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James William "Jim Billy" Craig


James William "Jim Billy" Craig


Jim Billy Craig was a harbor pilot and pilot for the blockade runners Lilian, Gibraltar, Cornubia, Orion, Don, and Lynx that primarily operated out of the port of Wilmington, North Carolina during the Civil War. He is a native of the Cape Fear region of southeast North Carolina and along with his family, made up a piloting family, of which no less than seven of this direct family members were harbor pilots for the Cape Fear river and port of Wilmington.


Swing, Matt




James William "Jim Billy" Craig was a river and harbor pilot on the Cape Fear River during and after the Civil War. He is most well known as the pilot for the blockade runnners Annie, Don, Gibraltar, Lilian, Lynx, and Orion. In the short four year of the war, Jim Billy attempted the run in and out of Wilmington a total of 64 times and was successful on all but five of them. His accounts of running the Union blockade in and out of the Cape Fear River have given us a detailed account of what it was like to be aboard a confederate steamer on a dark and cold moonless night trying to avoid the Union ships as well as the shifting sands beneath the treacherous waves surrounding the two inlets at Cape fear as well as Frying Pan Shoals, shoals that extend up to 40 miles out to sea. Jim Billy was a fearless pilot who would not hesitate to put his ship alongside a Union Blockader no more than a couple hundred yards away. Even when he was fired upon, he would rarely yield, he often kept running towards the port. He was captured aboard the Lilian and sent to a Union prison at Fort Macon, he subsequently escaped but was soon captured again and remained so until the end of the war on a the POW ship Sabine. There he was offered any sum he wished if he would guide a Union ship into the harbor, he of course refused to help the enemy against his home. He returned home after the war and became a Methodist minister where he drew upon his experiences in the war to lead his charges to follow "the lead of the Great Pilot".


McNeil, Jim. Masters of the Shoals. Cambridge: De Capo Press, 2003.

Sprunt, James. Chronicles of the Cape Fear River. Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton Printing & Co, 1916.

Sprunt, James. Derelicts. Baltimore, Md: Lord Baltimore Press, 1920


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Swing, Matt, James William "Jim Billy" Craig, Civil War Era NC, accessed April 17, 2024,