Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Civil War Encampment Event

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Date: August 15, 2011
Contact: Outer Banks Group, 252-473-2111

Few visitors to the Outer Banks realize that 150 years ago these same islands were Civil War battlefields. The barrier islands of the North Carolina coast and the adjacent Pamlico and Albemarle sounds were the gateway to the rest of the state. Whoever could control these barrier islands and sounds could control North Carolina.

Although early in the Civil War, the late August 1861 Battle of Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark, both Confederate forts near Hatteras Inlet, was a pivotal win for the Union. The Union attack signified many firsts in the war: the first combined Army and Navy operation, the first amphibious assault, and the first African American gun crew to fire on Confederates.

To commemorate the sesquicentennial of this battle, the Friends of The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum Flags Over Hatteras Committee and the National Park Service will be hosting a living history Civil War encampment on the grounds of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, August 27 and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, August 28, 2011. The encampment will feature Union and Confederate Civil War re-enactor regiments representing regiments that were involved in the Hatteras Inlet battle action in August 1861. The event is free and open to the public.

The encampment will be open daily for viewing and visitors are encouraged to walk through each camp to talk with re-enactors and view the various displays and exhibits being featured. Visitors will be able to see the type of equipment and personal belongings of the soldiers, a working field battery forge, medical equipment and surgery methods for treating the wounded, displays of civilian life and clothing of the period, and special exhibits on the Union Navy.

Demonstrations are scheduled as follows (schedule subject to change):

Saturday, August 27th:

9 a.m. Union and Confederate Company Formation and Inspection;

10 a.m. Naval Boarding Drill;

11 a.m. Confederate Infantry Drill;

12 p.m. Confederate Artillery Firing;

1 p.m. Union Bayonet Drill;

3 p.m. Confederate Musket Firing;

4 p.m. Confederate Artillery Firing;

5 p.m. Union Infantry Drill.

Sunday, August 28th:

9 a.m. Union and Confederate Company Formation and Inspection;

10 a.m. Naval Boarding Drill;

11 a.m. Confederate Musket and Artillery Firing;

1 p.m. Union Infantry Drill;

2 p.m. Grand Finale Musket and Artillery Firing.

In addition, there will be an 1860’s women’s fashion promenade at 2 p.m. Saturday and 12 p.m. Sunday.

National Park Service rangers will be on the grounds each day providing discussions about the 1861 Civil War Battle of Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark.

Flags Over Hatteras Sesquicentennial Commemoration
This encampment is part of the larger “Flags Over Hatteras” Sesquicentennial Commemoration being held August 22-28, 2011. The larger event includes a conference (registration required; go to which features a powerful cadre of keynote speakers: authors James McPherson, Craig Symonds, and Ed Bearss. McPherson is known for his Pulitzer-winning book, Battle Cry of Freedom. As a former history professor of the U.S. Naval Academy, Symonds has published multiple works on Civil War naval battles. Bearss is a former National Park Service Chief Historian.  

As part of the Flags Over Hatteras event, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras Village will be offering free programs and a new Civil War exhibit called, “Flags Over Hatteras.” The exhibit will be open Aug. 22, 2011 – July 31, 2012, with special hours August 22-23 only of Monday—Saturday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday: 10 a.m.–4 p.m. The exhibit will showcase items and documents from across the country that are related to Eastern North Carolina activities and actions during 1861, with the primary focus being the Battle of Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark.

On Thursday, August 25 at 2 p.m., there will be a dedication of a Civil War Historic Marker at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in honor of 'Hotel De Afrique', the first safe haven for runaway slaves in the state, and also in honor of some of the first African Americans to fire against Confederate forces. After the Battle of Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark, news that Hatteras was controlled by Federal forces prompted many slaves to escape from the mainland and seek safe haven on Hatteras Island. Federal forces arranged for construction of 'Hotel De Afrique' to shelter the runaway slaves here will also be a “Ole’ Time Civil War Auction,” on Saturday, August 27, at 5 p.m. at the Hatteras Village Civic Center. The public is invited to participate, admission is free; see for details.

More about the 1861 Civil War Battle of Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark:

In the 1860s Hatteras Inlet, between Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, was the most traveled and most vulnerable inlet on the Outer Banks. After North Carolina joined the Confederacy in 1861, soldiers and slaves constructed Forts Hatteras and Clark, at the southern end of Hatteras Island in an effort to control access into Pamlico Sound.

 The taking of Hatteras Inlet was an early priority for Union forces. On August 28, 1861, seven Federal ships opened fire on Fort Clark. The great Union ships with their long guns remained far out to sea, well beyond the range of the Confederates’ feeble artillery. By midday the poorly equipped Confederate troops at Fort Clark abandoned their stations and fled to Fort Hatteras. A small contingent of Union soldiers landed and took Fort Clark.

 At dawn Union ships began bombardment of Fort Hatteras. After hours of intense shelling, the Confederate commander surrendered the fort and its 700 men.

 The taking of Hatteras Inlet was a morale boost for the Union and marked its first victory in the war. This victory was so important that news was quickly dispatched to the White House, where President Abraham Lincoln, roused from bed in the middle of the night to receive the news, danced a jig in his nightshirt. 

With the breakthrough at Hatteras Inlet, the Union set its sights on Roanoke Island, seizing control of the island in February 1862. The fall of Hatteras Inlet and Roanoke Island opened eastern North Carolina to Union control. By the summer of 1862, the port cities of Plymouth, Elizabeth City, New Bern, Washington, Edenton, Hertford, N.C., and Norfolk, Va., had all fallen to Union forces. The vital rail line carrying supplies from Wilmington—North Carolina’s only remaining Confederate port—was also vulnerable. With the huge success at Hatteras and Roanoke Islands, the Union stranglehold on the South was ever tightening.

 Within two years of the Battle of Forts Hatteras and Clark, although the war was raging in places like Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the Outer Banks became a quiet duty station for the Union troops. The clashes of war had moved elsewhere. Just like the waves of the ocean, the waves of war had washed over the Outer Banks. In 1864 the Union decomissioned Fort Clark and moved the remaining soldiers to Fort Hatteras. By 1867 even they were gone.

Today little physical evidence remains of the forts and battle sites. Change is a constant on these shores, just as it is in the annals of history. Natural processes have overcome these features from a short period of history on the Outer Banks.

Instead of bullets and bombardment, the only sounds heard today are the blowing wind, the calling of gulls and the pounding of surf, as nature has reclaimed the works of war.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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Cape Hatteras National Seashore
1401 National Park Drive

Manteo, NC 27954


(252) 473-2111

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