Civil War Blockade Runners: During the War between the States, the Confederate States of America possessed only a very small navy. The Confederate force could not hope to drive off the powerful blockading squadrons of the United States Navy, which would have rapidly brought the Confederate armies to their knees for lack of arms and ammunition. The South was rich in agriculture but extremely poor in manufacture.
Since necessity is the mother of invention, the rebels presented a solution: the blockade runners. They were very fast and very sleek ships, some possessing folding smokestacks and camouflage paint. These ships were designed to outrun the Union warships and to sneak through the blockade on foggy or stormy nights.
The area from the mouth of the Cape Fear River down to Sunset Beach and Tubbs Inlet saw a good deal of naval action between blockade runners of the Confederacy and gunboats of the Union Navy.
On September 24, 1863, the blockade runner Elizabeth was sunk by gunfire from a Union gunboat directly off Holden Beach. On January 4, the blockade runner Bendigo tried to run the warship gauntlet of the North and was sunk about two miles off Lockwood Folly Inlet.
The blockade runner Vesta was sunk off Tubbs Inlet on January 10, 1864, fleeing from a gunboat while trying to enter the inlet.
During the Civil War, Tubbs Inlet was a major outlet into the Atlantic. It has since shoaled over and can be navigated only by small boats at high tide.
A Union gunboat, the Iron Age, and a blockade runner, the Ranger, were both sunk in an encounter off Lockwood Folly on January 11, 1864.
Storms and shifting sands have destroyed most of the sunken vessels, but the Vesta’s iron works were visible for many years directly off the mouth of Tubbs Inlet at Sunset Beach. In the 1960s it could still be seen through the slats of the Sunset Beach pier.
Several times each year when the ocean is affected by unusually high and low tides, the wooden keel of the blockade runner Ranger is exposed at low tide, off Holden Beach.
The sands of North Carolina’s beaches have hidden many secrets over the ages.