“…you promise forgiveness to all who will repent…”

By late August and early September 1864, the Confederate field armies were slowly losing their ability to counter the Union offensives in both eastern and western theaters. The push to quickly end the war in 1862/1863 bled the Confederacy down to the bone, making it more difficult to rebound from a defeat by replenishing both manpower and supplies. Confederate regiments and battalions simply did not have enough men even to cover the frontage needed for a line of battle in normal formation for infantry brigades and divisions. To counter this growing deficiency, the Confederate Congress passed a series of three conscription acts to pull men into the armies to maintain the level of efficiency seen in the victorious Confederate armies of 1862/1863. Unfortunately, these acts exposed flaws in Confederate political support in states like North Carolina, where support for secession had only marginal approval by the electorate. By 1863, many states like North Carolina had pockets of rebellion of white male population simply refusing to enlist or be conscripted for military service, and in many cases, physically resisting any attempt to force them to serve.

By 1864, many supporters of the Confederacy saw North Carolina as the main culprit in inability to generate enough manpower to rejuvenate staggering Confederate losses on the battlefield. They pointed to the rise of the peace movement in the state and the growing political support of William Woods Holden. In addition, clandestine Unionist organizations, such as the Heroes of America, were forming chapters in many Tar Heel piedmont and mountain counties. North Carolina Governor Zebulon Baird Vance saw that North Carolina was losing the public relations battle with other Confederate states and the Confederate government itself, and attempted to show that North Carolina was a willing and enthusiastic supporter of Southern Independence. He used his brilliant oratory skills to proclaim his support for the Confederacy during his gubernatorial campaign, and to note the sacrifices of North Carolinians on the battlefield to other Confederate national and state officials.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee issued General Orders, No. 54 on 10 August 1864 in an effort to entice military deserters back to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. This general order was an offer of amnesty to those wayward soldiers to return back to General Lee’s army. In the past, executions and other forms of punishment were used to keep soldiers in the ranks, but those techniques did not always work with soldiers facing the prospect of death on the battlefield for a perceived losing cause. To bring former soldiers back into the ranks of his rapidly diminishing army, General Lee attempted to appeal to deserters’ senses of honor and desire to support their comrades in arms. Fourteen days later on 24 August 1864, Governor Vance issued his own proclamation to bring those disaffected North Carolina soldiers back into the ranks. As with General Lee, Vance attempted to appeal to soldiers’ sense of honor, but also asked for his fellow citizens and local officials to aid in this drive to bring soldiers back. Vance’s proclamation was also a veiled threat: “…I hope by timely submission they will spare me the pain of hunting down guilty felons many brave and misguided men who have served their country well and could do so again.”

In Wilmington, N.C., Private Thomas Hansley, Company H, Fortieth North Carolina Troops (3rd N.C. Artillery), was in military prison for attempting to desert from the Confederate forces in and around the Port City. He tried to board a blockade runner heading for Nassau, but was discovered and imprisoned by Confederate authorities. In his letter dated 3 September 1864, he wrote Governor Vance asking for clemency from his charge of desertion based on the recent proclamation of amnesty. He cited personal issues with his company commander, which he claimed forced him to attempt to desert the Confederate army. He wrote “All I ask is one chance more to show that I can be a good soldier…” Hansley’s appeal was successful, and he was released from military prison by December 1864. He rejoined his regiment, and served in the upcoming military campaigns for control of Cape Fear River in early 1865. He was captured at Fort Anderson on 19 February 1865, and was sent to the U.S. Military Prison at Point Lookout, Maryland. He survived his captivity and was released on 13 May 1865.

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Treasures of the Archives: “Tar Heel fight”

[This blog post was written by Debbi Blake, Collection Services Section Manager for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

On August 28, 1864, Major Joseph A. Engelhard wrote a letter to “Friend Ruf” in which he described the successful Battle of Ream’s Station, Virginia as a “’Tar Heel fight.”  Engelhard went on to say that Confederate General Robert E. Lee gave thanks to God for these boys.

A graduate of UNC and Harvard Law School, Joseph A. Engelhard was born in 1832 in Mississippi.  He worked with judges in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, and later opened a law practice in Tarboro, North Carolina.  Leaving his practice in May 1861 to serve as assistant quartermaster of the Thirty-third North Carolina Troops under Colonel, then later Brigadier General, Lawrence O’Bryan Branch, Engelhard rose to the rank of major.  He was made assistant adjutant general and transferred to Brigadier General William Dorsey Pender’s brigade.  In May 1863, he became divisional adjutant when General Lee formed the Third Corps, and General Pender was placed in charge of one of the three divisions.  Once Pender fell at Gettysburg, Engelhard was tasked with writing the performance report of Pender’s division during that battle.

Engelhard’s use of the term “Tar Heel” fight comes at the top of the second page of the letter, when he explains that the “brilliant little fight” was made up of all North Carolina troops.  This use of the term “Tar Heel” was one of the first times it was seen written down, although the term seems to be at least common enough that “Friend Ruf” and others would know what was meant by it.  Although there is speculation that the term was used during the Revolutionary War, there is no evidence currently to support it being used before the American Civil War.

The letter, now in the custody of the State Archives of North Carolina, is part of the Treasures of the Archives and is currently housed in our security vault.  A diary that predates this letter by about a year also includes the term and the two additional items that form our “Tar Heel” collection.

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First Wednesdays – “I think it is not honorable war fare.”

During the fifty-second month of the American Civil War, both sides of the conflict were becoming exhausted through the constant combat experienced during summer of 1864. In the past years of the war, engagements were fought, and both armies were then settled back in camp to nurse their wounds. In this particular year, there was no respite for the combatants with active military campaigns being conducted throughout the Confederacy. On the Gulf of Mexico, a Union naval force under the command of Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut had pushed through a Confederate minefield to run past the outer defenses of Mobile Bay to defeat a Confederate naval force and to close off Mobile, Alabama. To the northeast, recently appointed Confederate Lieutenant General John Bell Hood attempted to reverse the fortunes of the Confederate Army of Tennessee by striking the combined Union armies of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman to keep Atlanta, Georgia firmly in Confederate hands. Some 470 miles farther to the northeast, the Union armies of Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, under the leadership of General Robert E. Lee, remained fixed in a military stalemate in and around Richmond, Virginia.

In effort to break the stalemate on the front, members of the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers requested permission from Union Major General Ambrose Burnsides to dig a mine shaft under the Confederate positions to blow a gap, where federal troops can be pushed through to exploit the Confederate defenses. By 23 July 1864, the shaft was completed and 8,000 pounds of gunpowder was packed under a Confederate redoubt named “Elliot’s Salient.” Elements of two infantry divisions from the US Ninth Army Corps were chosen to lead the charge through the planned gap after the explosion. Initially, the African-American Fourth Division was to lead the assault, but just prior to the attack, an exhausted white First Division was chosen instead make the first push through the path of the explosion. Ten days later, the mine was ignited, and the salient simply disappeared in a cloud of falling dirt, men, and equipment. The initial advance of the white troops hesitated, and by the time the Fourth Division advanced in the gap, the Confederate forces had rallied and turned the “Crater” into a killing zone for the Union soldiers.

In his letter dated 7 August 1864, First Sergeant James M. Brooks, Company B, Twenty-Sixth North Carolina Troops (NCT) wrote to Chatham County Sheriff R. B. Paschall of the aftermath of the fighting at the “Crater.” Fortunately, the Twenty-Sixth NCT was not involved in the initial fighting, but was moved quickly over the James River as part of the Confederate efforts to reinforce the sector of the salient. In addition, Sergeant Brooks wrote regarding the current gubernatorial election in North Carolina between Governor Zebulon Vance and William Woods Holden, and the canvassing of votes of the North Carolina regiments in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Despite this initial burst of combat at “Elliott’s Salient,” both sides would soon settle back into the military stalemate on Virginia front.

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Modern Greece

On 19 April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln announced a blockade of the Southern states that were in rebellion, namely Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. Eight days later, he added the states of North Carolina and Virginia to this extraordinary blockade of a sovereign nation cutting off its own ports to put down an internal rebellion. To counter this measure, the Confederacy and private individuals began to use commerce vessels to transport war material and commercial products to the blockaded Southern states. These vessels came to be known as “blockade runners.” These ships soon became extremely specialized in design to take advantage of the shallow drafts of the Southern coastline, and employed camouflage and smokeless coal to disguise themselves from the growing federal blockading fleets. In addition, these ships would use latest naval engineering to generate speed to outrun the U.S. Navy ships stationed outside of Confederate ports.

N.73.12.30 - Courtesy of the  State Archives of North Carolina

N.73.12.30 – Courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina

One of the most iconic images of the “blockade runners” is one that was identified as the Modern Greece, which was run ashore near Confederate Fort Fisher on 27 June 1862 after being chased by the U.S.S. Cambridge near Wilmington, N.C. The Modern Greece was one of the largest blockade runners at that time, and at the time of its grounding, contained roughly a ton of gunpowder, four Whitworth breech loading cannon, Enfield rifled muskets, and a large amount of commercial goods for Wilmington, NC. Roughly one hundred years later, the wreck of the Modern Greece was exposed by a storm, which allowed the excavation of artifacts from the wreckage site. The above painting has adored many book covers and a copy of the painting has also been viewed at the Blockade Runner Museum, which was formerly in operation in Carolina Beach, N.C. in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Recently, some doubt has been raised on whether the ship pictured above is actually the Modern Greece. The ship does resemble the Modern Greece in its size and it’s depiction as a screw propeller steamer. The ship is shown grounded on the beach like the Modern Greece with U.S. Naval Blockaders moving in to finish her off. One of the blockading vessels is shown to be a Canonicus-class monitor similar to the U.S.S. Tecumseh, which was sunk during the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama on 5 August 1864. Unfortunately, none of the monitors of that class were present with the North Atlantic Blockading Fleet in the summer of 1862.

The State Archives of North Carolina was recently asked to determine the origin of the original painting through a patron wishing to use the image for her publication. Through contact with fellow scholars in the Wilmington, N.C. area, it was confirmed that a copy of the painting was displayed in the Blockade Runner Museum in Carolina Beach, N.C. Through additional research, the painting was identified as “The Blockade Runner Ashore” by David Johnston Kennedy dated 1864. The original painting now resides at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York. According to historians at the Roosevelt Presidential Library, President Franklin D. Roosevelt purchased the painting at a bookshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1933. It is not known whether the artist David J. Kennedy had read accounts of the capture of the Modern Greece for his painting, but it is a possible venue for future scholars to explore.

Please join us for our next “Second Mondays” presentation at 12 noon on Monday, 11 August 2014, when Historian Andrew Duppstadt will speak on “Blockade Runners.”

For additional information, please see:


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Exclusive North Carolina Civil War 150th Anniversary Bus Tour Oct. 24-26

[This blog post comes from a Dept. of Cultural Resources press release - you can find other news related to NC Cultural Resources here.]

From the massive amphibious attack on Fort Fisher to the 6,000 acre battlefield at Bentonville to the site of the largest surrender of the Civil War at Bennett Place, there’s so much Civil War history to see in North Carolina.

This October, you can explore five of North Carolina’s major Civil War sites on our exclusive weekend Civil War Sesquicentennial Bus Tour.

Participants will get an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at North Carolina’s best Civil War sites, including on-bus lectures by pre-eminent Civil War historian Mark Bradley. Here are some of the highlights:

  • A curator-led, Civil War-focused tour of the N.C. Museum of History
  • Dinner in the Rotunda of the State Capitol after a Civil War tour of the antebellum site
  • A Fort Fisher “above-the-scenes” tour that provides a bird’s-eye view of the massive fortification and the battles fought there
  • A circa 1865 period meal on the grounds of Bentonville Battlefield, followed by a nighttime Civil War medicine living history program

And much more ‘insider’s’ knowledge will be shared and experienced.

The cost for the Oct. 24-26 tour is $375 per person based on double occupancy and $455 per person for single occupancy by Sept. 15. The cost after Sept. 15 is $395 per person double occupancy and $475 per person single occupancy. Two meals and two hotel stays are included.

Seats are going fast, so register now at ncdcr.gov/CivilWarTour!

For more information, please call Vivian McDuffie at (919) 807-7394 or visit www.ncdcr.gov/CivilWarTour.

About the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources

The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources annually serves more than 19 million people through its 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, the nation’s first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the N.C. Arts Council, and the State Archives. Cultural Resources champions North Carolina’s creative industry, which employs nearly 300,000 North Carolinians and contributes more than $41 billion to the state’s economy.  Learn more at www.ncdcr.gov.

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1901 Confederate Pension Applications

Detail of a pension application for W. N. Gibson (Buncombe County)

Detail of a pension application for W. N. Gibson (Buncombe County), part of the 1901 Confederate Pension Applications digitization project.

If you follow the State Archives blog History For All the People you already know about this ongoing digitization project. But if you missed the announcement last month, here is a bit of Aaron’s original blog post:

The Digital Access Branch has begun uploading the 1901 Confederate Pension Applications to our online Digital Collections. There are over 35,000 applications in this series, and so far 4,500 are already available online. This is an ongoing project, and we will be adding more items throughout the summer and fall.

For this project, the microfilm copies of the pension applications were scanned by staff in the Collections Management Branch. There were approximately 80 reels of microfilm that became 80 digital folders with thousands of images in each one. We then exported the description from MARS and automated the creation of 35,000+ digital folders, one for each application. The folder titles contain the record group and series indicator, the MARS ID number, and the name and county of the soldier. We are currently in the process of matching the digital images from the microfilm to the correct digital folders. Once we have the images placed into individual folders, we can then easily link the images to the description from MARS and upload it all to our Digital Collections. Although the process is time-consuming, we have already exceeded our initial goal of having 10% of the applications online by the end of July…

Currently 11,900 pension applications are available online in the North Carolina Digital Collections.

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July 1864 home front concerns and election

The Confederate victory at Plymouth, N.C. in April 1864 opened the entire Washington, Tyrrell and Hyde County peninsula area of eastern North Carolina to Confederate control.  Under nominal United States control – especially where US troops were garrisoned – since the successful Federal Burnsides Expedition in early 1862, the people in the area exhibited Union sentiments by holding pro-Union meetings, organizing pro-Union trade and contributing men to the North Carolina Union volunteers, termed locally as “Buffaloes.”

Colonel George Wortham of the 50th North Carolina State Troops was the commander in charge of the occupying forces in the region stationed at Plymouth.  Col. Wortham immediately set about garrisoning the peninsula and consolidating Confederate control after the Battle of Plymouth in April 1864.  He rounded up and jailed Union sympathizers and began supporting pro-Confederate trade in the region.

A letter dated 9 July 1864 came to Wortham from Col. Joel Griffin of the 62nd Georgia Cavalry.  Although Griffin was then fighting in Virginia his regiment had operated in North Carolina in 1862 and 1863, recruiting at least three companies from North Carolina men – some from the eastern North Carolina region.  In need of horses and familiar with “Buffaloes” in the peninsula area, Griffin wrote Wortham requesting that his Color Sergeant Jasper Spruill, probably from the peninsula area, be allowed to gather horses from “Buffaloes” for use by Griffin’s cavalry – confiscation.

Later that month Union forces struck at Columbia, the county seat of Tyrrell County, situated on the Scuppernong River.  Confederate efforts to foster trade in the region caught the attention of Union commanders.  Rather than let the goods from such an agriculturally rich region pass easily into Confederate hands the Federals raided the town.  The raid destroyed many goods and infrastructure including the main bridge crossing the Scuppernong River severing the main connection between Columbia and the North Carolina interior.  Thus, the Confederate capture of Plymouth brought the hard hand of war to all occupants of the region.  Moses B. Pitt wrote Wortham on July 13, 1864 to inform him of “enemy” actions.

The state was also preparing for the 1864 gubernatorial election.  Governor Zebulon Vance faced a challenge from newspaper editor William Woods Holden.  Holden was the leader of a nascent Peace Movement seeking to end North Carolina’s participation in the war.  Vance and Holden had been allies in the 1862 election cycle but found themselves on opposite sides of the ending-the-war-by-a-separate-peace issue. The post script of this July 28, 1864 letter shows how important the soldier’s vote was to Vance – like the men at the Post in Tarboro most of the soldiers voted for Vance contributing to his re-election.

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First Wednesdays – “He is a non-combatant & has never borne arms vs. Government.”

In Nineteenth Century America, the civilian population was not to be involved directly with the “dirty business” of the military. There has always been a distrust of a “standing army,” and the civilian population would take steps to make sure that they were separated from the activities of the U.S. Army and Navy. Despite this belief, the U.S. military had always employed civilians to perform tasks such as cooks, laundrywomen, warehousemen, and other activities that freed up soldiers and sailors to perform more important duties. The roles of these civilians (or contractors in the modern-day U.S. Armed Forces) did place them in harm’s way during the American Civil War, and one example can be found at the Battle of Plymouth, North Carolina during April 17-20, 1864.

When it became apparent that the Union garrison at Plymouth, N.C. was going to be besieged by Confederate Brigadier General Robert F. Hoke’s forces, efforts were quickly mounted to remove the civilian population from the threat of the battle. In addition to solders’ wives and children, a number of North Carolina civilians (both African-American and white) were present in the town as employees of the headquarters of the U.S. District of North Carolina, Sub District of the Albemarle. The federal transport Massasoit made two trips to ferry civilians to Roanoke Island to escape the fighting. Soon, the appearance of the Ram C.S.S. Albemarle stopped all Union attempts to evacuate the town through the river.

Union Brigadier General Henry W. Wessells, commander of the sub district, was forced to surrender his command to Confederate General Hoke on April 20, 1864. As a result, a number of civilians found themselves as Confederate prisoners of war. Unlike earlier engagements where civilians were paroled, a number of civilians found themselves on train cars going to Confederate prisons located in Andersonville, Georgia, Salisbury, N.C., and Richmond, Virginia. The Confederate forces refused any attempt to release these civilians, despite Union General Wessells’ attempts to spare them during the surrender negotiations.

On July 8, 1864, Cyrus Waters wrote to Patrick Henry Winston in an attempt to free one of these “civilian” prisoners. At the time of the letter, Winston was serving as the financial agent for North Carolina Governor Zebulon Baird Vance to Confederate government in Richmond, Va. Waters was hoping that Winston might be in position to inform the Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon of the plight of T. S. Everett. Everett, described as “aged federal prisoner,” was captured as a quartermaster clerk in the Union sub district headquarters in Plymouth, N.C., and was currently confined at Camp Sumter, the Confederate Prisoner of War camp in Andersonville, Ga. Despite his several letters to the Confederate War Department and Governor Vance, Waters was never able to get Everett released from prison. On August 30, 1864, Everett died at Camp Sumter, and was buried in grave No. 7320 with a number of other Union prisoners.


M1303_4: Selected Records of the War Department Commissary General of Prisoners Relating to Federal Prisoners of War Confined at Andersonville, Ga, 1864-1865

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First Wednesdays: A North Carolinian’s Experience During the Overland Campaign, Part 4

I apologize for getting behind on this as I had a busy Memorial Day weekend so I decided to delay the next part of Pearsall’s letters until today to coincide with First Wednesday.

George W. Pearsall’s regiment had not seen much action since the 12th of May and his letters of the 18th, 23rd, and the 29th reflected that.  When a Civil War regiment was not fighting, it was often a life of monotony and waiting.  In his letter of the 18th, Pearsall (still at Spotsylvania) narrated a bombardment from the Yankee lines, which were approximately two miles away by Pearsall’s estimation.  Although his regiment was not actively engaged, they still had to suffer in the open the intense cannonading from the Union’s precise and accurate artillery battalions, “which threw the dirt all over” Pearsall.  After just a few minutes of firing, “you cold[sic] not see a man 40 yards for all the smoke” he recalled.  Miraculously, Pearsall claimed that his regiment suffered only one man killed and 200 wounded (presumably minor wounds suffered from shrapnel and flying debris making up the majority of that statistic).

On the 21st of May, Lee’s army finally evacuated the trenches around Spotsylvania Court House to thwart another one of Grant’s flanking movements to the southeast.  The armies next meet at the North Anna River, which Grant intended to ford in several spots in attempt to draw Lee into battle on open ground to protect the approaches to Richmond.  Compared to the fighting of the previous weeks, it was comparatively minor, with isolated spots of serious action.  Pearsall’s regiment was mostly unengaged during the battle, with Pearsall himself in the rear on cooking detail at Hanover Junction, a major railroad hub and supply depot for Lee’s army.  Pearsall guessed (correctly, as it turns out) that the army was withdrawing towards Richmond.  Although it had been more than a week since he had seen action, his regiment had still served on the front lines the entire time, with Pearsall telling his wife that “those lines leavs me broke down”.  He abruptly ends the letter because “old coten is bothering me so I cant write”, contributing a humorous air to contrast his earlier feelings of weariness.

His letter of the 31st revealed that Lee’s army was now “75 miles nerrer Richmond” than they were when the campaign started, as Lee’s army had again withdrew from the North Anna lines to counter another of Grant’s turning movements.  Fortunately for Pearsall and his regiment, it had been three weeks since their last taste of combat, although the interim had not been without danger for him; while serving on picket duty, Pearsall recalled several close calls with opposing Yankee pickets, with shots passing between his legs and under his arm.  He also contends that the army is “all out of money” and he will not draw again until the next day.  He closes by proclaiming his happiness that the crops are doing well for his wife and that he will give some of his pay to his sons, Charly and Billy – “they ar mity smart.”  Earlier in the letter, Pearsall feared that this “fite has hardly begun” and he was fairly accurate; Lee and Grant were on a collision course for the vital crossroads at Cold Harbor.

Read Pearsall’s letter of the 18th here:  http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p15012coll8/id/13523

Read his letter of the 23rd here:  http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p15012coll8/id/13526

Read his letter of the 29th here:  http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p15012coll8/id/13530

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Treasures of the Archives: Fort Fisher Log Book

[This blog post was written by Debbi Blake, Collection Services Section Manager for the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Found in a stack of Civil War-era newspapers in an antique shop in 1989, the Fort Fisher log book was purchased for the State Archives by the Friends of the Archives, the Museum of History Associates, and the Fort Fisher Restoration Committee.  The slim volume contains about 68 entries dating from May 20-November 10, 1864.  The entries include such information as general and special orders, circulars, and specific orders from General Whiting to Colonel Lamb.  They mention 32 officers, 15 enlisted men and 1 free Negro.  Written on the first page of the book are the penciled words, “This Book was found in a bomb-proof in Fort Fisher by Patrick F. Rayan.”  Attached to the page are three pieces of flags that belonged to the Twenty-fifth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry (2) and the Twenty-Second Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (1).

Fort_Fisher_log Book

Vault Collection 16: Fort Fisher Log Book (cover)

The entries themselves run the gamut between the curtailing of all visits into Wilmington, North Carolina due to the yellow fever outbreak to orders to build plank bridges so that troops can more easily pass between guns.  Reading them is fascinating from a historical perspective and is a bit reminiscent of the barrage of announcements made by Radar O’Reilly on “M.A.S.H.”  Many historians have used the log book for studies of Fort Fisher, but scientists have also used it for its entries on the weather during the period.  The Fort Fisher Logbook is part of the “Treasures of the Archives” and is available online.

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