People and Places with Pierce: The CSS Neuse Interpretive Center

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KINSTON, N.C. (WNCT) – “We house the only remaining commissioned Confederate Ironclad above water,” noted Matthew Young, site manager for the CSS Neuse Interpretive Center in Kinston.

Sitting at 158 feet long and 34 feet wide, what remains of the CSS Neuse is remarkable. Even more impressive, the ship’s impact on Civil War history in the East.

“The construction of the Neuse started in November of 1862,” said Morris Bass, operations manager of the CSS Neuse Interpretive Center. “It was an effort by the Confederate government to try and get something that could combat the Federal forces that were down in New Bern.”

“This is all longleaf pine, locally grown, locally harvested,” added Young. “The local Federal navy really had nothing that could stop this ship. So it was very much a deterrent to keep Union troops away from Kinston.”

But the Confederate’s best plans for the ship would end up hitting a snag.

“On her maiden voyage, she goes about a half mile down the river and hits a sandbar,” said Bass. “She stays on that sandbar for about a month and in the middle of May 1864, the river rises enough that they can bring her back to her dock. By March of 1865, everything is falling apart for the Confederacy.”

“She fought at the Battle of Wise Fork in 1865,” said Young. “She shelled Federal positions, and then she received orders to scuttle the ship to prevent it from being captured by Federal troops. So that’s what her crew does. They burn the ship. They blow a hole in the front of it.”

But as with any good story that wasn’t the end of the road for the Neuse.

The remnants of the ironclad sat at the bottom of the Neuse River for nearly 100 years. That is until a group of three businessmen got together with a plan to resurrect this piece of Kinston history.

“Unfortunately, these guys weren’t professionals,” said Bass.

“They destroyed about half the ship while they were trying to raise it though because it was more of a salvage operation than an archaeological recovery,” added Young.

“So it actually took them from 1961 to the summer of 1963 to actually pull the ship up out of the water,” said Bass.

A ship that has found a permanent home at the CSS Neuse Interpretive Center on Queen Street in Kinston.

“I think it’s cool,” exclaimed 10-year old Ace Gaovan. “I can’t believe that’s the real thing. That was years ago and it’s right here.”

“It takes just a little bit of that story that has fascinated people for over 150 years, the American Civil War, and shows how Kinston played such a part,” said Bass.

It’s a story that lives on thanks to the vision of three pioneering businessmen.

Pierce is always looking for interesting and unique people and places to visit. If you have an idea, send him an email or a message on Facebook or Twitter.

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