North Carolina: Captain’s Judgment Questioned in HMS Bounty sinking

When the HMS Bounty set sail in 1787, Captain William Bligh had only his instincts to safely complete a journey from England to the South Pacific island of Tahiti. Last week, Robin Walbridge, captain of a replica of Bligh’s ship of mutiny fame, had every modern weather-forecasting resource to plan a voyage from New London, Conn., to St. Petersburg, Fla.

But it didn’t keep him from a fatal misjudgment.

The 180-foot sailing vessel Bounty goes down off the North Carolina coast on Monday.

Walbridge’s Bounty became a dramatic casualty of Hurricane Sandy when the 180-foot sailing vessel sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C., in heavy seas churned up by the superstorm. The captain himself is missing and one other person from the crew of 16 is confirmed dead. Fourteen others were plucked from the frigid water by Coast Guard helicopters.

The loss of the three-masted Bounty may rate as little more than a footnote amid the dramatic aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but it has prompted disbelief from at least one fellow captain who wonders why Walbridge made the decision to venture out into one of the biggest storm systems in decades to hit the U.S. East Coast.

Dan Moreland, the captain of another tall ship, the Picton Castle, described Walbridge as an experienced seaman, but told The Chronicle Herald of Halifax, Nova Scotia, that he couldn’t understand the decision to put out to sea on Thursday with a crew of 11 men and five women, ranging in age from 20 to 66.

Picton Castle and the Bounty were both heading to the same public appearance featuring the traditional sailing vessels in St. Petersburg, which was scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 10-11. There was plenty of time to reach Florida and Moreland said it was an “easy decision” for him to stay in port for an extra week or more because of Sandy.

“It’s black and white, there are no nuances with this,” he told The Chronicle. “It’s a huge system and that made the decision very simple.”

Moreland said he had plenty of weather information that was raising red flags and when he first heard the Bounty was at sea, “I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ ”

Walbridge was apparently well aware of Sandy, but gambled that he could steer a safe course around the storm.

According to The Christian Science Monitor:

The ship’s course out of Connecticut took it due east to try to avoid the oncoming hurricane Sandy. Early on Sunday, the crew felt it had skirted the danger: A Facebook post showed the ship’s position on a map well to the east of the storm’s fiercest winds.

They were mistaken. The ship was close to the tail end of the hurricane as it whipped up the Atlantic coast.

The Monitor says details of the ship’s final hours are sketchy. “Apparently at least one generator failed, and the Bounty began taking on more water than it could safely handle” as it was pummeled by 18-foot seas off Hatteras, a region long know as a graveyard of ships for its dangerous shoals and treacherous seas.

The rescued crew members survived the cold water wearing special thermal insulated immersion suits; Walbridge was also thought to be wearing such a suit. That has offered some hope that he’s still alive.

Walbridge’s wife, Claudia McCann, contacted by Reuters at her home in St. Petersburg, said she was confident that her husband would be found alive.

On the HMS Bounty facebook page, a post went up about 10 a.m. Tuesday mourning the loss of crew member Claudene Christian, offering prayers “for the continued efforts to rescue our Beloved Captain, Robin Walbridge,” and requesting donations to help survivors and family.

Walbridge’s Bounty was built for the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando as Lt. Fletcher Christian. The film was remade in 1984, featuring Mel Gibson in the role.

The original HMS Bounty was the scene of the most famous naval mutiny in history, in which the command of Capt. Bligh was overthrown by Christian leading a group of mutineers. Bligh and a few loyal men were set adrift and survived an epic small-boat voyage. Christian and the other mutineers, with their Tahitian brides, settled on mischarted Pitcairn Island, where they burned the Bounty to avoid detection from British warships. Their descendants still live on the South Pacific island.

–Scott Neuman, NPR

Confederate Letters Almost Thrown Away Become Book

By Wade Allen, The Gaston Gazette

There’s nothing like hearing tales about Confederate soldiers in the Civil War direct from the writings of people who experienced the era.

That’s the philosophy of an 80-year-old Gastonia woman who decided to put letters faded with age to good use last year by compiling them and publishing a book.

“Sparrows’ Nest of Letters,” edited by Joy Sparrow, documents the treasured correspondence between many of her family members who lived through the war, including two men in her late husband’s family tree – The Rev. George A. Sparrow and his father, Maj. Thomas Sparrow, who both served with the Confederacy.

The letters are personal, often eloquently written, and reveal insightful details into how the two men survived and managed to re-build their lives after the devastation of war.

Among people to whom the book is dedicated is Joy Sparrow’s late husband Thomas Glenn Sparrow. Maj. Sparrow, who died in 1884, was his great-great grandfather; the Rev. Sparrow, who died in 1922, was Thomas Sparrow’s great-grandfather.

The book contains more than 100 letters with photographs sprinkled throughout.

Joy Sparrow

Readers take a virtual journey into the documented history of the two men. Among events discussed: the Rev. Sparrow’s years as a teenage soldier to a country preacher and Maj. Sparrow’s account of the battle of Fort Hatteras, where be narrowly escaped death but became a prisoner of war.

Almost garbage

The letters were destined to be shared with the world. They survived two house fires – one in 1931 and another 30 years later. Somehow they remained intact even after her husband almost sent them to the garbage in 1968 while setting up an insurance business.

“He was cleaning out a desk and he tossed them in the trash can, and my mother was there helping him and she said ‘What are you throwing away Tom?’ and he said ‘Just a bunch of trash.’ She pulled them out of the trash can and there was over 100 letters, the first one was dated 1856,” Sparrow said. “He was interested and he brought them homewhen mother discovered what they were. He said ‘You read these’ and I did, and I knew they were valuable and they should be shared.”

At the time, taking on the task of piecing them together for publication was not possible. Sparrow was consumed with building a life for her family, raising her two sons and working a job.

But one day, she decided that the project could finally take flight. And about a year later, she was autographing copies of the published work.

Learning from history

Joy Sparrow is a grandmother of four. She’s always enjoyed learning about Civil War history and said despite the hardships her husband’s family faced, there were bright spots in their lives as evidenced by some of the letters.

“There’s nothing like reading it from somebody who was there, a first hand account. You just learn so much about how they lived back then, how hard they had to work. But in spite of that, they seemed to be happy in spite of their hardships. They did have some happy times. Of course during the war there weren’t many happy times but they were able to overcome their trials and tribulations,” Joy Sparrow said.

After the war, the Sparrows, like many families in the dissolved Confederate forces, were left without basic necessities and forced to re-build their lives from scratch.

“They didn’t have anything – no money, no home, no furniture,” she said. “The towns that were captured, they really had it hard.”

Before the war, Maj. Sparrow worked as a lawyer. He attended what is now Princeton University and his family had wealth.

Recognition of the work

On Oct. 20, Joy Sparrow was awarded the Willie Parker Peace History Book Award at a ceremony in Mooresville. The accolade is presented by the North Carolina Society of Historians, Inc., and Sparrow said she was thrilled to receive the nod to her work.

She doesn’t claim to be an author and said she’d never put together a book before and doesn’t plan on doing it again.

But the stories contained within the paper covers had to be told and she feels good knowing that the book is out there for others to consume.

She had help from many people while working on the project including Janice Currence of Gastonia, who was Sparrow’s secretary and typist. Sometimes the letters were difficult to understand, so many an hour was spent examining them. Sparrow spent about a year on the project and now travels to libraries and other venues reading sections of the book.


South Carolina: S.C. Wants to Promote Highest Peak

SASSAFRAS MOUNTAIN — South Carolina’s highest peak isn’t very majestic — at least not yet.

Anyone wanting to stand atop Sassafras Mountain faces a yellow gate before a hike about 300 feet up a fairly steep broken asphalt path. Visitors turn a corner and can stand on top of a patch of cleared land next to a rock, where a plaque was put up last month letting them know they are 3,553 feet above sea level. The view is all trees, interrupted by only a fenced-in shed and utility communication tower.

Fog shrouds South Carolina's highest peak on Sassafras Mountain this week. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources hopes to build an observation tower above the trees to make Sassafras Mountain a destination.

State wildlife officials want to change that. They are planning a fundraising effort to build an observation tower on the mountaintop that will rise above the trees. People climbing the 30- to 60-foot tower could see parts of four states, getting a 360-degree view of the Blue Ridge mountains and valleys and South Carolina’s scenic Jocassee Gorges.

“You have the state’s highest peak, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build an observation platform there,” said Emily Cope, who is overseeing the effort on Sassafras Mountain with the Department of Natural Resources.

No permanent plans have been made yet. The DNR doesn’t want to spend any state money on the project, so officials are trying to figure out how much they can raise privately before deciding how big and elaborate the observation tower can be, Cope said.

Wildlife officials plan to have a website encouraging donations and will talk to several conservation groups, Cope said.

“We want something that blends in with the landscape,” Cope said. “We don’t want it to stick out like a huge thumb.”

It’s all for an icon in South Carolina that has been long neglected. Students across the state learn in South Carolina history in third grade about Sassafras Mountain. It also holds a special place for a group of people called the Highpointers, who try to reach the highest point in every U.S. state.

Some of them are easy, like the 345-foot tall Britton Hill in Florida, or Hawkeye Point at 1,670 feet, which rises about 20 feet above the rest of the farmland in northwest Iowa. Some require mountain climbing skills, like Alaska’s Mount McKinley at 20,320 feet. And some remain in private hands, like 4,139-foot Black Mountain in Kentucky, which is owned by a coal company that requires a signed waiver from hikers to visit.

Dave Covill has been to the highest point in all 50 states and remembers Sassafras Mountain well. The Highpointers held their 1998 convention nearby and included a climb to the peak.

“I think with a tower to get you 20 or 30 feet above those trees, the view will be unforgettable,” said Covill, who lives in Evergreen, Colo., and is president of the Highpointers Foundation.

Associated Press


Virginia: Civil War Dead Honored at Flint Hill Cemetery

Even a thinly-veiled but luminous moon contributed to the theatrical mood at a dark Flint Hill Cemetery on Saturday night. Shining above the peaks of Oakton Church of the Brethren, the glowing moon cast a spotlight on the grave markers and living historians in period dress who gave life to the unveiling of the marker noting the cemetery’s place in Civil War history. More than 100 spectators watched living history unfold within the candle-lit graveyard. In full military dress, the 17th Virginia Infantry, Co. D. presented and retired the colors.

“Over four years and 32 bus tours, this, this, was their very favorite stop on the whole four-hour [Civil War] tour,” said Jim Lewis, historian with Hunter Mill Defense League, referring to the Civil War bus tours he conducts frequently around the Oakton-Vienna area. Lewis, with his extensive knowledge of local Civil War history, was keynote speaker at the unveiling he orchestrated. Double-luminaria identified the resting places of the cemetery’s Civil War veterans.

“This cemetery is a treasure trove of Civil War heroes and civilians,” Lewis said.

The 17th Virginia Infantry, Co. D. presented and retired the colors at the marker unveiling program honoring Civil War veterans Flint Hill Cemetery.

Twenty-six Civil War soldiers are buried at Flint Hill, both Union and Confederate, including four Mosby’s Rangers. The marker unveiling, set against luminaria and leaf-hidden lighting, honored the sacrifices of the Civil War dead buried there. Speakers, from David Farmer, president of the Flint Hill Cemetery Association [FHCA], to Church of the Brethren Pastor Chris Bowman and Hunter Mill corridor historian Jim Lewis, noted the events and history of what was then-known as Flint Hill and the cemetery.

THE UNVEILING PROGRAM drew in a coalition of groups: the Hunter Mill Defense League, the Flint Hill Cemetery Association, Visit Fairfax, Historic Vienna, Inc., and Oakton Church of the Brethren.

Pastor Bowman called his church, built over a Confederate fort site, an “outpost of our little Kingdom of Peace.”

Mayor M. Jane Seeman, member of the FHCA, spoke of the relationship Vienna families have with the cemetery, and Patrick Lennon of Visit Fairfax, whose committee supported the historical marker at Flint Hill Cemetery, talked about the partnerships that came together to produce the marker and its historical background, as well as the detailed and vivid unveiling event at the cemetery on Oct. 27.

Mayor Seeman recalled the streetcar that rode from Vienna to the cemetery. Six former Town of Vienna mayors are interred at Flint Hill Cemetery, from Leon Freeman, whose house anchors the historic Church Street district, to Charles Robinson, mayor during Vienna’s pivotal years.

Visit Fairfax, as part of its Civil War sesquicentennial legacy project, imposed a goal to locate a historic marker within each Fairfax County district. Flint Hill lies within the Providence District.

“Our goal is two-fold,” said Lennon. “The project is to draw visitors to the County’s historic sites and to promote cooperation among local historical associations to tell their stories through these Civil War markers.” Visit Fairfax paid for the marker with funding from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

“This event exemplifies the spirit of cooperation the committee envisioned,” Lennon said from the podium.

Lewis recounted Flint Hill history with anecdotes and historical accounts and ended his address with roll call of the Civil War veterans. As Lewis called out each name and rank, a distant voice answered, “here, sir,” or “present, sir.”

THE VOICE of a young teen, representing the youngest Mosby Ranger, who joined at age 14, brought murmurs from spectators. As roll call ended, the spirit of Col. John Mosby strode to the podium to shake Lewis’s hand. “I never had the chance to say ‘goodbye’ to my men,” Mosby said, thanking his host for the opportunity.

In closing, Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, recognized the richness of Fairfax County Civil War history and led the marker unveiling. “I’ve attended many unveilings, and I have to say that this is the absolute best,” said Bulova.