Union forces under the command of Union General Henry W. Wessells’ garrison of about 3,000 troops held Plymouth beginning with their occupation in December 1862. In order to secure the town, the Union engineers constructed a series of earthworks and fortifications to protect 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, General Robert F. Hoke’s division of over 5,000 men began an attack of Union General Wessells’ garrison. Hoke planned for his ground troops to be reinforced by the “Confederate Goliath,” the ironclad gunboat Albemarle. Hoke’s primary assault focused on ground attacks against Union earthworks and, by the evening of the 18th, the Confederates had advanced their line and Fort Wessells fell to Confederate forces during one of the heaviest assaults of the battle.
Early on the morning of the 19th, the Albemarle made its way into the battle. The ironclad had left its final construction docks in Hamilton, maneuvered through channel obstructions, and easily withstood glancing blows of Union cannon from Fort Gray outside of Plymouth before engaging ships in the Roanoke near the town. The Albemarle successfully engaged and sank one Union gunboat and another left in retreat after suffering damage and the loss of naval commander Charles W. Flusser. The Albemarle then bombarded the Union earthworks throughout the night.
The final assault 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 this 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