DIVING INTO HISTORY:
MORE BLOCKADE RUNNER SHIPWRECKS OFF THE COAST OF WILMINGTON AND BEACHES

By Dr. Gordon Watts, Jr.

 

In addition to the Condor, North Carolina’s first Heritage Dive Site, other dive-worthy blockade runners include Modern Greece, USS Peterhoff, General Beauregard, and Fanny & Jenny. Let’s dive into the history behind them.
 

Modern Greece recovery dive team
 

Modern Greece

Modern Greece was the first British steamer lost off Fort Fisher with a cargo of weapons, ammunition, and raw materials such as lead and tin, tools and utensils. Using highly accurate and long-range Whitworth cannon that was recovered from the wreck by Confederate salvors was key to helping drive blockading Union warships further offshore and away from other stranded blockade runners. Located off the beach just north of Fort Fisher, over 10,000 artifacts were recovered from Modern Greece with assistance from early local divers and the U. S. Navy. Many of those artifacts are now on display at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site.

​USS Peterhoff

The USS Peterhoff was a captured blockade runner converted for duty on the blockade. Peterhoff was rammed by the USS Monticello and sank several miles southeast of Fort Fisher on March 5, 1864. That impressive wreck lies in deeper water than most blockade runners and the visibility is better. A cannon from Peterhoff—a 30-pounder Parrott rifle—was recovered, conserved and is on display on the University of North Carolina Wilmington mall in front of Hoggard Hall. A detailed map of Peterhoff was prepared by archaeologists from the Institute for International Maritime Research in Washington, N.C. with support from the National Park Service. The Peterhoff wreck can be an exciting dive as the steam machinery is virtually intact and much of the hull is exposed and the damage caused by Monticello is apparent on the starboard side aft of the bow. Several cannon remain there as they were leveraged overboard.

USS Peterhoff marker

USS Peterhoff historic marker.

 

General Beauregard

While Condor, Modern Greece and Peterhoff are only safely accessible by boat, several blockade runners can be reached from shore. Under the right conditions, divers and snorkelers can swim out to the General Beauregard in shallow water off Carolina Beach. On some low tides the paddle wheel shaft is visible on the surface and swells can create a distinct boil when tides are higher. When exposed, the engine room is an interesting feature to investigate. Ornate cast iron columns support the paddle wheel shaft. Two side lever steam cylinders and an air pump remain intact below and aft of the shaft. While the stern is buried, the bow forward of the forward cargo hold is exposed.

Built in Scotland, General Beauregard launched as Havelock in May 1858 and operated on the route between Dublin, Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland. After four years the steamer was purchased by the Charleston-based Chicora Importing and Exporting Company and changed the name to General Beauregard. After numerous successful voyages into Charleston and then Wilmington, General Beauregard was chased ashore under the guns of Flag Pond Battery by USS Howquah in December 1863.

General Beauregard shipwreck remains off Carolina Beach

General Beauregard remains visible from shore at low-tide.

Fanny & Jenny

Immediately north of the concrete-capped bulkhead that connects the Wrightsville Beach shoreline with the north riprap jetty, the paddle wheel shaft of the Fanny & Jenny is frequently exposed and accessible to divers and snorkelers. The paddle wheel shaft is almost 40 feet long and the bell cranks that connects it to the pistons.

Fanny & Jenny was built in London and launched as the Scotia before being purchased for blockade-running in December of 1861. By the summer of 1862, Scotia reached Charleston to make runs to and from Nassau until it was captured off the S.C. coast in October 1862 and taken to New York City, condemned by a prize court, and sold at auction to new owners. Renamed the General Banks, the ship made at least one commercial voyage to Halifax, Nova Scotia where her cargo was transferred and the ship was sold. Again renamed, this time Fanny & Jenny, the vessel ran the blockade at Wilmington until February 9, 1864 when it was discovered by the USS Florida. Under fire, the Wilmington pilot panicked and ran Fanny & Jenny onshore near Masonboro Inlet. Crews from USS Florida and other Union vessels attempted to refloat the steamer. Failing that, they attempted to salvage the cargo until a Confederate battery made work on the wreck too dangerous, so the sailors set Fanny & Jenny on fire and scrambled out of range. Under the protection of the Whitworth battery recovered from Modern Greece, Confederate salvors recovered much of what remained on the wreck.

Fanny & Jenny shipwreck off of Wrightsville Beach
Kenny Hand images of Fanny & Jenny

 

In 2013, local paddleboarder Kenny Hand (Kowabunga Surf School owner) was paddleboard-fishing and passed over the wreck site on a day clear enough to see and photograph features of the Fanny & Jenny that are rarely exposed. Like all the blockade runners, you have to be there on the right day!

Ready to dive? Find local dive charters and scuba companies here.

If you missed Part 1 of our Diving Into History series, you can find it here.

Important safety notes:

Since wreck-diving is for experienced divers, visitors are encouraged to contact local dive shops and outfitters. All divers should follow safe scuba-diving practices, never dive or swim alone, and always check weather/surf conditions in advance. Shipwrecks along the NC coast are managed by the N.C. Underwater Archaeology Branch. While diving on the wrecks is open to the public, no disturbance of a shipwreck or recovery of anything is legal without a permit from the state.

 

Related Links:

If you enjoyed this shipwrecks blog, check out these pages and videos:

Fort Fisher State Historic Site: indoor and outdoor exhibits
Cape Fear Museum of History: artifacts and exhibits
Wrightsville Beach Museum of History: programs
North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher: replica of Condor’s engine room inside aquarium tank
Blockade Runner Condor: Starboard Paddlewheel (dive) 
Condor Dive Site in Kure Beach 
Dive the Condor in Wilmington and Island Beaches 
Submerged NC Blog Series

About the Author:

Dr. Gordon WattsGordon P. Watts, Jr., has spent half-a-century working and teaching maritime history and underwater archaeology. After earning his Ph. D. from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, Watts joined the N.C. Division of Archives and History in 1972 as the state's first underwater archaeologist. He later joined Dr. William N. Still at East Carolina University to design and develop the graduate program in Maritime History and Underwater Research. Dr. Watts has been a principal investigator on underwater archaeological research projects throughout the U.S., Mexico, Central America, the West Indies, Bahamas, Bermuda and France. Research projects include the USS Monitor, CSS Alabama, CSS Georgia and others. Today, as the Executive Director of the Institute for International Maritime Research, Inc., and owner of Tidewater Atlantic Research, Inc., Watts continues to research and investigate shipwrecks.