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 Huge 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. Of the three forts, Bartow was the only one actively engaged in the Battle of Roanoke Island.
The first shot of the battle was fired from Bartow’s guns and the fort subsequently was bombarded by the Federal fleet for seven hours. 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.
In efforts to stall and damage advancing Federal ships, Confederate forces drove wood pilings into the channel and sank 16 boats in the Croatan Sound. The Confederate “mosquito fleet” of small, shallow draft boats attempted to lure Federal ships into the dangerous unmarked and obstructed channel. Federal ships did not enter the area and were able to bombard Confederate defenses from outlying positions during the Battle of Roanoke Island on February 7-8, 1862. The Confederates, after a sharp engagement which was ended only by darkness, were forced to retire due to lack of ammunition. The remains of the pilings and other snags are still visible at low tide.
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)