April 17

This Day in History

Civil War

Apr 17, 1864:

Battle of Plymouth, North Carolina, begins

Confederate forces attack Plymouth, North Carolina, in an attempt to recapture ports lost to the Union two years before. The four-day battle ended with the fall of Plymouth, but the Yankees kept the city bottled up with a flotilla on nearby Albemarle Sound.

In 1862, the Union captured Plymouth and several other points along the North Carolina coast. In doing so, they deprived the Confederacy of several ports for blockade-runners and the agricultural products from several fertile counties. In the spring of 1864, the Confederates mounted a campaign to reverse these defeats. General George Pickett led a division to the area and launched a failed attack on New Bern in February. Now, General Robert Hoke assumed command and moved his army against Plymouth, fifty miles north of New Bern. He planned an attack using the C.S.S. Albemarle, an ironclad that was still being built on the Roanoke River inland from Plymouth.

With 7,000 men, Hoke attacked the 2,800-man Union garrison at Plymouth on April 17. His troops began to capture some of the outer defenses, but he needed the Albemarle to bomb the city from the river. The ironclad moved from its makeshift shipyard on April 17, but it was still under construction. With workers aboard, Captain James Cooke moved down the Roanoke. The Albemarle's rudder broke and the engine stalled, so it took two days to reach Plymouth. When it arrived, the Rebel ship took on two Yankee ships, sinking one and forcing the other to retreat. With the ironclad on the scene, Hoke's men captured Plymouth on April 20.

The Confederates lost 163 men killed and 554 wounded, but captured the entire Union garrison and vast amounts of supplies and arms. The Union lost about 150 killed and wounded, while several hundred of the captured soldiers eventually died at the notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia. The Rebel victory was limited by the fact that the Albemarle was still pinned in the Roanoke River. The crew tried to fight past a Union flotilla on Albemarle Sound on May 5, but it could not escape. It was destroyed in a Union raid on Plymouth on October 27, 1864. Yankee troops recaptured the city four days later.

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