This past weekend, I had the chance to attend the Emerging Civil War conference in Spotsylvania, Virginia. The theme for the event was "Great Attacks of the Civil War," and that got me to thinking: what were the great attacks in the Civil War in North Carolina?
Now it would be easy to put the assault of Hardee's and Stewart's men at Bentonville, or Ames' Division at Fort Fisher. But what came to mind are two much smaller affairs, that had greater repercussions.
The first of my two "Great Attacks" takes place in 1861. Forts Clark and Hatteras were constructed either side of Hatteras Inlet not long after North Carolina left the Union. They were meant to keep the Federals out of the Pamlico Sound. On August 28, 1861, Federal naval ships bombarded Fort Clark. Unable to return fire due to the range, Confederate forces fled to Fort Hatteras. Fort Clark was captured, and the Union naval vessels turned their attention toward Fort Hatteras. After several hours of intense bombardment, the fort surrendered, and 700 Confederates became prisoners of war. The loss of these two installations opened the Pamlico Sound to the Union navy and army. Roanoke Island fell in February 1862, the battle of New Bern was fought in March 1862, and Fort Macon fell on April 26, 1862. Later, Federal soldiers set out on raids against Kinston, and battles were fought at Wyse's Fork (this is a short list), all because these two small forts fell in August 1861.
My second pick is on the other end of the state. In June 1864, then Capt. George W. Kirk led a small band of men, about 120, mostly from the 2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US), on a raid against Camp Vance just east of Morganton in Burke County. The capture of the camp and the skirmishes (maybe three or four), fought between Kirk and various home guard elements as the Federals attempted to flee back to east Tennessee, are minor in the grand pantheon of Civil War battles. However, Kirk's Raid showed many that with the Confederate abandonment of east Tennessee, the back door to the heart of the Confederacy was wide open. Federal raiding parties could move through the area, and even into upstate South Carolina and the mountains of north Georgia. More importantly, family began to write their loved ones in the army in earnest, imploring them to come home and offer some level of protection against the murdering parties stripping the countryside blind. Kirk's Raid kicked into high gear a war-within-a war in western North Carolina, and caused further desertions among the Tar Heel Confederate soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of Tennessee.
So there you have it: the loss of Forts Clark and Hatteras and Kirk's Raid, my two "Great attacks" in North Carolina in terms of effectiveness. What would your great attacks be?