Museum to honor black troops' service in Civil War's Battle of Forks Road
By HUNTER INGRAM | Star-News | Published: February 26, 2020
WILMINGTON, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — After Union forces captured Fort Fisher and bombarded Fort Anderson in the winter of 1865, history tells that the Confederate stronghold of Wilmington fell and the Civil War came to a close soon after.
What is often left out of that domino effect is the last battle to happen before Wilmington was seized, one that was unique in an important way.
The Battle of Forks Road was a small, but pivotal, skirmish on Feb. 20 and 21, 1865, on the site that is now home to the Cameron Art Museum. More important, the Union's charge at the battle, which delivered the final blow to Wilmington's defenses, was primarily led by 1,600 U.S. Colored Troops.
"To me, the site represents the place where the last battle for possession of Wilmington occurred," said historian Chris E. Fonvielle Jr. "But in the Wilmington campaign, the Union army that advanced on the city and fought at Forks Road was led by the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), and that was unusual. That to me is very significant."
Many of the men who fought in the USCT would eventually make a home in the area and contribute to the post-war culture of Wilmington and the region.
Although it doesn't always get the attention of the engagements at Fort Fisher and Fort Anderson, the Battle of Forks Road will get its moment of recognition this Saturday at the Cameron Art Museum's free event commemorating the service of those who fought on its grounds.
The annual event, which will run 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., will feature USCT reenactors from Tryon Palace in New Bern and Battery B demonstrating Civil War-era soldier camp conditions and what life what would have been like for these soldiers.
At 1 p.m., Fonvielle will host a presentation of the history of the Forks Road site and the role of the USCT. He will also sell and sign copies of his new book, "Glory at Wilmington: The Battle of Forks Road." The book can also be purchased at www.chrisfonvielle.com.
A documentary about the site, directed by CAM deputy director Heather Wilson and Adam Alphin, will screen every half hour in the museum. At 2 p.m., the 20-minute short film "The Face of Lincoln," about the famous bronze sculpture of the 16th president, will also screen, with a post-screening presentation of a cast of the sculpture by John Short and Clell Hamm of the North Carolina Gallery of Fine Art.
The museum's galleries will also be free during the event.
Saturday's event comes as the CAM ramps up a project years in the making to permanently honor the USCT.
"We are an art museum, but this is also a historic site and one that is significant to the African-American community as well," Wilson. "We want to be good stewards of this site and we wanted to bridge that gap with a piece of art."
The USCT Public Sculpture Project will soon begin raising money for a dynamic new work of art by Durham-based artist Stephen Hayes, set to be unveiled in November. The museum's biggest push for the project is a March 14 fundraiser, but guests on Saturday will be able to buy tickets to that event and paver stones for the eventual installation of Hayes' piece.