In the Beginning, An Invasion

The decision of the United States Government to take Hatteras Island was due to the operations of a hodgepodge of vessels which made up the North Carolina Navy and was jokingly called the "mosquito fleet." 1 Hiding inside Hatteras Inlet, with a lookout posted in the lighthouse, 2 the six ships comprising the state navy 3 would dash unexpectedly out to capture United States merchant ships. 4 This motley fleet was so effective that it brought about a Northern invasion at first designed only to stop its operation. 5 Accordingly, an expedition was sent out under the command of General Benjamin F. Butler and on August 29, 1861, Hatteras Island was in the possession of United States forces. 6 Butler's orders had been to place obstructions in the inlet to stop the activities of the "mosquito fleet" and then to withdraw. But having gained the island this General, who is best remembered for his mistakes, made a correct decision. He saw the possibilities of a potential landing on the mainland launched from Hatteras. The calm waters of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds also offered safe passage from "Norfolk to Cape Lookout" for light vessels which could not travel on the open sea. Butler was so sure of the rightness of his thinking that he sailed away from the conquered is1and on the day of his victory to successfully plead his case in Washington. 7 Behind him he left a small naval and land force to hold Hatteras and the inlets on either end. The command of all he gave to Colonel Rush C. Hawkins of the Ninth New York Volunteers. 8 Hawkins immediately established good relations with the islanders. He suspected that they had little reason to be good loyal Confederates. 9 His suspicions were confirmed the day after Butler left when a delegation acting on behalf of the citizens presented him with a paper which read as follows:

Hawkins sent the delegation away with the request that all who could, meet him the following day to discuss the situation. 11 About thirty people came at the appointed hour and an oath of allegiance was agreed upon. 12 During the next seven or eight days almost every man on the island promised that we will true allegiance bear to the United states... that we will not take up arms against said Government, or hold any communication with its enemies, or aid or comfort its enemies in any way whatever, and that we will give to the commandant of Fort Clark any information we may receive of the approach of the enemy; and in case we are called upon we will assist the commandant of the said United States... and we will always, under any and all circumstances, support the Constitution of the said United States. 13

Hawkins was so impressed with this show of Unionist sentiment that he issued a proclamation to the rest of North Carolina from his Hatteras headquarters. He told them that as the colonel commanding the Federal Forces now in North Carolina, having heard of the erroneous impression which exists among the inhabitants as to the object and purpose of said forces, would state that it is no part of the object of said forces to pillage and plunder. We come not to destroy, but secure peace and uphold the law of the United States. The rights of property and persons will be protected and respected, and any Federal soldiers infringing upon them will be most severely punished. It is no part of our intention to war against women and children; on the contrary, they shall be protected with all the power under our control. Loyal citizens can enjoy their homes and property without fear of molestation. No law will be abrogated or interfered with unless it comes in conflict with some law of the United States or with the Constitution; all others will be obeyed and respected. It is with traitors and rebels in arms who are destroying peace and order and inciting rebellion that the Federal forces are to deal. We come to give you back law, order, the Constitution, and your rights under it, and to restore peace. We call upon traitors and rebels in a to lay them down, and upon good citizens, who respect the law to aid us in our undertaking. 14

Hawkins proclamation was circulated on the mainland by men from Hatteras. To Governor Henry T. Clark they were cowardly individuals who "under the fear of the enemy's guns, have taken the oath of allegiance." 15 The evidence suggests that Clark's estimation of the islanders was somewhat in error. Those who took Hawkins' proclamation to the mainland volunteered to do so 16 and eight of them were arrested in September of 1861, as they sought to distribute copies of it in Hyde County. 17 It was a Hatteras spy who learned and informed Hawkins that a Confederate attack from Roanoke Island was coming in October of 1861. 18 The Union soldiers were finally and firmly convinced of the loyalty of the natives when the attack came near the village of Chicamacomico. As the Twentieth Indiana Regiment retreated the people of the town fled with them. 19

The islanders were no more cowardly than any other normal human beings caught in the midst of war, nor does it seem they took the oath under the force of circumstances. North Carolina had been in the Confederacy for about three months when the Union forces landed, and, for the people of Hatteras that was simply long enough.

Hawkins believed in their sincerity even if Governor Clark did not. As early as September 11, 1861, he had urged recruiting among the North Carolinians on his narrow strip of sand. He believed they would enlist, if assured they could remain in the state. 20 This suggestion reached Lincoln and on September 16 he asked the War Department to form an order which would permit such recruitment. The order was duly made and sent out the following day in General Orders Number 79. 21 But, in spite of Lincoln's hopes and Hawkins's enthusiasm, no United States military unit was organized in North Carolina at this time. It had to wait for the Burnside expedition in 1862.

On February 8 of that year Burnside took Roanoke Island 22 and the Union army was then ready to move on to the mainland. From Roanoke, eight days after his victory, Burnside issued a proclamation to the people of the state similar to that of Hawkins six months before. 23 Meanwhile he sent out expeditions to various coastal towns. One such expedition to Elizabeth City on February 10 finally disposed of the "Mosquito fleet." 24 Most of the coastal towns fell quickly and the arrival of the Federal forces was not often contested. Edenton was captured February 12 25 and Winton on the eighteenth, but only after a battle. 26 New Bern also called for a fight before it fell on March 14. 27 The capture of towns was interrupted to take Fort Macon although a number were added in the process. Carolina City was taken on March 21, Morehead City on the twenty-second, New Port on the twenty-third, and Beaufort on the twenty-fifth. 28 Washington received an overnight call also on the twenty-third when a naval expedition went there in search of the lens which had been taken from the lighthouse. 29 A little more time was required to take Fort Macon which fell on April 26. 30

The Making of a Regiment

While bringing this bit of territory back under the control of the United States, the Union forces continued to be impressed by the expressions of loyal sentiment among the people. At Washington the invading army, aboard navy gunboats, was met some distance below the town by Mayor Isaiah Respess and other Unionists there to welcome them. 31 When they returned for another visit on April 5, 1862, they found that the Mayor had been removed from his bed the night before by some Confederate cavalry and taken to Richmond for trial. 32 The cavalry was sent there to arrest those favoring the Union causing many of the residents to flee to the woods. 33 Hawkins was not alone in wanting to get these men into the Union army. Lieutenant Charles W. Flusser of the Navy urged Hawkins to prod Burnside into taking positive action toward organizing them. 34 Flusser also attempted to enlist the sympathy of his own superior, Commander S. C. Rowan, in the fortunes of the Union people. 35 The efforts of these young men reached fruition in May, 1862, when Burnside authorized the formation of the First North Carolina Union Volunteers and appointed Captain Edward E. Potter of New York colonel of the prospective regiment. 36

On June 12, 1862, Commander Rowan's flagship, the U. S. S. Philadelphia was anchored just off Plymouth. On board were a group of people from the surrounding countryside there to meet with the commander and Colonel Hawkins. The two officers promised the Unionists arms to use in defending themselves, provided they would organize into formal military units in the United States Army. Twenty-two men signed up before leaving the ship. Before adjournment it was agreed that another meeting would be held on the sixteenth, when Rowan hoped, there would be enough volunteers to constitute a company. 37 To encourage them and soothe their fears as to Confederate reprisals, Burnside authorized Hawkins to place a company in the town around which the North Carolinians could rally. 38 The strategy as successful. The meeting reconvened as scheduled and by June 20 Company G was a living reality. 39

Officially, Company C was the first North Carolina unit organized, but two Washington companies received alphabetic precedence, though they were mustered in a week later. The two were born on the same day, June 27, with Company A being commanded by First Lieutenant James M. Harvey and Company B by Lieutenant Charles A. Lyon. The enrollment of these three companies brought the First Regiment Of North Carolina Union Volunteers into existence. During August and September Washington contributed another company, D, while Company F was raised at Beaufort. Company E was probably recruited at about this time but the exact date and place is unknown. The only other company added during 1862 was G; it came from New Bern. The two remaining companies of infantry, H and I, came from Hatteras Inlet and Hatteras Banks respectively, the latter being mustered January 21, 1863, and the former on May 6 of the same year. The last company of the regiment, L, came from Plymouth and was organized on June 20. Company L was a cavalry unit commanded by First Lieutenant George W. Graham. It was far more active than the other companies and consequently received more attention in reports.

The Baptism of Fire (1862)

When the decision was made to recruit North Carolinians, it was also decided to promise them that they would not be ordered to serve outside the state. This promise bad a two-fold purpose: to cultivate Unionist sentiment and to free Northern troops for duty elsewhere. So it was that Companies A and B received their initiation into warfare in their home town of Washington on September 5, 1862. Also there at this time were two companies of infantry from the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts and some artillery and cavalry units from New York. All were under Potter's command. At four o'clock in the morning Potter was about to embark upon an expedition to take the town of Hamilton, leaving only the infantry behind. Before be could get underway the town was surprised by a sizable Confederate force. The battle raged for two and one-half hours before the attackers withdrew to an encampment just outside town. The North Carolinians conducted themselves well in their first engagement. Company A suffered no losses but Company B lost two killed and seven wounded. Lieutenant Lyon was singled out for praise by the commanding officer. 40

On December 10, it was the turn of the men of Company C to defend their town, but Plymouth was less fortunate than had been Washington. The company was commanded by First Lieutenant Jonathan T. Mizell. 41 Also present was a portion of the Third Massachusetts Infantry whose commanding officer, Captain Barnabus Evers, Jr., was in charge of the port. The only uniformed horsemen present were referred to as the North Carolina Cavalry. Apparently this was the beginnings of what six months later would be Company L. The attacking force was the Seventeenth North Carolina Infantry, Confederate States Army, under Lieutenant Colonel John C. Lamb. The origins of the attackers may help to explain the vengeance with which the assault was carried out. Estimates of Confederate strength varied from two hundred to six hundred men. Evers reported that his own infantry numbered not more than one hundred and fifty when the attack came at 4:30 in the morning. Being outnumbered, or at least believing himself to be, Lieutenant Mizell took his men to the custom house from which they continued to fire on the enemy. The gunboat Southfield tried to help beat off the attack but was soon disabled and began drifting down stream, though not before Captain Evers got aboard. Mizell managed to hold the custom house, but he and his men could do nothing to stop the devastation going on in town. No government property was taken, but over half the town was burned after being thoroughly pillaged.

While Plymouth burned, Captain Evers, aboard the Southfield, had come into contact with the Commodore Perry downstream, where Flusser asked him what had happened to his men. Evers replied that he hoped they were in the swamp. Flusser then steamed up to help but came too late to do any good as the Confederates had withdrawn. The fearless Flusser considered the whole thing a disgrace, which he attributed to Evers. It was the now Lieutenant Commander 42 who estimated the rebels as numbering not more than two hundred. He did have praise for a Sergeant Clift and some of the other North Carolinians. Lieutenant Mizell, himself a Washington native, praised his soldier neighbors for their calm conduct in their first battle. It was his men and their families who suffered most from the raid. Sergeant Clift and others lost their homes, clothing, and all else not on their persons. Lamb could not keep the town, but his few hours of work had been both profitable and inexpensive. Mizell thought that at least fifteen of the enemy had been killed but Lamb reported only seven wounded and none killed. Lamb also carried away seventy-five Negroes and twenty-five other prisoners. 43

** Go to Part II - B **


1 John Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1963), p. 35.

2 U. S. Navy Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1927), Series I, Volume 6, p. 72, hereinafter cited as OR.

3 Ibid., p. 79.

4 Ibid., p. 72.

5 Ibid., pp. 69, 70.

6 U. S., War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office 1880-1901), Series I, Volume 4, p. 583, hereinafter cited as OR.

7 Ibid., pp. 584, 585.

8 Rush C. Hawkins, "Early Coastal Operations in North Carolina," Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, eds. R. U. Johnson and C. C. Buel (New York: Century Co., 1887), p. 632, p. 636.

9 Ibid., p. 636.

10 OR, I, 4, p. 611.

11 Ibid., p. 608.

12 Hawkins, "Coastal Operations," p. 636.

13 OR, I, 4, p. 611.

14 Ibid., pp. 658, 659.

15 Ibid., p. 658.

16 Hawkins, "Coastal Operations," p. 658.

17 OR, I, 4, p. 658.

18 Hawkins, "Coastal Operations," p. 636.

19 David Stick, The Outer Banks of North Carolina (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolins Press, 1958), p. 155.

20 OR, I, 4, p. 609.

21 Ibid., p. 613.

22 OR, I, 9. p. 74.

23 Ibid., p. 363.

24 Hawkins, "Coastal Operations," p. 645.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid., p. 646.

27 Ibid., p. 649.

28 Ibid., p. 653.

29 OR, I. 7, p. 150.

30 Hawkins, "Coastal Operations," p. 654.

31 OR, I, 9, p. 269.

32 Mayor Respess proved to be one of those people who gave North Carolina Unionists a bad name. The February 24, 1864, issue of the New Bern Times reported that he had convinced the Richmond Judge of his loyalty to the Confederacy and been subsequently released only to come afoul of the Northern government. He somehow acquired $20,000 in United States currency from the Bank of Tarboro. With it, and while in Richmond, he bought some tobacco which he smuggled into Union lines. When caught he confessed and was sentenced to six months imprisonment, a portion of which he served before General Benjamin F. Butler ordered his release because of his advanced age and questionable sanity.

33 OR, I, 9, p. 269.

34 Hawkins, "Coastal 0perations," p. 654.

35 OR, I, 7, p. 386.

36 OR, I, 9, p. 385.

37 OR, I, 7, p. 476.

38 Ibid.

39 Louis E. Manarin, Guide to Military Organizations and Installations in North Carolina: 1861 - 1865 (Raleigh: North Carolina Confederate Centennial Commission, 1961), Sec. 3, p. 1.

40 OR, I, 18, pp. 4-6.

41 Ibid., pp. 48, 49.

42 Flusser had been promoted.

43 Ibid., pp. 45-49.

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