In 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 bombarded Fort Bartow, southernmost of the Confederate defenses. One of three Confederate earthen forts on the west side of Roanoke Island (the others were Fort Huger and Fort Blanchard), Fort Bartow mounted nine guns. The forts were designed to protect the mainland from Federal invasion and to complement obstructions placed in the channel.
A small mainland Confederate fortification on the western side of Croatan Sound, Fort Forrest consisted of two shorebound barges equipped with seven 32 pound cannon. The position was directly opposite Fort Blanchard on Roanoke Island and its construction amounted to an attempt to block passage through the channel by Union gun boats. The channel was also blocked by 16 sunken ships and pilings meant to damage the undersides of ships passing through the waters. Fort Forrest was destroyed by Federal forces during the Battle of Roanoke Island on February 8, 1862.
The Confederate fleet, under Captain W. F. Lynch, waited to engage the Federals behind the 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 bombarded various positions on Roanoke Island including Fort Blanchard and Fort Forrest 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)