Recently Discovered Civil War Blockade Runner Tentatively Identified as the Agnes E. Fry Charlotte Fire Department to the rescue with 3D imaging to confirm boat identity

A historical image of Llama, a ship believed to be very similar to Agnes E. Fry
Kure Beach

The location is right. The size is right. The correct pieces of the vessel are missing. These are contributing facts that lead archaeologists with the N.C. Office of State Archaeology to suspect that a shipwreck recorded Sat., Feb. 27, just off Oak Island is the blockade runner Agnes E. Fry, one of three Civil War shipwrecks thought to be in the area. A more sophisticated 3D sonar device will soon come to the aid of the underwater researchers, thanks to the Charlotte Fire Department, to help to confirm this boat's identity.

"As a result of the worldwide media attention that the discovery of the Agnes E. Fry has generated, we have received an incredibly generous offer from Capt. J.D. Thomas of the Charlotte Fire Department Special Operations/EMS Command," says Deputy State Archaeologist Billy Ray Morris. "Through his efforts, the latest version of a 3D sonar imaging device will be available for our use in this archaeological investigation." Capt. Thomas and a team of five search and rescue divers will assist the state's maritime archaeologists the week of April 18.

Says Morris:

Fry was 236 feet long, and the vessel remains we have are 225 feet in length. The other runners, Georgianna McCaw and Spunkie are both considerably shorter and a much earlier design than Fry. The boiler type, as well as the hull design of the wreck are both indicative of a more modern vessel than either McCaw or Spunkie. The difference in the lengths has to do with the damage to the bow and stern.

The initial side scan sonar images were generated during remote sensing operations aboard the IIMR survey vessel, Atlantic Surveyor, Feb. 27. Detailed analysis of this sonar image shows a 225 foot vessel structure with both engines and the paddlewheel shaft missing. This fits precisely with salvage records and the March 22 underwater site inspection.

"Every piece of evidence we have examined to date, from sonar images to primary documentation, points directly to this shipwreck being Agnes E. Fry," concludes Dr. Gordon Watts, IIMR director. "We look forward to working with the Charlotte team to confirm our suspicions." 

Capt. Thomas arranged for the company that provides sonar systems for his dive team to bring the latest version of a sector scanning imaging sonar to the underwater researchers. Brian Abbott, president of Nautilus Marine Group International and the equipment's owner, will accompany the dive team on site to operate the equipment.

"This instrument will allow us to make a complete, multi-dimensional map of the site in a matter of days," Morris explains. "Unlike usual methods, imaging sonar does not require good visibility and is considerably faster than on-site mapping. Visibility underwater on the site is so murky that it rarely exceeds 18 inches." This is the first time this technology will be used in North Carolina on a underwater shipwreck site.

A team of archaeologists from the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Underwater Archaeology Branch and the Institute for International Maritime Research (IIMR) continue to investigate the iron-hulled steamer shipwreck off the N.C. coast. The shipwreck was discovered during a search for the ships lost during the Union campaign to blockade the port of Wilmington during the Civil War. The project is funded by the National Park Service through an American Battlefield Protection Program Grant.

The Underwater Archaeology Branch of the Office of State Archaeology is within the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. 

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