October 4, 1861 – As Confederates scrambled to defend the North Carolina coast, Colonel A.E. Wright devised a plan to take back Forts Clark and Hatteras.
North Carolina Governor Henry T. Clark had clamored 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 Bogue Islands, reported on October 2 that he could organize his command into an effective fighting force “if the enemy allow a delay of 10 days.”
Hill requested more black powder and munitions from the Confederate command at Norfolk. He also asked for more cavalry, even though “a few more regiments of infantry are also needed very much.” He offered to recruit volunteers among residents, but had previously noted that there was “much apathy among the people. They do not want to have their towns destroyed, neither are they disposed to do much for their protection.”
Regarding the lack of a navy, Hill stated that he had “quite a number of sailors of the merchant service here who are anxious to get guns on their small craft to operate in the sound.” He asked if he had authority over naval vessels on the coast, asserting that “the co-operation of the Navy is essential to the defense of the sound.”
While Hill worked to collect and arrange coastal defenses, Confederate Colonel A.E. Wright planned to attack Federals stationed on Roanoke Island near Chicamacomico. This was part of an operation designed to reclaim Hatteras Inlet. Wright planned for one Confederate force to pursue the Federals southward toward Fort Hatteras, 35 miles away, while another Confederate force landed ahead of the Federals to block their escape.
The first Confederate force landed on the 4th and began pursuing the Federals. One Indiana soldier recalled that the white sand was “heating the air as if it were a furnace. The first 10 miles was terrible. As the regiment pushed along, man after man would stagger from the ranks and fall upon the hot sand… It was maddening. The sea rolling at our feet and nothing to drink.”
The second Confederate force tried landing around mid-afternoon, but the boats ran aground about two miles from land. The Federals shifted their retreat to the ocean side of the island, sidestepping the blocking force and arriving at Fort Hatteras near midnight. The Confederates took 40 prisoners during the day’s pursuit.
The next day, Wright learned that his second Confederate force had been trapped by the grounded boats and called off the pursuit. Meanwhile, Federal reinforcements landed behind the first Confederate force and began firing on them. The three-gun screw-steamer U.S.S. Monticello also joined the action, firing on the Confederates from the water. The Confederates hurried back to their waiting ships and returned to Roanoke Island, sustaining just two wounded but failing to retake Forts Clark and Hatteras as planned.
The affair, which became known as the “Chicamacomico Races,” prompted Major General John E. Wool, commanding all Federals at Fort Monroe and North Carolina, to replace Colonel Rush Hawkins with Brigadier General Joseph K.F. Mansfield as the occupation commander at Hatteras Inlet. Mansfield was in turn replaced just over a week later by Brigadier General Thomas Williams.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 71, 73; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 124, 126