War comes back to Wilmington

Last weekend the Cameron Art Museum and local sponsors’ hosted reenactment and entertainment related to the anniversary of the Battle of Forks Road in Wilmington, N. C.—a strong stand by General Robert F. Hoke with several thousand North Carolina soldiers to prevent enemy troops from invading the city 149 years ago.(http://battleofforksroad.org)

The Museum now occupies a site on the old Federal Point Road that once connected Wilmington and Ft. Fisher guarding the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River. Another minor road crossed nearby, thus the name “Forks.” Only faint remnants of them can be found—now obliterated by land development of various kinds.

The two-day program featured black reenactors representing the U.S. Colored Troops sent ahead of the main body of the Northern army by white officers (Negro officers were not allowed in the army). They would perilously confront entrenched North Carolina soldiers defending the city on the road in February 1865. The Colored Troops were soundly beaten back.

(Note: I’ve read that in 1861 Louisiana formed the first Negro unit of the War. The State of Louisiana organized the Louisiana Native Guards and they had black officers.)

The museum buildings and grounds were open to the public and offered food and drink; entertainment for children; lectures; historical readings; views of exhibits; 19th century camp life and crafts; a “sutler” store; music by the Huckleberry Brothers Band; and, of course, some noisy, smoky “fighting” between N. C. and colored federal troops.

Various groups were represented on the grounds including local camps of the North Carolina Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans and the local Wilmington North Carolina Co. E. Some Daughters of the Confederacy members, and children, wore authentic dress of that period, adding a soft, more colorful contrast to the sometimes drab military gray and blue.

Several years ago, the local Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp and other local people worked out a battlefield preservation agreement with the developer of the museum. The Civil War Roundtable and SCV members restored the pine log and sand breastworks. Professor Fonvielle and local architect and historian, Bernhard Thuersam, were involved in the project. Fonvielle has written books about the battles at Ft. Fisher and the Forks. He lectures and conducts tours on this important time in the Cape Fear region’s history. He was on hand for both at this recent event. Mr. Thuersam conducts historical tours in old downtown Wilmington and directs the Cape Fear Historical Institute.

A full understanding of this extraordinarily destructive time in our history is difficult today because government agencies and employees have revised facts and diverted attention away from current politically unpopular ideas (for example, that the War Between the States was not a “Civil War” and was much more than about slavery). Biases presented in historical novels have also distorted historical truth. Often they infuse (and confuse) views of historical events in context of modern times that reflect attitudes and values inconsistent with those of earlier days.

For example, Gen. Hoke’s Confederate forces were successful in driving the enemy away—they held their ground while the Northern troops fell back. Who spoke for Gen. Hoke and the North Carolinians who volunteered to repel foreign invaders from their State? The museum officials that organized this event could have involved a Gen. Hoke reenactor; I’m told there are at least two in the State of North Carolina.

Additional non-government sources provide valuable insight into historical events. Two of those not included in State government sources are published here in North Carolina. In my opinion, those of us interested in finding the most truth out of our history must investigate independent sources as well as commonly circulated interpretations.

The Cape Fear Historical Institute (http://www.cfhi.net) presents a detailed local account of the events leading up to the assault on Ft. Fisher and the invasion of Wilmington by the Northern army. Even more interesting, accounts by participants and observers of bygone times give a personal touch allowing us better understanding of the lives of people involved, why they made their decisions and how they felt about what was happening. As one historian said, “History is who we are.”

Another helpful website is sponsored by the War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission (a non-government group) (http://www.ncwbts150.com). This gives accounts of North Carolinians both in service to their State, and families at home doing their part and enduring hardships—many first-hand accounts and recollections provide a clearer picture of those terribly troubled times beginning with the reasons North Carolina reluctantly seceded from the Northern States, and ending with the last battles fought by North Carolinians.

The private John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N. C. sponsors a State history project directed by Dr. Troy Kickler. The website can be accessed at: http://www.northcarolinahistory.org.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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