Category Archives: North Carolina

From Amos Steere, 25th Massachusetts

Letter from Private Amos Steere, 25th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, to his sister.

New Bern, N.C.

May 2, 1862

Massachusetts state flag | Image Credit: all-flagsworld.com

Dear Sister Lucy:

… In one of your letters written to me I believe you wrote asking of me to give you some information in regard to a person’s feeling when upon the battlefield. I can only speak for one, but have heard the remarks of a great number and their feelings are as different as their minds are at home or upon any subject.

As for my own, when we were marching along (on our march up the river road to New Bern) the next morning (after encamping out all night in the rain without any covering) up the road in front of the enemy’s works, I was startled by the sound of a cannon directly ahead of us, the Regt. having just turned in to the right along the woods, we being in the rear of the Regt. They had just got past the turn of the road, which left us in front, then the 27th (regiment), being the next in advance.

The instant I heard the report, whiz and spat came the ball. I struck in the road about ten feet from me, spattering the mud into some of the boys’ faces. At that time I thought it best to get out of the range of that gun and acted accordingly. I crossed the road into an open field, with two or three buildings upon it. There we established our hospital, or at least were to do so, but before we had got halfway across, the fire had begun to be terrible. I did not expect to get to the buildings without being hit, but fortunately there was not one of us hurt through the engagement.

After crossing the field and arriving at those houses, we found we were in more danger than before, for we were directly in front of their field pieces. The distance was short of a half mile and only but a trifle farther from their water battery–of which four of their heavy guns could be brought to bear upon us. I believe there was only three or four shots fired from that battery, as they were waiting to get a larger haul but was whipped before they were aware of it. As I said before, when we were at those houses the cannon balls, shells and bullets in abundance were flying all around us.

To add to our misery, one of our gun boats opened fire, intending to throw the shells over in amongst us. One burst in the ground just seven rods from where we stood. The next burst over the house. Then we thought best to make our quarters somewhere else, so we did, but how we got out of it without one of us being wounded is a mystery to me.

I felt the need of religion then if I ever did, and wished that I might be a Christian so that I shall in time of battle and at all other times be prepared to meet my God in peace. I have met with no change of heart as yet, but long for the time to come when it will be as easy for me to do right as it is for me to do wrong. Others say that they had not the least feelings of fear from the beginning and others say that they began to think they were cowards, and others something else.

I think as a general thing those at home that are naturally timid are the ones here that have the least fear. For a sample, I will give Patrick Cronan, Co. E, 25th Mass. He was a sort of street bully as they term it at home and has fought one prize fight here at New Bern. He skulked out of the fight and afterwards was court marshaled and sentenced to wear at guard mounting and through the day a wide board on the back with the word coward with capital letters marked on it for five days, then to have his head shaved, the buttons cut from his coat and drummed out of the service. All of that was executed.

Others that it was thought would not fight at all fought the best…

I have no particular news to write except our Fort is nearly completed just outside of the city, of which I will give you a plan. Give my love to Mary if you see her, and all the rest of my friends.

From your brother,

AMOS STEERE

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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: Wikispaces.com

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

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: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federal attack on Fort Macon | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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.

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References

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; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (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

The Fall of New Bern

March 14, 1862 – Federals occupying points on the North Carolina coast advanced to the mainland in hopes of capturing one of the state’s largest cities.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Since the Federal capture of Roanoke Island the previous month, Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside and Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough had expanded their control of the North Carolina sounds and connecting waterways. They now set their sights on the state’s mainland, primarily New Bern, North Carolina’s colonial capital, on the Neuse River. New Bern was the state’s second largest city and an important railroad center.

About 11,000 Federal troops of Burnside’s Coastal Division boarded army transports at Roanoke Island to link with 13 gunboats near Hatteras Inlet. The gunboat fleet was led by Commander Stephen C. Rowan, who took over when Goldsborough was recalled to Hampton Roads after the attack by the C.S.S. Virginia. Burnside told his men that they would be part of a major offensive designed to support Major General George B. McClellan’s upcoming Peninsula campaign.

About 4,000 Confederates defended New Bern under Brigadier General Lawrence O. Branch, a lawyer and politician whose only military experience was in the Seminole Wars. Branch’s men were posted at the several earthworks below New Bern, including Fort Thompson, the strongest work, six miles south. A lack of slave labor in the area prevented Branch from bolstering the defenses.

On the 13th, the Federal gunboats covered Burnside’s three brigades as they debarked without resistance at Slocomb’s Creek, on the west bank of the Neuse, about 16 miles south of New Bern. As the troops advanced on land, the gunboats advanced on the river, shelling the five Confederate forts in the woods as they went. Rowan later reported:

“I commenced throwing 5, 10, 15 second shells inshore, and notwithstanding the risk, I determined to continue till the general sent me word. I know the persuasive power of a 9-inch (shell), and thought it better to kill a Union man or two than to lose the effect of my moral suasion.”

Learning of the Federal advance, Branch pulled his troops out of their first line of defenses and concentrated them in a front about six miles southeast of New Bern, near Fort Thompson. This inadequate force guarded the road that Branch suspected the Federals would take.

The Federal troops advanced to where it was believed Branch’s lines were, but the Confederates had already fallen back. The Federals continued advancing amid some skirmishing; driving rain and muddy roads not only made the march difficult, but they made it impossible for the Federals to bring up artillery. Nevertheless, Burnside planned to launch an assault the next day.

At dawn, Burnside ordered his brigades to advance up the muddy west bank of the Neuse with Brigadier Generals Jesse Reno, John G. Parke, and John G. Foster on the left, center, and right respectively. Branch’s defensive line extended from Fort Thompson on the Neuse to his left, a road leading west to his right, and the main road to New Bern in his center. Like at Roanoke Island, the Federals would have to cross a swamp to get to the Confederates.

As the Federals surged forward, the gunboats on the Neuse began bombarding Fort Thompson. The Confederates, outflanked and low on ammunition, held firm until a militia unit in the center of the line suddenly broke. The Federals exploited the gap and sent the enemy fleeing around 10:30 a.m.

Some Confederates on the right did not get the order to retreat and were captured. Those who got away crossed the Trent River into New Bern and burned the bridge behind them. But by this time, the Federal gunboats commanded the town. The Confederates set fire to New Bern without orders and continued fleeing. Branch arranged to withdraw his force by rail to Kinston, 35 miles west, but it took him nearly a week to reassemble all his remaining men.

Meanwhile, the Federals entered New Bern that afternoon and received a similar reception to the one at Winton: only blacks and poor whites celebrated their arrival. Panic spread among the other local residents, as people fled on trains to Goldsborough and other towns. Only 100 of the 1,200 New Bern residents remained when the Federals arrived.

The Federals sustained 471 casualties (90 killed and 381 wounded or missing). The Confederates lost 578 (64 killed, 101 wounded, and 413 captured or missing). In addition to capturing New Bern, the Federals also gained control of all the outlying forts along the river, including Fort Thompson. A landing party from Rowan’s fleet also seized two steamers, large quantities of cotton, and an artillery battery.

The fall of New Bern created another port and useful supply base for Federal inland expeditions. It also gave the Federals easy access to the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. The Confederate government, realizing the importance of North Carolina too late, sent reinforcements that should have been sent months earlier.

With a foothold on the mainland, Burnside soon looked back to points on the Atlantic, particularly Fort Macon near Cape Lookout.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 33-37; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (14 Mar 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 141; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 121-23; Hubbell, John T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 524; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 184-85; 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, 2012), p. 51-53; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 294-95

The Battle of Elizabeth City

February 10, 1862 – Federals confronted the Confederate “mosquito” fleet north of Albemarle Sound on the North Carolina coast, threatening nearby Elizabeth City in the process.

Map of area around Elizabeth City | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Map of area around Elizabeth City | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

After the fall of Roanoke Island, Flag Officer William F. Lynch’s Confederate vessels withdrew northward, up the Pasquotank River. They stopped at Elizabeth City, the North Carolina terminus of the Dismal Swamp Canal and the gateway to many vital waterways connecting North Carolina and southern Virginia. Lynch resolved to defend the town with his six ships, which comprised the entire Confederate naval force left in the North Carolina sounds.

Meanwhile, the Federal captors of Roanoke Island looked to expand their occupation zone. Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough, commanding the Federal naval fleet, directed a top subordinate, Commander Stephen C. Rowan of the U.S.S. Delaware, to lead 13 gunboats in pursuit of Lynch’s “mosquito” fleet. Rowan had orders to “bag them all if possible.” At dawn on February 10, Rowan’s vessels entered the mouth of the Pasquotank.

Lynch could arm just two of his ships due to lack of ammunition. He arranged his fleet in a line of battle across the river, with the flagship Sea Bird placed opposite the Confederate fort and battery at Cobb’s Point. Finding the fort manned by just eight volunteers, Lynch personally took command upon receiving word that the Federals were approaching. He ordered his ship captains to hold firm until they ran out of ammunition.

The Federals advanced within range of the Confederate guns around 8:30 a.m. They continued moving forward despite coming under enemy fire from both Lynch’s fleet and the fort. When the ships advanced to within three-quarters of a mile from the Confederates, Rowan signaled: “Dash at the enemy.”

The Federals moved full steam ahead. Ignoring Lynch’s order to hold, the Confederate vessels quickly turned and tried to flee. Within a half-hour, the Federals had destroyed four ships (the C.S.S. Beaufort, Black Warrior, Fanny, and Sea Bird), and captured the C.S.S. Ellis. The Confederates scuttled the C.S.S. Appomattox when she could not get through a lock in the Dismal Swamp Canal. The C.S.S. Forrest, under repairs and not part of the battle, was also destroyed. This virtually wiped out the “mosquito” fleet.

The Confederate forts and batteries at Cobb’s Point were destroyed as well, leaving Elizabeth City defenseless. The Federal vessels arrived at the town a few hours later. By that time, most white residents had fled, leaving behind several burning buildings and a throng of cheering slaves. The Federals sustained nine casualties in the operation (two killed and seven wounded), and the Confederates lost four killed.

In his report to Flag Officer Goldsborough, Rowan singled out Quarter-Gunner John Davis for bravery:

“I would respectfully call your attention to one incident of the engagement which reflects much credit upon a quarter gunner of the Valley City and for which Congress has provided rewards in the shape of medals. A shot passed through her magazine and exploded in a locker beyond containing fireworks. The commander, Lieutenant Commander Chaplain, went there to aid in suppressing the fire, where he found John Davis, quarter gunner, seated with commendable coolness on an open barrel of powder as the only means to keep the fire out, all the while passing powder to provide the division on the upper deck while under fierce enemy fire.”

Davis received the Medal of Honor for this action under General Order No. 11 on April 3, 1863.

Less than two weeks after taking Elizabeth City, Rowan led a fleet of eight gunboats up the Chowan River toward Winton. The Federals withdrew under heavy artillery fire, but they returned the next morning and bombarded the town into submission. Federal troops, supported by the U.S.S. Delaware and Commodore Perry, came ashore and burned buildings, churches, and homes.

The Federals then turned their attention to New Bern. With no more naval support, the Confederates turned to planting obstructions in the waterways to stop the Federal naval advance. This proved moderately successful, as Goldsborough reported to Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox, “At Washington (N.C.), and also at New Bern the obstructions in the river are very formidable, and admirably placed…”

However, this only delayed the Federal push toward New Bern, which continued into March.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 31-32, 34; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (10 Feb 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 126, 132; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 231; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 108-09, 112; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 169; 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. 372; 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, 2012), p. 51

The Fall of Roanoke Island

February 8, 1862 – The Federal army-navy effort to seize North Carolina’s Outer Banks continued, with the potential reward being a strengthening of the naval blockade and the opening of an invasion route into southern Virginia.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside and Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough launched an army-navy expedition against Roanoke Island in January. The island guarded the back door to Richmond, commanded naval passage between Pamlico and Albemarle sounds, and overlooked the North Carolina coast from Cape Lookout to Virginia.

The Federal effort to take Roanoke Island had been bogged down by bad weather, with sandbars providing another impediment for Federal warships and troop transports to enter Hatteras Inlet into Pamlico Sound. After a channel had finally been cleared, the last Federal vessel cleared the bar on February 4.

The next morning, the 65 Federal ships and 13,000 troops that had survived the past month’s harsh frustrations began heading northward up Pamlico Sound, with Goldsborough’s warships leading the way. The fleet anchored for the night about 10 miles from Roanoke Island, poised to attack the following day. However, heavy fog stalled the Federal advance.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Henry A. Wise commanded just 2,300 Confederate defenders at Roanoke Island. Wise had gone to Richmond to plead for reinforcements to no avail. He had also failed to recruit “free negro laborers” to help build defenses. Wise then fell ill with pneumonia and was replaced by Colonel Henry M. Shaw, a man distrusted by Confederates for his New England upbringing and his lack of military experience.

In addition to the Confederate garrison, three sand forts bearing 32 total guns protected the northwestern section of Roanoke Island. This was hardly an ideal position since the Federals would be coming from the south. The Confederates also had Flag Officer William F. Lynch’s “mosquito” fleet of seven naval vessels, each with just one gun. The island itself contained a redoubt across its center road, with swamps guarding the garrison’s flanks.

When the fog lifted on the morning of the 7th, Goldsborough’s fleet began the advance. The 16 gunboats, bearing 64 guns, led the way in line of battle, with the troops and supply ships behind them. Aboard Burnside’s flagship the Picket, signalmen conveyed to the armada a quote from Lord Nelson before the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar: “Today, the country expects every man to do his duty.”

Moving northward, the fleet approached Fort Bartow, at Pork Point in Croatan Sound, west of Roanoke Island. Confederates at Bartow fired a signal shot around 11:30 a.m., as the vessels split between attacking the fort and confronting Lynch’s fleet. Lynch quickly pulled his ships back out of firing range, burning the C.S.S. Curlew to prevent her capture.

The Federals then turned on the Confederate water batteries and Fort Bartow. Many cannon were easily knocked out of commission, as Goldsborough directed his gunboats to move as close to the fort as possible so that Confederate artillerists could not depress their guns low enough to fire on them. With the Confederates in the forts and fleet occupied, Burnside began preparing to land his troops on Roanoke Island.

Burnside selected Ashby Harbor, in the island’s southwestern corner, as the landing point based on the advice of a local fugitive slave. The war’s first successful large-scale amphibious landing occurred when the Federal troop transports began debarking two miles south of Goldsborough’s gunboats around 4 p.m. The ships protected the landing by repelling one last desperate attack from the “mosquito” fleet.

The Roanoke Island Landing | Image Credit: learnnc.org

The Roanoke Island Landing | Image Credit: learnnc.org

Steamers sent surf-boats and rowing craft filled with troops and artillery toward the island, and the Federals waded the rest of the way to shore. Over the next nine hours, some 10,000 Federals in three brigades under Brigadier Generals Jesse Reno, John G. Parke, and John G. Foster landed at Ashby’s Harbor. Colonel Shaw dispatched 450 Confederates to contest the landing, but they retreated after observing the overwhelming force coming ashore. Shaw hurriedly prepared to make a stand at the island’s main redoubt.

The Federals quickly secured the island’s southern half, then huddled in freezing rain until the next day’s scheduled attack. On the morning of the 8th, the troops advanced upon the Confederate defenses in the northern section of Roanoke Island. They moved in three columns on the causeway that crossed the island’s vast swampland. The Federals encountered no resistance until they reached a clearing about halfway up the 12-mile island. About 1,500 entrenched Confederates and three cannon covered that point.

Shaw placed his men behind strong earthworks, hoping to draw the Federals into open ground. The swamps in the clearing also threatened to slow any attack long enough for the Confederates to pour fire into the attackers and drive them off.

One Federal brigade advanced head-on up the causeway, led by the 9th New York Zouaves. The other two brigades conducted simultaneous flank attacks, advancing knee-deep through mud and swampland. The overwhelmed Confederates quickly abandoned their trenches and fled toward the island’s northern end.

The Federals chased them to the sea, where a Confederate officer asked Foster for capitulation terms. Foster replied, “None but those of unconditional surrender.” This message was relayed to Shaw, who thought for a moment and said, “I must surrender.” Foster soon arrived to receive Shaw’s sword, and Roanoke Island belonged to the Federals.

The Federals sustained 264 casualties (37 killed, 214 wounded, and 13 missing) while the Confederates lost 85 (23 killed and 62 wounded), along with 2,675 surrendered. Wise’s son was killed in action, but Wise himself overcame his illness long enough to escape to Poplar Branch, 20 miles north.

This was the first significant Federal land victory of the war, much greater than the victory at Fort Henry two days before. Burnside reported that he had “complete possession of this island, with five forts, mounting thirty-two guns, winter quarters for some 4,000 troops, and 3,000 stand of arms, large hospital buildings, with a large amount of lumber, wheelbarrows, scows, pile-drivers, a mud dredge, ladders, and other appurtenances for military service…”

Although this battle was small compared to future engagements, the Confederate government considered the loss of Roanoke Island a great disaster. This exposed northeastern North Carolina to a potential Federal drive to Norfolk or even Richmond. It also gave the Federals control of North Carolina’s inland seas, which would strengthen the blockade and alarm all coastal defenders. The loss greatly harmed southern morale and led many to wonder why the Davis administration did not work harder to ensure the island’s security.

By around 4 p.m., Goldsborough’s Federal gunboat fleet had removed the Confederate obstructions to Albemarle Sound; the “mosquito” fleet offered little resistance. Goldsborough followed up this victory by advancing up the Pasquotank River toward Elizabeth City to confront Lynch’s small squadron. A two-day bombardment of Fort Bartow led to the Confederates evacuating the place on the 9th.

News of Roanoke Island’s capture was celebrated throughout the North. Horace Greeley wrote in his New York Tribune: “It now requires no far-reaching prophet to predict the end of this struggle.” Meanwhile, gloom pervaded the Confederacy, with an article in the Richmond Examiner calling the defeat “certainly the most painful event of the war.”

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24, 26-27, 30-31; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 121-23; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 227, 229-30; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 107-08; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3091; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 167-69; 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. 372; 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, 2012), p. 51; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 234; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 636

The Roanoke Island Campaign

January 5, 1862 – Federal forces embarked on a joint army-navy operation to capture a key point on the North Carolina coast.

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen. Ambrose Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

President Abraham Lincoln, General-in-Chief George B. McClellan, and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles had approved a plan developed by Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside to load army troops onto navy transports and, with naval warship support, capture Roanoke Island. This guarded both Albemarle and Pamlico sounds, along with many rivers, canals, and railroads.

Taking 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 North Carolina coast and the Outer Banks. It would also gain them access to many of the waterways flowing from North Carolina’s interior, as well as the numerous Unionists said to reside in that area.

The 12,829 Federal troops of Burnside’s “Coast Division” consisted mostly of New Englanders accustomed to working on the water. Burnside had recruited the men himself, which were grouped into three brigades commanded by his West Point friends: Brigadier Generals John G. Foster, Jesse L. Reno, and John G. Parke. Bands played and snow fell as the troops boarded transports at Annapolis, Maryland, to embark on what became known as the “Burnside expedition.”

Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough, commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, led the naval armada. It included about 100 vessels varying from makeshift barges, coal steamers, steamboats, and warships. As they pulled out of Annapolis, Burnside later recalled, “The whole fleet seemed to be under a mixed influence of excitement and contentment.”

Both the northern and southern press speculated on the fleet’s secret destination, with the Richmond Dispatch correctly guessing that it was Pamlico Sound. However, the press greatly underestimated the size of the massive armada, which steamed south toward North Carolina on January 11.

Burnside set up headquarters on the Picket, one of the least seaworthy gunboats in the fleet, to show his men that he was with them. They all suffered through a ferocious two-day storm that featured severe winds and high waves off Cape Hatteras. Burnside noted that “the men, furniture, and crockery below decks were thrown about in a most promiscuous manner.”

Roanoke Island | Image Credit: nps.gov

Roanoke Island | Image Credit: nps.gov

The Federals finally arrived off Roanoke Island on the 13th. The smaller ships began entering Pamlico Sound that morning, and the Picket led the larger ships in around 12 p.m. However, rough waves and the shallow bar made it extremely difficult for these ships to pass. The Pocahontas was destroyed, losing 100 horses. The steamer City of New York foundered, losing over $200,000 worth of supplies and equipment. The captain and crew were rescued after lifeboats could finally be sent over the breakers; they had hung from the rigging for nearly two days.

Awaiting the Federals at Roanoke Island were just 1,400 “undrilled, unpaid, not sufficiently clothed and quartered, and miserably armed” Confederates according to their commander, Brigadier General Henry A. Wise. A “mosquito” fleet of seven gunboats under Flag Officer William F. Lynch also aided in defense. Wise notified Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin that the island was “utterly defenceless” and estimated that even without Burnside’s troops, the Federal armada was “amply sufficient to capture or pass Roanoke Island in any 12 hours.”

Wise called on his superior, Major General Benjamin Huger, for reinforcements and arms. Huger denied the request, even though he had 13,000 men standing by at nearby Norfolk. Huger instead recommended that Wise demand “hard work and coolness among the troops you have, instead of more men.” When Wise went to Richmond to personally request reinforcements, Benjamin peremptorily ordered him to return to his post and hold the island at all costs, despite being outnumbered almost nine-to-one.

Lynch reported to Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory that from the C.S.S. Sea Bird at Hatteras Inlet, he “saw a large fleet of steamers and transports.” Lynch reminded Mallory of Roanoke Island’s importance: “Here is the great thoroughfare from Albemarle Sound and its tributaries, and if the enemy obtain lodgements or succeed in passing here he will cut off a very rich country from the Norfolk market.”

Meanwhile, Goldsborough informed Welles of the ongoing difficulties in getting the fleet, particularly the troop transports, across the Pamlico Sound sandbar. The move took several weeks, during which time the Federals reconnoitered the Confederate positions on Roanoke Island and its surrounding forts. As the channel was deepened to enable the ships to enter the sound, the men remained aboard their vessels suffering from a growing lack of drinking water. The sound passage continued into February.

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References

Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17, 21-23; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 108, 111, 115, 117-18; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 226-28; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 96-98, 101-02; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 158-60, 163; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 536; 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. 372; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 238-39

The Chicamacomico Races

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.

Gen D.H. Hill | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Gen D.H. Hill | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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.

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References

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