piecing together clues found on old maps and historic documents, local
historical investigator Mel Covey is confident that he has located a
significant Civil War-era fort on Hatteras Island, as well as the
underwater spot where artifacts were tossed off a fleeing Union
Covey, an island native who grew up in Rodanthe, said
that his familiarity with the island waters and topography has helped
him pinpoint where Camp Live Oak had been built prior to the famed
Chicamacomico Races, when Confederate and Union forces in 1861 chased
each other up and down the beach.
“I do a lot of digging
in my line of work,” said Covey, a Buxton contractor who helped
discover the remains of Fort Clark by Hatteras Inlet in the late 1990s.
By pinpointing where the fort was likely built in turn led him
to locating where the Fanny, the first Union Naval vessel captured in
the Civil War, probably lightened its load to escape pursuing enemy
boats in Pamlico Sound.
A few years ago, Covey explained, he
spotted a Civil War artifact in fill at a site near where he was
working at Mirlo Beach. He investigated and learned that it had come
from property in the village of Waves. That discovery triggered
Covey’s curiosity about the fort, and he began closely examining
numerous maps and historic records from the era.
that all the information he has unearthed so far points to Camp Live
Oak being located at a previously unknown area in Waves.
show that the fort was located near a windmill where live oaks line the
shore. By overlaying maps from different years with aerial photographs
and Civil War historical accounts, Covey said he has found strong
evidence of an earthwork, as well as artifacts that may have originated
from the fortification. Extrapolating from that location, he said he
also figured out where the Fanny most likely dumped its armaments.
Schwarzer, director of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras
and executive director of the North Carolina Maritime Museums, said
that Covey has pulled together “very strong circumstantial evidence” to
support his findings.
“I think he has a good case for this, I
really do,” he said. “I think Mel has raised some good questions, and
they need to be addressed.”
Covey said that a
professional archaeologist who also assisted at Fort Clark excavations
will soon visit the site, and divers with Chicamacomico Banks Fire and
Rescue Department plan to conduct a search for the Fanny artifacts in
According to local historian Drew Pullen, Camp
Live Oak was a Union outpost near Rodanthe established in 1861 to
defend the island from Confederate attempts to recapture it. The
Union commander, Col. Rush Hawkins of the 9th New York Voluntary
Infantry, was concerned that the Confederates would come from Roanoke
Island to try to overcome the occupying Union troops, and assigned Col.
W. L. Brown of the 20th Indiana and his men to keep tabs on the
Southern forces, Pullen wrote in “The Emerging Civil War.”
Oct. 1, 1861, the armed Federal tugboat “Fanny” was captured in Pamlico
Sound by three Confederate steamers while it was trying to deliver
supplies to the encampment. In the process, the Confederates discovered
the location of Camp Live Oak and the Union regiment. A few days
later, both sides engaged in the infamous “Chicamacomico Races.”
Ultimately, the showdown was a draw, and the island remained in Union control.
Covey is right about the fort and the Fanny, “it could be a tremendous
story,” said Earl O’Neal, an author and Civil War historian from
O’Neal, 82, is a board member of Surface
Interval Diving Company (SIDCO), a Beaufort, NC-based nonprofit marine
archaeology company that will be working on the Fanny expedition in
O’Neal, who has discussed the find with Covey, said that
there is something on the floor of the sound that is catching
nets. SIDCO uses sonar and metal detecting devices in its
“Nobody has ever said what it is,” he said. “It’s going to give you the proof if you find the cannon balls.”
location of the search has been determined by narrowing down the likely
latitude and longitude of where the Fanny was when it grounded in
Pamlico Sound several miles offshore the tri-villages and ultimately
forced to lighten its load.
That’s easier said than done.
time they make a new chart, things move around,” said Ken Mason, a
member of the Chicamacomico Banks Fire and Rescue Department and beach
patrol. “He wants us to do a preliminary location of this. We’re
not going to just go out there and bump into this.”
that the search is for a debris field, not a single spot. The
Chicamacomico dive team that he captains will be assisting as part of a
“Right now, we believe we have a fix on an area that is probably 1,000 meters in diameter,” he said.
Schurr, a Civil War historian on Hatteras Island, said that he is
impressed with the potential finds, but he questioned Covey’s
conclusions. He said that his hypothesis would be stronger if he could
verify the dates that the windmills were known to exist in the area and
document the construction of Camp Live Oak by the 20th Indiana.
But Schurr said he remains open-minded that Covey may have discovered new Civil War history.
“There’s something certainly there,” he said. “I think it would be fantastic . . . it’s exciting.
worst thing that could happen is it is not (the fort). And the best
thing that could happen is an opportunity to see if indeed this could
be the real Camp Live Oak.”
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