Union forces under the command of Union General Henry W. Wessells’ garrison of about 3,000 troops held Plymouth since the town fell to their occupation in December, 1862. In order to secure the town, the Union engineers had constructed a series of earthworks and fortifications that included the 85th Redoubt, also known as Fort Wessells and Fort Williams. The earthworks protected the town from both land and sea attacks. Confederates sought to retake the town in April 1864 and attacked the earthworks from all quarters during the Battle of Plymouth.
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On April 17, 1864, an advanced Union patrol on the Washington Road was captured by Confederate cavalry and, following the first encounter, a large force of Confederate infantry soon appeared on the road. At the same time Fort Gray, two miles above Plymouth on the river bank, was attacked by advance Confederate infantry. During the evening, skirmishing continued from the Washington Road to the Acre Road. Union General Wessells’ garrison was under attack by General Robert F. Hoke’s division of over 5,000 men.
At 6:30 P.M. on the 18th the Confederates advanced their line and began an infantry assault upon the Union’s entrenched position; but the attack was abandoned at 8 P.M. The 85th Redoubt was then attacked and it fell to Confederate forces during one of the heaviest assaults of the Battle of Plymouth at 11 P.M. on April 18, 1864.
After heavy fighting on both land and on the Roanoke on the 19th, including the bombardment of the earthworks by Confederate gunboats, the final attack came early in the morning of April 20, 1864. Confederate General Hoke attacked from the left and Ransom mounted an attack from the right which overwhelmed the Federal forces. Fort Williams succumbed to the assault and was the last of the major forts in the town to fall as the Federal forces surrendered to the Confederates by 10 A.M.
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: http://www.livinghistoryweekend.com/port_o.htm