Battle of Tranter's Creek

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Battle of Tranter's Creek
Civil War on the North Carolina Coast

Battle of Tranter’s Creek

Other Names: None

Location: Pitt County

Campaign: Burnside's North Carolina Expedition (February-June 1862)

Date(s): June 5, 1862

Principal Commanders: Lt. Col. F.A. Osborne [US]; Col. George Singeltary [CS]

Forces Engaged: Regiments

Estimated Casualties: 40 total

Result(s): Union victory

Summary: On June 5, Col. Robert Potter, garrison commander at Washington, North Carolina, ordered a reconnaissance in the direction of Pactolus. The 24th Massachusetts (including some cavalry and two pieces of artillery) under Lt. Col. F.A. Osborne, advanced to the bridge over Tranter’s Creek (a creek of the Pamlico River and near Washington, North Carolina), where it encountered the 44th North Carolina, under Col. George Singeltary (see North Carolina Outer Banks: Albemarle Sound and Pamlico Sound). Unable to force a crossing, Osborne brought his artillery to bear on the mill buildings in which the Confederates were barricaded. Colonel Singeltary was killed in the bombardment, and his troops retreated; the battle had lasted for one hour. The Federals did not pursue and returned to their fortifications at Washington. The Battle of Tranter's Creek was a continuation of Gen. Winfield Scott's "Anaconda Plan." Upon Colonel George Badger Singeltary's death, his brother Thomas Chappeau Singeltary assumed command of the 44th North Carolina. Thomas (1840-1873) was a graduate of the University of North Carolina. Another brother, Richard, served as commander of company H, 44th North Carolina. (See North Carolina Civil War Battle Reports: Tranter's Creek.)

Battle of Tranter's Creek Marker
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Battle of Tranter's Creek Interpretive Marker

Battle of Tranter's Creek, North Carolina
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Civil War Battle of Tranter Creek, North Carolina

(Right) Beaufort County, Tranter's Creek, N.C. "The Battle of Tranter's Creek, near Washington, North Carolina, on June 5, 1862." Harper's Weekly, June 28, 1862, p. 413. Neg. 83-203. FP1-7-T77c-C582w.

Battle: "The enemy it seems had been gathering in some force in the neighborhood of Washington, North Carolina, and after awaiting an attack for some time, our officers determined to assume the offensive. The Herald correspondent thus tells the story:

On Thursday morning, June 5, a reconnoissance in force started from here (Washington) under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Osborn, commanding the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts regiment, accompanied by Colonel Potter of the First North Carolina Union Volunteers, and Lieutenants Strong and Pendleton, the two latter officers acting as aids. The expedition consisted of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts regiment, Company I of the Third New York cavalry, under command of Captain Jocknick and Lieutenant Allis, and a detachment from Colonel Howard's Marine Artillery, under command of Lieutenant Avery.

The infantry and artillery, having taken up the line of march, formed a junction with the cavalry on the outskirts of the town, when all advanced along the Greenville road, while the gun-boat Picket, Captain Nichols, proceeded up Tar River and shelled the woods ahead.

After marching some distance, a sight of the enemy was at length obtained. The same correspondent writes:

Its order to understand the progress of the fight, it may be well to here give a brief description of the vicinity. The road, near where it crosses the bridge, descends through a ravine or gorge, and, turning suddenly to the left, skims along by the edge of the creek, which at this point is more properly a wide pond or swamp, filled with stumps of trees. On the bridge are a saw-mill and cotton gin, whose power is derived from the flowing of the water. The rebels had taken up the boards of the bridge between the two buildings, and with them constructed it breast-work, if it might be so called, near the cotton gin.

The column at length got in motion again from the widow's house, and the skirmishers, having descended the ravine, cautiously moved toward the bridge. The advance-guard was from Company A, and under command of Lieutenant Jarvis. Coming from under cover of the trees, they moved up the inclined plane at the foot of the bridge, and suddenly discovered a row of heads behind the breast-work of boards, and the guns all leveled toward them. Sergeant Shepard and a companion fired, and a heavy volley came in return. Lieutenant Jarvis fell at the first fire. The rest of the advance returned the volley, and then fell back on the main body. Colonel Osborn immediately ordered forward the artillery, and in less time than it takes to narrate it the gallant marines, under Lieutenant Avery, came dashing down the hill with their guns, which they stationed, one bearing on the enemy's front through the arch of the saw-mill, the other to the left of the bridge, and raking the enemy on their right flank. The main body of the infantry also came forward on the double-quick, while Captain Jocknick formed his cavalry on the brow of the hill, ready to charge the enemy at the decisive moment, though, as it afterward happened, no opportunity was afforded to his men to strike a blow, owing to the nature of the affair. On account of the narrowness of the road, only three companies of the infantry could be brought into action at once, and the rest were disposed of in the rear, where they were ordered to lie down. With one company in the road, and one on either side, the engagement regularly opened on our side. Lieutenant Avery discharged several rounds of shell and canister at the enemy's position; for they were so concealed in the bridge and behind the trees as to be completely out of sight. The infantry poured a terrific fire across and on either side of the bridge, the riddled beams and posts of which soon gave token of the showers of balls which were passing and re-passing. A number of rebels had secreted themselves in the left of the cotton gin, and were firing very briskly when driven out by a shell which Lieutenant Avery lodged in the building. Others again were discovered ensconced in the tree-tops on the opposite side of the creek. Lieutenant Avery elevated his pieces, and fired a couple of rounds of canister through the branches, whereupon several bodies were seen to fall to the ground, at sight of which our boys burst into a prolonged cheer or yell. The steady firing of the artillery and the volleys from the Twenty-fourth at length drove the rebels from the bridge, and, falling back, they kept up a desultory fire from the trees and the edge of the creek. At length the word was given to charge. The artillery fired a round to clear the way, and, under cover of the smoke and the effects of the canister, our boys with fixed bayonets dashed upon the bridge, and, headed by Colonel Potter, advanced on a run to the point where the boards had been taken up. Replacing them as best they could, they passed over, and found themselves undisputed occupants of the field; for the rebels had fled down the creek and through the woods, leaving behind them three of their dead and a large quantity of muskets, shot-guns, swords, sabres, and other weapons. Their rout was thorough and complete. The ground was covered with pools of blood, showing that their loss was pretty heavy, though it is impossible to ascertain the exact figures, as they carried off all their dead and wounded except the three bodies above referred to, which they could not rescue owing to the heavy fire of our artillery on the spot where they were lying. At the opposite side of the bridge the rebels had thrown up a temporary breast-work of cotton bales in an angular shape, with the corner nearest the approach from the bridge; but it failed to serve them as a means of defense.

Our loss on the battle-field was four killed and twelve wounded; but three of the latter died soon after the fight, so that our loss now stands seven killed and nine wounded." Harper's Weekly, June 28, 1862.

Battle of Tranter's Creek Map
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Civil War Tranter's Creek Map

Lt. Avery "Medal of Honor"
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Valor at Battle of Tranter's Creek

Tranter's Creek and the Medal of Honor: Lt. William B. Avery (September 10, 1840 - July 19, 1894) was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor at the Battle of Tranter's Creek. Below is the transcription of his official Medal of Honor citation:


Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 1st New York Marine Artillery. Place and date: At Tranters Creek, N.C., 5 June 1862. Entered service at: Providence, R.I. Born: 10 September 1840, Providence, R.I. Date of issue: 2 September 1893. Citation: Handled his battery with greatest coolness amidst the hottest fire. (See also Burnside's North Carolina Expedition.)

(Sources and related reading below.)

Recommended Reading: The Civil War in the Carolinas (Hardcover). Description: Dan Morrill relates the experience of two quite different states bound together in the defense of the Confederacy, using letters, diaries, memoirs, and reports. He shows how the innovative operations of the Union army and navy along the coast and in the bays and rivers of the Carolinas affected the general course of the war as well as the daily lives of all Carolinians. He demonstrates the "total war" for North Carolina's vital coastal railroads and ports. In the latter part of the war, he describes how Sherman's operation cut out the heart of the last stronghold of the South. Continued below...

The author offers fascinating sketches of major and minor personalities, including the new president and state governors, Generals Lee, Beauregard, Pickett, Sherman, D.H. Hill, and Joseph E. Johnston. Rebels and abolitionists, pacifists and unionists, slaves and freed men and women, all influential, all placed in their context with clear-eyed precision. If he were wielding a needle instead of a pen, his tapestry would offer us a complete picture of a people at war. Midwest Book Review: The Civil War in the Carolinas by civil war expert and historian Dan Morrill (History Department, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historical Society) is a dramatically presented and extensively researched survey and analysis of the impact the American Civil War had upon the states of North Carolina and South Carolina, and the people who called these states their home. A meticulous, scholarly, and thoroughly engaging examination of the details of history and the sweeping change that the war wrought for everyone, The Civil War In The Carolinas is a welcome and informative addition to American Civil War Studies reference collections.

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Recommended Reading: The Civil War in Coastal North Carolina (175 pages) (North Carolina Division of Archives and History). Description: From the drama of blockade-running to graphic descriptions of battles on the state's islands and sounds, this book portrays the explosive events that took place in North Carolina's coastal region during the Civil War. Topics discussed include the strategic importance of coastal North Carolina, Federal occupation of coastal areas, blockade-running, and the impact of war on civilians along the Tar Heel coast.


Recommended Reading: Ironclads and Columbiads: The Coast (The Civil War in North Carolina) (456 pages). Description: Ironclads and Columbiads covers some of the most important battles and campaigns in the state. In January 1862, Union forces began in earnest to occupy crucial points on the North Carolina coast. Within six months, Union army and naval forces effectively controlled coastal North Carolina from the Virginia line south to present-day Morehead City. Union setbacks in Virginia, however, led to the withdrawal of many federal soldiers from North Carolina, leaving only enough Union troops to hold a few coastal strongholds—the vital ports and railroad junctions. The South during the Civil War, moreover, hotly contested the North’s ability to maintain its grip on these key coastal strongholds.


Recommended Reading:  Storm over Carolina: The Confederate Navy's Struggle for Eastern North Carolina. Description: The struggle for control of the eastern waters of North Carolina during the War Between the States was a bitter, painful, and sometimes humiliating one for the Confederate navy. No better example exists of the classic adage, "Too little, too late." Burdened by the lack of adequate warships, construction facilities, and even ammunition, the South's naval arm fought bravely and even recklessly to stem the tide of the Federal invasion of North Carolina from the raging Atlantic. Storm Over Carolina is the account of the Southern navy's struggle in North Carolina waters and it is a saga of crushing defeats interspersed with moments of brilliant and even spectacular victories. It is also the story of dogged Southern determination and incredible perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. Continued below...

For most of the Civil War, the navigable portions of the Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, Chowan, and Pasquotank rivers were occupied by Federal forces. The Albemarle and Pamlico sounds, as well as most of the coastal towns and counties, were also under Union control. With the building of the river ironclads, the Confederate navy at last could strike a telling blow against the invaders, but they were slowly overtaken by events elsewhere. With the war grinding to a close, the last Confederate vessel in North Carolina waters was destroyed. William T. Sherman was approaching from the south, Wilmington was lost, and the Confederacy reeled as if from a mortal blow. For the Confederate navy, and even more so for the besieged citizens of eastern North Carolina, these were stormy days indeed. Storm Over Carolina describes their story, their struggle, their history.


Recommended Reading: Gray Raiders of the Sea: How Eight Confederate Warships Destroyed the Union's High Seas Commerce. Reader’s Review: This subject is one of the most fascinating in the history of sea power, and the general public has needed a reliable single-volume reference on it for some time. The story of the eight Confederate privateers and their attempt to bring Union trade to a halt seems to break every rule of common sense. How could so few be so successful against so many? The United States, after Great Britain, had the most valuable and extensive import/export trade in the world by the middle of the 19th century. The British themselves were worried since they were in danger of being surpassed in the same manner that their own sea traders had surpassed the Dutch early in the 18th century. Continued below…

From its founding in 1861, the Confederate States of America realized it had a huge problem since it lacked a navy. It also saw that it couldn't build one, especially after the fall of its biggest port, New Orleans, in 1862. The vast majority of shipbuilders and men with maritime skills lived north of the Mason-Dixon Line, in the United States, and mostly in New England. This put an incredible burden on the Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen R. Mallory. When he saw that most of the enemy navy was being used to blockade the thousands of miles of Confederate coasts, however, he saw an opportunity for the use of privateers. Mallory sent Archibald Bulloch, a Georgian and the future maternal grandfather of Theodore Roosevelt, to England to purchase British-made vessels that the Confederacy could send out to prey on Union merchant ships. Bulloch's long experience with the sea enabled him to buy good ships, including the vessels that became the most feared of the Confederate privateers - the Alabama, the Florida, and the Shenandoah. Matthew Fontaine Maury added the British-built Georgia, and the Confederacy itself launched the Sumter, the Nashville, the Tallahassee, and the Chickamauga - though these were generally not as effective commerce raiders as the first four. This popular history details the history of the eight vessels in question, and gives detailed biographical information on their captains, officers, and crews. The author relates the careers of Raphael Semmes, John Newland Maffitt, Charles Manigault Morris, James Iredell Waddell, Charles W. Read, and others with great enthusiasm. "Gray Raiders" is a great basic introduction to the privateers of the Confederacy. More than eighty black and white illustrations help the reader to visualize their dramatic exploits, and an appendix lists all the captured vessels. I highly recommend it to everyone interested in the Confederacy, and also to all naval and military history lovers.

Sources: National Park Service; Manuscripts Department, Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (SOUTHERN HISTORICAL COLLECTION); United States Department of Defense; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Harper's Weekly.

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