North Carolina Coast and the American Civil War: Operations, Campaigns, and Expeditions

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North Carolina Coast and the American Civil War History
Operations, Campaigns, and Expeditions

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North Carolina Civil War Coast Battle Map
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North Carolina Coast Civil War Operations, Campaigns, Battlefields, Expeditions, Battlefield Map

North Carolina Coast and the Civil War
 
The American Civil War was fought in many places across the southern landscape, but perhaps no region held as much importance to the Union's Anaconda Plan as eastern North Carolina. Control of the sounds and rivers of North Carolina was vital to cutting off the Confederacy's southern supply routes to Virginia.
 
As the Federal government tightened its blockade, rapidly raising the number of its ships from 42 in 1861 to 671 in 1864, it viewed "the necessity of possessing the North Carolina sounds as well as its Outer Banks." To accomplish its objectives, the Union command, with combined land and naval forces, launched a series of expeditions, campaigns, and operations against the North Carolina coast.

Early in the Civil War, Union forces were deployed to blockade North Carolina's coast and then occupy the islands in order to strangle Southern-friendly shipping and control the deep-water rivers that fed the "sounds." The Atlantic coast of North Carolina was protected by a series of barrier islands, and control of the islands and the bodies of water west of them known as "sounds" was crucial for both sides during the Civil War.
 
Losing the coast, consequently, placed most of eastern North Carolina in danger and threatened the critically important supply line on the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. The Union referred to its strategy as the Anaconda Plan; the implementation of Union General Winfield Scott's strategy of "divide and conquer."

North Carolina Coast Civil War Map
North Carolina Coast and the Civil War Map.gif
North Carolina Coast and Civil War Operations, Campaigns, and Expeditions Map

North Carolina Coast and Civil War Operations, Campaigns, and Expeditions:

Blockade of the Carolina Coast [August-December 1861]

Goldsboro Expedition [December 1862]

Longstreet's Tidewater Operations [March-April 1863]

Operations against Plymouth [April-May 1864]

Expedition against Fort Fisher [December 1864]

Operations against Fort Fisher and Wilmington [January-February 1865]

Campaign of the Carolinas [February-April 1865]

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Recommended Reading: Ironclads and Columbiads: The Coast (The Civil War in North Carolina) (456 pages). Description: Ironclads and Columbiads covers some of the most important battles and campaigns in the state. In January 1862, Union forces began in earnest to occupy crucial points on the North Carolina coast. Within six months, Union army and naval forces effectively controlled coastal North Carolina from the Virginia line south to present-day Morehead City. Continued below...
Union setbacks in Virginia, however, led to the withdrawal of many federal soldiers from North Carolina, leaving only enough Union troops to hold a few coastal strongholds—the vital ports and railroad junctions. The South during the Civil War, moreover, hotly contested the North’s ability to maintain its grip on these key coastal strongholds.

 

Recommended Reading:  Storm over Carolina: The Confederate Navy's Struggle for Eastern North Carolina. Description: The struggle for control of the eastern waters of North Carolina during the War Between the States was a bitter, painful, and sometimes humiliating one for the Confederate navy. No better example exists of the classic adage, "Too little, too late." Burdened by the lack of adequate warships, construction facilities, and even ammunition, the South's naval arm fought bravely and even recklessly to stem the tide of the Federal invasion of North Carolina from the raging Atlantic. Storm Over Carolina is the account of the Southern navy's struggle in North Carolina waters and it is a saga of crushing defeats interspersed with moments of brilliant and even spectacular victories. It is also the story of dogged Southern determination and incredible perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. Continued below...

For most of the Civil War, the navigable portions of the Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, Chowan, and Pasquotank rivers were occupied by Federal forces. The Albemarle and Pamlico sounds, as well as most of the coastal towns and counties, were also under Union control. With the building of the river ironclads, the Confederate navy at last could strike a telling blow against the invaders, but they were slowly overtaken by events elsewhere. With the war grinding to a close, the last Confederate vessel in North Carolina waters was destroyed. William T. Sherman was approaching from the south, Wilmington was lost, and the Confederacy reeled as if from a mortal blow. For the Confederate navy, and even more so for the besieged citizens of eastern North Carolina, these were stormy days indeed. Storm Over Carolina describes their story, their struggle, their history.

 

Recommended Reading: The Civil War in the Carolinas (Hardcover). Description: Dan Morrill relates the experience of two quite different states bound together in the defense of the Confederacy, using letters, diaries, memoirs, and reports. He shows how the innovative operations of the Union army and navy along the coast and in the bays and rivers of the Carolinas affected the general course of the war as well as the daily lives of all Carolinians. He demonstrates the "total war" for North Carolina's vital coastal railroads and ports. In the latter part of the war, he describes how Sherman's operation cut out the heart of the last stronghold of the South. Continued below...

The author offers fascinating sketches of major and minor personalities, including the new president and state governors, Generals Lee, Beauregard, Pickett, Sherman, D.H. Hill, and Joseph E. Johnston. Rebels and abolitionists, pacifists and unionists, slaves and freed men and women, all influential, all placed in their context with clear-eyed precision. If he were wielding a needle instead of a pen, his tapestry would offer us a complete picture of a people at war. Midwest Book Review: The Civil War in the Carolinas by civil war expert and historian Dan Morrill (History Department, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historical Society) is a dramatically presented and extensively researched survey and analysis of the impact the American Civil War had upon the states of North Carolina and South Carolina, and the people who called these states their home. A meticulous, scholarly, and thoroughly engaging examination of the details of history and the sweeping change that the war wrought for everyone, The Civil War In The Carolinas is a welcome and informative addition to American Civil War Studies reference collections.

 

Recommended Reading: The Civil War on the Outer Banks: A History of the Late Rebellion Along the Coast of North Carolina from Carteret to Currituck With Comments on Prewar Conditions and an Account of (251 pages). Description: The ports at Beaufort, Wilmington, New Bern and Ocracoke, part of the Outer Banks (a chain of barrier islands that sweeps down the North Carolina coast from the Virginia Capes to Oregon Inlet), were strategically vital for the import of war materiel and the export of cash producing crops. Continued below...

From official records, contemporary newspaper accounts, personal journals of the soldiers, and many unpublished manuscripts and memoirs, this is a full accounting of the Civil War along the North Carolina coast.
 

Recommended Reading: The Civil War in Coastal North Carolina (North Carolina Division of Archives and History). Description: From the drama of blockade-running to graphic descriptions of battles on the state's islands and sounds, this book portrays the explosive events that took place in North Carolina's coastal region during the Civil War. Continued below...

Topics discussed include the strategic importance of coastal North Carolina, Federal occupation of coastal areas, blockade-running, and the impact of war on civilians along the Tar Heel coast. It is a welcome addition to North Carolina Civil War buffs, students of American Civil War Blockades and Blockade Runners, as well as the war's coastal warfare.
 
Recommended Reading: Graveyard of the Atlantic: Shipwrecks of the North Carolina Coast (The University of North Carolina Press). Description: This outstanding research of the shipwrecks off the North Carolina Coast includes: a detailed listing of shipwrecks along the North Carolina Coast and Outer Banks; detailed accounts of most of the shipwrecks and, in some cases, the author gives extensive details, e.g., he devotes a chapter to the Steam Packet Pulaski. Continued below...
The author provides a chronological listing at the end of the book, a detailed index, and descriptive drawings of the various types of ships along with a map of the area. For anyone interested in ships, shipwrecks, the NC Outer Banks, then this is a great read.
 

Recommended Reading: Naval Campaigns of the Civil War. Description: This analysis of naval engagements during the War Between the States presents the action from the efforts at Fort Sumter during the secession of South Carolina in 1860, through the battles in the Gulf of Mexico, on the Mississippi River, and along the eastern seaboard, to the final attack at Fort Fisher on the coast of North Carolina in January 1865. This work provides an understanding of the maritime problems facing both sides at the beginning of the war, their efforts to overcome these problems, and their attempts, both triumphant and tragic, to control the waterways of the South. The Union blockade, Confederate privateers and commerce raiders are discussed, as is the famous battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack. Continued below…

An overview of the events in the early months preceding the outbreak of the war is presented. The chronological arrangement of the campaigns allows for ready reference regarding a single event or an entire series of campaigns. Maps and an index are also included. About the Author: Paul Calore, a graduate of Johnson and Wales University, was the Operations Branch Chief with the Defense Logistics Agency of the Department of Defense before retiring. He is a supporting member of the U.S. Civil War Center and the Civil War Preservation Trust and has also written Land Campaigns of the Civil War (2000). He lives in Seekonk, Massachusetts.

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