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the authorities of that State commenced the construction of fortifications at Hatteras and Oregon Inlets, and other points upon her coast, which were not completed when the State transferred her forts, arsenals, army, navy, and coast defence to the Confederate government. Shortly thereafter the attack was made upon Forts Hatteras and Clark, and they were taken, and the fortifications at Oregon 'Inlet were abandoned, and the armament, stores, and ammunition were removed to Roanoke Island. The enemy immediately appeared in force in Pamlico Sound, the waters of which are connected with Al. bemarle and Currituck sounds by means of the two smaller sounds of Croatan and Roanoke. The island of Roanoke being situated between these two latter sounds, commanding the channels of each, became, upon the fall of Hatteras and the abandonment of Oregon Inlet, only second in importance to Fortress Monroe. The island then became the key which anlocked all northeastern North Carolina to the enemy, and exposed Portsmouth and Norfolk to a rear approach of the most imminent danger.
Such was the importance of Roanoke Island. It was threat ened by one of the most formidable naval armaments yet fitter out by the North, put under the command of Gen. Burnside, of Rhode Island. It might have been placed in a state of defence against any reasonable force, with the expenditure of money and labor supposed to be within the means of the government. Ample time and the fullest forewarnings were given to the government for the construction of defences, since, for a full month, Gen. Wise had represented to the government, with the most obvious and emphatic demonstrations, that the defences of the island were wholly inadequate for its protection from an attack either by land or water.
The military defences of Roanoke Island and its adjacent waters on the 8th of February, the day of its surrender, consisted of three sand forts, a battery of two 32-pounders, and a redoubt thrown across the road in the centre of the island, about seventy or eighty feet long, on the right of which was a swamp, on the left a marsh. In addition to these defences on the shore and on the island, there was a barrier of piles, extending from the east side of Folker Shoals, towards the island. Its ohject was to compel vessels passing on the west of the island
to approach within reach of the shore batteries; but up to the 8th of February, there was a span of 1,700 yards open opposite to Fort Bartow, the most southern of the defences, on the west side of the island.
The entire military force stationed upon the island prior to, and at the time of, the late engagement, consisted of the 8th regiment of North Carolina State troops, under the command of Col. H. M. Shaw; the 31st regiment of North Carolina volunteers, under the command of Col. J. V. Jordan; and three companies of the 17th North Carolina troops, under the com mand of Major G. H. Hill. After manning the several forts, on the 7th of February, there were but one thousand and twenty-four men left, and two hundred of them were upon the sick list. On the evening of the 7th of February, Brig-gen. Wise sent from Nagg's Head, under the command of Lieut.col. Anderson, a reinforcement, numbering some four hundred and fifty men.
The whole force was under the command of Brig.-gen. Wise, who, upon the 7th and 8th of February, was at Nagg's Head, four miles distant from the island, confined to a sick-bed, and entirely disabled from participating in the action in person. The immediate command, therefore, devolved upon Col. H. M. Shaw, the senior officer present.
On the morning of the 7th of February, the enemy's fleet proceeded steadily towards Fort Bartow. In the sound between Roanoke Island and the mainland, upon the Tyrrell side, Commodore Lynch, with his squadron of seven vessels, had taken position, and at eleven o'clock the enemy's fleet, consisting of about thirty gunboats and schooners, advanced in ten divisions, the rear one having the schooners and transports in tow. The advance and attacking division again subdivided, one assailing the squadron and the other firing upon the fort with nine-inch, ten-inch, and eleven-inch shell, spherical case, a few round-shot, and every variety of rified projectiles. The fort replied with but four guns (which were all that could be brought to bear), and after striking the foremost vessels several times, the fleet fell back, so as to mask one of the guus of the fort, leaving but three to reply to the fire of the whole fleet. The bombardment was continued throughout the day, and the enemy retired at dark. The squadron, under the command of Commodore Lynch, sustained their positio: most gallantly, and only retired after exhausting all their am munition, and having lost the steamer Curlew and the Forest disabled.
In the mean time, the enemy had found a point of landing out of the reach of our field-pieces, and defended by a swamp from the advance of our infantry. The enemy having effected á landing here, our whole force took position at the redoubt or breastwork, and placed in battery their field-pieces with necessary artillerymen, under the respective commands of Captain Schemerhorn, and Lieutenants Kinney and Seldon. Two companies of the Eighth and two of the Thirty-first were placed at the redoubt to support the artillery. Three companies of the Wise Legion, deployed to the right and left as skirmishers. The remainder of the infantry were in position, three hundred yards in the rear of the redoubt, as a reserve. The enemy
landed some fifteen thousand men, with artillery, and, at 7 o'clock, A. M., of the 8th, opened fire upon the redoubt, which was replied to immediately with great spirit, and the action soon became general, and was continued without intermission for more than five hours, when the enemy succeeded in deploying a large force on either side of our line, flanking each wing. The order was then given by Col. Shaw to spike the guns in the battery, and to retreat to the northern end of the island. The guns were spiked, and the whole force fell back to the camps.
During the engagement at the redoubt, the enemy's fleet attempted to advance to Croatan Sound, which brought on a desultory engagement between Fort Bartow and the fleet, which continued up to half-after 12 o'clock, when the commanding officer was informed that the land defences had been forced, and the position of the fort turned; he thereupon ordered the guns to be disabled and the ammunition destroyed, which was done, and the fort abandoned. The same thing was done at the other forts, and the forces from all the forts were marched in good order to the camp. The enemy took posses- . sion of the redoubts and forts immediately, and proceeded in pursuit, with great caution, towards the northern end of the island in force, deploying so as to surround our forces at the Camp.
Co.. Shaw had arrived with his whole force at his camp in time to have saved his whole command, if transports Lad been furnished. But there were none.
His situation was one of extreme exigency. He found himself surrounded by a greatly superior force upon the open island; he had no field-works to protect him; he had lost his only three field-pieces at the redoubt; and he had either to make an idle display of courage in fighting the foe at such immense disadvantage, which would have involved the sacrifice of his command, or to capitulate and surrender as prisoners of war. He determined upon the latter alternative.
The loss on our side was, killed, 23; wounded, 58; missing, 62. Our mortality list, however, was no indication of the spirit and vigor of our little army, as in its position it had but little opportunity of contest without a useless sacrifice of human life on their side. Among the killed was Captain 0. Jennings Wise, of the Richmond Blues, son of General Wise, a young man of brilliant promise, refined chivalry, and a courage to which the softness of his manners and modesty of his behavior added the virtue of knightly heroism. His body, pierced by wounds, fell into the hands of the enemy, in whose camp, attended by every mark of respect, he expired. The disaster at Roanoke Island was a sharp mortification to the public. But for the unfortunate general, who was compelled to hear on a sick-bed-perhaps to witness from the windows of a sick-chainber—the destruction of his army and the death of his son, there was not a word of blame.
In a message to Congress, President Davis referred to the result of the battle at Roanoke Island as “deeply bumiliating;" a committee of Congress, appointed to investigate the affair, resented the attempt to attribute a disaster, for which the government itself was notoriously responsible, to want of spirit in our troops ; declared that, on the contrary, the battle of Roanoke Island was "one of the most gallant and brilliant actions of the war;" and concluded that whatever of blame and responsibility was justly attributable to any one for the defeat, should attach to Gen. Huger, in whose military department the island was, and to the Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin, whose positive refusal to put the island in a state of defence secured ite fall. There was, in fact, but little room for the government to throw reflection upon the conduct of the troops. In the lan
guage of their commanding general, “ both officers and men fought firmly, coolly, efficiently, and as long as humanity would allow."
The connection of the War Department with the Roanoke Island affair, which was with difficulty dragged to light in Congress, is decidedly one of the most curious portions of the history of the war. Gen. Wise had pressed upon the government the importance of Roanoke Island* for the defence of Norfolk. He assumed the command of the post upon the 7th
. of Jannary. In making a reconnoissance of the island and its defences, on the 13th January, he addressed Secretary Benjamin, and declared that the island, which was the key of all the rear defences of Norfolk, and its canals and railroads, was “utterly defenceless.” On the 15th of January, Gen. Wise addressed the secretary again. He wrote that twenty-four vessels of the enemy's fleet were already inside of Hatteras Inlet, and within thirty miles of Roanoke Island; that all there was to oppose him was five small gunboats, and four small land batteries, wholly inefficient; that our batteries were not casemated; and that the force at Hatteras, independent of the Burnside expedition, was "amply sufficient to capture or pass
“ Roanoke Island in any twelve hours."
These written appeals for aid in the defences of the island were neglected and treated with indifference. Determined to leave nothing wanting in energy of address, Gen. Wise repaired in person to Richmond, and called upon the Secretary of War, and urged, in the most importunate manner, the absolute
* It (Roanoke Island) was the key to all the rear defences of Norfolk. It unlocked two sounds, Albemarle and Currituck; eight rivers, the North, West, Pasquotank, the Perquimmons, the Little, the Chowan, the Roanoke, and the Alligator; four canals, the Albemarle and Chesapeake, the Dismal Swamp, the Northwest Canal, and the Suffolk; two railroads, the Petersburg and Norfolk, and the Seaboard and Roanoke. It guarded more than four-fifths of all Norfolk's supplies of corn, pork, and forage, and it cut the command of General Huger off from all its most efficient transportation. It endangers the subsistence of his whole army, threatens the navy-yard at Gosport, and in cut off Norfolk from Richmond, and both from railroad communication with the South. It lodges the enemy in a safe harbor from the storms oi Hatteras, gives them a rendezvous, and large rich range of supplies, and the command of the seaboard from Oregon Inlet to Cape Henry. It shonld have been defended at the expense of twenty thousand men, and of many millions of dollars."-Report of Gen. Wise.