By Ben Steelman - Star News Online
A coalition of local historians and archaeologists is banding together to celebrate the heritage of a Civil War blockade runner.
Under pursuit by Union warships, the 520-ton steamer Modern Greece ran aground off Fort Fisher on June 27, 1862, and was sunk to evade capture – 150 years ago this summer.
For decades, the wreck was thought to have been totally destroyed. In the spring of 1962, however, a storm uncovered the wreck in 25 feet of water, just 300 yards offshore.
Beginning that summer 50 years ago, divers from the U.S. Navy and what was then the state Department of Archives and History spent two years exploring the Modern Greece, recovering a treasure trove of military artifacts.
"That was basically how the Underwater Archaeology Branch got started," said Mark Wilde-Ramsing, assistant state archaeologist and director of the branch, a division of the state Department of Cultural Resources based at Fort Fisher.
The British-owned Modern Greece had been bound for Wilmington with a cargo of Whitworth cannon, Enfield rifle-muskets, bayonets, bullets, hand tools, cutlery, medicine and other items meant for Confederate forces.
Much of that cargo was salvaged in the weeks after the 210-foot-long vessel sank, but much remained. Twentieth-century divers recovered thousands of wood, metal and glass artifacts.
The trove provided a wealth of laboratory samples on how to treat and preserve items that had been submerged for a century, Wilde-Ramsing said.