Confederate Fort Hatteras Surrendered

Thursday, August 29, 1861

The Union Navy fleet under Flag Officer Silas Sternham had succeeded in shutting down a Rebel battery and clearing out Fort Clark on Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The morning found the situation much the same. The Confederates appeared to be holding out in Fort Hatteras, like Clark, a log and sand fort, still flying the flag of secession.

On the land, over 300 foot soldiers comprised of infantry, Marines and artillerymen, had set up two of their own howitzers and were bombarding the Confederate ships which were in communication with Fort Hatteras.

Meanwhile, the Naval fleet steamed into position to bombard Hatteras. For most ships, their pivot guns caused the most destruction. In order to stay out of the range of the Rebel guns, the ships had to anchor far off the coast where only their heaviest guns with extreme elevations could be used. Due to the elevation, the cannons were used like mortars, sending shot and shell over the ramparts, and into the center of the fort.

For nearly three hours, the Union Navy pounded Hatteras, nearly breaking through its bomb-proof. Not a single Confederate cannon could reach the fleet, though for hours they kept up a steady fire. Finally realizing their efforts were in vain, at 11:10am, a white flag was hoisted over the fort in surrender.

Flag Officer Stringham and General Butler parlayed with the Confederate commanders and drew up the articles of capitulation, recognizing all 615 Rebels, soldiers and officers alike, as prisoners of war. The prisoners were taken aboard one of the Union ships while Butler and his men took command of Fort Hatteras, raising the United States flag aloft.1


Rain and Assumptions in Western Virginia

The late August rains had been falling for forty-eight hours straight, turning already muddy roads into swamps and making the movement of troops nearly impossible. At Gauley Bridge, Union General Cox was worried about the Rebels under General Wise turning his southern flank by placing artillery on Cotton Hill and capturing his supply wagons. To his north, Confederate General Floyd was still holding Carnifex Ferry, which was making Cox apprehensive.2

The apprehension was not in vain. While Floyd was making no real movements at Carnifex, he was bettering his defenses and thinking up plans for General Wise at Dogwood Springs, eight miles east of Gauley. Floyd was impressed with his small victory over a greatly-outnumbered Union force a few days ago, believing that provided him an opportunity to exploit. Believing that he had somehow outwitted and demoralized Cox’s entire command, he ordered Wise to move eight miles closer to Gauley, to the Hawks Nest, a rugged section of New River Gorge.

Union forces, imagined Floyd, were sure to be in a full retreat back down the Kanawha Valley. Wise should take this opportunity to harass their rear guards. Unsure if what Floyd was saying was even remotely true, Wise, for the time being, did nothing.3


In the West, Polk asks Davis for Johnston

General Leonidas Polk, also a bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, was the Confederate commander of one of the Western departments, centering on the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers. For some time now, he had been directing affairs with little success. Polk felt that that the way the departments were divided up, as well as the disharmony between commanders, called for a change.

The new department should be placed under one commander, wrote Polk to President Jefferson Davis, and that commander should be given a very wide berth. “Such a position is one of very great responsibility,” wrote the bishop, “involving and requiring large experience and extensive military knowledge, and I know of no one so well equal to that task as our friend General Albert S. Johnston.”

Johnston, who had been the commander of the United States Department of the Pacific until the start of the war, had traveled from California, across the desert, through New Mexico, and was slowly making his way to Richmond.

If appointed, Johnston would take over Polk’s command, while Polk would become Johnston’s subordinate. Polk, however, believed such a change was necessary. “The success of our campaign in this valley may depend upon such an arrangement,” concluded Polk, “and I know of no man who has the capacity to fill the position, who could be had, but General Johnston.”4

  1. The Navy in the Civil War by Daniel Ammen, C. Scribner’s Sons, 1883. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51 (part 1), p463-464. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p819-820. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p687-688. []
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