Q. What is the history behind the Old Military Road on Greenville Sound? I know the road on Masonboro in front of the Parsley’s was called the Old Military Road many years ago. Were they connected at one time?
A. According to historian Chris Fonvielle, Old Military Road dates all the way from the early days of the Civil War. Confederate officials seem to have laid it out to move troops and artillery fast, in case Union forces tried an amphibious landing east of Wilmington.
(Old Military Road, which intersects with Greenville Loop Road, is very different from Military Cutoff Road, which passes Mayfaire and Landfall. That highway dates from World War II.)
Fonvielle, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, found this item in the Wilmington Daily Journal for Sept. 2, 1861:
Notice to citizens of Cape Fear “disposed to assist in the construction of the ‘Military Road’ from Camp Wyatt on Confederate Point to the Plank Road.”
Camp Wyatt was located on property owned by James T. Burriss, a local river pilot, along the headwaters of Masonboro Sound (modern Myrtle Grove Sound). The site today is Carolina Beach Village on St. Joseph Street. The “Plank Road” referred to in this advertisement is modern-day U.S. 17, which was originally called “the New Bern Road” in colonial times. “Confederate Point” was the wartime name for what is now Federal Point.
This early Camp Wyatt is different from the later Camp Wyatt, which was located on the east bank of the Cape Fear River near Kure Beach.
The same 1861 issue of the Daily Journal also included this item:
“MILITARY ROAD: We would call attention to the advertisement of Captain Edmonston for laborers to construct a Military Road connecting Camps Wyatt and Winslow with the Wilmington and Topsail Sound Plank Road. Those who are disposed to assist in the construction of this work will please report to Captain Edmonston at Camp Winslow.”
Fonvielle doesn’t know where Camp Winslow was. The Topsail Sound Plank Road, of course, is U.S. 17/Market Street.
It is unclear who wound up building the road, Fonvielle noted, perhaps slaves or free black laborers, perhaps conscripts (like the Lumbee Indians who were sent to work on Fort Fisher), Confederate soldiers or some combination of all these groups. The records are also silent on how many workers spent time on the project.
Modern developers seem to have adopted the Old Military Road name, and much of its path, when subdivisions began to spring up along the sounds.
Old Military Road was once much longer than it is now. The questioner noted that it once ran in front of the old Parlsey house in Masonboro Township. Fonvielle knows that much of the old road path was erased in the 1980s with the development of Stone Bridge, and he suspects other sections might have met a similar fate.
Date posted: August 7, 2013
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