Saturday, March 27, 2010

U.S.S. Batfish - The Oklahoma Submarine

One of the most remarkable sights in the South is the U.S.S. Batfish, a famed World War II submarine that sits high and dry in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

Commissioned in 1943, the Batfish was named for a ferocious West Indian fish and lived up to its name in combat against the forces of Imperial Japan. Credited with sinking 15 Japanese vessels, the Batfish earned lasting fame late in the war when it destroyed 3 enemy submarines in 76 hours. The record stands to this day as a landmark in naval warfare.

When the war ended, the Batfish became part of the large U.S. "mothball" fleet of vessels no longer needed by the peacetime navy. By the late 1960s, she had deteriorated badly. An effort developed in Oklahoma, however, to save a World War II submarine. The effort originally focused on the U.S.S. Pirahna, but she proved too badly deteriorated. The Navy, instead, recommended the Batfish.

Towed from Texas up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers in 1972, the submarine was moved into its current position at Muskogee during the extremely high water of 1973. The sub now sits high and dry, 30 feet above the normal stage of the Arkansas River.

The Batfish is the centerpiece of Muskogee's noteworthy War Memorial Park. To learn more, please visit

Friday, March 26, 2010

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park - Appomattox, Virginia

While the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House did not end the Civil War, it did start the final collapse of the Confederate cause.

The sites where Lee's army fought its last battle and where he met Union General Ulysses S. Grant to surrender are now preserved as part of Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Located two miles outside Appomattox, Virginia, the park preserves the historic town of Appomattox Court House where the closing scenes of the war in Virginia took place.

Retreating south across the Virginia countryside, Lee reached Appomattox Court House on the afternoon of April 8, 1865. Grant's forces had forced the Confederates to evacuate their positions at Petersburg, a withdrawal that forced President Jefferson Davis and the Southern government to flee the capital of Richmond. As Lee retreated, Grant pursued him with relentless tenacity. By the time the Confederate general reached Appomattox, key parts of his army had already been cut off and captured.

As his army camped in the fields and pastures around the little town of Appomattox Court House on the night of April 8th, Lee knew he was surrounded but thought that only cavalry was in the vicinity. He ordered General John B. Gordon to attack at dawn on the 9th, believing that he could cut his way through and open a way for the army to reach supplies and rail transportation. His plan was to form a junction with General Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina and continue the war.

The attack took place as planned and Gordon drove through two lines of Union cavalry to capture an important ridge. Once there, however, he could see two corps of Grant's infantry forming for action. He informed Lee that there was nothing more he could do.

The realization that he could not break through hit the Confederate commander hard and he told his generals and staff that nothing remained for him to do but to go meet with General Grant. "I would rather die a thousand deaths," he said.

The two met at the Wilmer McLean house in Appomattox Court House that afternoon and Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. The move started the full collapse of the Confederate military effort.

To learn more about Appomattox Courthouse, please visit

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Historic Sites of Southport, North Carolina

The charming old city of Southport overlooks the historic Cape Fear River on the coast of North Carolina and serves as a gateway to one of the most fascinating areas of the South.
Southport got its start in 1745 when the British built Fort Johnston there to guard the entrance to the Cape Fear and protect the important upriver port of Wilmington. Because river pilots were then needed to guide ships into the harbor, a small community grew under the shelter of the guns of the fort. Over time the pilots and their families were joined by traders and others and by the time of the American Revolution a small village had grown up around Fort Johnston.

In 1792, the village was incorporated as the town of Smithville, a name that it kept until 1887 when the city renamed itself Southport. It served as the county seat of Brunswick County until 1975, when the seat of government was moved following a hotly contested referendum.

Southport now stands as a charming and historic city overlooking the waters of the Cape Fear. It is rich in historic sites and served as the setting for the popular 1980s movie, "Crimes of the Heart." The city also is a gateway to the historic lower Cape Fear region. Ferries connect the waterfront with nearby Bald Head Island as well as historic Fort Fisher across the river.

To learn more about Southport and its historic sites and points of interest, please visit

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Oak Island Lighthouse - Caswell Beach, North Carolina

The Oak Island Lighthouse is the newest of the more than one-half dozen lighthouses that dot the North Carolina coast.

Completed in 1958 using unique poured concrete construction, the 148-foot tower was once the second brightest lighthouse in the world. The last in a series of towers built at the mouth of the Cape Fear River to help guide ships through the often turbulent waters of Cape Fear, the lighthouse is still active and the beacon is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Oak Island Lighthouse itself, however, is now owned by the Town of Caswell Beach, North Carolina. The grounds are open to the public daily and feature nice views of the lighthouse tower as well as a boardwalk leading to the beach and observation platform. The Friends of the Oak Island Lighthouse will resume their Wednesday and Saturday tours on May 26th. The tours continue through the summer, but do not operate during the winter months. One note, the tours go only to the second level of the lighthouse, not all the way to the top.

The lighthouse grounds provide views of some of the most historic waters in America. The notorious pirates Blackbeard and Stede Bonnett once prowled the lower Cape Fear and the river was the last major port for Confederate blockade runners.

To learn more about the historic Oak Island Lighthouse, please visit

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

U.S.S. North Carolina - Battleship of the Wilmington Waterfront

The view across the Cape Fear River from the waterfront of the historic city of Wilmington, North Carolina, is dominated by one of the most famous warships in American history - the battleship U.S.S. North Carolina.

Built as the United States warily watched World War II cover the glove, the North Carolina was commissioned just months before Pearl Harbor as a state of the art fast battleship. The most powerful weapon in the world when she was launched, the battleship was sent to the Pacific front, where she took part in every major naval campaign in that sector of the war.

By the time World War II ended, the U.S.S. North Carolina and her crew and earned 15 battle stars. The ship's massive array of guns downed at least 24 enemy aircraft and took part in nine bombardments of Japanese shore positions. In her role as escort for the vital American carrier U.S.S. Enterprise, she was credited with saving the Enterprise and hundreds of her crewmen by shattering an attacking force of Japenese planes with severe anti-aircraft fire.

These are just the highlights of the North Carolina's remarkable six year career as an active American warship. Now a museum and memorial to North Carolina's World War II veterans, the ship is a remarkable attraction easily accessible from Wilmington and the entire Cape Fear region. To learn more, please visit

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spring Break Destination #1 - Eden Gardens State Park, Florida

Since many of you will be heading for the coast on Spring Break family trips over the next few weeks, I thought I would spend some time spotlighting some of the places along the coast that I really enjoy to give you some options when the sunburns get a bit too bad for the beach!

One of my favorites is Eden Gardens State Park in Point Washington, Florida. Point Washington is a charming little community on the Emerald Coast between the mega resort areas of Destin and Panama City Beach.

Eden Gardens is a beautiful state park that becomes one of the most spectacular places in the Deep South when the gardens move into full bloom later this month and in April. Centered around the historic Wesley Mansion, the gardens were created in the 20th century to accentuate the old homes beautiful waterfront setting.

Visitors to the park can tour the old house, which was built during the post Civil War era by a lumberman who run mills near Choctawhatchee Bay that converted virgin timber floated down the Choctawhatchee River into lumber. It is said that he based the design of the house on a mansion where he found shelter while returning home from serving in the Confederate army. The mansion was remodeled to its present almost antebellum form in later years.

The gardens surround the old mansion, complete with statuary and water features, and visitors can walk peaceful pathways through the beautiful blooms and greenery.

To learn more about Eden Gardens, please visit

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jekyll Island Historic District - Jekyll Island, Georgia

One of the most remarkable historical settings in the United States can be found at the Jekyll island Historic District on Georgia's beautiful Jekyll Island.

The historic district preserves the structures and grounds of the Jekyll Island Club, once the most exclusive private club in the world. The Jekyll Island Club was formed in the 1880s by a group of America's most wealthy and powerful individuals. Among the original founders of the club were J.P. Morgan, Marshall Field, Joseph Pulitzer and William K. Vanderbilt.

For decades, the Jekyll Island Club was one of the focal points in the social lives of America's rich and famous. It was from here that the president of AT&T placed the first international telephone call and it was on Jekyll Island that a group of the nation's top financial leaders crafted the outline of what would eventually become the Federal Reserve.

The turbulent years of the first half of the 20th century, however, spelled an end to the Jekyll Island Club. The World Wars, Great Depression and the dramatic progress realized in means of transportation and communication made the beautiful isolation of the island on the Georgia coast a thing of the past for America's elite. The State of Georgia purchased the entire island during the late 1940s for less than one million dollars.

Jekyll Island today is a playground for people of all walks of life and the former clubhouse and "cottages" of the millionaires who once vacationed there are preserved for future generations. To learn more, please visit

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fort Fanning Historic Park - Fanning Springs, Florida

One of Florida's newest preserved historic sites also demonstrates how even small communities can turn historical points of interest into nice focal points.

Fort Fanning Historic Park is a city-owned facility in Fanning Springs, a community of fewer than 1,000 residents perched atop a bluff overlooking Florida's historic Suwannee River. The park preserves the site of Fort Fanning, an important fort of the Second Seminole War.

Built in 1838, Fort Fanning guarded a key crossing of the Suwannee River and also served as a base of operations for U.S. Army troops fighting against Creek and Seminole warriors in the swamps of the Suwannee valley. At least 31 soldiers died at the fort during its years of occupation, all but three of them from sickness.

The sites of very few forts of the Second Seminole War survive and can be visited by the public today, a fact that makes Fort Fanning such a unique feature for North Florida. The park features the restored gates and a section of stockade wall of the fort, paved walking paths and a series of scenic overlooks that provide beautiful views of the Suwannee River. Just across U.S. 19 is Fanning Springs State Park, home to natural spring that feeds the famed river.

To learn more, please visit

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Brierfield Ironworks Historical State Park - Brierfield, Alabama

On March 31, 1865, Union troops destroyed one of the most important industrial facilities in the South. General James H. Wilson's raid was then sweeping south through Alabama and the Bibb Naval Furnaces at Brierfield were one of his primary targets.

A major source of iron for the production of Confederate cannon and ironclad warships, the Bibb Furnaces were defended by a regiment of Confederate cavalry from the command of Brigadier General Phillip D. Roddey. In addition to two furnaces, the complex also included a rolling mill and other facilities necessary for the mass production of iron. The complex supplied the major Southern manufacturing facilities at Selma and Brierfield iron was considered excellent for the casting of heavy Brooke cannon.

As Wilson pushed south through the Alabama iron country, he targeted much of the region's industrial capacity. After taking Montevallo, an important community south of today's Birmingham, he ordered Colonel Frederick Benteen and the 10th Missouri Cavalry to destroy the Bibb complex at Brierfield.

Benteen attacked the Confederate troops defending the furnaces on March 31, 1865, driving them back in a brief but sharp encounter that is remembered today as the Skirmish or Battle of Brierfield Ironworks. Then, as the Southern troops watched from a distance, the Union soldiers destroyed the massive complex.

The ruins of the Bibb Naval Furnaces are now preserved at Brierfield Ironworks Historical State Park, an absolutely beautiful facility that also offers cabins, a lodge, camping, picnicking, walking trails, a variety of preserved historic structures and a wide range of other recreational opportunities. To learn more, please visit