Skip to main content

Wilmington, NC and the Lower Cape Fear Area During the Civil War

Identifier: SC-MS-026

Scope and Contents

Excerpts of letters, diaries, papers, and published materials comprise the body of this research collection, which relate specifically to Wilmington and the Lower Cape Fear (LCF) during the Civil War. Subjects include troop movements, civilian life, shipping, prisoners of war, and military engagements. Wilmington was the last Confederate port to be captured; blockading and blockade runners and the defense and capture of Fort Fisher are especially well represented. Items of local significance, about which the donors have written, are Confederate salt works and the Wilmington yellow fever epidemic.

The inventory summarizes the contents of some of the subject files and highlights particular items. Lengthy series of letters and the subject headings they are filed in are as follows: William Frederick Keeler to his wife, Anna, written while he was on board the U.S.S. Florida, blockading Wilmington (Blockading, 1863 and 1864); James Ryder Randall, a shipping agent for Power, Lowe & Co. in Wilmington, NC, to his fiancée, Kate Hammond, near Hamburg, SC (Civilian Life, 1863 and 1864); and Lt. George W. Gift, stationed on the C.S.S. Tallahassee at Wilmington, NC, to his wife, Ellen Augusta Shackelford Gift, of Cedar Spring, Early County, Georgia (Blockade Runners Ashore 1864).

Wilmington tax and war tax lists are filed in Civilian Life, 1861 and 1862. Specifically noted in the inventory, under various subject headings, are rosters and muster rolls. There are compilations of data on: deaths attributed to the yellow fever epidemic of 1862 (Yellow Fever, 1862); blockade runners to and from Nassau 1861 – 1864 (Blockade Running, 1864); Federal regiments occupying the LCF 1864 – 1865 (Fall of Wilmington 1865); soldiers captured at Fort Fisher (Prisoners 1865); Wilmington houses built before the Civil War and owner of occupant during the war (Civilian Life No Date); medical officers and doctors, military and civilian (Wilmington Defense No Date); and on soldiers who died in the LCF, one list organized by military company (Prisoners 1865), the other by date of deaths (Soldiers and Letters No Date).

Complete reproductions are included in these papers of two items: Reverend L.S. Burkhead’s “History of the Difficulties of the Pastorate of the Front Street Methodist Church, Wilmington, NC, for the yeah 1865” (Occupation 1865); and S.K. Wightman’s “In Search of my Son,” (Retreat Up River, Federal, 1865), both cited fully in the card bibliography.

Some of the subjects are subdivided to indicate the Confederate and Federal positions. The 1865 files are followed by those bearing no date. Generally, that means no date can be ascertained from the papers or their subject matter. In this group, however, it usually means that the material describes an activity spanning more than one year. The researcher may wish to read these files first, to gain an overall picture of the subject before looking for specific events in that area. There are four drawers of card indexes and files. Access to the excerpts is provided by a card index to subjects. As with the papers, the cards are arranged by year, then alphabetically by subject. However, within each subject, cards are filed alphabetically by originator of papers, as opposed to the chronological arrangement of the papers. In the subject index, one card was frequently used to list several excerpts about a topic found in the same source. However, in the papers these are filed as separate items in a chronological arrangement, so there are frequently fewer index cards than there are excerpts.

Another way to gain access to the papers is through the bibliography of sources (also on cards) read and excerpted. This annotated bibliography shows what subjects (corresponding with the headings used in the subject index) were excerpted from each source and the year of the event. This bibliography is especially helpful if one wishes to research a particular person or family throughout the war. This search will show all subjects the person was involved in. Two other bibliographies are also on cards: sources read but not excerpted and sources potentially useful but not read or excerpted.

There is a card file of biographical data, extracted from diaries, letters, and other papers still in private possession. The biographies are not complete and sources of information are not listed. Prominent persons, for whom published biographical data can readily be found, are not included.

There are also files which identify Confederate military companies stationed in the area locations of the city’s fortifications, and ships (both Confederate and Federal) which were in the vicinity. These files are further defined in the inventory.

There are also maps and a chart, drawn on posterboard. The maps are of the LCF area; the chart shows locations of troops in the LCF throughout the war.


  • Creation: 1855, 1861-1865, undated

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Copyright Statement

Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Historical Note

The donors, Mrs. Isabel Martin Williams and Mrs. Leora Hiatt McEachern, of Wilmington, NC, created the collection, which contains no primary sources. They copied only the portions of works; published and unpublished, in libraries, archives, and in private hands; which related to Wilmington and the Lower Cape Fear (LCF) during the Civil War. Complete bibliographic citations and the location of the original are noted for each excerpt. The generosity of Isabel Williams and Leora McEachern in donating these materials, which they researched, copied, arranged, and indexed, will be appreciated by historians who can more easily trace the Civil War in the Lower Cape Fear region through the use of this guide to resources. This project began when, in 1964, the North Carolina State Civil War Centennial Committee requested Williams and McEachern to write and produce a play commemorating the fall of Fort Fisher. In gathering data, they found there was no organized guide to available literature on their subject. The Junior League of Wilmington provided financial aid to Williams and McEachern for equipment and travel expenses involved in gathering material, then arranging and indexing it. They frequently lectured to publicize their project and to locate private material in private possession. They also searched the North Carolina State Archives, East Carolina University’s Manuscript Collection, Duke University’s Manuscript Collection, and the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Biographical Sketch

The creators and donors of this research collection are Leora McEachern and Isabel Williams, both of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Leora (Billie) Cromwell Hiatt McEachern was born March 4, 1909, the daughter of Kathleen Sadtler and Houston B. Hiatt of Clinton, North Carolina. She attended high school at High Point, North Carolina and attended High Point College, St. Mary's in Raleigh, and Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. On June 6, 1931, Leora Cromwell Hiatt married Edward (Ned) Merritt McEachern. They had a son, Edward Merritt McEachern, Jr. The McEacherns moved to Wilmington in 1951.

Mrs. McEachern served in the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society as Recording Secretary, 1967-69, Assistant Archivist, 1969-73, Editor of its Bulletin 1967-75, and as President, 1973-75. She served as archivist for the St. James Church and as chapter chairperson for ten years. She directed the Children's Theatre, sponsored by the Junior League of Wilmington, for several years. Mrs. McEachern wrote and presented an educational television art series for St. John's Art Gallery in the early 1960s. She was an active member of the Thalian Association Board, the New Hanover County Museum Board, the Duplin County Historical Society, the Lord Craven Chapter of Colonial Dames XVII Century, and the Cape Fear Garden Club.

Billie McEachern taught local history and genealogy courses at the Cape Fear Technical Institute for many years. Through the institute she also taught Extension courses in Burgaw and local history for the public school system in New Hanover County.

Isabel (Debbie) Martin Williams was born January 4, 1921, the daughter of Margaret Grier and William H. Martin of New York, New York. She attended Emma Willard (High) School in Troy, New York, and Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She worked as a radio broadcast engineer from 1942-45 for CBS and the Office of War Information. On December 27, 1943 Isabel Martin married Dr. Robert Wefer Williams and their children are Margaret, Robert Jay, Frederick Martin and Alexander Grier. The Williams moved to Wilmington, North Carolina in 1953.

As a member of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, Mrs. Williams served as its President, 1978-79 and on its board, and worked with Billie McEachern as Editor of its Bulletin 1967-75. In 1960-61 she was President of the Junior League of Wilmington. With its sponsorship, she also wrote children's radio programs for in-school listening and worked with the Children's Theatre for several years. She served on the board of St. John's Art Gallery and initiated an art series for educational television. Mrs. Williams was a board member of the Wilmington Public Library for several years. She served on the state board of the North Carolina Symphony Society and assisted in founding its Wilmington chapter. She also assisted in founding the Thalian Hall Commission, was a member of its original board and served as its second president. She also served on the Board of Directors of the Thalian Association. In 1961-62 she was President of the New Hanover County Medical Auxiliary.

Isabel Williams wrote and adapted children's plays, which have been nationally distributed by the Community Children's Theatre of Twin Falls, Idaho. In 1966 she won the Seattle Junior Programs Competition for her play Festival of the Washing of the Flowers. She has written radio series for children and books and articles of historical interest.

Much of her work on local history was done with Billie McEachern. In 1964, at the State Civil War Centnial  Committee's request, they wrote and directed a play commemorating the fall of Fort Fisher, This is How it Happened. This research led to the correct placement of a historical marker for the State Salt Works, which was in operation during the Civil War. The marker was first placed near Bradley Creek. They began protesting the location in 1973, and working through the North Carolina Archives State Marker Department, were responsible for the rewriting and placement of the marker to its correct location on Highway 132 at Mohican Trail.

In 1975 the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society awared Mrs. Williams and Mrs. McEachern the Clarendon award for historical writing.

Note written by Judith Davis


15 Containers (Contains 10 document boxes, 4 card file boxes, and 1 map case folder)

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

This collection is organized topically within each year of the Civil War. Within each topic, a chronological arrangement is used.

Acquisition Information

This collection was donated by Isabel Williams and Leora McEachern on February 10, 1978.

Related Publications

This collection has been published and is available for researchers in the general collection at Randall Library under the call number F263.3 W542

Digital Access

Portions of this collection have been digitized and/or are born-digital. These items are identified by a black icon beside the item title when browsing via the collection organization hierarchy (to the right in desktop view; on the bottom in mobile view).

To view or access all of the digitized and/or born-digital materials in the collection directly, please select "View Digital Material" in the blue header above, just below the collection title.

Processing Information

Originally processed by Judith H. Davis. In 2014, this manuscript collection was re-foldered and re-housed with current archival standard materials by Kate Edwards.

Wilmington, NC and the Lower Cape Fear Area During the Civil War
Judith H. Davis
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Randall Library Special Collections Repository