On this day in 1862, Union General Ambrose Burnside scores a major victory when his troops capture Roanoke Island in North Carolina. It was one of the first major Union victories of the Civil War and gave the Yankees control of the mouth of Albemarle Sound, allowing them to threaten the Rebel capital of Richmond, Virginia, from the south.
During the war's first winter, Union strategists focused their efforts on capturing coastal defenses to deny the Confederates sea outlets. In August 1861, the Yankees took two key forts on North Carolina's Outer Banks, paving the way for the campaign against Roanoke Island. On January 11, 1862, Burnside took a force of 15,000 soldiers and a flotilla of 80 ships down to the Outer Banks. The expeditionary force arrived at Hatteras Inlet on January 13, but poor weather delayed an attack for three weeks. On February 7, Burnside landed 10,000 troops on the island. They were met by about 2,500 Confederates. Burnside attacked, and his force overwhelmed the outer defenses of the island. Confederate commander Colonel Henry Shaw retreated to the north end of the island but had no chance to escape. On February 8, Shaw surrendered his entire force.
The Yankees suffered 37 men killed and 214 wounded, while the Confederates lost 23 men killed and 62 wounded before the surrender. The Union now controlled a vital section of the coast. The victory came two days after Union General Ulysses S. Grant captured Fort Henry in northern Tennessee, and, for the first time in the war, the North had reason for optimism.