The Story and History Behind the C.S.S Beauregard
By David Paul
Looking for some unique Civil War history off the beaten path? Visit the shipwreck of the Confederate blockade-runner C.S.S. Beauregard near Kure Beach.
We are fortunate to be living in a place so rich in Civil War history. Here in the Kure Beach and Carolina Beach area, Fort Fisher played a vital role to the Confederacy. It protected the port city of Wilmington and provided a lifeline of supplies to General Robert E. Lee’s Army of the Northern Virginia. Wilmington was the last major port open to the confederate South and when it was finally closed, General Lee and his army no longer had access to food and supplies. Blockade-runners like the C.S.S. Beauregard played an important part in the delivery of supplies.
We Start at Fort Fisher Museum
You can certainly go to the Fort Fisher museum and take the guided tour of the fort and battlefield to learn about its role in the Civil War. It’s a fascinating story and a large part of who we are today as citizens of this island. But before I tell you the story of the CSS Beauregard and offer you a real life modern Civil War experience, first let’s learn about Fort Fisher and what blockade-runners were.
Fort Fisher was a massive land fortification protecting the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Although the U.S. government forbid foreign countries from trading with the South, the South had what other countries wanted – cotton. In exchange, countries like England and France supplied the South with munitions, food staples, and of course, Rum (that’s another story all together!). They would fill large ships with these goods and sail them to Bermuda or Nassau, in the Bahamas. From there the goods would be off loaded into warehouses and then loaded onto small, sleek ships called blockade-runners. These ships sat low to the water, were very fast, and extremely hard to locate. Even if they were located by the Union ships they frequently outran them. As they approached the mouth of the Cape Fear River they knew they would be protected by the big guns of Fort Fisher. They were then free to sail up the river to Wilmington where their goods could be off loaded onto railcars and taken by train to General Lee’s army in Petersburg, VA.
Many of these blockade-runners made dozens of trips back and forth before they were captured or sunk. As the war started turning in favor of the North, the Union began to focus on stopping these blockade-runners from supplying goods to the Confederacy. They brought in additional ships, including ironclads, to try and block the port and hunt down the blockade-runners. Eventually, after the largest Naval bombardment of its time and a full scale land assault, the fort fell and the port of Wilmington was closed.
Back in History to the C.S.S. Beauregard
To visit the Fort Fisher today, spend time at the museum and walk along the ramparts that take you back in history 149+ years. What most tourists and even Civil War buffs don’t know is that a real blockade-runner ship that was scuttled in 1863 is still visible at low tide about 100 yards off shore. Yes, you can still see the C.S.S Beauregard if you know where to look at low tide.
The Beauregard is Scuttled
The C.S.S Beauregard had made 16 successful runs delivering much needed supplies before that fateful night on December 11th 1883. It was spotted by the Union warship Howquah just as it was ready to make a run along the coast toward the protection of Fort Fisher and her guns. Captain Wilson of the Beauregard knew that if he didn’t make it to Fort Fisher he would either be blasted by the Union warship or run up onto the beach. He didn’t want the Union to get its hands on yet another Southern ship and then use it against them. As he was being fired upon, Captain Wilson knew he would never make it to Fort Fisher and that there was only one thing to do – beach the ship and off load her precious cargo. The Confederate troops at the fort heard the gunfire and hustled a cannon battery over to where the Beauregard lay. They returned cannon fire and protected her as the supplies were quickly unloaded. Under constant fire they finally finished and then set the Beauregard ablaze so it wouldn’t fall into the hands of the enemy.
Where is the C.S.S. Beauregard?
While on vacation and staying with us in one of our beachfront vacation rentals in Kure Beach or Carolina Beach, you can find the Beauregard directly off the beach at low-tide near Lake Park Blvd which is the main drag through the center of Carolina Beach. Just after you pass the lake on the right, take a left on Lake Drive. Park next to the public beach access and walk up the wooden walkway to the information gazebo. At low tide, if you look out to the ocean, just a bit to the right about 100 yard out you will see the barnacle encrusted side wheels of the Beauregard. To see a Civil War ship that was sunk back in 1863 and is still sticking up out of the water today – that’s real living history!
Exact Location of the C.S.S. Beauregard
GPS Coordinates for the shipwreck are 34°1'32"N 77°53'33"W
A Cannonball Discovered:
In April 2013 the Town of Carolina Beach contracted the Army Corp of Engineers to replenish the beaches with sand. Basically they stationed a huge dredging ship off shore to dredge up sand from the bottom of the ocean. They then lay 30” pipe from the ship to the shore and pumped sand back onto the beach. Huge bulldozers then sculpted the sand to replenish the beaches. One day in April, much to the surprise of everyone, out of the pipe popped a Civil War cannonball! It has laid offshore at the bottom of the ocean for almost 150 years!
July 16, 2010