Birth of the North Carolina Squadron

The nucleus of the NC Squadron was formed from the North Carolina Navy, purchased by the Confederate government for $61,000 on the 3rd of September 1861. On the 12th of that month, the NC government ceded all gunboats and coastal defenses to the Confederate government. North Carolina reserved the right to use the Winslow and the Beaufort until the 20th of August. This nucleus of ships consisted of the Winslow, Beaufort, Ellis, Raleigh, and Edwards (later renamed Forrest).

These ships acted independently until Commodore Barron was captured at the battle of Hatteras Inlet. His successor, Flag Officer Lynch, was responsible for this collection of side-wheelers and screw propeller tugs coming together to act as a unit. The squadrons first joint action involved the capture of the USS Fanny by the Curlew, Junaluska, and Raleigh on October 1st of 1861, followed three days later by an action called the Chicamacomico Affair in which troops transported by the Raleigh, Junaluska, Cotton Plant, Empire, Fanny, and Curlew attempted to capture the 20th Indiana regiment at the northern end of Hatteras Island.

The successful co-operation between Flag Officer Lynch and Col. Wright of the 3rd Georgia regiment on the Chicamacomico mission led to them planning a joint action to reclaim Fort Hatteras from Federal control. General D. H. Hill put a stop to those plans when he ordered Col. Wright to remain at Roanoke Island. Lynch went ahead with a recconnoiter of Hatteras Island and Hatteras Inlet with the Curlew, Raleigh, Fanny, Winslow, and Edwards. Shots were exchanged between the fleet and the USS Monticello across the narrow portion of the island north of Hatteras Lighthouse, with the Monticello in the Atlantic Oean and the Confederates in Pamlico Sound. More shots were fired from long range at Fort Hatteras.

The squadron concentrated at New Bern on October 30th with a rendezvous of the Beaufort, Winslow, and Ellis with Lynch and his flagship Sea Bird, joined the next day by the Curlew. The Edwards and Raleigh were nearby in the Pamlico Sound guarding the entrances to the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers. A strong gale struck on November 2nd, possibly a hurricane. The squadron moved to the mouth of the Neuase and anchored near Williams Point. On November 3rd, the Curlew came about and went after the Edwards around 11:30 in the morning, taking her in tow. Lynch led them on a recconoiter of the damage done to the forts at Hatteras Inlet, firing a couple of shots from the Sea Bird in the process.

In the absence of the navy, Col. Singletary loaded the schooner Napoleon with his regiment. The Napoleon had been armed and towed off Singletary’s camp below the city to guard against a Union attack. Some of his men had been placed on the ship to man the cannons placed on board before Lynch left. Singletary disobeyed his superior officer’s orders and left to try to recapture Hatteras on his own. (He was later court-martialed for this offense.)

After determining that Fort Hatteras was not as damaged as at first believed, the Sea Bird took the Edwards in tow and the navy flotilla left Hatteras heading for the Pamlico River, anchoring at the Middle Grounds on the sound on November 4th. Learning of Singletary’s theft of the Napoleon and his foolhardy mission, the squadron headed back to Hatteras. Not finding the schooner there, the Winslow was sent north up the sound towards Oregon Inlet while the rest headed south to check at Ocracoke Inlet. They found the Napoleon there and also found the French warship Prony agound in the inlet. Following the resue of the French crew, they were loaded aboard the Albemarle and sent towards New Bern in the company of the Napoleon.

The French commander objected to his men being sent to New Bern; he wished for them to be sent to Norfolk where they could be placed on a French ship. The Winslow had arrived from her search and was sent after the slower Albemarle. Disaster! The Winslow struck the lightship skuttled in the channel by the Federals following their destruction of Fort Ocracoke in early September.and quickly sank.

Several of the ships bought from the NC government were badly in need of overhauls and rearmament.  Beginning in October with the Edwards, these ships were repaired at Gosport during the following months. No large-group movements were undertaken during the later part of November and the month of December. Traveling mostly in pairs, the fleet kept the union movements under survelance for the rest of 1861.

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