Special report: Out of the past - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Special report: Out of the past

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Reported by Jon Evans - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - History books document what happened in America's past, but part of what's been written about the Civil War may have to be written again.

A Wilmington man has discovered family letters and other documents, some dating back more than 150 years, that paint a picture of war-time Wilmington.

"It's one of the most important collections we've ever received," said librarian Beverly Tetterton.

Bev Webb's family donated a treasure trove of history dating back three generations to the New Hanover County Public Library.

"I think it's fascinating," said Webb.  "Not only does it tell about family, but what was happening before, during and after the war."

Hundreds of letters and documents from the 1860s reveal the life and times of the wealthy Cowan family, who lived along the banks of the Cape Fear River in current-day Brunswick County.

The letters hold first-hand tales of their struggle to leave "Old Town Plantation" for safety inland, as the union troops began to march up the Cape Fear Coast.

"What you have is a family that is fleeing, taking all the silver and trying to get to Pittsboro, desperately," said Tetterton.

One of the letters in the collection is written by James Cowan, who stayed behind at the site of Old Town Plantation while his family left.

As the battle of Fort Fisher raged on, James wrote to his family about hearing the cannon fire on that night in history.

There are also original photographs and materials once belonging to Confederate Captain Claudius B. Denson, a Duplin county man who married Mr. Webb's great aunt Mary Matilda.

Denson's love letters from the Virginia front are written with impeccable penmanship, at times narrating tales of confronting enemy troops.

A hand-written parchment listing the men of "Company E", commanded in battle by Captain Denson is one discovery that will re-write history.

"According to this book, no company muster rolls have ever been found for the period, and there it is," said Tetterton.

Thanks to the Webb family the 150-year-old document will be able to give future generations a glimpse into how part of Wilmington's past unfolded.

Tetterton from the New Hanover County Library said it will be a few months before all of the letters and documents are set up in a formal display, but anyone can stop by the downtown Wilmington library to see the letters in person before then.


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