A Perfect Rain of Shot and Shell: The Surrender of Fort Macon

A Perfect Rain of Shot and Shell: The Surrender of Fort Macon

The rebels came out with a white flag about four o’clock… – Oliver Cromwell Case

By the middle of April 1862, John Parke’s Brigade of the Burnside Expeditionary Force began the slow, steady work of investment to close the noose around Fort Macon on the Bogue Banks of North Carolina. Parke’s troops earlier captured the coastal towns of Morehead City and Beaufort before crossing the Bogue Sound to fulfill Burnside’s objective of taking the fort. General Burnside understood the fort prevented full Union control of the Beaufort Inlet, a key route for facilitating the sustainment of operations in North Carolina.

Located on the eastern tip of the 21-mile long Bogue Banks barrier island, the fort was strategically placed to protect the approach through the Beaufort Inlet Channel to the mainland of North Carolina. The pentagon shaped masonry fort contained twenty-six casemates and its outer wall averaged better than four feet of thickness. Construction on the structure had begun in 1826 with the first garrison arriving in 1834. Robert E. Lee had been assigned to help correct the erosion control problem faced by the fort in the 1840s. Within two days of the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861, North Carolina forces had seized the fort and claimed it for the Confederacy.

As Parke positioned his forces for a final assault against the fortification, a 27-year old Confederate Colonel named Moses J. White prepared his 400 defenders to meet the Union troops. Colonel White, a native of Mississippi, held an impressive record as a student at the U.S. Military Academy for the Class of 1858 graduating second. Originally assigned to the western theater at the beginning of the war, he was given command of Fort Macon on October 5, 1861. During the siege, White struggled with health problems that had first appeared during his time at West Point. However, he continued to encourage his officers and soldiers during the Union bombardment until he was completely exhausted. Even though he was hopelessly surrounded and his men were exhausted, Colonel White refused to surrender the fort.

James Parke

Moses White

The opposing commanders at Fort Macon, James Parke and Moses White.

Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut were given a key role in the investment of the fort. However, they were missing their leader during this important work. Like Confederate Colonel White, the commanding officer of the 8th Connecticut, Colonel Edward Harland, was sick and, by mid-March of 1862, he had become bed-ridden with typhoid fever. Under the command of Major Hiram Appelman, the regiment was divided into three parts to support the operations against Fort Macon and the coastal cities. Two companies were sent to occupy Beaufort and a few of the other companies were sent to secure Morehead City. The remaining companies including Company A crossed over from Carolina City to the Bogue Banks to begin movement toward Fort Macon. Private Oliver Case of Company A had been on picket duty seven miles away from camp near Carolina City when his company departed without him. As Case caught up to his fellow soldiers over on the Bogue Banks, there was much work to be done in preparation to lay siege to Fort Macon and its Confederate garrison.

On April 12th, the 8th Connecticut, still under the command of Major Appelman, led Parke’s Brigade in forcing the Confederate defenders to withdraw into the confines of the fort.

Connecticut regimental historians, Croffut and Morris describe the action:

Major Hiram Appelman, now in command, marched his regiment by the right flank up the beach, and, when within three miles of the fort, filed across the island in line of battle. Company G, Capt. James L. Russell, was thrown out as skirmishers; and the regiment waded forward knee-deep in the yielding sand. The rebel skirmishers contested the advance, but were driven steadily back; and, while they retreated, they shouted, with absurd inaptness, “Come on, you d__d Yankees! we are enough for you !” Company H, Capt. Sheffield, was now deployed to skirmish; and the captain was severely wounded in the body. The exultant rebels continued to move back until they entered the fort; the Eighth having passed through a cedar-jungle, about a mile from the fort.[1]

Colonel White, likely realizing that he was being trapped in the fort, took the unusual step of conducting a night attack in an attempting at breaking the developing siege. As the 8th Connecticut began to construct defensive positions in case of a counterattack, the Confederates stuck the regiment with the cannons from the fort.

The enemy made two ineffectual attempts at night to dislodge us from our advanced position, in one of which Lieutenant Landers and a private of the Fifth Rhode Island Battalion were slightly wounded, and in the other Major Appleman and a private of the Eighth Connecticut Regiment received severe contusions from a discharge of grape while digging rifle pits within 750 yards of the fort.[2]

On April 17th, Oliver’s tone about his fate in the impending battle had softened considerably from his first combat experience only one month earlier at New Bern. The “dread of death that one naturally expects” had morphed into a feeling that “I may not live to get home…”[3] However, the optimistic tone found throughout Oliver’s letter had not completely escaped him as he professed, “but I think I stand as good a chance as anyone in the company…”[4]

Oliver’s letter of 17 April 1862 does not comment on this operation carried out by the 8th. He does describe the work being done to affect the siege of Fort Macon.

Some of the companies are detailed each night to help build entrenchments and I think that by three or four days at farthest we shall open fire upon the fort. The mortars and field pieces are nearly all in position, and part of the howitzers.[5]

Oliver’s prediction is fairly accurate because the siege will begin in about 7 days. In the meantime, life on Bogue Banks is filled with the work of preparing positions for mortars being floated across the sound. The guns were moved up the island at night to avoid detection by the Confederates within Fort Macon. Protected firing positions were constructed for the guns using sandbags. Conditions were difficult for Oliver and his fellow soldiers as they worked.

The Eighth Connecticut Volunteers and 4th Rhode-Island were alternately on duty; when off duty, occupying an uncomfortable camp down the island. Rifle-pits were dug at night within two thousand feet from the fort, and constantly occupied. In front of them, in storms, the sea surged over the island. The sand was so movable, that the men were sometimes half covered.[6]  

The firing positions constructed by the 8th Connecticut and the 4th Rhode Island would prove to be very effective during the final attack against the fort and by the 23rd of April, Burnside determined that it was time for the final assault. He once again offered Colonel White the opportunity to surrender the fort with generous terms including the parole of all the Confederate defenders. As with previous demands for surrender, the young Confederate commander refused to accept the terms and prepared his soldiers to defend the fort. In the early morning hours of April 25, Parke ordered the bombardment to begin in earnest.

bombardment of fort macon harpers weekly

The bombardment of Fort Macon, April 25, 1862

For the next eleven hours, the Union artillerymen with assistance from the soldiers of the 8th CVI kept up the bombardment. The masonry fort was no match for the modern rifled artillery and several large openings appeared in the walls and gun after gun was disabled. Through it all, the 8th CVI was in the thick of the action. Oliver writes to Abbie:

The work was completed Thursday night and the bombardment commenced early the next morning and continued without intermission until four in the P.M., our regiment meanwhile lying behind the breastworks while a perfect rain of shot and shell came upon all sides of them, many times caving the banks upon them so it was necessary to dig one another out with shovels. Several of our men were hit by balls rolling into the trench upon them, but none were wounded. The artillery lost one killed and two wounded.[7]

Croffut and Morris confirm the role of the 8th during the bombardment:

The Eighth was alone in the rifle-pits, between the thundering cannon, shooting the rebel gunners and infantry whenever a head was visible.[8]

As the land-based Union guns began to fire on Fort Macon, several ships from the Blockading Squadron appeared near the fort and attempted to participate in the shelling. While the Navy had not been included in the planning for the reduction of the fort, Commander Samuel Lockwood responded to the sound of the artillery. However, the four ships were unable to bring effective fire on the fort due to rough seas and soon abandoned the effort after two of the ships received minor damage from Confederate counter fire.

The Union guns ashore were initially wildly inaccurate doing little damage to Fort Macon during the few first hours of the assault. After Union Signal Corps officers in Beaufort established communication with the gun commanders on Bogue Banks, they were able to accurately direct the mortar fire so that by noon almost all shots were on target and the fort walls began to crumble. In response, Confederate gunners attempt to counter the fire from the mortars, but the protected positions among the sand dunes limited damage to the Union guns. As the bombardment continued into the early afternoon, Confederate guns in the fort were damaged and destroyed and Colonel White realized that he could not hold out much longer as the powder magazine was in great danger of being hit.

Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it was evident that the fort and its garrison could not withstand much more of the devastating fire from the Union guns. After meeting with his commanders, Colonel White ordered the flag of surrender to be raised.

The rebels came out with a white flag about four o’clock and a messenger was sent for. Gen. Burnside, also, arrived in the evening. Capitulations were agreed upon before morning…[9]

The Union forces entered the fort and raised the national colors igniting a controversy between two of the regiments.

…early the next day the “Stars and Stripes” were run up by the 4th R.I. Regiment. The 8th Conn. were not very well suited to do all the work and have the 4th R.I. hoist their flag, but that is all right; it is “Uncle Sam”, anyhow.[10]

Croffut and Morris identify the Rhode Island regiment as the 5th and give additional details on the honor bestowed on them in lieu of the 8th.

…the 5th Rhode-Island; and to this fragment of a regiment the rebel flag was given as a trophy next morning, when the formal surrender was made, and the regiment took possession of the fort. The Eighth considered itself again defrauded of its just rights; and the Tribune’s narrative said, “But for the accident that the 5th Rhode-Island had relieved the Eighth Connecticut the previous evening, the captured flag would have gone to grace the legislative halls at Hartford.” Gen. Parke justifies giving the preference to the Rhode-Island regiment by the fact that the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers had no field-officer present to receive the surrender.[11]

after siege of Fort Macon

The Surrender of Fort Macon, April 26, 1862

In a happier ending to the story for the Confederate officers and soldiers of Fort Macon, Oliver relates that many of them, after their parole, were reunited with their family members.

The prisoners were discharged on parole, much to their gratification and some of our boy’s displeasure. Sightseers say that they had a great time over in Beaufort Saturday when the garrison was set free. Children looking for their parents, wives for their husbands, fathers for their children and when they were recognized in the crowd such a hugging and kissing as was not often seen was carried on.[12]

ENDNOTES:

[1] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[2] OR, Parke, May 9, 1862.

[3] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (17 April 1862)

[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[7] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 April 1862)

[8] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[9] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 April 1862)

[10] IBID.

[11] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[12] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 April 1862)

 

Crossing the Bar, 29 January 1862

 

By the final week of January 1862, Ambrose Burnside’s grand expedition to launch an invasion of the North Carolina coast seemed to be in real danger of failure. As the flotilla arrived off Hatteras Inlet during the second week of January, they were greeted not by Confederates but with the furious seas of the mid-Atlantic in winter. For soldiers in cramped quarters aboard the ships, the sight of these raging waters fell somewhere between awe-inspiring and dread. One Massachusetts soldier described it for his diary:

This is indeed the wildest, grandest scene I ever beheld. As far as the eye can see, the water is rolling, foaming and dashing over the shoals, throwing its white spray far into the air, as though the sea and sky meet. This is no time for man to war against man. The forces of Heaven are loose and in all their fury, the wind howls, the sea rages, the eternal is here in all his majesty.[1]

Since the arrival of the fleet in mid-January, General Burnside, the Navy commanders and the civilian captains of the contracted vessels hauling troops and supplies had struggled to “cross the bar.” This term described the effort to move the ships into the relative calm of the Pamlico Sound by crossing a narrow and shallow opening in the barrier islands protecting the sound known as Hatteras Inlet. This was a difficult task in fair weather conditions but the winter storms made it doubly challenging to complete. Several ships such as the 600-ton steamer City of New York had determined captains who refused to wait for the storm to pass and began making runs at crossing the shoals. However, repeated groundings pounded the underbelly of the City of New York caused it to take on water and after permanently grounding on its last run, the leaks became serious in the midst of the storm. It appeared all the crew and passengers would be swept away until nearby ships sent their lifeboats and rescued them.

Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers from companies A, D, F and I of the 8th Connecticut were riding out the storms aboard the Army gunboat Chasseur when he penned a letter to his sister Abbie on January 26, 1862. Oliver’s home on the rough seas, the Chasseur, was a 330-ton steam propeller gunboat armed with two 12-pound rifled cannons. Not only had Oliver rode out the storm of 12-15 January 1862 described above, another winter storm had swept down the coast since that time again delaying Burnside’s efforts to move the ships to the safety of the sound. Oliver, the prolific writer, had been stymied in his efforts during the storms, but today the weather allowed him to return to his task.

We still remain in the Inlet as when I last wrote you but are expecting to go over the inside bar and land somewhere in “Dixie.” Today is the first fair day since our arrival and for the last week we have had a terrible storm at time endangering many of the fleet by causing the vessels to drag anchor and to smash into each other. For the last three or four days there has hardly been a time but what there were two or three signals of distress to be seen flying but of course no relief could be given them until after the abatement of the storm. I think that there has been no accident to any person happened and none very disastrous to the shipping.[2]

As the ships fought to move into the sound and safety, many of the soldiers in the fleet faced shortages of fresh water and food because the storms prohibited resupply missions. Oliver and the other Connecticut soldiers aboard the Chasseur were fortunate to receive a visit from the sutler’s ship during one of the rare fair weather periods:

Eatables are brought from the Sutlers boat but are held at rather high prices; apples $.05 to 10 cents each, figs .02 to .05 each, raisins $.20 per pint, [?], Oysters, Turkey Peaches, tomatoes etc. in quart cans from $1.50 to $2.00, Current, Plum, Rasberry, Grape, Pear and Strawberry jellies $1.50 to $2.00, sweet crackers $.15 per dozen and everything else in the same proportion.[3]

chassuer

Oliver Case’s home upon the seas, the Army gunboat Chasseur[4]

Although Oliver and his buddies were enjoying “ourselves quite well on ship board,” he continued to recover his strength from a bout of fever only a few weeks prior and seemed done with life on the high seas being “now finally very anxious to again place my feet on ‘terra firma’” of the North Carolina coast.[5] Oliver would have wait for several more weeks to fulfill his wish for dry land. The next best thing, a calmer sea, was in his immediate future as the ships of the fleet continued to take advantage of better weather during the final week of January. Finally, at 9:15 AM on the 29th of January 1862, the Chasseur safely “crossed the bar” of Hatteras Inlet arriving in the calm of Pamlico Sound. Oliver Case and the 8th Connecticut would soon gain their first taste of combat against the Confederates in North Carolina.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Day, David L., My Diary of Rambles with the 25th Mass. Volunteer Infantry with Burnside’s Coast Division, 18th Army Corps and Army of the James, Milford: King and Billings, 1884.

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT, 1861-1862.

[3] IBID.

[4] Shadek, Joseph E., Sketchbook: Company A, 8th Connecticut Volunteers 1861-1862 (unpublished), Bridgeport History Center, accessed from http://bportlibrary.org/hc/

[5] Case letters, 1861-1862.

This most acceptable gift

Oliver Case and his fellow members of the Burnside Expedition were very accustomed to reviews on the parade field. These reviews were used by Burnside and his subordinate commanders to gauge the health, welfare and readiness of the soldiers and normally occurred on a monthly basis. But, on June 20th of 1862, the Union troops would experience a special gathering and review on the parade field like none before.

In the first year of the Civil War, a success story from the battlefield was in short supply for the Union leadership. Since the opening route of Union forces at Manassas in July of 1861, Lincoln had replaced the commander of the Army of the Potomac pinning his hopes on George McClellan. McClellan had taken months to get the army organized, trained and equipped before finally deploying them in the Peninsula Campaign in March of 1862. While McClellan was successfully in pushing the Confederate defenders back to the defenses of Richmond, he was slow to exploit success on the battlefield endangering the overall success of the campaign. In late May and early June, aggressive offensive operations against the 100,000 Union troops by the Confederate army under Joseph Johnston shook the confidence of McClellan in completing the siege of Richmond.

For almost the entire month of June 1862, McClellan held his army back from any major operations against the Confederates. This operational pause gave the new Army of Northern Virginia commanding general Robert E. Lee, the opportunity to plan, reorganize and begin to employ his troops for offensive operations against McClellan. By late June 1862, Abraham Lincoln was concerned about the probability for success in the operations against Richmond and he needed a good news story after a year at war.

One of the only bright spots in the Union operations in the eastern theater during that first year was the success of the Burnside Expedition in North Carolina. Ambrose Burnside had pulled together a force of about 15,000 troops at Annapolis and prepared them to conduct amphibious operations against the Confederates on the North Carolina coast. In January of 1862, Burnside departed Annapolis with his force and despite stormy seas; he successfully defeated the Confederate defenders at Roanoke Island, Newbern and finally captured the key strong point of Fort Macon on the Bogue Banks in April of 1862. As Lincoln and McClellan contemplated future employment of the Burnside Expeditionary force, the troops conducted occupation duty in and around Newbern.

The Governor of Rhode Island recognized the success of the expeditionary force and desired to honor the leadership of the state’s native son, Ambrose Burnside. The General Assembly voted overwhelming to support the governor’s recommendation by authorizing the procurement of “a suitable sword for presentation” to General Burnside. Rhode Island turned to Tiffany’s of New York to manufacture the sword and in June of 1862 a delegation of Rhode Island dignitaries headed by Adjutant General Edward Mauran made the journey to Newbern, North Carolina with the sword in tow. Interestingly, one of the observers on the day of the presentation remembered the Rhode Island delegation to be “some of the biggest fools I ever saw.”[1]

On Friday, June 20, 1862, Ambrose Burnside, just one week back in camp from a visit to Washington (to see President Lincoln) and a visit to the Peninsula (to see General McClellan), found himself in an uncomfortable position as he was scheduled to be honored with the presentation of the sword. Due to what was commonly referred to as his modest nature, Burnside did not see the necessity of conducting such a grand ceremony at the Union parade field on the banks of the Trent River near Newbern. However, the commanding general acquiesced to the desires of his native state and allowed the grand gathering for the presentation.

Several contemporary accounts provided a wonderful word picture of the scene that afternoon as witnessed by Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers of the expeditionary force:

The day was pleasant, and a large multitude assembled together with the troops on the banks of the glassy Trent…to witness the ceremonies. At nearly the time appointed, the clouds presented a very watery appearance, and smart showers were the result, in the distance.[2]

As almost by divine decree, the threatening rain would not stop the ceremony:

At 5 o’clock, Gen. Burnside rode into the field, accompanied by his staff and escort. As he rode into the area from an easterly direction, a beautiful rainbow spanned the heavens, forming a triumphal arch of gorgeous splendor over the head of the hero of Roanoke, Newbern, and Fort Macon, as he passed under it.[3]

As Burnside rode under the rainbow and onto the field, a Rhode Island battery fired a salute and the troops shouted their respect for their commanding general. About 8,000 troops were formed on the parade field with all who could be spared turning out to honor Burnside. There was a “grand review” which took place “amidst the waving of banners, the inspiriting notes of martial music” followed by “the ceremony of presentation.”[4]

Acting on behalf of the Rhode Island Governor, Adjutant General Mauran presented the sword to General Burnside which was described as “a very elaborately ornamented one, and expense was not taken into account in getting it up.”[5] While my research does not reveal the existence of this Burnside sword today, a similar sword from Tiffany’s presented to a much lower ranking Union officer is currently at an asking price of $60,000. Obviously, Rhode Island had invested a large amount of money to honor their hero.

 

presentation of sword to Burnside by RI

Ambrose Burnside receives the presentation sword from Adjutant General Edward Mauran of Rhode Island on June 20, 1862 at Newbern, North Carolina

At the very moment of the presentation, another rainbow appeared that was “more beautiful than the first…extended itself across the blue sky above, an emblem of hope, success and promise.”[6]

Representing Governor Sprague, Mauran offered a few appropriate remarks just prior to the presentation including a reading of the resolution passed by the General Assembly. He then shared a letter from the governor with Burnside and the assembled masses. Sprague wrote of how the beautiful Tiffany presentation sword “represent[ed] the feelings and sentiments of the people of the State toward you, and the important service which, by your gallant conduct, you have rendered our common country.”[7] Sprague made it clear that this sword represented not only the work of the leader, but the soldiers as well.

Say to the brave soldiers under your command, that Rhode Island honors their courage, their endurance, and their brilliant achievements, by honoring their chief.[8]

In accepting the sword from Adjutant General Mauran, Burnside was moved to make a few brief remarks of only four paragraphs which were, in part:

On behalf of this gallant little army which surrounds you, I beg through you to thank the State of Rhode Island for this gift…[the] Governor has most fittingly said, that the services of this army have been in this manner remembered through its Commander. Without the skill, courage, patience and fortitude of the general officers, field and staff officers, company officers, non-commissioned officers and privates of this corps d’armee…the State of Rhode Island would have been deprived the pleasure of giving, and I debarred the proud satisfaction of receiving this elegant sword…I now beg to thank the State of Rhode Island for the kind manner in which she has been pleased to remember me…in the presentation of this most acceptable gift.[9]

 

 

Burnside wearing a presentation sword

Burnside receives the presentation sword from Adjutant General Edward Mauran of Rhode Island on June 20, 1862 at Newbern, North Carolina

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Marvel, William, Burnside,  University of North Carolina Press, page 94, 1991.

[2] Newbern Progress, June 21, 1862 as reprinted in The Providence Evening Press, June 25, 1862.

[3] IBID.

[4] Woodbury, Augustus, Ambrose Burnside and the Ninth Army Corps, Sidney S. Rider and Brother, Provenience, Rhode Island, 1867.

[5] Newbern Progress, June 21, 1862.

[6] IBID.

[7] IBID.

[8] IBID.

[9] IBID.

The Investment and Reduction of Fort Macon

It still remained for us to reduce Fort Macon. – Ambrose Burnside

In mid-April of 1862, John Parke’s Brigade of the Burnside Expeditionary Force had begun a slow, steady movement to close the noose around Fort Macon on the Bogue Banks of North Carolina. Parke’s troops had earlier captured the coastal towns of Morehead City and Beaufort before crossing the Bogue Sound to begin the investment of Fort Macon in March of 1862. General Burnside understood that the fort prevented full Union control of the Beaufort Inlet, a key route for facilitating the sustainment of operations in North Carolina.

Located on the eastern tip of the 21-mile long Bogue Banks barrier island, the fort was strategically placed to protect the approach through the Beaufort Inlet Channel to the mainland of North Carolina. The pentagon shaped masonry fort contained twenty-six casemates and its outer wall averaged better than four feet of thickness. Construction on the structure had begun in 1826 with the first garrison arriving in 1834. Robert E. Lee had been assigned to help correct the erosion control problem faced by the fort in the 1840s. Within two days of the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861, North Carolina forces had seized the fort and claimed it for the Confederacy.

As Parke positioned his forces for a final assault against the fortification, a 27-year old Confederate Colonel named Moses J. White prepared his 400 defenders to meet the Union troops. Colonel White, a native of Mississippi, held an impressive record at the U.S. Military Academy in the Class of 1858 graduating second. Originally assigned to the western theater at the beginning of the war, he was given command of Fort Macon on October 5, 1861. During the siege, White struggled with health problems that had first appeared during his time at West Point. However, he continued to encourage his officers and soldiers during the Union bombardment until he was completely exhausted. Even though he was hopelessly surrounded and his men were exhausted, Colonel White refused to surrender the fort.

James Parke

Moses White

The opposing commanders at Fort Macon, James Parke and Moses White.

Like Confederate Colonel White, the commanding officer of the 8th Connecticut, Colonel Edward Harland, was sick and, by mid-March of 1862, he had become bed-ridden with typhoid fever. Under the command of Major Hiram Appelman, the regiment was divided into three parts to support the operations against Fort Macon and the coastal cities. Two companies were sent to occupy Beaufort and a few of the other companies were sent to secure Morehead City. The remaining companies including Company A crossed over from Carolina City to the Bogue Banks to begin movement toward Fort Macon. Private Oliver Case of Company A had been on picket duty seven miles away from camp near Carolina City when his company departed without him. As Case caught up to his fellow soldiers over on the Bogue Banks, there was much work to be done in preparation to lay siege to Fort Macon and its Confederate garrison.

On April 12th, the 8th Connecticut, still under the command of Major Appelman, led Parke’s Brigade in forcing the Confederate defenders to withdraw into the confines of the fort.

Connecticut regimental historians, Croffut and Morris describe the action:

Major Hiram Appelman, now in command, marched his regiment by the right flank up the beach, and, when within three miles of the fort, filed across the island in line of battle. Company G, Capt. James L. Russell, was thrown out as skirmishers; and the regiment waded forward knee-deep in the yielding sand. The rebel skirmishers contested the advance, but were driven steadily back; and, while they retreated, they shouted, with absurd inaptness, “Come on, you d__d Yankees! we are enough for you !” Company H, Capt. Sheffield, was now deployed to skirmish; and the captain was severely wounded in the body. The exultant rebels continued to move back until they entered the fort; the Eighth having passed through a cedar-jungle, about a mile from the fort.[1]

 

Colonel White, likely realizing that he was being trapped in the fort, took the unusual step of conducting a night attack in an attempting at breaking the developing siege. As the 8th Connecticut began to construct defensive positions in case of a counterattack, the Confederates stuck the regiment with the cannons from the fort.

 

The enemy made two ineffectual attempts at night to dislodge us from our advanced position, in one of which Lieutenant Landers and a private of the Fifth Rhode Island Battalion were slightly wounded, and in the other Major Appleman and a private of the Eighth Connecticut Regiment received severe contusions from a discharge of grape while digging rifle pits within 750 yards of the fort.[2]

 

On April 17th, Oliver’s tone about his fate in the impending battle had softened considerably from his first combat experience only one month earlier at New Bern. The “dread of death that one naturally expects” had morphed into a feeling that “I may not live to get home…”[3] However, the optimistic tone found throughout Oliver’s letter had not completely escaped him as he professed, “but I think I stand as good a chance as anyone in the company…”[4]

 

Oliver’s letter of 17 April 1862 does not comment on this operation carried out by the 8th. He does describe the work being done to affect the siege of Fort Macon.

Some of the companies are detailed each night to help build entrenchments and I think that by three or four days at farthest we shall open fire upon the fort. The mortars and field pieces are nearly all in position, and part of the howitzers.[5]

Oliver’s prediction is fairly accurate because the siege will begin in about 7 days. In the meantime, life on Bogue Banks is filled with the work of preparing positions for mortars being floated across the sound. The guns were moved up the island at night to avoid detection by the Confederates within Fort Macon. Protected firing positions were constructed for the guns using sandbags. Conditions were difficult for Oliver and his fellow soldiers as they worked.

The Eighth Connecticut Volunteers and 4th Rhode-Island were alternately on duty; when off duty, occupying an uncomfortable camp down the island. Rifle-pits were dug at night within two thousand feet from the fort, and constantly occupied. In front of them, in storms, the sea surged over the island. The sand was so movable, that the men were sometimes half covered.[6]  

The firing positions constructed by the 8th Connecticut and the 4th Rhode Island would prove to be very effective during the final attack against the fort and by the 23rd of April, Burnside determined that it was time for the final assault. He once again offered Colonel White the opportunity to surrender the fort with generous terms including the parole of all the Confederate defenders. As with previous demands for surrender, the young Confederate commander refused to accept the terms and prepared his soldiers to defend the fort. In the early morning hours of April 25, Parke ordered the bombardment to begin in earnest.

bombardment of fort macon harpers weekly

The bombardment of Fort Macon, April 25, 1862

 

As the land-based Union guns began to fire on Fort Macon, several ships from the Blockading Squadron appeared near the fort and attempted to participate in the shelling. While the Navy had not been included in the planning for the reduction of the fort, Commander Samuel Lockwood responded to the sound of the artillery. However, the four ships were unable to bring effective fire on the fort due to rough seas and soon abandoned the effort after two of the ships received minor damage from Confederate counter fire.

The Union guns ashore were initially wildly inaccurate doing little damage to Fort Macon during the few first hours of the assault. After Union Signal Corps officers in Beaufort established communication with the gun commanders on Bogue Banks, they were able to accurately direct the mortar fire so that by noon almost all shots were on target and the fort walls began to crumble. In response, Confederate gunners attempt to counter the fire from the mortars, but the protected positions among the sand dunes limited damage to the Union guns. As the bombardment continued into the early afternoon, Confederate guns in the fort were damaged and destroyed and Colonel White realized that he could not hold out much longer as the powder magazine was in great danger of being hit.

By 4:30 in the afternoon, Colonel White raised the white flag of surrender and the bombardment was halted. Fort Macon would soon be in Union hands.

 

[1] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[2] OR, Parke, May 9, 1862.

[3] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (17 April 1862)

[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

 

 

 

 

Lincoln to Burnside: “…any re-enforcements you can spare to General McClellan.”

A change in mission for the Burnside Expeditionary Force

By the end of May 1862, Ambrose Burnside and his expeditionary force had spent five difficult, but rewarding months conducting operations against the Confederates on the North Carolina coast. Combat success at Roanoke Island, Newbern and Fort Macon had battle hardened Burnside’s troops who now turned their attention to occupation duty as the Union high command contemplated their next mission. Oliver Case and his comrades in the 8th Connecticut where given various missions in and around the city of Newbern. In late June 1862, after enjoying an extended stay in what Oliver called “one of the pleasantest cities I ever saw for its streets are shaded by large trees which meet overhead which makes the streets pleasant,” the expeditionary force commander received an urgent telegram from the Secretary of War.

WASHINGTON CITY, June 28, 1862.

Major-General BURNSIDE,

New Berne, via Fort Monroe:

We have intelligence that General McClellan has been attacked in large force and compelled to fall back toward the James River. We are not advised of his exact condition; but the President directs that you shall send him all the re-enforcements from your command to the James River that you can safely do without abandoning your own position. Let it be infantry entirely, as he said yesterday that he had cavalry enough.

EDWIN M. STANTON,

Secretary of War.

newbern cw

View of the City of Newbern from across the Neuces River, 1862

Ambrose Burnside was now forced to change his focus from future offensive operations toward the inland of North Carolina and the monotony of occupation duty. His force had a new mission that would eventually bring them to northern Virginia to support the embattled forces of Union commander George B. McClellan. During the past four months, McClellan had deliberately marched his army from Fortress Monroe up the Virginia peninsula to the gates of the Confederate capital city. The Union army stalled outside of Richmond as its commander prepared for a long siege against an enemy force that he believed to be 2 to 3 times its actual size.

After the Confederate commander, Joseph Johnston was wounded by an artillery shell on June 1, 1862 during the fighting outside of Richmond, he was replaced by the more aggressive Robert E. Lee. Lee began to reinforce the defensive positions surrounding Richmond during a long lull in the fighting for most of the month of June. On June 25, 1862, Lee began a series of bold attacks known as the Seven Days Battles that caused McClellan to panic and began the withdrawal of his army back down the peninsula. The “large force” referred to in Secretary Stanton’s telegraph message to Burnside was a Confederate force of about 50,000 troops attacking a total Union force of over 100,000. McClellan’s proclivity for overestimating the enemy troop numbers and calling for reinforcements caused the Lincoln administration to recall Burnside from the coast of North Carolina.

The previous evening, McClellan had sent an urgent message to the Secretary of War creating the urgency to act on the part of the administration.

McCLELLAN’S HEADQUARTERS,

June 27, 1862-8 p.m.

Honorable E. M. STANTON,

Secretary of War:

Have had a terrible contest. Attacked by greatly superior number in all directions on this side; we still hold our own, though a very heavy fire is still kept up on the left bank of Chickahominy. The odds have been immense. We hold our own very nearly. I may be forced to give up my position during the night, but will not if it is possible to avoid it. Had I 20,000 fresh and good troops we would be sure of a splendid victory to-morrow.

My men have fought magnificently.

GEO. B. McCLELLAN,

Major-General.

However, Secretary Stanton and President Lincoln were unaware at the time of their first dispatch to Burnside that the overcautious McClellan had already contacted his friend and subordinate commander. Upon learning of McClellan’s earlier telegraph message to Burnside, Stanton quickly deferred the decision about moving Burnside’s forces to McClellan in a message that same evening.

WASHINGTON CITY,

June 28, 1862-6 p.m.

Major-General BURNSIDE, New Berne:

Since the dispatches of the President and myself to you of to-day we have seen a copy of one sent to you by General McClellan on the 25th, of which we were not aware.

Our directions were not designed to interfere with any instructions given you by General McClellan, but only to authorize you to render him any aid in your power.

EDWIN M. STANTON,

Secretary of War.

Interestingly, on the same day, President Lincoln had also sent a personal message to Burnside directing him to assist McClellan.

WASHINGTON CITY, June 28, 1862.

General BURNSIDE:

I think you had better go with any re-enforcements you can spare to General McClellan.

A. LINCOLN.

StantonLincolnMcClellan

Stanton, Lincoln and McClellan traded a flurry of messages regarding the situation of the Army of the Potomac in late June 1862

Lincoln and Stanton obviously believed the reports of the desperate situation that McClellan claimed to find himself trapped in. The commanding general of the Army of the Potomac was now constantly calling for reinforcements and his pleas even convinced President Lincoln to ask commanders in the western theater of operations about providing troops to McClellan. From contemporary communications, it is evident that Stanton (and likely Lincoln) envisioned a very rapid movement of at least part of Burnside’s force by water to the James River to relive McClellan. McClellan’s vision for Burnside was a bit different as expressed in the dispatch sent three days before Lincoln and Stanton communicated with him.

GENERAL McCLELLAN’S HEADQUARTERS,

June 25, 1862-7 p.m.

Major General AMBROSE E. BURNSIDE,

New Berne, N. C.:

Reports from contrabands and deserters to-day make it probable that Jackson’s forces are coming to Richmond and that a part of Beauregard’s force have arrived at Richmond. You will please advance on Goldsborough with all your available forces at the earliest practicable moment. I wish you to understand that every minute in this crisis is of great importance. You will therefore reach Goldsborough as soon as possible, destroying all the railroad communication in the direction of Richmond in your power.

If possible, destroy some of the bridges on the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad and threaten Raleigh.

GEO., B. McCLELLAN,

Major-General.

Ambrose-Burnside

Ambrose Burnside readied his forces to assist McClellan

 

This seems to be conflicting guidance from Major General McClellan warning that “every minute is a great crisis” while prescribing an overland route that could take up to two weeks for the troops of Burnside to cover. McClellan’s suggested route of march would take the three divisions initially to the northwest and then to the north crossing into Virginia approaching Petersburg from the south. It’s certainly possible that McClellan believed that Confederate intelligence reports of Burnside’s movement from the south could cause Lee to suspend offensive operations and focus on defending Richmond and Petersburg against this new threat.

Whatever McClellan’s logic, Burnside would not use the overland route. Within the week, the expeditionary force would begin loading ships for a trip to Virginia. On the 2nd of July, the 8th Connecticut and other regiments of Burnside’s Expeditionary Force were transported by rail to Morehead City, NC where they boarded the steamer “Admiral” and travel to Newport News, VA.

Croffut and Morris, historians of the Connecticut regiments described the movement and the soldiers’ new home at Newport News:

On July 2, the Eighth moved to Morehead City, and thence on the transport Admiral to Newport News, where a camp was set on an exposed sandy plain. The Eleventh followed closely. The beach of Hampton Roads, near at hand, protracted the delight of bathing. A few oysters were scattered along the clean bottom; and the boys felt out with their bare feet, dived down, and captured enough of the toothsome bivalves to break the monotony of salt pork and hard-tack.[1]

Another regimental historian of Burnside’s force offered a detailed view of Newport News:

At first view, Newport News had the appearance of a place where nothing new ever occurred or was likely to happen. A sandy plain, fifteen or twenty feet above the river, with a few old barracks, and some earthworks and ditches, constructed by General Butler’s troops; a gray sky, with spits of rain, made up the desolate picture. Beyond the plain was a swamp, with immense southern pitch-pines…[2]

Newport News 1861

View of Civil War Newport News from the James River

 

For the next month, Burnside’s troops would sit at Newport News and wait for the call that would never come to assist the embattled Army of the Potomac.

 

 

[1] The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, Ledyard Bill, New York, 1868

[2] History of the Thirty-Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, 1862-1865; Mills, Knight and Company, Boston, 1884.

Lincoln gives the green light for the Burnside Expedition

On December 29, 1861, Ambrose Burnside met with General McClellan and President Lincoln in Washington for a final review of the plan for his expeditionary force’s North Carolina operation. The idea for what Burnside originally termed the “Coast Division” was first pitched to McClellan in October 1861 with the purpose as recounted by General Burnside in an 1882 publication:

To organize a division of from twelve to fifteen thousand men, mainly from states bordering on the northern seacoast, many of whom would be familiar with the coasting trade, and among whom would be found a goodly number of mechanics, to fit out a fleet of light-draught steamers, sailing vessels and barges, large enough to transport the division, its armament and supplies, so that it could be rapidly thrown from point to point on the coast with a view to establishing lodgments on the southern coast, landing troops, and penetrating into the interior, thereby threatening the lines of transportation in the rear of the main army then concentrating in Virginia, and hold possession of the inland waters on the Atlantic coast.[1]

When first briefed on the plan, President Lincoln expressed substantial reservations with both the objective and the worthiness of the vessels procured for the operation. The objective of the briefing on December 29th of 1861 was to obtain Lincoln’s final approval.

Much discouragement was expressed by nautical men and by men high in military authority as to the success of the expedition. The President and General McClellan were both approached, and the President was frequently warned that the vessels were unfit for sea, and that the expedition would be a total failure. Great anxiety was manifested to know its destination, but the secret had been well kept in Washington and at our headquarters.[2]

The generals understand that operational security is the key to the success of the invasion of the North Carolina coast and even the president is keenly attuned to the need to keep it secret.

As Mr. Lincoln afterwards told me, a public man was very importunate, and, in fact, almost demanded that the President should tell him where we were going. Finally, the President said to him, “Now I will tell you in great confidence where they are going, if you will promise not to speak of it to any one.” The promise was given, and Mr. Lincoln said, “Well, now, my friend, the expedition is going to sea.” The inquirer left him without receiving any further information.[3]

After being assured of the great potential for success by McClellan and Burnside, the president finally gives his approval to commence operations as soon as practical.

 

McClellan_Lincoln_Burnside

Generals McClellan and Burnside convinced Lincoln to approve the operations against the Confederates in coastal North Carolina

 

In preparation for pending movement of the expeditionary force, General Burnside orders all sick soldiers to be moved from the camp to a general hospital or loaded abroad a hospital transport.

Although Oliver Case claims to feel “as well as I ever did in my life,” the surgeon excuses him from duty the night before and he is ordered to report to the hospital ship “Recruit” the next morning. Oliver describes the ship as “fitted up full of good berths and is a very different affair from those steamers we came in on.” He also mentions in his letter on December 30th that about 30 soldiers of the 8th Connecticut have contracted measles.[4]


[1] The Burnside Expedition, Ambrose E. Burnside, N. Bangs Williams and Company, Providence, 1882.

[2] IBID

[3] IBID

[4] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (30 December 1861)