Innovative Sonar Sensor Provides New Detailed Image of Civil War Blockade Runner Shipwreck Agnes Fry off North Carolina Coast

A sonar image of the Agnes E. Fry.
Kure Beach

State of the art technology has yielded an image with unprecedented detail of the recently located wreck of the Civil War blockade runner Agnes E. Fry. EMS Special Operations divers from the Charlotte Fire Department and sonar experts from Nautilus Marine Group (NMG) provided assistance to state archaeologists with the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and the International Institute of Maritime Research to record the entire wreck site with a digital, sector scanning sonar. 

"The use of the digital sector scanning sonar to make the acoustic images enabled us to detect objects not visible with the side scanning sonar we used to find the wreck," Deputy State Archaeologist Billy Ray Morris explained. Capt. J.D. Thomas of the Charlotte Fire Department Special Operations/EMS Command and a team of five search and rescue divers assisted the state's maritime archaeologists last week.

The shipwreck was discovered Saturday, Feb. 27, during a search for the ships lost during the Union campaign to blockade the port of Wilmington during the Civil War. The wreck is the remains of one of the blockade running steamers used to penetrate the wall of Union naval vessels blocking the entrances to the Cape Fear River and the port of Wilmington. The goal of the Union blockade was to keep supplies from reaching the Confederacy through one of its most important ports and to prevent the export of cotton and other marketable items by the Southerners.

A very detailed sonar mosaic in extremely high resolution has been produced after post processing by NMG. Further analysis of the new sonar imagery will allow UAB archaeologists to create a research plan for further investigations of this well preserved blockade runner.

Difficult diving conditions on-site will compel the researchers to create a series of methodological approaches to continue exploration of the Agnes E. Fry wreck. The investigation of Agnes E. Fry is part of a major project is funded by the National Park Service through the American Battlefield Protection Program Grant.

In addition to personal items possibly left behind by the crew, an eye witness account of the vessel's loss clearly states that none of the ship's cargo was salvaged by the Confederate troops defending the entrances to the Cape Fear River. A deck light, a possible homemade knife handle and a coal sample have been recovered from the shipwreck. Agnes Fry was run aground on 27 December 1864.

For additional information, please call (910) 458-9042. The Underwater Archaeology Branch in the Office of State Archaeology is within the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

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