WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The Cape Fear river has a battle-tested past, but some of the ships that sailed during the Civil War were built right here in the Port City.
Cassidey’s Shipyard, as it was known, was located at the foot of Church St. along the Cape Fear. James Cassidey had purchased half of the block, built a large home, and was in the business of building ships by 1837.
By the 1860’s, the Civil War was in full swing, and Wilmington needed to disrupt the federal blockade at Fort Fisher so supplies could flow freely to confederate troops. Enter, the C.S.S. Raleigh.
The Raleigh was built at Cassidey’s in 1864, and was an impressive Richmond-class ironclad. This made the ship stand out amongst the wooden ships being used for the federal blockade.
Just one month after it was christened, the 150-ft long ship was on the move down the river on a mission.
"The Raleigh went out on the afternoon of May the 6th, and by the next morning it had pretty much scattered the federal fleet," says Bernhard Thuersam of the Cape Fear Historical Institute.
The success of the ship was seen as a beacon of hope to the troops at the fort. "They were ecstatic," according to Thuersam. "When they came in, the troops in Fort Fisher were reportedly cheering and they fired their guns nine times in salute to the Raleigh."
But the ship’s triumphant display would be short-lived to say the least. While coming in through New Inlet, it ran into a treacherous shoal grounding it. The weight of its armor above crushed the timbers below, and the ship was lost.
By some accounts, had the Raleigh survived it would have been a major tactical advantage for the rebels throughout the war effort.
Of course, the fort, and Wilmington, would eventually fall. When the end was imminent, Cassidey’s Shipyard was torched so that it couldn’t be used by union forces.