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Are there still live Civil War-era munitions under the road that splits Fort Fisher?

Julian March
Fort Fisher 1865

This photo is one of many taken by Timothy H. O'Sullivan after the fall of Fort Fisher in 1865. No photos of the fort during wartime are known to exist. (Courtesy photo)

Reader Thomas Kemp asks, “Is it true there is still 65,000 to 70,000 pounds of live Civil War-era munitions under the road in a tunnel that splits Fort Fisher?”

“I’ve never heard of that much ammunition being under Highway 421,” said Becky Sawyer, historic site interpreter at Fort Fisher.

There are still Civil War-era munitions buried under Fort Fisher, but it would be hard to say how much they weighed.

“It is impossible at this late date to quantify the munitions still buried in the sands of Fort Fisher,” said Chris Fonvielle, a professor in the Department of History at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

“There are undoubtedly many projectiles, both Union and Confederate, under the surface of the ground, mounds and road, and occasionally a cannonball or cylindrical shell is dug up. My guess is there are still hundreds of projectiles in the fort, the river and the ocean, but without knowing how many it is impossible to know their poundage.”

Sawyer said there was a powder magazine buried under Fort Fisher, but that was east of where the road is today. That powder also went up in smoke long ago.

“That exploded on the day after the battle,” Sawyer said. The explosion was on Jan. 16, 1865. “We had some soldiers accidentally go into the main powder magazine and blow it up,” she said.

The fire, which was sparked by a soldier’s lantern, killed 200 men on both sides, according to the state. Fonvielle said records now suggest the number killed in the blast was closer to 130.

User-contributed question by:
thomas kemp

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One Response to “ Are there still live Civil War-era munitions under the road that splits Fort Fisher?”

  1. On June 9, 2011 at 3:05 pm Scott Ok Bye wrote:

    Impossible to quantify, yes, but do keep in mind that at the time, the naval bombardment of Ft. Fisher was the largest the world had known.

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