By Amy Hotz
Published: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 5:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 5:30 p.m.
An epic love story set against the backdrop of the Civil War.
That’s what Ray Flowers, an interpreter with the Fort Fisher State Historic Site, calls the information gathered for the museum’s newest exhibit.
The exhibit, and the story behind it, is the topic of a 30-minute talk Flowers will give to the Cape Fear Civil War Round Table Thursday, Dec. 9, at St. Andrew’s On-The-Sound Episcopal Church, 101 Airlie Road. Socializing begins at 6:30 p.m. and the talk starts at 7:30 p.m. The public is invited.
Titled “Heart, Hearth and Home: The life of Colonel and Mrs. (Daisy) Lamb,” the talk explores an aspect of the fort that is often overlooked: the times in between battles when the garrison and its commander’s family were living simple, day-to-day lives.
Flowers will elaborate on the artifacts and stories presented in a new exhibit at the fort’s museum that started with six spoons, four forks and a knife recently acquired by the Friends of Fort Fisher.
The silverware belonged to Col. William Lamb and his wife, Daisy. Lamb was the commander of Fort Fisher for most of the Civil War, and he and his wife tried to live as normally as possible in the war zone.
Flowers and others with the State Historic Site decided to do research around these 11 pieces to build a story of what that experience was like. What they found was a love story as dramatic and tragic as “Gone With The Wind.”
“It’s a bittersweet story. The Lambs lost two children during that war, one in Wilmington and one down here at Fort Fisher,” he said.
In all, they would lose seven children, six in infancy and one at age 26.
“This woman was down here in this wilderness and she certainly didn’t have to be,” he said. “But she was very much determined to be with her husband.”
Daisy, or Sarah Anne Chaffee Lamb, was originally from Providence, R.I. She traveled to Federal Point to join her husband at Fort Fisher in 1863 when he took command here, according to the fort’s website. At this time, they were a young couple, very much in love, with three children. They brought the two eldest with them to North Carolina. To be closer to each other, they built a small cottage near the fort on land that is now the Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Facility.
Invitations displayed in the museum’s exhibit show that a housewarming was arranged by the officers and their female guests in May 1863. The party included a picnic, a dance and music from a local string band.
Amy Sawyer, exhibit designer with N.C. State Historic Sites, said it was these kinds of details that stood out to her most as she put the exhibit together.
“It’s a perspective you rarely ever get … It just stuck out that it was focusing on the woman and the home life and the fact that there was social life even during the war. It was more than just the battles,” Sawyer said. “I think it’s just the story itself that’s a lot more interesting to a lot of folks than just cannons and soldiers.”
If danger appeared on the horizon, Col. Lamb would send his wife and children to safety across the Cape Fear River to Orton Plantation.
Visitors to the museum will see a rare photo of the couple’s rustic Fort Fisher home as well as their house that stood at the northeast corner of Third and Chestnut streets (across Chestnut from Thalian Hall) in Wilmington.
“When you put it against the description of her letters, it’s quite haunting, I think, because she describes that home, both inside and out. It’s almost as if you’re getting some sort of virtual tour,” Flowers said.
The letters displayed in the exhibit show Daisy writing back home to her family in Rhode Island, describing her new surroundings but never complaining about the sparse amenities.
One of the few luxury items was a vase that Flowers says Lamb mentions no less than five times in his diary. It was given to him by the Anglo-Confederate Trading Company, the operators of some successful blockade runners.
Tragedy did not come in the form of bullets or cannon balls for this family. In addition to the deaths of their children, Col. Lamb would bury his wife in 1892. He never remarried.
Flowers said that the following year Col. Lamb purchased a stained glass window for $3,500 and had it installed in Norfolk, Va.’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in her honor.
“The world is absolutely a different place,” Col. Lamb wrote in his diary on May 27, 1892. “I seem to have no settled or definite plan for the future, for everything I did or planned for was for her pleasure or comfort.”
The exhibit is on display at Fort Fisher State Historic Site, 1610 Ft. Fisher Blvd. South in Kure Beach, at least through January.
The museum is operating under winter hours now, which means it is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and closed Sundays and Mondays and most major state holidays through March 31, when summer hours begin.
Amy Hotz: 343-2099
On Twitter.com: @AmyHotz