At 4 P.M. on April 17, 1864, an advanced Union patrol on the Washington Road was captured by Confederate cavalry. Following this first encounter, a large force of Confederate infantry soon appeared on the Washington Road. At the same time Fort Gray, two miles above Plymouth on the river bank, was also attacked by advance Confederate infantry. During the evening skirmishing continued from the Washington Road to the Acre Road. Union General Henry W. Wessells’ garrison of about 3,000, which had held Plymouth since December, 1862, was under attack by General Robert F. Hoke’s Division of over 5,000 men.
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On April 18 and 19 the attempts by the Confederates to take the town were focused on naval actions and fighting near Union earthworks. The final attack by Confederates during the Battle of Plymouth came early in the morning of April 20, 1864 when Confederate General Hoke assembled his brigade to assist in a two-pronged assault against an entrenched garrison force of about 3,000 Union troops. Hoke’s men were the extreme left flank of Confederate attack and fought against the Union right flanks as other Confederates under General Matt W. Ransom assaulted the Union line to the east of Plymouth. In spite of strong resistance, the Confederate advances overwhelmed the Federal forces and the town was surrendered to the Confederates by 10A.M. on the 20th.
The capture of Plymouth by the Confederates was significant because it returned two rich eastern North Carolina counties to the Confederacy; it supplied “immense ordnance stores” to the Southern war effort; and the Roanoke River was reopened to Confederate commerce and military operations.
John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963)
Daniel W. Barefoot, General Robert F. Hoke: Lee's Modest Warrior (1996)
William R. Trotter, The Civil War in North Carolina: Ironclads and Columbiads (1989)
Robert G. Elliott, Ironclad of the Roanoke: Gilbert Elliott's Albemarle (1994)
Clayton Charles Marlow, Matt W. Ransom: Confederate General from North Carolina (1996)
Port O’ Plymouth Museum: