Siege of WashingtonThe Battle of Washington, aka Siege of Washington, took place from March 30 to April 20, 1863, in Beaufort County, North Carolina, as part of Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's Tidewater operations during the American Civil War (1861-1865).
The Southerners would fail in their attempt to dislodge the Federals in Washington, NC during 1863 but they would succeed in April of 1864. Then they relinquished the city once more to the Federals in November of that year. Washington would remain under Union occupation for the remainder of the war.
It, along with Plymouth in Washington County, suffered more Civil War destruction than any other North Carolina town.
The scars of the Civil War are still visible in Washington NC. Crossing the Pamlico River on Highway 17 look off to the west and you will see the remains of the Union Army's ship, Picket, jutting from the Tar River where it blew up on September 6th, 1862. Driving down Main St. you will view houses with dates of construction in the 1850's 60's and 70s', testimony to the fact that the town was burnt by Union troops during their evacuation after the fall of Plymouth, NC. Even more startling are the two houses on Water Street which were built in 1780 and 1795. They stood through the fires and barrages of the war, having cannon balls imbedded in their walls, a bequest of the shelling of the town by the Rebel troops located on the southern shore of the Pamlico River.
War came to Washington in March of 1862 when federal troops, escorted by the gunboat Picket, arrived at Washington. According to Charles Warren "Two companies and a band marched from the wharf to the courthouse playing national aires."
The Confederate force of infantry and cavalry troops slipped into the town on the morning of September 6, 1862 surprising the Federal troops and capturing their artillery. Federal cavalry, on their way to Plymouth, were alerted to the attack by the sound of gunfire. Charging up Main Street they clashed with Confederate cavalry at Market Street. A furious battle ensued with both sides advancing and retreating. Meanwhile mysteriously the Federal ship, the Picket, blew up killing the captain and nineteen crewmen.
In the spring of 1863, Confederate troops needing food and supplies for Lee's armies in Virginia, placed Washington under siege and several skirmishes resulted. The Confederate Armies were able to resupply the troops in Virginia without any serious intervention from the Federal troops in Washington.
When threatened, the union forces blew up their naval supplies, causing a fire that swept through the town destroying most of the early historic buildings. The war left the town devastated. Washington was rebuilt but suffered another fire in September 1900.
April 30, 1864 "The fire was set at Haven's Wharf... to destroy naval stores, cotton etc. to prevent falling into the hands of the Confederates." An eye witness account by Charles F. McIntire, Company G, 44th Massachusetts Infantry. "The fire rapidly spread north across Main Street, down Van Norden Street, consuming everything to Fifth- the last street in town... it burned the length of Gladden and Respess streets... every home on Bridge went down."
"Furiously the fire raged from Bridge Street down Second sweeping everything in its path to Respess St... Chimneys were all that was left of homes where only defenseless, though brave, women and children had lived." Other fires were lit by soldiers in Union uniforms at non-military facilities according to reports by locals after the war.
(L) Marsh House 1795, (R) Myers House 1780:
These two Federal style homes face Festival Park and the Pamlico River beyond in the Washington Historic District (National Register of Historic Places 1979, listing 79001661).
Myers house, built 1780, is the oldest building in Washington, and Marsh house was built only 15 years later. Each house remained in the family of its builder approximately 150 years. Both were used by Federal troops as offices and quarters during the American Civil War, when much of Washington was destroyed by fire.
After the culmination of Burnside's North Carolina Expedition little attention had been given to North Carolina by the Confederate Army.
March 20, 1862:
Union forces had captured Washington, North Carolina, just days after it captured New Bern during the Burnside Expedition.
September 6, 1862:
A small expedition under the command of Confederate Colonel S. D. Pool arranged for an attack on the Federal garrison at Washington, N.C., with the objective to retake the town. This town was held by a force under Colonel Potter, of the First North Carolina Union Cavalry. Pool's force consisted of two companies from the Seventeenth North Carolina Regiment, two companies from the Fifty-fifth North Carolina under Capt. P. M. Mull, 50 men under Captain MacRae from the Eighth North Carolina, and 70 men of the Tenth North Carolina Artillery acting as infantry and commanded by Captain Manney. This force dashed into Washington in the early morning, surprising the garrison, and after a hot fight withdrew, taking several captured guns. The Union gunboat Picket, stationed there, was blown up just as her men were called to quarters to fire on the Confederates, and nineteen of her men were killed and wounded. The Confederates inflicted in this action a loss of 44, and suffered a loss of 13 killed and 57 wounded. This was truly a North Carolina fight, the Brothers War, as all the participants were from this State.
A Union expedition from New Bern destroyed the railroad bridge at Goldsboro, N.C. along the vital Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. This expedition caused only temporary damage to the railroad, but did prompt Confederate authorities to devote more attention to the situation along the coast of Virginia and North Carolina.
Following the Confederate victory at Fredericksburg, December 1862, General Robert E. Lee felt confident enough to dispatch a large portion of his army to deal with Union occupation forces along the coast. The whole force was put under the command of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet. While Longstreet personally operated against Suffolk, Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill, March 1863, led a column which moved against Federal garrisons at New Bern and Washington, North Carolina. Maj. Gen. John G. Foster, commanding the Department of North Carolina, was responsible for the overall defense of the Union garrisons along the North Carolina coast. After Hill's attack against New Bern failed in April 1863, Foster arrived in Washington to take personal command of the garrison.
In March 1863 Confederate General Daniel Harvey Hill launched an attack on the federal garrison at Washington in an attempt to reclaim the city. Confederates seized one battery and fortified others with the intention of launching an artillery bombardment. In the Pamlico River, piles that were cut off below the water line and other sunken impediments made for perilous river travel. Union General J. G. Foster and his men had made it into Washington just prior to Hill's placement of troops along roads to prevent federal reinforcements from reaching the garrison. The armies engaged in artillery attacks off and on for until mid-April when the Escort, a Union steamer, twice ran past the Confederate batteries. The arrival of supplies and reinforcements having bolstered the federal garrison, Hill withdrew his troops from Washington.
Washington remained under federal control until April 26, 1864, when, as a result of the Confederate victory at Plymouth, Brigadier General Edward Harland was ordered to withdraw from the town. For four days the evacuating troops pillaged Washington, destroying what they could not carry. As the final detachments were preparing to leave Washington on April 30, a fire started in the riverfront warehouse district, spreading quickly, until about one half of the city was in ashes.
General Robert F. Hoke entered Washington finding "a ruined city...a sad scene—mostly...chimneys and Heaps of ashes to mark the place where Fine Houses once stood, and the Beautiful trees, which shaded the side walks, Burnt, some all most to a coal." Hoke left the 6th North Carolina to defend Washington and to assist its citizens. A reversal of fortune would come in November 1864. Following the Union's recapture of Plymouth, Washington and the whole sound region, again fell under federal control.
In mid-February, 1863 most of Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet's corps was moved south by rail. Confederate President Jefferson Davis made three purposes clear to General Longstreet:
- Longstreet was to keep himself able to cover Richmond in case the Union landed troops at Fort Monroe and moved up the James-York Peninsula again
- Be able to move back to Fredericksburg in case Major General Joseph Hooker moved
- Push the Union troops back to their bases, capture any of those ports if possible, gather all the provisions and volunteers possible in the area, which had been under Union occupation for almost a year.
Longstreet had to be careful not to get drawn into pointlessly bloody battles in this little campaign. This may be why General Robert E. Lee chose Longstreet over Stonewall Jackson, who had more experience in independent operations. Longstreet's Tidewater Operations battles were inconclusive and resulted in total estimated casualties of 1,160 for the entire siege.
|Other Civil War Markers in Washington:
Burning of WashingtonThe town was burned and shelled by evacuating United States troops in April, 1864.
Fort HillSite of Confederate batteries on Pamlico River which enabled Gen. D. H. Hill's forces to besiege Washington in spring of 1863. 5 mi. E.
Fort Hill was a Confederate installation on the Pamlico River at Hill's Point six miles south of Washington. In the spring of 1863, while Union troops occupied Washington, Confederate General D. H. Hill and his men used Fort Hill as a base for their siege of the town. While Hill's men did not regain Washington from the Union Army, they did make evident the continued threat of Confederate forces in the Beaufort County region. Fort Hill was of reduced importance outside of the siege though, as other forts in the region proved more critical to both Union and Confederate goals.
After the earthworks were completed in 1861, Confederate supplies proved to be too limited to supply the fort. The consequence was limited Confederate resistance against Union soldiers, who overtook and occupied Washington from 1862 until 1864. Nonetheless, during the Confederate siege of 1863, Fort Hill was equipped with two rifled 32-pound cannons, three smoothbore 32-pound cannons, and two 24-pound cannons. Throughout its existence, Confederate Companies B and I of the 3rd North Carolina Artillery units garrisoned.
Between March 30 and April 16, 1863, Confederate forces attempted to regain control of Washington. Despite his superior fighting forces, Hill never attacked Washington directly, instead blockading the town and Union garrison from supplies. Fort Hill was utilized extensively in Hill's attack plan, with most of the fighting occurring between the Confederate batteries at Fort Hill and Union gunboats on the Pamlico River.
Hill developed his plan of action for the siege of Washington around goals independent of regaining control of the town. Rather, the Confederate goals were to gather supplies from the surrounding counties and to maintain a presence in the region, keeping the Union forces on the defensive. Union forces maintained control of Washington until 1864, when they abandoned and burned the town.
Daniel Harvey HillLieutenant General, C.S.A.; Supt. N.C. Military Institute in Charlotte; Davidson College professor; Editor, "The Land We Love." Grave is here.
Daniel Harvey Hill served North Carolina and the Confederacy as a general and, after the Civil War, took a leading role in shaping the memory of the conflict. He was born July 12, 1821, in York County, South Carolina, to Solomon and Nancy Hill. He was the youngest of eleven children. Hill attended West Point where he graduated in 1842 at the age of twenty. He served with distinction in the Mexican War and rose to the rank of major. In 1848 he married Isabella Morrison, daughter of Davidson College president Robert Hall Morrison, making him brother-in-law to Stonewall Jackson.
In 1849 Hill resigned from the army and became a professor of mathematics at Washington College in Virginia where he taught until 1854 when he then took a teaching job at Davidson.
Battle of PlymouthConfederate troops led by Gen. Robert F. Hoke, aided by ram Albemarle, retook Union-occupied town, April 17-20, 1864.
At 4 P.M. on April 17, 1864, an advanced Union patrol on the Washington Road was captured by Confederate cavalry. A company of the 12th N. Y. Cavalry attacked the Confederates, but was repulsed. Soon a large force of Confederate infantry appeared on the Washington Road, and at the same time Fort Gray, two miles above Plymouth on the river bank, was attacked by advanced Confederate infantry. During the evening skirmishing continued from the Washington Road to the Acre Road. Union General Henry W. Wessells' garrison of about 3,000, which had held Plymouth since December, 1862, was under attack by General Robert F. Hoke's Division of over 5,000 men.
At 5:30 A.M. on April 18, a heavy Confederate artillery fire was directed against Fort Gray. Both Fort Gray and Battery Worth in Plymouth returned the fire. Soon a Union gunboat, the Bombshell, was disabled by the Confederate barrage.
At 6:30 P.M. on the 18th the Confederates advanced their line and began an infantry assault upon the Union position; but this attack was abandoned at 8 P.M. The 85th Redoubt was then attacked and captured at 11 P.M.
At 3 A.M. on April 19, the Confederates again attacked Fort Gray. Soon the Confederate iron-clad ram Albemarle, aiding the army, passed undetected down the river. The Albemarle engaged the Southfield and the Miami at 3:30 A.M., sinking the former and driving the latter away. The Albemarle then began to shell the Union defenses.
African Americans Defend WashingtonPrior to formation of 1st N.C. Colored Volunteers about 100 black men were armed to aid Union forces during the siege of Washington in 1863.
During the siege of Washington in April 1863, Union troops armed African Americans to participate in the defense of the town. The incident is an early example in North Carolina of the shift in U.S. policy towards recruiting African Americans for military service in the Civil War.
At the beginning of the war, the United States did not recruit African Americans for military service. Although President Abraham Lincoln had long detested slavery, he felt not only bound by slavery's Constitutional protections but also wished to keep the slaveholding states of Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland within the Union. Lincoln's initial war plans were thus based on restoring the Union, not emancipation. This policy gradually succumbed to the realities of war. The escape of slaves into Union lines led some military commanders to forbid their return to their owners in order to hamper the Confederate war effort. Some Union commanders put escaped slaves to various types of military labor, while others utilized slaves and free blacks as spies and scouts.
In the meantime, black and white abolitionists strenuously advocated the recruitment of African Americans as soldiers to provide an opportunity to show the government and the Northern public that emancipation was worthy of support, and to allow African Americans an opportunity to strike a direct blow against slavery by defeating the Confederacy. These developments led to a shift in Lincoln's policy. In September 1862, he issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The idea of recruiting African American as soldiers now took on a new life. By early 1863, the first African American regiments were beginning to organize.
Following the arrival of Federal forces in eastern North Carolina in early 1862, thousands of escaped slaves made their way to the coastal zone controlled by Union troops. Efforts to organize African Americans in the area were initially scattered, and reflected the uncertainties of early Union policy. Immediate manpower necessities were often the cause. Federal troops occupying Elizabeth City armed African Americans to act as pickets as early as October 1862. The siege of Washington provided another practical opportunity to implement the new policy, as the need to provide additional strength for the garrison led to the arming of African Americans.
A postwar history of the 44th Regiment Massachusetts Infantry credited Col. Francis L. Lee of that regiment with arming the African Americans at Washington, sometime after his unit arrived on March 16. A postwar history of the 27th Regiment Massachusetts Infantry implied that the men were armed on or about March 30, the first day of the siege. Department of North Carolina commander Maj. Gen. John G. Foster arrived at Washington early in the morning of the same day to take charge of the defense, so there is room for doubt as to whether Lee took the initiative or acted under Foster's orders.
Although Foster made no mention of arming African Americans at Washington in his April 30 campaign report, he did so in a May 4 letter to U.S. secretary of war Edwin M. Stanton. However, he credited the initial idea to the African Americans themselves: "During the late attack on Washington, the negroes applied to me for arms, and to strengthen my lines I armed about 120, all that I had arms for." The April 13, 1863 entry of a wartime diary by a member of the 44th Massachusetts indicated that 100 African Americans were among the town's defenders by that date. This figure, and Foster's slightly larger estimate of "about 120," should be considered approximate.
Although the siege of Washington does not mark the first attempt in North Carolina to arm African Americans to fight against the Confederacy, it is nevertheless one of several important early steps towards the formal organization of African Americans for military service in the state, and deserves to be remembered on those grounds.
St. John The Evangelist ChurchThe first Roman Catholic church in North Carolina. Consecrated, 1829. Burned by Federal troops, 1864.
Bishop England, who had organized the parish in 1821, consecrated St. John the Evangelist Church, on March 25, 1829. The building served the local Catholic population until April 1864, when it was burned, along with much of Washington, by evacuating Union troops. The fire also caused much damage to grave markers in the Catholic cemetery. For over sixty years thereafter the town had no Catholic church and worship was held in private homes. The original site today is the site of the First Methodist Church of Washington.
|Battles in Washington NC:
March 20-21, 1862Expedition to Washington:
Massachusetts 24th Infantry
United States - Gunboats "Delaware," "Louisiana" and "Commodore Barney"
June 24, 1862Reconnoissance from Washington to Tranter's Creek:
New York - 3d Cavalry (Co. "I")
Sept. 6, 1862Action, Washington:
Massachusetts - 24th Infantry
New York - 3d Cavalry; Batteries "G" and "H," 3d Light Arty
North Carolina - 1st Infantry
Union loss, 9 killed, 42 wounded, 4 missing. Total: 55
Feb. 13, 1863Skirmish near Washington:
Massachusetts - -27th Infantry (Detachment)
New York - 3d Cavalry (Detachment)
March 30-April 20, 1863Siege of Washington:
Massachusetts - 27th (8 Cos.) and 44th (8 Cos.) Infantry
New York - 3d Cavalry (1 Co.); Battery "G," 3d Light Arty
North Carolina - 1st Infantry (2 Cos.)
Union loss, 1 killed, 24 wounded. Total: 25
March 30, 1863Skirmish, Washington:
Massachusetts - 44th Infantry (Cos. "A" and "G")
New York - 3d Cavalry (Detachment)
April 3, 1863Skirmish, Washington:
Massachusetts - 44th Infantry
April 7-10, 1863Expedition from Newberne for relief of Washington:
Massachusetts - 3d, 5th, 8th, 17th, 43d and 44th (2 Co's) Infantry
New York - Battery "H" 3d Light Arty.; 85th, 96th, 132d and 158th Infantry
Pennsylvania - 101st, 103d, 158th, 171st and 175th Infantry
Rhode Island - 5th Heavy Arty, Battery "F" 1st Light Arty
April 15, 1863Skirmish, Washington:
Massachusetts - 44th Infantry
April 17-19Expedition from Newberne to Washington:
Massachusetts - 17th and 23d Infantry
New York 3d Cavalry (Detachment)
Rhode Island -Battery "F" 1st Light Arty
Aug. 14, 1863Skirmish, Washington:
New York - 12th Cavalry
Dec. 17, 1863Expedition from Washington to Chicoa Creek:
Pennsylvania - 58th Infantry (Detachment)
North Carolina - 1st Infantry (Detachment)
April 27-28, 1864Skirmishes, Washington:
Massachusetts - 17th Infantry
New York - 23d Indpt. Battery Light Arty