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Battle of Roanoke Island, NC
in the American Civil War

Union Battle Summary

Roanoke Island, NC, Feb. 8, 1862. Part of Gen. Burnside's Army and Goldsborough's Fleet. Roanoke island is bounded by the four sounds, Albemarle on the north, Roanoke on the east, Pamlico on the south and Croatan on the west, the last named separating it from the mainland. In the early part of 1862 it was held by the Confederates, who had erected three forts on the western side of the island to guard Croatan sound. Near the north end, at Weir's point, was Fort Huger, mounting 12 guns; about 2 miles below on Pork point was Fort Bartow mounting 9 guns; some 1,200 yards south of Fort Huger was Fort Blanchard with 4 guns. All the guns were 32-pounders, except one 68-pounder at Fort Bartow and 2 of the same caliber at Huger. At Ballast point, on the east side of the island was a 2-gun battery, known as Fort Ellis, to prevent the landing of troops in the vicinity of Shallowbag bay, and near the center of the island was a 3-gun battery, stationed across the road, facing southward and flanked by earthworks for a quarter of a mile on each side. At Redstone point, on the mainland opposite Fort Huger, was another fortification called Fort Forrest, which mounted seven 24-pounders. A post report, made ten days before the attack, stated that the defense of the island was forty 32-pounders, 7 rifled guns, and five days' ammunition. According to Confederate reports the effective force on the island numbered 1,434 men of the 8th, 17th and 31st NC and 46th and 59th Va., under command of Col. H.M. Shaw. Brig.-Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Department of North Carolina, selected for the expedition against the island his 1st, 2nd and 3rd brigades, respectively commanded by Brig.-Gens. John G. Foster, Jesse L. Reno and John G. Parke. This force, with the 1st N.Y. marine artillery and Co. B, 99th N.Y., was embarked on transports at Hatteras inlet on the morning of the 5th and started for the island. The transports were accompanied by the gunboats Picket, Huzzar, Pioneer, Vidette, Ranger, Lancer and Chasseur, and were preceded by the fleet under Flag-Officer L.M. Goldsborough, consisting of the gunboats Stars and Stripes, Louisiana, Hetzel, Underwriter, Delaware, Commodore Perry, Valley City, Commodore Barney, Hunchback, Southfield, Morse, Whitehead, Lockwood, Brincker, Seymour, Ceres, Putnam, Shawsheen and Granite. At the south end of Croatan sound is a group of small islands known as the Marshes. This point was reached on the forenoon of the 6th, but owing to a heavy fog the attempt to pass through the narrow channel was postponed until the next morning. At 9 a.m. on the 7th the fleet got under way and passed through the channel, closely followed by the transports and army gunboats. An hour and a half later the foremost of the vessels came within sight of 8 Confederate gunboats drawn up in line behind a double row of piles and sunken vessels stretching across the main channel of the sound on a line running from Fort Forrest toward Fort Bartow, and by 11 o'clock the leading gunboats, the Confederate fleet and the guns of Fort Bartow were engaged in a spirited bombardment. This continued until after 4 p.m., when 5 of the enemy's vessels, apparently seriously injured, withdrew behind Fort Huger, where the troops on board of them were landed. About 5 o'clock the Confederate batteries and boats again opened fire, but in a short time the gun boats were forced to retire, one of them, the Forrest, in a disabled condition, taking refuge under the guns at Redstone point. At the beginning of the action the transports anchored some 3 miles in the rear of the fleet and preparations were made for landing. Ashby's landing, the place which had been selected, was found to be in possession of a detachment of the enemy, and Gen. Foster, who had charge of this part of the operations, directed his course toward the Hammond house. Here some of his men were put ashore and moved against the enemy at Ashby's. At the same time the Delaware drew up and sent a few 11-inch shrapnel into the Confederates at that point, causing them to withdraw in some haste. By 10 p.m. the greater portion of the 12,000 land forces were on the island, bivouacked about a mile and a half from the 3-gun battery, which was to be the first point of attack. Early on the morning of the 8th the troops moved forward in three columns - Foster in the center, with the 23rd, 25th and 27th Mass and 10th Conn.; Reno on the left, with the 51st N.Y., 9th N.J. and 51st Pa., and Parke on the right with the 4th and 5th R.I. and 9th N.Y. In front of the battery the road was a narrow causeway through an almost impassable swamp, the trees having been cut down for a distance of 700 yards to give a clear sweep to the guns. Foster's advance, the 25th Mass., drove in the enemy's pickets and followed them on the run to the edge of the clearing. Foster then deployed his brigade in line of battle and brought up 6 light Dahlgren howitzers to reply to the guns of the battery. As soon as these dispositions were made the brigade advanced directly upon the enemy's works. Simultaneously Reno worked his way through the swamp and the mass of fallen trees on the left until he reached a point where he could take the enemy in flank, Parke executing a similar movement on the right of the road. Here the obstacles were so great as to cause serious delay, and seeing that the enemy was beginning to waver under Reno's attack, the order was given for the 9th N.Y. to turn to the left and charge directly up the road. "Fix bayonets and charge!" rang out the voice of Col. Rush C. Hawkins as soon as he received the order, and with a yell the regiment rushed up the road directly in the face of the enemy's fire. But the Confederates did not wait for the charge. Before the New Yorkers could reach the intrenchments they abandoned everything and fled in confusion toward the north end of the island. Just at this juncture the 24th Mass. arrived fresh on the field and took up the pursuit. The 4th R.I. and 10th Conn. were sent to attack Fort Bartow on the rear, but it was found evacuated, the garrison having joined in the retreat. Fort Huger was also abandoned and the entire Confederate force was concentrated in two camps near the north end of the island, where, after a slight resistance, it surrendered. Burnside reported the number of prisoners at 159 officers and over 2,500 men. In addition to these Shaw reported a loss of 23 killed, 58 wounded and 62 missing. During the action reinforcements came to the enemy, arriving just in time to become prisoners of war. The Union loss in the land forces was 37 killed, 214 wounded and 12 missing; in the navy, 6 killed, 17 wounded and 2 missing. Winter quarters for 4,000 men, 42 pieces of artillery, a large amount of ammunition for the same, 3,000 stands of small arms, and a large quantity of lumber, utensils, etc., fell into Federal hands. But the greatest advantage gained by the capture of Roanoke island was its strategic importance as a coaling station and a base from which to operate against the rest of the coast.

Source: The Union Army, Volume 6, Cyclopedia of Battles, 1908


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