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

 
 
 

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Essay:
     One of the weak points in the Confederate defense of North Carolina was at Hatteras Inlet, on the southern tip of Hatteras Island. The inlet opened the coastal region to Union invasion. The northern section of the coast fell under the command of Confederate Brigadier General Walter Gwynn. In June 1861, following a tour of the banks, General Gwynn advised Governor Henry Toole Clark of the need to erect a battery position at Hatteras Inlet. Clark approved the project but failed to supply the men and supplies required to adequately complete and equip the fortifications. The men were not properly trained and the guns available were short-range weapons. Still, the Confederates worked rapidly and by late July 1861, the two forts, about three-fourths of a mile apart, had hoisted their Confederate flags.

     Fort Hatteras, the larger of the two, was a square fortification with room for twenty guns along the sides and at the corners. The twelve mounted weapons were sixty-two- and thirty-two-pound smooth bore short range cannons. The fort was constructed primarily of sand and sod from nearby salt marshes. Its walls, about five feet high with slanting sides, were sheathed by two-inch planks driven into the ground. Fort Clark was of irregular shape; smaller but similarly constructed, the fort mounted only five cannons. Manning the forts were 650 Confederate soldiers, primarily from the 17th Regiment North Carolina Troops, with about 1,000 small arms. Their outfit had only recently been organized and trained. The commander was Colonel William F. Martin.

     Forts Hatteras and Clark were woefully inadequate to protect the inlet. On August 27, 1861, a Union fleet anchored south of Cape Hatteras and prepared for an assault. The next morning, 318 troops of infantry, under command of General Benjamin F. Butler, moved onto the beach near Fort Clark. With little resistance the men marched along the shore and quickly took Fort Clark, raising the Stars and Stripes. Union steamers Minnesota, Wabash, and Cumberland traversed the waters in front of Fort Hatteras, continuing well-directed fire. Although the Confederate flag was lowered around mid-day and troops were seen fleeing the fort, the action continued until dusk and broke off for the night. The bombardment resumed on the morning of the 29th, with Union troops from the captured Fort Clark joining the assault. At 11:10 AM the remaining defenders of Fort Hatteras raised the white flag and federal troops advanced into the fort to the cheers of their men already on shore. The Confederate defeat at Hatteras Inlet proved to be the opening wedge into eastern North Carolina, giving the Union navy an open door into the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds.


References:
James M. Merrell, “The Hatteras Expedition, August, 1861,” North Carolina Historical
     Review (April 1952), 204-219
William R. Trotter, Ironclads and Columbiads: The Civil War in North Carolina: The
     Coast (1989)
John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963)
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Fort Hatteras

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