Publish date:
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Year
1861

The attack on Cape Hatteras begins

Union ships sail into North Carolina’s Hatteras Inlet, beginning a two-day operation that secures the area for the Federals and denies the Confederates an important outlet to the Atlantic.

The Outer Banks is a series of long, narrow islands that separate Pamlico Sound from the Atlantic, with Hatteras Inlet as the only deep-water passage connecting the two. In the first few months of the war, the Outer Banks was a haven for Confederate blockade runners and raiders. During the summer of 1861, one Rebel ship, the Winslow, wreaked havoc on Union shipping off North Carolina, and Federal naval and army officials mounted a combined operation to neutralize the area.

To protect the passage, the Confederates erected two fortresses of sand and wood, garrisoned by 350 soldiers. Eight Union warships and 800 troops under the command of Commodore Silas Stringham and General Benjamin Butler anchored off Cape Hatteras on August 27. Butler’s men slogged ashore the next day with wet powder, hardly in shape to attack a fortified position. Fortunately for the Yankee infantry, the squadron off shore began a devastating bombardment that forced the Confederates to abandon one of the strongholds, Fort Clark. The Confederates gathered inside of the larger Fort Hatteras, but the shelling from the Union ships was more than the garrison could stand. The force surrendered on August 29.

The capture of Cape Hatteras was an important victory for the Union, especially after the disaster at the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, one month earlier. It also gave the Union a toehold on the North Carolina coast, and it sealed an important outlet to the Atlantic.

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