Operations Against Plymouth [April-May 1864]
While the South was enjoying some recent battlefield successes
in Virginia during the American Civil War (1861–1865), Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee would send Brig. Gen. Robert F.
Hoke to North Carolina during April 1864 in a grand attempt to recapture strategic Southern forts and ports along the
coast. Although the Operations Against Plymouth (April–May 1864) were successful, exigencies of war would soon
require Hoke to abandon all military activities and return to Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The removal of Hoke's force
and the destruction of the Confederate Ironclad ram Albemarle allowed both Plymouth and Washington, North Carolina,
to fall back into Union hands.
Brig. Gen. Robert F. Hoke, commanding, led the Operations Against Plymouth. Hoke, a North Carolina native, resumed
command of his brigade at Petersburg, Virginia, in January 1864, and led it south to North Carolina, where he organized attacks
on the coastal towns of New Bern and Plymouth. In the latter engagement during the Battle of Plymouth, April 17, 1864–April
20, 1864, Hoke captured a garrison of 2,834 Union soldiers. For his successes, the Confederate Congress would vote on May
17 to extend its "Thanks" for the action of Hoke and his men at Plymouth. Hoke would be promoted to major general on
April 23, 1864 (appointment dated from April 20), and assume command of what was known as Hoke's Division in the Department
of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. On May 5, 1864, the CSS Albemarle and a few Confederate vessels fought the
Union Navy to a draw during the Battle of Albemarle Sound. The Albemarle was damaged and, unable to render further
assistance, was scuttled before falling into Union hands. Although touted a Confederate victory, the Operations Against Plymouth
were indeed short-lived because Plymouth would return to Federal control soon after Hoke was ordered to return with his
forces to Virginia and assist Gen. Lee as he endeavored to enlarge his army and defend the state against the Elephant now
under the command of Lt. Gen. U.S. Grant. For the duration of the conflict, the entire North Carolina coast would remain
under Union control.
|Operations against Plymouth Map
|Operations against Plymouth Map
|Operations against Plymouth
|General Robert F. Hoke
During the spring of 1864
the Confederate authorities decided on a bold campaign that was designed to capture some of the towns held by the Federals
in eastern North Carolina. Brig. Gen. Robert F. Hoke, well-known for his brilliant battlefield successes, was selected
to command the expedition. Along with his own brigade, Hoke also commanded Ransom's, Terry's Virginia brigade, the Forty-third
North Carolina Regiment, of which the distinguished citizen, Thomas S. Kenan, was colonel,
and several batteries of artillery, assisted by CSS ram Albemarle operating in the Roanoke River.
Battle of Plymouth
Consisting of the Battle of Plymouth and Battle of Albemarle Sound, the Operations Against Plymouth (April–May 1864) was
a joint Confederate Army-Navy effort to recapture vital Southern forts and ports along the North Carolina coast in 1864 during the American Civil War (1861–1865).
In a joint operation with the
ironclad ram CSS Albemarle, four Confederate brigades under Brig. Gen. Robert F. Hoke attacked the Federal garrison at Plymouth, North Carolina, April
17–20, 1864. On April 19, the Rebel ram appeared in the river, sinking the USS Southfield, damaging the USS
Miami, and driving off several other Union Navy ships supporting the Plymouth garrison. Confederate forces
next captured Fort Comfort, driving defenders into Fort Williams. The garrison capitulated on April 20, 1864. The Confederate victory at the battle of Plymouth
added immense ordnance stores to the Southern war effort and reopened the Roanoke River for
Confederate commerce and military operations. Brig. Gen. Hoke, in an after battle report dated April 20 to Confederate
authorities, stated to have stormed and captured this place [Plymouth], capturing 1 brigadier,
1600 men, stores, and 25 pieces of artillery.* Next, Hoke
intended to follow-up his victory by mounting an attack on the nearby strategic coastal community of New Bern (spelled New Berne at the time).
|North Carolina Map of Civil War Battlefields
|Operations Against Plymouth
|NC Coast and the Civil War Map
|Courtesy Microsoft MapPoint
|Operations against Plymouth
|Operations against Plymouth
Following the capture of the Union command and the newly acquired provisions at Plymouth, Gen. PGT Beauregard
conveyed a rather sober truth about the recent fight. The general wrote that on April, 23, 1864, while at Weldon, N.C., I assumed command
of the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia.
It included Virginia south to the James and Appomattox, and
all that portion of, North Carolina east of the mountains.
The War Department was closely engaged at that time with certain operations against Plymouth and
New Berne, from which great results were expected at Richmond, but about which the enemy was not much concerned, as the main
object of his campaign could in no wise be affected or seriously disturbed by such a diversion.
fall of Plymouth led to the Federal evacuation of nearby Washington, N.C., on April, 28, 1864. (See also Siege of Washington.) On the evacuation, reported Union Gen. Palmer, Washington was burned
by Federal troops. In an order condemning the atrocities by his troops, Palmer said, "It is well known that the army
vandals did not even respect the charitable institutions, but bursting open doors of the Masonic and Odd Fellows' lodge, pillaged
them both and hawked about the streets the regalia and jewels. And this, too, by United States troops! It is well known that
both public and private stores were entered and plundered, and that devastation and destruction ruled the hour." Official
Records, XXXIII, p. 310.
Battle of Albemarle Sound
The CSS Albemarle sailed from Plymouth and engaged the Union fleet on May 5, 1864, and, due to the damage sustained in the battle of Albemarle,
was forced to abandon its objective of New Bern and thus returned to Plymouth. Unlike most Civil War ironclads and rams, which were
built in the traditional shipyard, the CSS Albemarle had been constructed in a Southern cornfield. While engaged
during the Battle of Albemarle Sound, May 5, the Albemarle and her two guns had faced and engaged a large Union
fleet that was armed with a total of sixty guns. The outcome of the naval contest, however, was the immediate withdrawal
of Confederate and Union naval forces, therefore resulting in a draw. General Hoke next moved against New Bern.
|Battle of Plymouth and Battle of Albemarle Sound
|Operations Against Plymouth
Although Hoke had already taken the
outworks at New Bern and demanded its surrender, a messenger from Richmond arrived and hand delivered him special
orders. Hoke had been instructed to report
immediately to Petersburg, no matter how far his operations might have advanced against New Bern. According to Official
Records, "No time was lost in carrying out the order." The
anticipated Union attack on the Confederate capital of Richmond had warranted Hoke's immediate assistance. His withdraw and
advance was to be "made with all haste," stated General Robert E. Lee, who had received his instructions directly from President
H. Hill, Jr., Confederate Military History Of North Carolina:
North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865, p. 174, places the number at "nearly 3,000 men and 25 pieces of artillery,"
which would be the entire Federal garrison. It appears that Hoke's preliminary report, dated April 20, 1864, is quoted by
many authors and historians, but, since the entire garrison had surrendered, the number of "nearly 3,000" would include the
after battle report, less Confederate casualties. On page 193, furthermore, Hill, quoting Colonel Henry Burgwyn of the 26th
North Carolina, states: "Capturing Plymouth...with some 2,500 prisoners." Both Confederate and Union reports and records
also place the Union total between 2,500 and 3,000.
Recommended Reading: The Civil War in North Carolina. Description: Numerous
battles and skirmishes were fought in North Carolina during
the Civil War, and the campaigns and battles themselves were crucial in the grand strategy of the conflict and involved some
of the most famous generals of the war. Continued below...
John Barrett presents the complete story of military engagements across the state, including the classical
pitched battle of Bentonville--involving Generals Joe Johnston and William Sherman--the siege of Fort
Fisher, the amphibious campaigns on the coast, and cavalry sweeps such
as General George Stoneman's Raid.
Operations against Plymouth [April-May 1864]
North Carolina Coast and the American Civil War
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.
Reading: Rebels and Yankees: Naval Battles of the Civil War (Hardcover). Description: Naval Battles of the Civil War, written by acclaimed Civil War historian
Chester G. Hearn, focuses on the maritime battles fought between the Confederate Rebels and the Union forces in waters off
the eastern seaboard and the great rivers of the United States
during the Civil War. Continued below...
Since very few books have been written on this subject, this volume provides a fascinating and vital portrayal
of the one of the most important conflicts in United States history. Naval Battles
of the Civil War is lavishly illustrated with rare contemporary photographs, detailed artworks, and explanatory maps, and
the text is a wonderful blend of technical information, fast-flowing narrative, and informed commentary.
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.
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: 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...
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. 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
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