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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 http://www.flagsoverhatteras.com
Pullen’s books are available for purchase at several shops on Ocracoke.