FORT FISHER, NC (WECT) - Beyond the beautiful beaches of Pleasure Island, and below the surf, sit relics of our nation’s rich history.
Three dozen sunken Civil War vessels litter the coastline. One of them is the blockade runner Condor.
Sitting 700 yards off the coast of Fort Fisher and 25 feet below the surface, the Condor is considered one of the best preserved Civil War blockade runners in the world. The ship is marked by two white buoys visible from the beach.
Built in Scotland to be one of the fastest ships to run the blockade, the Condor was out on its maiden voyage when it ran aground Oct. 1, 1864. The only person to die in the shipwreck was Rose O’Neal Greenhow, one of the most celebrated spies for the Confederacy.
After publishing a memoir in Europe, Greenhow was headed home aboard the Condor, carrying gold from her book sales, but she never made it to shore.
“The legend of course is that it was the gold that pulled her under,” said Billy Ray Morris, a state deputy underwater archaeologist.
Greenhow was laid to rest in Wilmington’s historic Oakdale Cemetery.
In June 2017, the wreck was designated North Carolina’s first Heritage Dive Site, highlighting a small part of the rich history right off our shore. Morris spearheaded the effort.
“She was incredibly well preserved,” Morris said of the Condor. “The entire vessel is there. Both engines, the air pump are still connected to the paddle wheel shaft and the paddle wheels are still there, and you can swim under all of it. She was built at 222 feet and there’s 218 feet, 6 inches of her left.”
In all, Morris says the waters of the Cape Fear area are home to 36 sunken American Civil War vessels.
“In terms of mid-19th century marine technology, we have the best collection of shipwrecks anywhere in the world," Morris said. "And for the American Civil War, there’s nothing that comes close to comparing with what’s here.”
Those who are interested in exploring the Condor can dive the site from June to November.
However, Morris said the best times are late April, early May and October and November. The colder temperatures during those months prevent algal and plankton blooms in the water.
“Go out and look at this,” Morris said. “This is everybody’s heritage. This is shared by everybody.”