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Home War - East Eastern Theatre February 8, 1862 – Back Door to Richmond Opened at Roanoke Island

February 8, 1862 – Back Door to Richmond Opened at Roanoke Island

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roanoke_islandTwo days after the fall of the strategically important Fort Henry in the west, the Confederacy has suffered another blow, this time in the east, with the loss of Fort Huger on Roanoke Island.  This loss, many believe, may be more severe, as it opens up a back door entry to the nation’s capitol in Richmond.

Since October of last year, forces have been building up inside the fortifications around Roanoke Island, but not the supplies.  Most of the guns carried by the soldiers were their own shotguns.  Food has been often scarce, and medical supplies are so rare than as many as a quarter of the soldiers have been on the sick list at any given time.  Pleas to Richmond for better supplies have gone largely unanswered.  Their forts were under-gunned as well.  Fort Huger had 12 guns, Fort Blanchard had four, and Fort Bartow had eight guns.

The Federals, meanwhile, have been stepping up their attacks all along the North Carolina Coast, invading strategic points like Hatteras Island with regiments of fishermen, dockworkers, and others used to the sea who would know where to strike most effectively.  Their commander, Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside, has been carefully organizing the attacks in his “Burnside Expedition” to maximize their effects.  On retrospect, it seems that the earlier attacks were a lead-up to this moment.

He approached the North Carolina Sounds where Roanoke Island sat with 29 gunboats, most of them converted from merchant vessels since they were more suited to sailing in the sound while still being sturdy, along with several floating batteries with howitzers protected by sandbags and bales of hay.  Accompanying them were several transports with more than 10,000 fully armed soldiers.

As the Federal fleet sailed into Pamlico Sound, the Confederates remained strangely inert, not reinforcing their garrison of approximately 2,000 men.

One February 7th, as stormy winds abated, the gunboats opened fire on the three forts.  The Confederates sent out their navy, a small armada referred to as the “Mosquito Fleet,” which is made up of seven gunboats with eight guns, all commanded by Flag Officer William F. Lynch.  Though all performed admirably, they had little effect compared to the forts’ concentrated fire on the Federal fleet.  General Henry A. Wise, in charge of all Confederate forces on the island and within the sound, was not impressed, and is quoted as saying, "Captain Lynch was energetic, zealous, and active, but he gave too much consequence entirely to his fleet of gunboats, which hindered transportation of piles, lumber, forage, supplies of all kinds, and of troops, by taking away the steam-tugs and converting them into perfectly imbecile gunboats."

The bombardment lasted all day, and was concluded with a landing, which was contested by a small force that was driven away by the Federal gunboats.  Ten thousand infantry lined up on land, but the day was ending, and they struck camp for the night.

The second day was the land battle.  The Union numbers were offset by the Confederate defense at a choke point where a mere 400 infantry was able to withstand the pressure for a little while.  It was short lived, however, as Brigadier General John G. Foster, in charge of the Federal infantry, sent regiments around the flanks, through swamps the Confederates had thought were impenetrable, and hit them in both flanks.

As the Confederates pulled back, Colonel Henry M. Shaw, in charge of the fort after Henry Wise was injured in the battle, saw the futility of continuing to fight, and so he surrendered to the invaders to avoid the useless effusion of blood.

The surrender gives the Federals a strategically vital point from which they can invade both North Carolina and Virginia.  Roads lead directly to Richmond, with perfect supply points along the way.  This opens up a back door to Richmond, so to speak, should the Federals choose to come at it from this direction rather than from Washington.

 

HIGHLIGHTS

 

February 5, 1864 - End of the War

Mr. Seward predicts that the war will be over in less than three months, and all the radical papers tell us that the rebellion is about suppressed–that the Southern Confederacy is tumbling to pieces. They daily represent, as they have done for two years past, that the people are starving, sick of war, disgusted with their rulers and ripe for revolt against them; that the army is suffering for all the necessaries of life, deficient in arms and munitions of war, and so “demoralized” and disaffected that it requires about one-half of the men to guard the rest and keep them from deserting; and that the spring campaign is sure to result in “cleaning out” the rebels and putting an end to the war. This has been the tenor of Republican representations for two years, and never have they talked more confidently in this strain than they do now. We wish it was true; we wish we could see the least ground for hope of peace at an early day. But we cannot, and the reason we cannot is because our rulers will not make peace upon any terms upon which it can be made. If the present dynasty is continued in power, the war will go on. The only chance for peace–the only means by which the people can relieve themselves from further sufferings and burthens consequent upon war, is by a change of rulers. To vote for the Republican party is to vote for perpetual war–for their policy can result in nothing else. The Troy Whig, a radical Republican paper, is more honest than its contemporaries in this State, for it tells the truth, while they suppress it. In a recent issue that paper says: “We are not lacking in faith that this rebellion is to perish, thoroughly, certainly; but we see no evidence, as yet, that it is to go by the board soon. In the Southwest daylight has been knocked through it, but only there. After all our efforts ad expenditures, the blockade is far from being perfect, rebel vessels notoriously entering with supplies from Europe, and going out again with cotton. The army of the Potomac is yet to win a great, decisive victory on rebel soil, and Lee’s forces are a great deal nearer Washington than ours are to Richmond. Though it has been frequently announced that ‘the backbone of the rebellion is broken,’ the public ‘don’t see it.’ “Looking at facts as they are–and it is only folly to blind ourselves to them–it is easy to foresee that the present call for men is not the least urgent one, by three or four, which may be made. The number of able bodied Northern men between the ages of 18 and 45, who can certainly promise themselves that they will not be actively engaged in the war before it is over, is not large. And the causes of exemption, reduced to a very few now, are likely to grow less. If we are wise, we shall endeavor to comprehend and act upon these facts, and put ourselves, in mind as well as substance, on a ‘war footing.’ ”  

 

January 1, 1864 - General Scott's View of the War

It is stated that Gen. Scott, in a recent conversation on the developments of the war, remarked that the fighting had only commenced, and that the real hard fighting was yet to take place. He also added that the Administration had fooled away nearly every golden opportunity, and thus, instead of ending the rebellion, as they could have done long since, have extended it to the distant future. Though both his parents died when he was young, Scott's inheritance was m odest. He studied for a short time at William and Mary College before undertaking the study of law in Petersburg. He practiced law and served in the army in the period prior to the War of 1812. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, Scott recruited a regiment and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served on the northern front, and his bravery and energy brought him honors and promotion, as he was brevetted a major general. Owing to his prominence as a military leader as well as a potential Whig presidential candidate, Scott was made general-in-chief of the army in 1841. It was the Mexican War that brought Scott lasting renown. He was ordered to Mexico in November 1846. Obstructed by poorly equipped troops, limited reinforcements and supplies, desertions, and disease, Scott nevertheless undertook a successful five-mo nth campaign from Vera Cruz to Mexico City. But feuds generated by ambitious subordinate officers and, especially, the hostility of the Polk administration to further honoring a Whig general, led to Scott's recall and replacement. In addition, a court of inquiry was established to investigate Scott's actions in disciplining those disloyal officers. The charges against Scott were eventually dropped, and Congress voted him its thanks and a gold medal. In 1852, Congress passed a measure offering Scott the pay, rank, and emoluments of a lieutenant general, the first person to hold that office since G eorge Washington. That same year, he was the Whig party's unsuccessful candidate for President. As the secession crisis developed during the latter part of 1860, Scott pleaded unsuccessfully to President James Buchanan to reinforce the southern forts and armories against possible seizure. He brought his headquarters from New York to Washington, D.C., so that he could oversee the recruiting and training of the capital's defence. He personally commanded Abraham Lincoln's bodyguard at the inauguration. Scott was tasked with assembling an army to defeat the new Confederacy. He initially offered command of this force to Lee. His former comrade declined on April 18 when it became clear that Virginia was going to leave the Union. Though a Virginian himself, Scott never wavered in his loyalties. With Lee's refusal, Scott gave command of the Union Army to Brigadier General Irvin McDowell who was defeated at Bull Run on July 21. While many believed the war would be brief, it had been clear to Scott that it would be a protracted affair. As a result, he devised a long-term plan calling for a blockade of the Confederate coast coupled with the capture of the Mississippi River and key cities such as Atlanta.  Dubbed the "Anaconda Plan," it was widely derided by the Northern press. At seventy-five years old, Scott requested retirement, and in November 1861, he was retired.

 

December 18, 1863 - What Shall We Do with the Women?

I do not mean contrabands, but white women, aye, ladies, whom the circumstances of war have caused to drift up upon the sea of events and be stranded upon the bleak and barren shores of poverty. “What shall we do with them?” is no doubt the question put with anxiety to one another by our superiors. More especially must this query be raised at this time, just upon the edge of winter; and at this place, with us, when our force holds the picket gates and our offices grant “passes,” and now that our General, tired out by the ceaseless din of daily applicants for market privileges of coming to the camps, has shut them all down, and refused any one to bring articles for sale, this momentous query returns with greater force than ever. “Shall we keep them all on Government rations, and let the ‘commissary of subsistence’ feed some six or eight hundred in the two cities, that number no doubt to be greatly augmented?” This is one side of the question, and it gives me the chance of telling you of a number of cases where women have tried not to be reckoned among the weekly pensioners at the office of the commissary of subsistence in Portsmouth. I have in mind Mrs. H., of whose culinary skill I have told you before, a married woman aged 45, husband a prisoner somewhere, formerly in the Confederate army, grown up son on board one of the Union gunboats at Hampton, a girl and two little boys at home to be fed and clothed. She got a permit to come to the camps with a borrowed horse and cart, the cart laden with various market produce and a variety of nicely cooked dishes: chicken pie, beef pie, oysters, gingerbread, fried fish, &c., at various prices from five to twenty-five cents; her wares would be sold by the piece-measure or plateful, and long before sundown the entire cartful would be disposed of. The net profit to Mrs. H. of such a day’s traffic would not be less than eight to twelve dollars, and she came twice a week. She cannot come to camp now, yet she and her children must be fed by somebody. Also the old lady, Mrs. E., who came from our upper picket line with a sturdy Negro wench for a driver. It was she who brought those red apples which I told you of; and while she could also bring poultry and eggs, and sell three ordinary sized apples for ten cents (!) she would readily make from one to four dollars per day. She cannot do it now, yet herself and a blind sister, and the sable wench above-mentioned, are to be fed. Biddy O’G., too, the cheerful fishwoman; fresh spot-fish and sheep’s heads, every morning in season for breakfast; she could buy them at the wharves at fifty cents per hundred and readily sell them at more than double profit. Biddy is a “widder” with “four wee childer,” and with the characteristic independence of her race she does not want to ask bread and meat of the Government, yet now, when she can no longer bring her fish to camp, she must do it, for her children must not starve. Multiply the instances above noted by about one hundred, and you have the aggregate of what comes under our own notice in our own department; and when we consider that this district merely represents a tithe of the same perplexity, is not the question “what shall be done with them?” of solemn and momentous import? The question, here and now, and by our officers, is easily met. It is of the highest military importance that no possible chance of treachery should be left open; hence the wisdom of keeping all classes from passing the lines; therefore let all be kept at home, and such as are in need, be fed from the public stores. Thus much for the present solution of the question. Yet a thought of the future, with these impoverished communities, whole families living on public alms, children growing up in such wholesale beggary, is it not enough to make the lover of his country tremble and turn pale? Aye! Ten years hence, what shall we do with them then? This is one of the inside horrors of war, and like every other evil of the kind, must be calmly and prayerfully met.

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