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During late January, 1862, a Federal land-sea expedition assembled at Hatteras Inlet to take Roanoke Island and capture control of the North Carolina sound region. The force was under the joint command of General Ambrose Burnside and navy Flag-Officer Louis Goldsborough. After several delays due to bad weather, the Union fleet, consisting of numerous troop transports and more than 20 war vessels, arrived at the southern end of Roanoke Island.
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On February 7, 1862, Federal ships began a bombardment of the three Confederate earthen forts (the others were Fort Bartow and Fort Blanchard) on the west side of Roanoke Island. Fort Huger was the northernmost and largest of the forts with twelve guns mounted in its sand parapets. The forts were designed to protect the mainland from Federal invasion and to complement obstructions placed in the channel. Forts Huger and Blanchard were not actively engaged in the Battle of Roanoke Island and were ineffective in the battle because the Union fleet maintained a safe distance relative to the range of the cannons placed at those forts.
The first shot of the battle was fired from Fort Bartow’s guns and it was subsequently bombarded by the Federal forces. The Confederate fleet, under Captain W. F. Lynch, waited to engage the Federals behind a line of obstructions placed in Croatan Sound to retard the Federal advance. However, the Confederates, after a sharp engagement which was ended only by darkness, were forced to retire due to lack of ammunition.
On February 8, 1862, the Federal fleet again bombarded various positions on Roanoke Island including the earthen forts in support of General Burnside’s land offensive. After the Union victory on the afternoon of February 8, a detachment of Federal ships under Commodore S. C. Rowan was sent into Albemarle Sound in pursuit of the Confederate fleet. As a consequence, Union forces were in control of most of the inland waters of northeastern North Carolina.
John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963)
John Stephen Carbone, The Civil War in Coastal North Carolina (2001)
Lorenzo Traver, Burnside Expedition in North Carolina: Battles of Roanoke Island and Elizabeth City (1880)
Richard Allen Sauers, The Burnside Expedition in North Carolina (1996)