By BRAD RICH
Tideland News Writer
The Swansboro Historical Association is gearing up for a series of events that will culminate in a June 22 “living history encampment” to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
Amelia Dees-Killette, an SHA Board member and history researcher and history instructor at Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville, said the all-volunteer organization is excited to be able to showcase the town as part of the ongoing statewide commemoration of the war.
“It’s a great opportunity for Swansboro to highlight a part of our history by doing something that we have not done in the recent past,” she said. “We think it’s going to be great.
“The state, through the Department of Cultural Resources, is promoting it on its Civil War tourism site, and it’s on Facebook and on our (the association’s) new Website. We will also have posters up around the area.
“We have had a lot of positive impact feedback from the community,” Dees-Killette continued. “There should be a good crowd, downtown and around the area, and the area merchants are very supportive.”
There will be “encampments” downtown on June 22 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., with folks in period costumes and uniforms. There will also be various demonstrations and music to bring the feel of those troubled times home to visitors.
Before the culminating event on June 22, there will be lectures on May 9 and May 16.
On May 9, a Thursday, Dr. Chris Fonvielle Jr., an associate professor at UNC-Wilmington, will speak on “Coastal N.C. During the Civil War.” He’s the author of “The Wilmington Campaign: Last Rays of Departing Hope,” and “Fort Anderson: Battle for Wilmington.”
This lecture will begin at 7 p.m. in the assembly room in Swansboro Town Hall. It is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Swansboro Public Library.
The May 16 lecture will be by LaRea Umfleet, from the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, on “Women During the Civil War Period.” Also sponsored by the library friends’ group, it will begin at 7 p.m. in the Swansboro Parks and Recreation Center.
Dees-Killette said Swansboro’s role in the Civil War is known to history buffs, but might not be so well known to many who live here. The town, essentially, was “caught in the middle” a Confederate area very close to strongly Union-occupied Carteret County, including Beaufort, and Fort Macon in what is now Atlantic Beach.
“People in general have seen the historical marker and know there was a fort out there on Huggins Island, but I don’t think many people know too much detail about what went on,” Dees-Killette said. “I don’t think most people know that the town was caught in the middle, and that raids had quite an impact on the town.”
That Civil War fort was built on Huggins Island early in the war to protect Bogue Inlet, and the Union Navy and troops conducted several raids on the town and the surrounding area throughout the conflict to destroy the fort and salt works, to keep Confederate forces at bay and to free slaves.
Some town officials were hauled away to Union territory, as were some of the freed slaves.
“The Union forces were very concerned about the salt works,” Dees-Killette said. “They were vital to supply the local businesses.”
Historians, in fact, believe that Swansboro was dealt a fairly significant blow by the war, as port activity declined afterward. In the Reconstruction years that followed the war, although the lumber industry enjoyed some progress, the prosperous merchants of the community were gradually replaced by a humbler group of local residents who relied heavily on fishing for their livelihood, a trend that continued through the first decades of the 20th.
In addition, Dees-Killette said, there is a strong belief that the fact that the activities during the war, and the fact that the town, while subject to raids, remained in Confederate control, is one reason the area has had a relatively small African-American population.
The Civil War began in April 1861, and Union forces didn’t take long to capture much of the coastal region of North Carolina.
According to “The Commonwealth of Onslow,” a 1960 history written by Joseph Parsons Brown, a federal expedition captured New Bern, and Fort Macon was taken in April of the same year. From these points raiding parties were sent into the surrounding counties to gather supplies and do what damage they could.
“To combat them, independent companies were organized,” Brown wrote. “Later these companies, sometimes known as ‘Partisan Rangers,’ (or) ‘Dragoons’ (were) merged into regiments.”
Perhaps the most well known raid on the town was on April 30, 1864, when Vermont troops attacked from Newport. According to Brown’s history, the troops capturing a lieutenant, 11 privates, two home guards with their arms and took two citizens and destroyed tree or four boats and 225 barrels of fish, which were salted and ready to be shipped to Confederate troops in Kinston.
SHA board member Shuller, like Dees-Killette, said Swansboro had an unusual place in the war, a Confederate area somewhat isolated by the Union presence nearby. In essence, the Union troops were pretty much able to raid “as they willed,” but Union troops were never permanently stationed here.
Shuller said he, too, is excited about the chance for the town, residents and visitors to participate in the living history event and to learn more about the town’s past.
He thinks it will be well attended, as there are “a lot of Civil War buffs” in the area and some will undoubtedly come from other places.
Dees-Killette noted that although the Civil War to many people seems like the remote past, there are people still alive in Swansboro who heard stories of the war first-hand from people who lived during it.