Three Civil War artifacts were stolen from the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site during a break-in at the site early Sunday morning.
The break-in was reported at the historic site located at 8884 St. Phillips Road, in Winnabow, at 2:17 a.m., according an incident report from the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, the investigating agency.
“They specifically targeted these three Civil War buttons,” McKee said. The artifacts had been excavated during Peace College’s on-site field school between 2009-11 and are considered invaluable as a means to interpret the Civil War in Brunswick County.
The break-in and theft occurred sometime between 2 and 2:15 a.m. Sunday, McKee said. The thief – or thieves – made it through a barbed wire fence beside the front gate, which is the main entrance into the site. Then the suspect, or suspects, made the quarter-mile trek to the visitor’s center, where they smashed through the front door and proceeded to strike through the glass of one of about 18 exhibit cases in the building.
While several artifacts were inside the case, just the three Civil War buttons were taken, McKee said. The buttons include a Union Army Eagle, a Confederate infantry uniform button, and a North Carolina state seal button. A Spanish coin and replica cannon ball thought to have been taken and originally recorded in the incident report were later salvaged in the glass-filled mess the vandals left behind, McKee said.
The donation box was also destroyed and its contents stolen, along with a cash drawer from the gift shop register, McKee said. In total, the sheriff’s office incident report about $300 in cash taken from the historic site.
“We do not know who did it,” McKee said, adding that it’s likely it took more than one person.
“This is an ongoing problem that every single museum in the country has,” McKee said. “They stole from the people of North Carolina because that’s who owns the site. The people of North Carolina own this site so the perpetrator or perpetrators committed a crime against every taxpayer in the state.”
While the site was closed for the day on Sunday due to the break-in, McKee said visitors will be welcomed back when the historic site reopens to the public at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Some areas of the center may be limited as they continue clean-up efforts and work to fix the building’s front door.
“We welcome everyone through our door and we try to make their visit as memorable as we can and because of a few bad eggs…we will not change our attitude toward our visitors. We’re in the business to allow people to enjoy what we’ve got,” McKee said.
While the artifacts stolen from the historic site on Sunday were from the Civil War-era, a “vast majority” of the artifacts at the museum are from the Colonial period, McKee said.
The site was the fourteenth busiest port in British America around the 1770s, McKee said.
According to the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Brunswick Town was razed by British troops in 1776 and was never rebuilt. Fort Anderson was constructed atop the old village site during the Civil War, and served as part of the Cape Fear River defenses below Wilmington before the fall of the Confederacy.
In 1862, the site became Fort St. Philip, but was renamed on July 1, 1883 to Fort Anderson, after General George Burgwyn Anderson was mortally wounded in the Battle of Antietam in 1862, McKee said. Today, Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson is not only a state historic site but also a working archaeological site.
The investigation into this case is ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office at 910-253-2777.