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Civil War on the North Carolina Coast

General Longstreet and the 1863 Tidewater Operations, by D. H. Hill, Jr.*

General Robert E. Lee was trying to reinforce for his spring campaign. General P.G.T Beauregard was asking for aid at Charleston, and the Richmond authorities were anxious to strengthen the Western armies. Hence the campaign in North Carolina was again reduced to defensive issues, and the troops moved to bigger fields. D. H. Hill, Jr., regarding the termination of the "Tidewater Operations."

North Carolina Civil War Map
North Carolina Civil War Map.gif
Civil War North Carolina Battlefield Map


Civil War North Carolina Battle Map
North Carolina Civil War Battlefield Map.gif
North Carolina Civil War Battlefield Map

Shortly after General [James] Longstreet was assigned to command the department of Virginia and North Carolina, he learned "that there was a goodly supply of produce along the east coast of Virginia and North Carolina, inside the military lines of the Federal forces. To collect and transmit this to accessible points for the Confederates, it was necessary to advance our division so as to cover the country, and to hold the Federal forces in and about their fortified positions while our trains were at work. To that end I moved with the troops in Virginia across the Blackwater to close lines about the forts around Suffolk [Virginia], and ordered the troops along our line in North Carolina to a like advance."

General M. W. Ransom, on the 9th of March [1863], at the head of his brigade and a cavalry force, drove the Federals from Suffolk [Virginia], capturing a piece of artillery and quartermaster stores of much value. Judge Roulhac says in his Regimental History: "This was a most exciting little affair, in which our troops met negro soldiers for the first time. Quick work was made of their line of battle, and their retreat was soon converted into a runaway....The firing of our artillery was excellent, every shot taking effect upon the fleeing ebony horsemen. At a swift run by sections, Branch's artillery kept shot and shell in their midst as long as the fleeing cavalry could be reached."

In a letter to General [Robert E.] Lee, General Longstreet stated to him his plans: "In arraying our forces to protect supply trains in eastern counties of North Carolina, we hoped to make a diversion upon New Bern [North Carolina] and surprised the garrison at Washington [North Carolina]. The high waters have washed away the bridges and detained us a week, and it is probable the enemy has discovered our movements. 

So, in pursuance of this policy, while the Confederate wagon trains were moving busily among the rich corn counties east of the Chowan, General D. H. Hill [father of the writer], who had been assigned to command the troops in North Carolina when it was thought that another great expedition was about to invade the State, organized a demonstration against New Bern, and, to still further confine the Federals, shortly afterward laid siege to Washington. These were the two towns containing large Federal garrisons. At the same time, General Longstreet made a similar movement against Suffolk. General Junius Daniel's North Carolina brigade, made up of these regiments: Thirty-second, Colonel Brabble; Forty-third, Colonel Kean; Forty-fifth, Lieut. Col. S. H. Boyd; Fifty-third, Colonel Owens, and Second battalion, Lieut. Col. H. L. Andrews, moved toward New Bern by the lower Trent road; the cavalry under General Robertson was sent by the upper Trent road, and General Pettigrew's brigade, with fifteen guns under Major Haskell, was ordered to approach the city near Barrington's Ferry, to bombard the gunboats and Fort Anderson. General Pettigrew's brigade consisted of the following North Carolina regiments: Eleventh, Colonel Leventhorpe; Twenty-sixth, Colonel Burgwyn [killed at Gettysburg]; Forty-fourth, Colonel Singeltary; Forty-seventh, Colonel Faribault, and Fifty-second, Colonel Marshall.

Virginia Civil War Map of Battles
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Virginia Civil War Map of Battlefields

North Carolina Coast Civil War Fort Map
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NC Coast & Outer Banks Civil War Map With Forts

At Deep Gully, a few miles out from New Bern, General Daniel found five companies and two field pieces in strong position. With four companies, he at once attacked and routed the Federals. This initiatory success could not, however, be followed up, as General Pettigrew, after every exertion, found it impossible to carry out his orders. He was expected to take Fort Anderson, to advance his guns to that point, a commanding one, and then to drive away the gunboats on the river, and if possible, shell the garrison. General Pettigrew, however, found his artillery and ammunition worthless and unsuited to the work in hand, that he made no progress in the attack. He had only four guns of range enough to reach the boats. These were 20-pound Parrots of Confederate manufacture. Of these one burst, killing or wounding several of the gunners, another broke down, and the shell from the others "burst just outside the guns." So then rather sacrifice his men by storming the work with infantry alone, General Pettigrew wisely decided to withdraw. The Twenty-sixth regiment had been under orders since daylight to assault Fort Anderson, when the artillery opened, and its youthful and gallant Colonel H. K. Burgwyn and his men withdrew with great reluctance after having been under a heavy artillery fire for some hours. The Confederate losses in this demonstration were so far as reported, 4 killed and 19 wounded.

Between this movement against New Bern and the siege of Washington, only one or two skirmishes took place. A few men from the Seventeenth regiment made a demonstration against Plymouth. Colonel John E. Brown, with three companies of the Forty-second regiment, attacked the post at Winfield, on the Chowan River, below Gatesville; after a brisk exchange of shots, he withdrew.

At Sandy Ridge, three companies of the Forty-ninth and some of the Eighth regiment had a short skirmish on the 20th, and lost 1 killed and 6 wounded. Toward the last of March, General Hill sent General Garnett to lay siege to Washington. It had been hoped, as already seen, to surprise the town, but the rains delayed and exposed the movement. General Lee advised against an assault on the town on account of the loss it might entail. In a letter to General Beauregard, then at Charleston and expecting to be reinforced from North Carolina, General Hill describes the objects of his attack on Washington: "For the last four weeks I have been around Washington and New Bern with three objects in view--to harass the Yankees, to get our supplies from the low country, and to make a diversion in your favor.... Washington was closely besieged for sixteen days, but they succeeded in getting two supply boats into town, furnishing about twenty days' rations to the garrison. I then withdrew." This was done in accordance with his instructions from General Longstreet. Longstreet states these instructions as follows: "General Hill is ordered and urged to be prompt in his operations. If he finds that too much time will be consumed in reducing the garrison at any point, he is to draw off as he gets out of supplies from the eastern counties."

Civil War Map of North Carolina and Virginia Coast
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North Carolina and Virginia Battlefield Map

The reason for these instructions was, that now the spring was fairly opening there were loud calls for the troops operating in North Carolina. General Lee was trying to reinforce for his spring campaign. General Beauregard was asking for aid at Charleston, and the Richmond authorities were anxious to strengthen the Western armies. Hence the campaign in North Carolina was again reduced to defensive issues, and the troops moved to bigger fields.

During the siege of Washington there was some spirited fighting around the town, and General Pettigrew at Blount's mills repulsed, after a sharp attack, a column under General Spinola as it was marching to the relief of Washington.
On the 22nd of May [1863], Lee's Federal brigade, one regiment of Pennsylvania troops, seven pieces of artillery, and three companies of cavalry, surprised the Fifty-six and Twenty-fifth North Carolina regiments at Gum Swamp, below Kinston. These regiments were broken and scattered, and lost 165 prisoners; but rallied and supported some companies of the Forty-ninth regiment, the Twenty-seventh regiment and other troops, attacked the Federals and drove them back to New Bern, killing their commander, Colonel J. R. Jones. See also: Longstreet's Tidewater Operations: A Summary and Longstreet's Tidewater Operations: A History.

*D. H. Hill, Jr., son of Confederate Lieutenant General Daniel Harvey Hill, Sr., was the author of Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865 -- which is a welcome addition to the North Carolina Civil War buff. North Carolina native Daniel Harvey Hill, Sr. -- commonly referred to as D. H. Hill -- was one of only two lieutenant generals from the Tar Heel State. (Lieutenant general was the second highest rank in the Confederate Army.) Hill was also brother-in-law to the renowned "Stonewall" Jackson.

(Related reading below.)

Recommended Reading: Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865. Description: The author, Prof. D. H. Hill, Jr., was the son of Lieutenant General Daniel Harvey Hill (North Carolina produced only two lieutenant generals and it was the second highest rank in the army) and his mother was the sister to General “Stonewall” Jackson’s wife. In Confederate Military History Of North Carolina, Hill discusses North Carolina’s massive task of preparing and mobilizing for the conflict; the many regiments and battalions recruited from the Old North State; as well as the state's numerous contributions during the war. Continued below...

During Hill's Tar Heel State study, the reader begins with interesting and thought-provoking statistical data regarding the 125,000 "Old North State" soldiers that fought during the course of the war and the 40,000 that perished. Hill advances with the Tar Heels to the first battle at Bethel, through numerous bloody campaigns and battles--including North Carolina’s contributions at the "High Watermark" at Gettysburg--and concludes with Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

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Recommended ReadingThe Civil War in North Carolina. Description: Numerous battles and skirmishes were fought in North Carolina during the Civil War, and the campaigns and battles themselves were crucial in the grand strategy of the conflict and involved some of the most famous generals of the war. John Barrett presents the complete story of military engagements across the state, including the classical pitched battle of Bentonville--involving Generals Joe Johnston and William Sherman--the siege of Fort Fisher, the amphibious campaigns on the coast, and cavalry sweeps such as General George Stoneman's Raid.


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.


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: Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil War (Studies in Maritime History Series). From Library Journal: From the profusion of books about Confederate blockade running, this one will stand out for a long time as the most complete and exhaustively researched. Though not unaware of the romantic aspects of his subject, Wise sets out to provide a detailed study, giving particular attention to the blockade runners' effects on the Confederate war effort. It was, he finds, tapping hitherto unused sources, absolutely essential, affording the South a virtual lifeline of military necessities until the war's last days. This book covers it all: from cargoes to ship outfitting, from individuals and companies to financing at both ends. An indispensable addition to Civil War literature.

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