150th Civil War Special Event Remembers the Battle of Roanoke Island

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Date: February 3, 2012
Contact: Outer Banks Group, 252-473-2111

On Saturday, February 11, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Roanoke Island will be commemorated by the National Park Service with a day of special programming at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.All programs are free.The Battle of Roanoke Island was an early major Union victory and established a foothold for Union control of northeastern North Carolina.The actual battle occurred on February 7 and 8, 1862.

Schedule of Events:

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. – Artifact Display:Civil War-era artifacts will be displayed in the visitor center throughout the day by The Outer Banks History Center, local collectors, and the park's curators.

9 a.m. – Civil War Sites of Roanoke Island: A morning auto tour given by local Civil War historian Michael Zatarga will highlight various sites on Roanoke Island where battle events occurred. You need to bring your own vehicle. Meet at the visitor center (2 hrs).

9 a.m. - The Civil War: The first segments of Ken Burn's documentary series will be shown in the visitor center auditorium. (3 hrs)

11:30 a.m. – Civil War Explorers: One way children helped the war effort was by making musket cartridges. Join in on this activity and take home your own hand-made musket cartridge (not live, of course!).(30 min.)

1:30 p.m. - A Step Towards Realism: The Battle of Roanoke Island and Battlefield Portrayals:A presentation by local Civil War historian Michael Zatarga on battle art/imagery and its contrast from prior wars to the new age of photography.(45 min)

2 p.m. - Civil War Explorers: One way children helped the war effort was by making musket cartridges. Join in on this activity and take home your own hand-made musket cartridge (not live, of course!).(30 min.)

3 p.m. - One-Third of the State: The Confederate Defense of Roanoke Island: Harold Lee Wise, adjunct history instructor with Northwestern University and College of the Albemarle will discuss the various plans and strategies devised by the Confederates to defend the island from invasion, the personalities involved and difficulties they faced, the eventual results of those efforts, and the aftermath.The talk will also touch on the interaction between the soldiers and the local population.After the presentation, Wise will sign copies of his two books – The Battle of Roanoke Island and Inside the Danger Zone.(1 hr)

For more information on the event call 252-473-5772 ext. 159.

About the Battle of Roanoke Island:

Few visitors to the Outer Banks realize that nearly 150 years ago these islands were 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 not as famous as other great Civil War battles, the actions on the Outer Banks were pivotal for control of North Carolina.

After military successes over the Confederates on Hatteras Island in 1861, Union forces focused their sights on Roanoke Island, the linchpin in North Carolina's coast.It was vital for Confederates to hold this island--if the Confederates lost Roanoke Island, it would only be a matter of time before Albemarle Sound, its port cities, and back-door access to Norfolk would also be lost to the Union.Losing Roanoke Island would mean losing all of eastern North Carolina. The Confederate commander on Roanoke Island had no military training, but he recognized his vulnerable situation, pleading for reinforcements, but never receiving them.

Only one road ran north to south along the length of the island.Confederate troops built fortified earthworks on the road at the center of the island to defend against a land-based assault. Confederates also constructed forts on the northwest coast of the island, enabling cover of a water-based assault from the west.Union ships with their longer guns, came from the south, but remained easily out of range of all but the southernmost fort, which they quickly disabled.

Late in the afternoon of February 7, 1862, Union troops landed with the aim of assaulting the earthworks and road at the center of the island.The soldiers quickly captured the landing site and spent a wet night before the battle.

At dawn the Union troops successfully pushed through thick marshes to fire on the flanks of the earthworks while others attacked from the front. The Confederate troops were overwhelmed, fleeing to the north end of the island, where they ultimately surrendered Roanoke Island to the Union.

The fall of 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 Roanoke Island in 1862, the Union stranglehold on the South was ever tightening.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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Mailing Address:

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
1401 National Park Drive

Manteo, NC 27954


(252) 473-2111

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