north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     By the fall of 1862, protection of the Roanoke River in Martin County had become essential to the survival of the Confederacy. The Union blockade of southern ports made Wilmington, protected by Fort Fisher, the final working port to bring foreign goods into the Confederacy. Goods then were transported throughout the South via railroad. Most significantly for the war effort, goods were shipped to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia along the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad to Petersburg.

     In the Roanoke River area, the railroad bridges, especially the bridge at Weldon, were under constant threat from Union gunboats along the river. The situation led the Confederate government in 1862 to order the construction Fort Branch, named for General Lawrence O’B. Branch, a North Carolinian killed at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam).

     Fort Branch was built on a seventy-foot bluff in an area called Rainbow Banks. The earthworks fort was constructed in the Rainbow Bend, beginning in October 1862 about three miles south of Hamilton, where a small battery already existed. In December 1862 General J. G. Foster’s raid in the Martin County area hindered progress, but construction was complete early in the summer of 1863. At that time, Companies B, G, and H of the 1st North Carolina Artillery were stationed at Fort Branch.

     Fort Hill had an additional purpose of great importance to the Confederate cause: the protection of Edwards Ferry, where the construction of the CSS Albemarle was underway. The Albemarle aided in the recovery of Plymouth and provided protection for the Roanoke River valley until it was sunk in October of 1864.

     The Union Army attempted to destroy Fort Branch in December 1864 through a joint army-navy effort. The venture proved unsuccessful, but drew Confederate troops back to Fort Branch, especially following the Union recapture of Plymouth. In spring 1865, when the defeat of the Confederacy became evident, Confederate soldiers destroyed Fort Branch. The soldiers exploded the magazine and dumped the guns into the river, withdrawing to various locations across the state. Today Fort Branch has been privately restored and regularly is opened to the public as a regional historic site.

Phillip Shiman, Fort Branch and the Defense of the Roanoke Valley (1990)
North Carolina Division of Archives and History Underwater Archaeology Branch, Fort Branch: Survey and Recovery Project (1979)
James H. McCallum, ed., Martin County during the Civil War (1971)
Francis M. Manning and W. H. Booker, Martin County History, II (1977)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources