02/01/04 — Seven Springs breaks ground on CSS Neuse replica

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Seven Springs breaks ground on CSS Neuse replica

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 1, 2004 2:02 AM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- Volunteers committed Friday to building a replica of the C.S.S. Neuse, a Civil War ironclad boat that was built along the banks of what is now called Seven Springs.

Students, town leaders and volunteers gathered at the town's park for a groundbreaking event, but with no shovels. But what the crowd of about 20 people lacked in shovels, it made up for in enthusiasm and imagination.

The replica will be 32 feet long, said the crew leader, Danny Carter, who is a contractor and a member of the Seven Springs Town Board of Commissioners. The boat's deck will sit atop wood chips and be held in place by a low wall. It will look as if it's sitting in the water, and the children who come to play on it will walk across a ramp to get to it, he said. Materials will be delivered Tuesday, Carter said.

The first volunteers on the site were students in the Spring Creek High School FFA and their adviser, Chris Stewart. Town board members and the mayor, Jewel Kilpatrick, were also on hand to celebrate the beginning of a fun addition to the park that will also commemorate the town's history.

Even the town's resident historian, Bobby Mozingo, was present. He said he's glad to see the replica come to Seven Springs. "I will help in any way I can to help save the history of Whitehall," he said.

Whitehall is the name the village had when the CSS Neuse was built on the river at the edge of town. When North Carolina became the last southern state to secede from the Union May 20, 1861, Whitehall became the site of a Confederate shipyard.

The ironclad CSS Neuse was one of 22 such gunships commissioned by the Confederate Army. After it was built in Seven Springs of timber taken from local forests, it was floated down the river to Kinston where it was to be decked out in armor before steaming to the ports to help menace the blockading ships of the Union navy.

Before it was finished, the town was nearly destroyed in the Battle of Whitehall on Dec. 15 and 16, 1862. The battles were part of a Union campaign to destroy the railroad supply line at Goldsboro. The campaign culminated in the Battle of Goldsborough Bridge, which is being re-enacted this weekend in Waynesborough Historic Village off U.S. 117 South (see story on 1A on the battle and photographs above.)

The Union Army entrenched on the hill overlooking the Neuse River, while the Confederates held the north bank of the river. Both sides claimed victory.

The boat barely escaped the torch and was sent to Kinston after the battle to be fitted with iron. After some delays, the boat was finished, but it was set on fire shortly thereafter as Union troops advanced on Kinston. It was scuttled to keep the Union troops from taking it.

The CSS Neuse replica will be built out of arsenic-free timbers like the wood used in the Kids World Playground in Mount Olive. The deck will be of a splinter-proof composite that looks like real wood. A drafting class at Wayne Community College helped with the design.

"Our hope is that it will be a community project, not just a school project," said Stewart, who expects to finish the job in two or three weeks. He said volunteers are welcome to help.

"No experience is necessary," he said. "We can show them what they need to do."