The Fall of Fort Macon

April 26, 1862 – A formal surrender ceremony took place after the Confederates gave up a formidable stronghold on the North Carolina coast.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit:
Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit:

Federal forces led by Major General Ambrose E. Burnside had established footholds at various points on the North Carolina coast since the beginning of the year. These points included New Bern, which isolated the Confederate garrison at Fort Macon.

Located on Bogue Banks in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Fort Macon was one of the strongest and most strategically positioned works in the state. It guarded the water approaches to Morehead City (terminus of the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad), as well as Beaufort.

Burnside directed a brigade of 3,000 men under Brigadier General John G. Parke to capture Fort Macon. In late March, Parke laid the groundwork by seizing both Beaufort and Morehead City, thus cutting the fort off from communications with other nearby Confederates. Parke’s Federals then occupied Bogue Banks, but the fort commander, Colonel Moses J. White, refused to surrender. Parke resolved to lay siege rather than directly attack.

Parke and Burnside spent the first two and a half weeks of April gathering and positioning heavy artillery to bombard the fort. By April 17, Burnside reported to the War Department, “I hope to reduce the fort within ten days.” Burnside repeated Parke’s demand to surrender on the 23rd, but despite having just 300 effectives, White refused once more.

The Federals opened a heavy bombardment on the morning of the 25th. The Confederates fired back but could do no damage because sand dunes protected the Federal cannon. The Confederates were also at a disadvantage because the fort had been designed to withstand attacks from the sea, not inland.

Federal attack on Fort Macon | Image Credit:
Federal attack on Fort Macon | Image Credit:

Commander Samuel Lockwood’s nearby Federal naval squadron–consisting of the steamers U.S.S. Chippewa, Delaware, and State of Georgia, and the bark Gemsbok–responded to the sound of gunfire by joining the fight on the fort’s sea side. However, the ships were forced to retire after an hour due to high winds and strong waves. The naval fire served mostly as a diversion from the main firing.

By late afternoon, the Federal gunners had become tremendously accurate, disabling 19 the fort’s 56 guns. Colonel White, fearing that his magazine would soon be exposed to fire, ordered the white flag raised at 4:30. He lost 25 men killed or wounded. The Federals had fired 1,150 rounds at the fort, with about half hitting their targets.

White sent two officers to ask the Federals for terms, and when they came back and told him that the surrender must be unconditional, he withdrew his capitulation. The next day, Burnside relented and offered to parole the men until formally exchanged, allowing them to take all their personal property with them. White accepted, and a formal surrender ceremony took place on April 26, the same day that the fort changed hands.

The capture of Fort Macon, combined with those of Roanoke Island, Elizabeth City, and New Bern, gave the Federals virtual control of the entire North Carolina coast. This helped strengthen the Federal blockade and opened a path for an inland thrust toward either Richmond to the north or Charleston to the south.

Federal forces soon took over many nearby towns and ports along the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds, and the navy quickly established a coaling station for the North Atlantic Blockade Squadron at Beaufort.



Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 172; Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 37; (25 Apr 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 164; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 142-43; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 203-04; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 275-76; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 53-54; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 295-96

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