Battle of Roanoke Island

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    Battle of Roanoke Island
    (The Burnside Expedition)
    Raleigh News and Observer
    September 16, 1881
    The death of Senator Burnside on Tuesday last, reminding us of the entrance into our 
    waters, in 1862, of the fleet placed in his charge, we interviewed one who was captured 
    at the battle above named and gathered the following particulars.
    The Burnside Expedition sailed from Fortress Monroe, under the command of 
    Commodore Goldsborough and General Burnside, on the 12th January, 1862.  The 
    forts on Hatteras Island having been taken by the Federals the preceding fall, the 
    expedition put in at that point, several of the larger transports experiencing considerable 
    difficulty in getting over the “swash”.
    There was some diversity of opinion respecting the point to be struck, but Roanoke 
    Island being the key to all the northeastern section, including, among other rivers, the 
    Roanoke and Chowan, the descent of the armada upon this point was daily looked for.  
    This being early in the war, the works had not attained that strength of character which 
    characterized them later in the struggle, so it can be said that the island was poorly
     fortified.  The shore batteries were so far apart that there cold be no support, while the 
    redoubt had nothing to prevent an enfilade fire.
    The Confederate troops numbered, including the sick list, between 2,000 and 3,000 
    men and were composed of the 8th and 31st North Carolina Regiments, a few 
    companies from Wise’s Legion and a battalion of the 17th North Carolina Regiment, 
    the last named (two companies) garrisoning the fort which was soon to be exposed 
    to a terrific fire.
    On the 5th February, the expedition was reported to be moving in the direction of 
    Roanoke Island, and on the morning of the 6th, the armada came to anchor a few 
    miles distant.  The long roll sent the garrisons of the forts and batteries to their 
    posts, while the other troops were properly disposed.  General Henry A. Wise not 
    being on the island, the command devolved upon Col. H.M. Shaw, of the 8th North 
    Carolina.  A fog obscured the fleet during the greater part of the day, and night found 
    it still at anchor.
    On the morning of the 7th, the expedition moved, being properly divided.  It was 
    indeed a grand sight.  Croatan Sound being some four miles wide, there was plenty 
    of room for maneuvering by the vessels.  Those armed numbered the rise of twenty 
    and were of different rig.  The large “double-ender” was conspicuous, then the ferry 
    boat, and finally the large sloop, favored by a gentle breeze, ranged in battle array.
    The transports were of large size, the bay steamers and the steamship S.R. 
    Spaulding, being among them.  The division of armed steamers and sailing vessels 
    came into action at once, while the transports, of course, kept at a safe distance.  
    Fort Bartow, as before stated, could get no support.  A few Confederate gunboats 
    were off the island, and for a while only a naval battle was had.  But soon the firing 
    became general.  Nothing could be heard above the roar of the guns.  The fort 
    steadily replied with four guns en barbette, though at times one embrasure gun 
    could be brought to bear. The attack being upon the flank, several embrasure guns 
    could not be used.  
    The bombardment was kept up till near night, the Federals landing some 15,000 
    troops during the afternoon.  The landing was effected under a heavy shelling of the 
    woods and was not opposed.  During the night, the artificers repaired the fort, while 
    the worn out garrison buried their dead, removed the wounded, or slept in the few 
    remaining houses of their comfortable winter quarters, burned early in the attack.
    The morning of the 8th came and officers and men were at their posts, but it soon 
    became apparent that but little more fighting between the fleet and the fort was to 
    be done.  A desultory firing took the place of the incessant bombardment of the
    day before.  The great body of the fleet had hauled off to await the result of the fight 
    on shore, soon to take place.
    The reports of the light artillery, mountain howitzers and rifles were next heard.  
    The redoubt, commanding the main road, was being attacked.  After several hours’ 
    fighting, it was flanked, and the Confederate forces fell back to the north end of the 
    island, the garrisons of the fort first dismantling their guns. Arriving at Col. Shaw’s 
    camp, it was soon ascertained that there was no alternative but to surrender.  Col. 
    Wharton J. green had landed after the position of the Confederates had been turned, 
    and he and his command became prisoners along with the rest.
    A flag of truce was sent out by Col. Shaw and the bearer of it soon returned, 
    accompanied by a Massachusetts major.  A short conference was had; General 
    Foster appeared and the surrender was made to him, he remarking that while 
    General Burnside was in general command, he (Foster) commanded the forces 
    that had landed.  He at the same time assured Col. Shaw that his officers and 
    men should be treated as prisoners of war.  In about two weeks the prisoners 
    were paroled and carried to Elizabeth City.
    Such of the Confederate gunboats as were not destroyed in the taking of the 
    island, endeavored to make their escape to Norfolk by way of the Dismal Swamp 
    Canal.  These were pursued and several destroyed.  Edenton was occupied by 
    Federals from this expedition on the 9th, and on the 10th the Federal forces from 
    14 gunboats, commanded by Capt. Rowan, occupied Elizabeth City, after 
    destroying a battery on the banks of Pasquetank River, together with several 
    gunboats.  In this last naval battle, Captain Cooke, Confederate Navy, was 
    complimented by officers of the United States Navy, for his bravery.  He took
    part in a hand-to-hand fight, his vessel being boarded.  The sounds and rivers 
    were soon full of gunboats.  On the 20th, Winton, the county seat of Hertford, 
    was partially burned.
    On the 14th March, 1862, General Burnside’s forces attacked and carried a 
    line of redoubts near Newbern and thus captured the city.  Then followed the 
    occupation, on the 21st of the town of Washington; 23rd, Morehead, and the 
    capture on the 26th April, of Fort Macon.
    On the 8th July, General Burnside’s forces effected a junction with General 
    McClellan’s command on the James River, and on the 26th August, he 
    relinquished command of the Department of North Carolina and was 
    succeeded by General Foster.
    General Burnside was a successful soldier while in this state.  After he 
    left he was not successful but he at all times bore a good character for

    Transcribed by Christine Spencer August 2008

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