Union forces under the command of Union General Henry W. Wessells’ garrison of about 3,000 troops held Plymouth beginning with the occupation in December 1862. Fort Williams, named for General Thomas Williams, was the largest of several forts that were connected by earthworks surrounding the town.
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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 near the town. 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 position; but this attack was abandoned at 8 P.M. Another earthen fort, known as the 85th Redoubt, was then attacked and fell to Confederate forces during one of the heaviest assaults of the Battle of Plymouth at 11 P.M. on April 18, 1864.
The final attack by Confederates during the Battle of Plymouth came early in the morning of April 20, 1864 when 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