Saturday, July 28, 2012

Fort Fisher State Park Carolina Beach State Park

                            FORT FISHER

                            CAROLINA BEACH STATE PARK


Looking Down the Barrel of Shepherd's Battery

Taking a trip to the Wrightsville Beach did not deter the Fat Bald White Guy from finding a trail to hike.  Late Thursday afternoon we set off to explore one of the most important Civil War Sites in North Carolina-Fort Fisher. Located on a peninsula south of Wilmington, the fort guarded the Cape Fear Inlet and allowed Blockade Runners to supply Gen'l Lee via the port at Wilmington.

The Fort Fisher State Park maintains the remnants of one of the largest coastal fortifications of its time. Only about 10% of the Fort remains and there is a nice one mile tour trail that circles the sand embankments.  On the western end of the northern wall Shepherd's Battery has been restored, providing you with a glimpse of what it must have been like as Yankee troops marched up the Old Wilmington Road to attack the fort.


The Fort was named for Colonel Charles Fisher from Rowan County, the commander of the 6th North Carolina who was mortally wounded at the Battle of First Manassas.

The walls were constructed of sand in order to absorb a bombardment. The seaward wall boasted 22 guns atop 12 foot walls.  The southern wall had two large gun emplacements on top of embankments over 45 feet tall.  The northern wall faced landward with 25 guns distributed among 15 sand embankments each 32 feet high. Fronting the north wall was a nine foot tall wooden palisade.  Some called Fort Fisher - "the Gibralter of the South"

Shepherd's Battery features a fully operational ten inch Columbiad which is a smooth bore cannon capable of firing a 130 pound round ball three miles.  Also a part of the restored Battery is a "bombproof" where ammunition was stored.

Fort Fisher kept open the port of Wilmington throughout the Civil War finally falling in January of 1865, just months before Lee surrendered at Appomattox.  

An obelisk was erected in 1921 on the site of fort's command post.  There in the midst of the bombardment of 58 warships, the Stars and Bars were shot down.  A new flagstaff was erected and Christopher Columbus "Kit" Bland, a teenager from Shallote, shimmied up the flag post on two occasions to replace the flag.  Observers recalled that Union ships paused their bombardment in deference to this act of bravery. 
Surpassed only by the bombardment of Normandy in 1944, Fort Fisher was subjected to the largest naval bombardment in the history of battle.
Looking South toward Battery Buchanan from atop of Shepherd's Battery

If you drive past the State Aquarium you will soon come to Federal Point.  There stood Battery Buchanan, a separate fortified sand bunker.  This was the last portion of Fort Fisher to fall.   The Battery no longer looks very menacing.  It is a tall sand mound occupied now by a single tree.

Federal Point now serves as the northern port of the North Carolina Ferry that connects Fort Fisher to Southport.  Make sure you get there in time to ride the Ferry to Southport!

From atop Battery Buchanan there is a wonderful view of the Cape Fear Inlet.

Once a battlefield where Americans fought Americans in an unnecessary bloody civil war,  Federal Point now is a recreation site.  I am not sure what you call the sport but "para-surfing" seems to be an apt description.

The point is very windy and there is a grassy marshland that separates Battery Buchanan from the Cape Fear Inlet waterway.

The path from the top of Battery Buchanan connects with an asphalt and stone jetty that seems to extend endlessly into the Cape Fear Inlet.  This is not a trail the Fat Bald White Guy needs to attempt!


"Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.  The river cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are words, and some of the words are theirs."  Norman Maclean


About three miles north of Fort Fisher is the 761 acre Carolina Beach State Park.  Located on land originally occupied by the Cape Fear Indians, it also served as the temporary camp for Union soldiers preparing to attack Fort Fisher.  The park contains a nice campground, marina and clubhouse.....and hiking trails.  The North Carolina State Park system has a very nice IPhone App that allows you access to a real time GPS map of State Park hiking trails....thanks to my reference of this App, we set out about 5:45 PM to hike the Sugarloaf Loop....a three mile jaunt through a coastal forest.

After struggling along rocky trails on the way to Mt. Rogers, we were thankful for trails that were sandy

We also had a chance to get some nice views of the Cape Fear River in the hour before sundown.....

The trail weaved along the coast line until it disappeared into the seems the trail to Sugarloaf Dune has been washed out...but no worry....there are many interlocking trails at the Carolina Beach State Park and we took another route....

Looking across the marsh grass we could see where the Sugarloaf Dune trail used to be.....

We soon encountered a most interesting ground cover in the coastal forest.  It looked from a distance like it had snowed!....but the closer we got it looked more like the ground was covered with dryer lint....but finally we got a close up look at "Raindeer Moss" or  "Powder Puff Lichen"....the scientific name....."Caladonia Evansi"

Wouldn't you know it....even in a coastal forest....there are hills!....and this one had a trail up it of sand!....not to worry....even in 90 degree heat the Fat Bald White Guy was up to the challenge!

From the top of the hill, we rejoined the Sugarloaf trail....the trail to the dune was blocked off on this end as well....knowing what I know now I think I would have ventured out and back to the dune....but our trusty State Park GPS app directed us down the hill and further into the forest away from the Cape Fear River.....

With the sun setting in the west, we were treated with several nice spotlight views of the Old Sol peaking through the pines and oaks.

As the trail weaved its way through the forest, we also got a look at some unusual trees..... 

We also encountered grassy ponds....I am sure that these areas are prone to flooding but as dry as it has been, they were more like a meadow than a pond....also I kept my eye out for "Venus Fly Trap" plants but since I really don't know what one looks like I guess I could have seen one and not known the difference.

For the most part the trail was sand covered by pine needles....but this quarter mile stretch was like walking on beach sand....but without the sea breeze.....remember it was 90+ degrees.....can you say "calf burn"?

The last 3/4 quarter mile of the trail took us through a much more mature forest....taller, older trees....and as we were now walking westward we picked up a nice river breeze in our face....but for my hot and tired dogs, this was the best part of the hike.

In fact as the sun begin to get lower on the horizon, the interplay of its spotlight on the dry marshland provided a "green glow".

We ended the loop in the Marina parking was getting late....we were tired, sweaty and hungry, but very satisfied  that we found an enjoyable hike....even at the was not as pretty as Linville Gorge... but I did get to see a part of our State that I had not seen before.

As I paused to take one last picture of the sunset over the Cape Fear, a lone seagull flew over and headed down the river....proving once again that the wonder of the creation that God has provided us is amazingly beautiful....if we but take time to appreciate it!

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