Wednesday, August 28, 1861
The Union Navy fleet arrived off the coast of Cape Hatteras the day prior. The night was passed readying the troops for the War’s first beach landing. General Butler left the flagship USS Minnesota to oversee the infantry operation from the Harriet Lane. The entire mission was under Navy Flag Officer Silas Sternham.
Butler commanded 915 troops, made up of infantry, artillery, Union Coast Guard and a company of Marines. All were put aboard iron-bottomed transport ships and were moved to close range of the Cape. Just then, the winds picked up, which threatened to scatter the plans of the foot soldiers.
As three steamers, including the Harriet Lane, covered the landing, the Minnesota led the rest of the ships in attacking a battery of guns just north of Fort Clark. The Rebels manning the artillery stepped lively for higher ground, abandoning their pieces and retreating to Clark.
Meanwhile, Butler’s landing had to be abandoned after only 315 soldiers made it ashore before the winds were too strong to risk more. Fifty artillerymen with two howitzers, along with fifty-five Marines, were among the few able to land. They moved south, past the abandoned battery and closed in on Fort Clark, which was now in a desperate duel with the Union warships.
After an hour or so of bombardment, it was seen that neither Forts Clark nor Hatteras were flying Rebel flags. Clark seemed to have been abandoned altogether. By 12:30pm, thinking that the Rebels had surrendered, Flag Officer Stringham ordered all firing to be stopped. Cautiously, the landing party advanced to the fort and by 2pm, a Union flag was snapping in the strong winds over Fort Clark.
One of the ships with the Minnesota was ordered to advance up the inlet, past the possibly-surrendered Fort Hatteras. When she pulled to within firing range, the Rebel fort opened upon her. In response, five other Union ships raked the fort with cannon shot.
Unable to move closer to the fort, the bombardment, which lasted until dusk, was ineffective. Butler’s landing party had withdrawn from Fort Clark and had moved close to where they landed, bivouacking for the night.
While the attack didn’t completely dislodge the Confederates from Cape Hatteras, it was clear that a Union victory would come the next day.1
General Grant Ordered to Cape Girardeau, Missouri
General Ulysses S. Grant, who had been commanding a brigade at Ironton, Missouri, was ordered by General Fremont in St. Louis to take command of operations at Cape Girardeau, along the Mississippi River. Fremont had received reports that 4,000 Rebels were holding Benton with another 1,500 near Commerce, opposite Big Island. Grant’s old command, along with the Union troops at Giradeau, were to join forces and destroy the Rebels.
Other Union troops were to occupy Charleston and eventually Columbus, Kentucky.2
Near Rolla, Missouri, a train traveling west from St. Louis was stopped by a forty pound keg of gunpowder placed under the tracks by Rebels. As the engine passed over it, it triggered the explosion, which sent the tender and baggage car behind it up in a ball of fire. The blast somehow injured nobody and caused the tracks no damage at all. It was later found that two sections of track had been removed close to the attack in another attempt at sabotage.3