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Underwater archaeology in North Carolina has received a lot of press lately thanks to the Queen Anne’s Revenge project.  But the state’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) actually got its start because of a ship that went down 150 years ago this month—the Confederate blockade runner Modern Greece.

Wreck of the Modern Greece

Painting depicting the wreck in 1862.

A rare tour of the UAB, which is located in Kure Beach, will take place June 27.  The free open house will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a special noontime program at the Oceanside Gazebo at nearby Fort Fisher State Historic Site.   It is a cool chance to see some of the thousands of artifacts recovered from the Modern Greece.

On the morning of June 27, 1862, the doomed blockade runner was spotted near the eastern entrance to the Cape Fear River.  Heavy fire from federal ships forced the ship aground.  To keep the cargo of clothing, cutlery, ammunition, and thousands of rifles out of Union hands, soldiers at Fort Fisher opened fire on the stranded vessel.

Navy divers

Navy divers prepare to explore the wreck in 1962.

The Modern Greece was thought destroyed until 1962, when a storm uncovered the wreckage. Divers found much of the vessel and its cargo intact. Historians and archaeologists from the State of North Carolina and the United States Navy joined forces to recover the artifacts.

When private companies started trying to salvage artifacts, the state stepped in.  A landmark court case led to a statute saying that North Carolina has sovereign right to “all shipwrecks, vessels, cargoes, tackle, and underwater archaeological artifacts which have remained unclaimed for more than 10 years.”

Nathan Henry and rifle

Nathan Henry, Assistant State Archaeologist, displays an Enfield rifle from a treatment tank that holds many more.

Artifacts from the Modern Greece allow people to better understand blockade running and its importance to the Confederacy.  The ship has two anniversaries this year – 150 years since it sank and 50 years since it was discovered.  A Highway Historical Marker commemorating the shipwreck and its importance to underwater archaeology will be erected later this year.

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