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1861 September 4: Account of the Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries

September 4, 2011

Following is the account of the capture of the Confederate batteries at Hatteras Inlet (N.C.) that appeared in the September 4, 1861, issue of both The Hudson North Star and The Prescott Journal.   This is the version from the North Star, which, as usual, is more complete than the version in the Journal.

The Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries, also known as the Battle of Forts Hatteras and Clark, began on August 28, 1861. The two forts on the Outer Banks of North Carolina were bombarded by seven Union ships (USS Cumberland, Harriet Lane, Minnesota, Monticello, Pawnee, Susquehanna, Wabash). The forts were under-manned and poorly equipped, and the Confederate defenders surrendered the next day. 

According to the Wikipedia entry on the battle, it “is significant for several reasons: It was the first notable Union victory of the war; following the embarrassment of First Bull Run (or First Manassas), 21 July 1861, it encouraged supporters of the Union in the gloomy early days. It represented the first application of the naval blockading strategy. It was the first amphibious operation, as well as the first combined operation, involving units of both the United States Army and Navy. Finally, a new tactic was exploited by the bombarding fleet; by keeping in motion, they did much to eliminate the traditional advantage of shore-based guns over those carried on ships.”

L A T E S T   N E W S.

C a p t u r e   o f   T w o   F o r t s.



On Our Side “Nobody Hurt.”

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1, 1861. 

A gentleman connected with the Fortress Monroe expedition reports that the forces were landed and drawn up in a line on the beach, when it was found that there were 319 men under Col. Webber [sic],1 of the 20th N. Y. Regiment. At this time the wind raised a little, and it was found impossible to land more troops. They proceeded up the beach capturing one brass field piece and one horse. The force then advanced to Fort Clark, which had been evacuated, but were compelled to retire again, owing to the shells of the fleet falling therein, and marched back to the place of landing and there bivouaced for the night.

Early next morning they again returned, and  the fleet commenced bombarding the second fort, called Fort Hatteras, which soon afterwards displayed the white flag, when the fort was entered by our troops. Our officers were conducted to the tent of Commodore Barron,2 who was in command of the forts, and the Commodore placed in the hands of Lieut. Wiegal the following proposition, which was immediately carried to General Butler:

 “Memorandum of flag officer Samuel Barron, C. S. N., offers to surrender Fort Hatteras, with all the arms and munitions of war—the officers to be allowed to go out with side arms, and the men without arms to retire.
                (Signed)                 BARRON,
     Commanding Naval Defences of Va. and N.C.
     FORT HATTERAS, Aug. 29.”

The following reply was dispatched by Captain [sic] Crosby, U. S. N.,3 and Lieutenant Wiegle [sic]4:

“MEMORANDUM—Benjamin F. Butler, Major General commanding U.S.A., in reply to the communication for Samuel Barron commanding the forces at Fort Hatteras. I cannot admit the terms proposed. The terms offered are that of full capitulation, the officers and men to be treated as prisoners of war. No other terms admissible. Commanding officers to meet on board the flag ship Minnesota, to arrange details.”

Upon the reception of this, the Commodore called a council of war of his field officers, and accepted the terms offered, and proceeded to the flag ship to arrange the details. After which the prisoners were put on board the flag ship and the Stars and Stripes were hoisted.

Benjamin F. Butler, from "Harpers Pictorial History of the Civil War"

The official account of General Butler gives very minute particulars of the expedition and engagement, but presents no new features. He says Fort Hatteras mounted ten guns and four unmounted; also one large ten inch columbiad ready for mounting. The position of the fort is an exceeding strong one, nearly surrounded all sides by water, and only to be approached by a marched of 500 [yards] circuitously over a long neck of sand, within a half musket range, and over a causeway a few feet only in width, which was commanded with two 82-pound guns loaded with grape and cannister.

Fort Clark, seven hundred yards notherly, is a square redoubt mounting five guns and two 6 pounders. The enemy had spiked their guns, but in a very inefficient manner, upon abandoning the fort the day before.

General Butler says on consultation with flag officer Stringham5 and Commander Stillwagen [sic]6, he has determined to leave troops and hold the fort, because of the strength of the forification and its importance, and because if again in the possession of the enemy, with a sufficient armment, of the difficulty of recapturing it. The importance of the point cannot be overrated. [From here the government can operate upon the whole coast of North Carolina; and many miles inland to Washington, Newburn, and Beaufort. — This last sentence only appears in the Journal.]

In the language of the chief engineer of the rebels, in an official report, it is the key of the Albernarle. “In my judgement it is a station second in importance only to Fortress Monroe on this coast, as a depot for coaling and supplies for blockading squadron. It is invaluable as a harbor for our coasting trade, or inlet from winter storms, or from pirates. It is first importance. By holding it, Hatteras Light may again send forth a cheering ray to storm-beaten mariners.”

The remainder of Butler’s report is taken up in making honorable mention of officers and men under him who distinguished themselves. It appears the Harriet Lane and a transport, with Col. Hawkin’s7 regiment, who got ashore on a bar, previous to capitulation, and were immediately under the guns of the fort.

 The following only appeared in the North Star. A headline in the Journal claimed ten rebels killed, not the eight listed here.

 FORT MONROE, Sept. 1.

Steamer George E. Peabody arrived from Hatteras Inlet this morning, having in tow prize Brooke captured in Inlet. Harriet Lane was got off Saturday. Her armament and coal has been thrown overboard. The guns would be recovered. The Minnesota has left for New York with Confederate prisoners. The Secessionists had eight killed and twenty-five wounded. A new Military District it is supposed will be created for General Butler.

1.  Max Weber (1824-1901), served in the military in Germany, and came to America as part of a large group of political refugees who came to be as known as the Forty-Eighters (German Revolutions of 1848 ). At the start of the American Civil War, Weber raised a German-American unit known as the “Turner Rifles,” which became part of the the 20th New York Infantry; Weber was colonel of the 20th New York.
2.  Samuel Barron (1809-1888), was a career naval officer, from a naval family. Barron resigned from the U.S. Navy after Virginia seceeded, and he accepted a commission in the Virginia Navy, which was integrated with the Confederate Navy and Barron became a commander. He requested to be assigned as commander of coastal defences for Virginia and North Carolina and had just arrived at his headquarters at Fort Hatteras on August 28.
3.  Peirce Crosby (1824-1899), a career naval officer. He was a lieutenant at this time (not a captain), serving on the Cumberland from April-October 1861. Starting in November 1861, Crosby will spend two years helping to enforce the blockade of the Confederacy as a Commanding Officer of several steamers and as Fleet Captain of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. He will be promoted to captain in May 1868.
4.  William H. Wiegel was a civilian aide to General Butler, not a lieutenant.
5.  Silas Horton Stringham (1798-1876) was another career naval officer. He was a flag officer in command of a Union Blockading fleet off the Virginia and North Carolina coast at the beginning of the war. In July 1862 he will be commissioned a rear admiral.
6.  Henry Schreiner Stellwagen (1803-1866) was a career naval officer. In 1855, Stellwagen was promoted to Commander and in 1861, he helped plan and execute attacks on Forts Hatteras and Clark at Hatteras Inlet.
7.  Rush Christopher Hawkins (1831-1920), was a lawyer and politician.  In 1861 he helped raise the 9th New York Infantry, a Zouave-style regiment and Hawkins was appointed its colonel on May 4, 1861.

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