The Capture of Hatteras Inlet

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Map of Cape Hatteras. Courtesy of weather.com

The first combined operation of the Civil War was the capture of Hatteras Inlet. This inlet was used by Confederate gunboats and privateer merchantmen sailing around Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. These Southern commerce raiders’ depreciation was lucrative for the Carolinians; however, Northern losses became so significant that several major maritime insurance brokers demanded something be done about this situation. This prompted the development of the Union’s Hatteras Inlet operation. [1]

North Carolina’s Outer Banks

The North Carolina Sounds reached from the Virginia border to Cape Lookout, the eastern border of North Carolina. Four major inlets could be used to reach the Atlantic Ocean from the Sounds: Hatteras, Oregon, Ocracoke, and Beaufort (Old Inlet). Hatteras Inlet was best situated for commerce raiding. Cape Hatteras was the easternmost point within the Confederacy, overlooking the Gulf Stream. This current was very popular with merchant ships trading between Northern ports like New York, the Caribbean, and South America. Using the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the Confederates could signal waiting raiders about tempting merchantmen targets. “The enemy’s commerce,” wrote North Carolina governor John Ellis on April 27, 1861, “could be cut off by privateers on the coast of No. Carolina.” [2]   Read more

Tied up in rope conservation and more! 

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SEM at ARC William and Mary
Molly carefully inserting a wooden sample in the SEM chamber and the computer monitor displaying a previous sample image

I have been meaning to write a blog about progress on the Monitor ropes but, although archaeological objects conservators are currently focused on this part of the collection, we do all sorts of other things that I thought would also be interesting to share with you. 

If you have not done so yet, check out Laurie’s latest blogs about the gun sponge she has been treating lately. It looks so good!!    Read more

Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition: From New Bern to Beaufort

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Ambrose Burnside. Courtesy of the Library of Congress,

This is a continuation of the story I shared in another blog about the Burnside Expedition and the battle for the NC Sounds and the capture of Roanoke Island. 

Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside’s invasion of the North Carolina inland seas was a major success. In seven days, Burnside, with the support of Flag Officer L.M. Goldsborough’s naval forces, had captured Currituck, Albemarle, Roanoke, and Croatan Sounds. This placed Burnside’s army in a position to capture his next objective, New Bern, North Carolina.   Read more

Burnside’s Roanoke Island Expedition: The Battle for the North Carolina Sounds

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From Norfolk, VA to Bogue Inlet, NC, 1874.
Voyage of the Paper Canoe by Nathaniel H. Bishop, https://www.ibiblio.org/eldritch/nhb/paperc/intro.html#maps.

Major General George B. McClellan recognized the need for combined operations to overwhelm the Confederate war effort. With more than 3,000 miles of coastline to defend, the Southerners were often unable to protect their coastal territory effectively. The captures of Hatteras Inlet and Port Royal Sound were decisive actions that furthered General Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan. Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside’s Roanoke Island Expedition would strike at the very heart of the Confederacy. This effort to conquer North Carolina’s inland seas would come close to ending the war in 1862.

The Great Inland Sea

The loss of Hatteras Inlet was a rude awakening for North Carolina. The Federals suddenly had complete access to the sounds, and the key to the control of the various shallow bodies of water was Roanoke Island, located at the confluence of the Albemarle and Currituck Sounds. These large sounds led to Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, via the Great Dismal Swamp and the Albemarle & Chesapeake Canals. This was the backdoor to the South’s largest shipbuilding center and was a direct link to Richmond. These sounds gave access to critical North Carolina river ports such as Elizabeth City, Edenton, and Plymouth.   Read more

Who was Captain of the Andrew Harder? A Mystery Solved

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Log of the Andrew Harder
The rather unassuming cover of the diary kept in 1864 by the captain of Andrew Harder (from Logbook 192)

Last fall, we in the Archives received a request, as we often do, from the History Department of Christopher Newport University, to provide an internship opportunity for a young man who was to graduate the following spring. Usually this is not difficult for us. This year, however, we could think of nothing to do for young Thomas Fosdick (the CNU student in question) and nearly gave up. The pandemic made it impossible for him to come on site and work on archival material. However, both Bill Barker (fellow archivist) and I knew that log book transcriptions could work. So I found a small logbook dating from the Civil War kept by the captain of the steamer Andrew Harder. But my choice of Log 192 involved an inherent mystery we had hoped Thomas might be able to solve for us. Who was this diarist?

The transport Andrew Harder

Before really tackling the problem of the diarist’s identity, we had to know basic facts about the service of this steamer. The Andrew Harder was a practically new vessel, a screw steamboat built in 1863 for service on the Hudson River between Stuyvesant, NY and New York City.   Read more