Ocracoke's history & its people

Civil War battles on Hatteras gave Union first victories

August 2011

By Connie Leinbach

Capturing two Con­federate forts on Hat­teras Island were the first wins by the Union in 1861 during the first of the five-year Civil War, historian Drew Pullen noted during a talk earlier this year in the Ocracoke Community Cen­ter. His talk was part of the National Park Service’s “Know Your Park” se­ries. The presentation was also a prelude to the sesquicentennial (150 years) events of the Civil War later this summer on Hatteras and Roanoke islands.

Pullen, of Buxton, who has written two books: The Civil War on Hatteras Island and The Civil War on Roa­noke Island, is working on a third book, The Battle of New Bern and the Siege of Fort Macon. He illustrated his talk with original period drawings and photographs, some of which are on view in the his­tory center at Roanoke Festi­val Park.

“Since we’re so remote, why was there even a fort here?” he asked the 20 in at­tendance.

  1. The Confeder­ate government wanted to protect the privateers (es­sentially legal pirates) oper­ating out of Hatteras, Pullen said. At the present-day site of Hatteras village were Fort Hatteras, an earth fort situ­ated near where the inlet is today, and Fort Clark, about a mile east. Out in the ocean privateers were seizing so many northern ships that northern merchants put pres­sure on the government for help.

In the first combined mili­tary operation (which includ­ed the Army and Navy) of the Civil War, the Union sent an armada of seven warships and transport vessels off Hat­teras.

Commodore Silas String­ham situated the warships in an oval formation to take turns firing, reloading and firing again, continually pum­meling the area. On Aug. 29, 1861, General Benjamin But­ler accepted the surrender of both forts. Shortly thereafter, the fort at Ocracoke (on an is­land in the inlet) was attacked by federal ships and also fell.

These captures gave the Union a back door into the Confederacy, and Gen. Am­brose Burnside led an expe­dition in 1862 into Eastern Carolina, capturing several other forts: Roanoke, New Bern and Fort Macon. Burn­side also destroyed the Caro­lina “Mosquito Fleet,” a fleet of private vessels with guns mounted on them.

After these victories, the federal government created the 1st Carolina Regiment in 1862 and formed several companies of Hatteras and Ocracoke island men. Unlike other regiments, they were allowed to remain here and were not sent into battle. “It’s not that they had a strong sentiment for the North,” Pul­len explained about the locals enlisting in the Union Army. They were on remote islands, often without current news, and were practical about the opportunity the Union gave them.

After Hatteras was cap­tured, slaves ran to there and sought protection by the Union. They constructed the first safe haven of the war, dubbed “Hotel De Afrique” in Hatteras. This barracks pre­ceded the Freed Man’s Col­ony on Roanoke Island. The anniversary event Aug. 22 to 28 is called “Flags Over Hat­teras,” and will include a conference and a re-enactment the final weekend.

Pullen said that ar­tifacts from all over the United States that relate to the Civil War on Hatteras are being collected to be on view in the Hatteras Village Civic Center where the conference will take place. Anyone on Ocracoke and Hatteras who has an ancestor who fought on Hatteras or who was in the 1st Carolina Regiment may attend the “Blue Grey Reunion” (Aug. 22 to 24 dur­ing the event) free of charge as a VIP. For details about at­tending that specific event, contact Earl W. O’Neal, Jr., a 252-928-3417, or by email at ewoj1132@embarqmail.com.

All attendees to the confer­ence  All attendees to the confer­ence must pay the full regis­tration fee of $150 per person, which includes lectures, exhib­its at Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, speakers at Hatteras Civic Center, living history pre­sentations at Hatteras Light­house. Conference registration includes three dinner lectures with these nationally known speakers: James McPherson, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom; Ed Bearss, retired chief histo­rian of the National Park Ser­vice; Craig Symonds, Profes­sor Emeritus of History at the United States Naval Academy.

For more details on the conference and to register, go online to www.flagsoverhat­teras.com

Pullen’s books are avail­able for purchase at several shops on Ocracoke.