One of the best ways to understand a Civil War battle is to study the context and campaign in which it sits. This past week, the Bentonville site staff as well as some volunteers had the opportunity to gain some context surrounding Bentonville and the Carolinas Campaign by touring the Sugar Loaf trenches in Wilmington, NC. The tour was led by Dr. Chris Fonvielle Jr. Professor Emeritus at UNCW, the leading expert on Wilmington in the Civil War.
In Early 1865, Confederate General Robert F. Hoke, under the command of Braxton Bragg built a section of auxiliary trenches meant to protect Fort Fisher and Wilmington. Those lines are known as the Sugar Loaf Lines. They stretch east to west from the Sugarloaf Dune on the Cape Fear River to Myrtle Sound on the Atlantic side of the Federal Point Peninsula. After the fall of Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865 the Union Army turned their sights onto the Sugar Loaf Lines in an attempt to finally capture the Port of Wilmington, the last open Confederate port. The battle of Sugar Loaf was fought February 11, 1865. The Union forces of General Alfred Terry pushed Confederate General Hoke out of his earthworks, which contributed greatly to the ultimate fall of Wilmington. Portions of these armies would meet in March 1865 at the battle of Bentonville.
The first stop made by the group from Bentonville was at the Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. Park in Wilmington. This site is host to a portion of the Sugar Loaf line of earthworks. Dr. Fonvielle explained the importance of the trench line here as well as the important work that went into the preservation of this incredible piece of Wilmington history.
The trenches at Joseph Ryder Lewis Jr. Park are a very well-preserved section of the Sugar Loaf line. The site staff and volunteers were able to learn what it would have been like to winter in these lines around Wilmington. This park is an excellent tool for students of the Carolinas Campaign seeking to understand the fight for Wilmington prior to the battle of Bentonville. The park is well marked with signs and waysides offering excellent information. Click HERE to find out more about the park.
The staff continued the tour, led by Dr. Fonvielle, to Carolina Beach State Park where another well-preserved section of the Sugar Loaf line is visible. Dr. Fonvielle played a key role in discovering and preserving these trenches, which are among the best-preserved in North Carolina.
A portion of the Sugar Loaf lines are accessible from the Carolina Beach State Park walking trails. This position on Sugar Loaf dune looks out across the Cape Fear River towards Fort Anderson, another Confederate fort that would fall in February 1865.
During the trip, site staff and volunteers visited the Battle of Forks Road site at the Cameron Art Museum’s PNC USCT Park. This monument represents the brave soldiers from the 1st, 3rd, and 37th regiments of the United States Colored Troops. It is a powerful art installation that reflects the journey and struggles of these men as they marched towards the fighting around Wilmington. Click HERE to learn more about this monument.
This trip was an excellent opportunity for the site staff and volunteers to gain an understanding of the fighting that led up to the battle of Bentonville. Battles do not happen in a vacuum, in order to fully grasp Bentonville, it is vitally important to understand what came before. Thank you for allowing the staff and volunteers such a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow as historians!
Article by Anna Kulcsar