Shipwreck found off N.Carolina believed to be Civil War-era steamer

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) - A shipwreck discovered off the coast of North Carolina is likely one of three Confederate blockade runners known to have been lost in the area, archaeologists said on Monday.

The remains of the iron-hulled steamer were located on February 27 near Oak Island. It would be the first Civil War-era vessel found in the area in decades, said the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology.

Billy Ray Morris, director of the state’s underwater archaeology branch, said he expected to be able to positively identify the 225-foot-long (68-metre) vessel when he leads a dive team to examine it on Wednesday.

“To turn up a new wreck is a pretty big deal,” he said in a telephone interview, adding sonar images showed the vessel to be largely intact.

The shipwreck was located in the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Fort Caswell, about 30 miles (48 km) downstream from Wilmington, according to the state.

Given the wreck’s size, Morris said he suspected it is the Agnes E. Fry, which was used to elude Union naval vessels that sought to keep supplies from reaching the Confederacy at the port of Wilmington during the Civil War.

The city was the last major Atlantic port to remain under Confederate control, before falling to Union forces in January 1865.

Two other blockade runners known to have been lost in the area but never located, the Spunkie and Georgianna McCaw, were shorter in length, Morris said.

“It is almost guaranteed to be one of those three blockade runners,” he said. “This one is spot on for where one of those runners ought to be. It’s the right shape.”

Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Peter Cooney