered off the coast of Oak Island, a tiny barrier island in Brunswick County.

According to ABC News, researchers and archaeologists discovered the wreck during a “routine sonar assessment” of the island’s known shipwrecks.The 226-foot-long, iron-hulled vessel is remarkably intact, and it’s also the first mid-19th-century ship found in the region in decades. Experts say these qualities make it a rare—and valuable—find.

Blockade runners were speedy boats that carried military supplies and other goods to the Confederate Army during the Civil War. The port of Wilmington served as a destination for these boats from 1861 to 1865. However, Union troops eventually closed the port and captured Fort Fisher.

The region is teeming with Civil War shipwrecks. Remains of 27 blockade runners, Confederate ironclads, and Union ships have been discovered over the years. “It’s the single best assemblage of Civil War shipwrecks anywhere in the world,” Ray Morris, North Carolina’s deputy state archaeologist, told the Associated Press.

Recently, archaeologists took a closer look at the ship, Public Radio East reports. They are "almost certain" that it is the Agnes E. Fry, a confederate blockade runner that sank near the mouth of the Cape Fear River in 1865. Experts had believed that the sunken craft was either the Fry or one of two other blockade runners, the Spunkie and the Georgianna McCaw, which had also capsized in the region.

According to records, the ship's paddlewheel shaft was salvaged in 1888, and its two engines were removed. It was also slightly flattened in 1909 when the Army Corps of Engineers wire-dragged the wreck to deepen the channel, Public Radio East says. However, the craft is still in good condition, and since it sank before Fort Fisher was captured, it still has all of its original cargo. Experts are excited to see what kinds of artifacts the ship holds and plan to study it for months to come.

[h/t ABC News]