Tag Archives: Hatteras Inlet

The End of 1861

December 31, 1861 – The year closed with southerners optimistic about gaining independence and northerners pessimistic about preserving the Union.

Union Flag | Image Credit: etseq.law.harvard.edu

Union Flag | Image Credit: etseq.law.harvard.edu

Confederate prospects were promising going into 1862. They had won impressive military victories at Big Bethel, Bull Run, Lexington, Wilson’s Creek, and Ball’s Bluff. Independence seemed likely, as the correspondent for the London Times reported from Washington that “the Union is broken for ever, and the independence of the South virtually established.”

For 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 recently, Dranesville. They controlled western Virginia and were dominant in Kentucky and Missouri. Their blockade was also growing stronger, and they were beginning to drain labor from the South by confiscating slaves.

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

However, a supposed diplomatic victory turned into a setback of sorts in the Trent affair. The Federal armies, though numerically superior to their adversaries, remained stagnant in all theaters of operation, with General-in-Chief George B. McClellan seriously ill with typhoid and unable to command.

Perhaps most importantly, the U.S. was facing a financial crisis, as many northern banks suspended specie payments. The war cost northerners an exorbitant sum with no results to justify such a high amount. For this reason alone, prospects for the Federals seemed dim going into next year.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 64-65; 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. 367

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

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.

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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