Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sonar May Have Turned Up a Long-Lost Confederate Civil War Ship, the Agnes E. Fry

WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA, was the Confederacy’s last port. During the Civil War, blockade runners that evaded the Union navy were one of the Confederate army’s few lifelines. But maneuvering a small, fast ship in the dead of night was hard as it sounds, and many of them didn’t make it. Archaeologists now think they’ve found the shipwreck of one of those long lost blockade runners off Wilmington: the Agnes E. Fry.

At least they’re “99 percent sure” it’s the Agnes E. Fry, says archaeologist Billy Ray Morris—this being an extremely old boat under extremely dark waters. The last one percent of uncertainty will be worked out next week, when divers descend to the shipwreck with a sonar machine to map the shipwreck in glorious 3D detail.

The search for Agnes E. Fry is part of a larger effort to map the underwater artifacts of Civil War battles. When Morris, deputy state archaeologist for North Carolina, and Gordon Watts, director of the Institute for International Maritime Research, recently resurveyed the waters around North Carolina, they found previously mapped shipwrecks were more exposed than ever—likely due to dredging in the river that feeds into the Atlantic near Wilmington. Three blockade runners had wrecked off the coast near Oak Island but never been found. What if they too were newly uncovered?

So the archaeologists ran their survey boat around Oak Island. The boat carried a magnetometer—think a metal detector that can detect distortions in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by a ship’s iron hull. And then it had a...
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