The Fall of Hatteras Inlet

August 29, 1861 – The first joint Federal army-navy expedition of the war resulted in the capture of Hatteras Inlet, one of North Carolina’s busiest ports for blockade running.

The Federal Blockade Strategy Board had declared that Hatteras Inlet was the most important of North Carolina’s four inlets deep enough for blockade runners to deliver supplies to the Confederacy. The inlet was a gap in the sandbar providing the main entrance to Pamlico Sound, a large body of water between the beach and the mainland, about 18 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks.

Two makeshift forts built of sand and logs guarded the inlet: Fort Hatteras, an eighth of a mile west of the inlet covering the sea channel, and the smaller Fort Clark, east of Fort Hatteras. Just 350 Confederates of the 7th North Carolina and 12 smoothbore cannon garrisoned the forts.

Capturing Hatteras Inlet would be a navy operation, led by Flag Officer Silas H. Stringham, commanding the Federal Atlantic Blockading Squadron. But capturing the forts would require army support. Major General Benjamin F. Butler, who had recently been removed as commander of the Department of Virginia at Fort Monroe, was selected by the new department commander, Major General John E. Wool, to raise a force to accompany the warships.

Butler led 860 infantrymen of the 9th Massachusetts and the 20th New York on transports protected by the warships U.S.S. Cumberland, Minnesota, Monticello, Pawnee, Susquehanna, Wabash, the revenue cutter Harriet Lane, and the tug Fanny. The naval force included 143 rifled cannon and Stringham’s valuable knowledge of modern fort destruction tactics, having served with the Mediterranean fleet during the Crimean War.

The fleet anchored about three miles offshore on the night of the 27th, then began their attack the next morning. Part of the fleet began bombarding Fort Clark and a battery north of the fort, using the successful Crimean War tactic of moving while firing and not anchoring, thus depriving the Confederate artillerymen in the fort of having a stationary target. Confederates soon abandoned the battery north of Clark and retreated into the fort.

Meanwhile, other warships escorted the army transports to their landing site, about three miles east of Fort Clark. Butler observed the infantry landing from Harriet Lane and aborted the mission after just 315 troops made it ashore due to high winds and rough seas. The ground forces closed in on Clark’s defenders, even though their gunpowder was wet and useless. But the Confederates soon ran out of ammunition as well, and they abandoned the fort. Federals entered without opposition and raised the U.S. flag by 2 p.m.

Federal troops landing at Hatteras Inlet | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federal troops landing at Hatteras Inlet | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federals turned their attention to Fort Hatteras, which was reinforced after dark by Confederates from other nearby posts led by Flag Officer Samuel Barron. U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward had tried enlisting Barron to keep Virginia in the Union, but now Barron commanded all Confederate coastal defenses in both Virginia and North Carolina.

The Federal bombardment resumed around 10 a.m. The clearing weather enabled the Federals to pour a steady fire into the fort, beyond the range of Confederate cannon. Midshipman Roswell H. Lamson aboard U.S.S. Wabash wrote that evening: “It was terrible to watch the large shells as they came down in the fort bursting almost as soon as they struck, scatter sand and tents, dismounting guns and tearing everything but the bombproof covers to pieces. For a long time we fired a shell every three minutes from the forward gun, and it was nothing but a continual bursting of shells around, over, and among them.”

Although casualties in the fort were light, Barron agreed to surrender after a council of war. They raised the white flag at 11:10 a.m. Barron refused to surrender to Butler, whose troops had a minimal impact on the outcome; he said he would only “surrender to the man who had whipped him” and gave his sword to Stringham.

The Federals escorted 615 Confederate prisoners onto the transports as Butler’s troops raised the U.S. flag over Fort Hatteras. The Federals also captured 1,000 small arms and 15 cannon. This Federal victory panicked coastal southerners who feared that enemy forces would soon invade their communities. However, the Federals did not yet have the resources needed to expand on this success.

The fall of Hatteras Inlet closed an important port to blockade runners. It also served the Federal blockading fleet as a coal and supply station. And it greatly boosted northern morale after the defeats at Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek. Butler regained his esteem among the Federal command, despite his minimal participation in the operation. President Lincoln allowed him leave to reunite with his family and recruit more volunteers in New England. Stringham grew resentful over receiving little recognition for the innovative tactics he used to pound the forts into submission.

—–

References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 189; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16, 18-19; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13306-14; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 68, 70-71; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 115-16; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 59-60; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 727; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 98-99; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 111-12; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 350-51; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 369-70; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 33-34; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 217; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 29-31

Advertisements

Tagged: , , , , ,

6 thoughts on “The Fall of Hatteras Inlet

  1. […] Flag Officer Silas H. Stringham, commanding the Federal Atlantic Blockading Squadron, led a fleet of seven warships and two transports conveying 880 Federal troops on a mission to seize the sea approach to Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. […]

    Like

  2. […] ashore and took possession, marking the second successful Federal army-navy operation of the war (capturing Hatteras Inlet the previous month being the […]

    Like

  3. […] for Confederate reinforcements in his state ever since the Federals gained a coastal foothold by capturing Hatteras Inlet in August. Confederate General D.H. Hill, commanding the coastline from Roanoke Island south to the […]

    Like

  4. […] the entrance to Port Royal Sound. The navy would have to take Port Royal alone, just like at Hatteras Inlet and Ship Island. For now, Du Pont struggled to reassemble his scattered […]

    Like

  5. […] the Federals, they had won significant naval victories, capturing Hatteras Inlet, Ship Island, and Port Royal. They had also won minor land victories at Philippi and, more […]

    Like

  6. […] Roanoke Island, along with the Federal occupation of Hatteras Inlet, would enable the Federals to stop blockade-running in the waters of Pamlico Sound between the […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: