Flags Over Hatteras
March 30, 2011

Civil War events on Hatteras will be in spotlight for 150th anniversary


Capturing two Confederate forts on Hatteras Island were the first wins by the Union in 1861 during the first of the five-year Civil War, historian Drew Pullen noted during talks this winter on Hatteras and Ocracoke, which were part of the National Park Service’s “Know Your Park” series.

The presentation was also a prelude to the sesquicentennial events of the Civil War later this summer on Hatteras and Roanoke islands.

Pullen, of Buxton, who has written two books: “The Civil War on Hatteras Island” and “The Civil War on Roanoke Island,” is working on a third book, “The Battle of New Bern and the Siege of Fort Macon.”

He illustrated his talks with original period drawings and photographs, some of which are on view in the history center at Roanoke Festival Park.

“Since we’re so remote, why was there even a fort here?” he asked.

The answer is privateers.

The Confederate government wanted to protect the privateers, which are essentially legal pirates, operating out of Hatteras, Pullen said.  At the present-day site of Hatteras village were Fort Hatteras, an earthen fort situated near where the inlet is today, and Fort Clark, about a mile east.

Out in the ocean, privateers were seizing so many northern ships that northern merchants put pressure on the government for help.

In the first combined military operation -- which included the Army and Navy -- of the Civil War, the Union sent an armada of seven warships and transport vessels off Hatteras.

Commodore Silas Stringham situated the warships in an oval formation to take turns firing, reloading, and firing again, continually pummeling the area.

On Aug. 29, 1861, General Benjamin Butler accepted the surrender of both forts.

Shortly thereafter, the fort at Ocracoke, which was located on an island in Ocracoke Inlet, was attacked by federal ships and also fell.

These captures gave the Union a back door into the Confederacy, and Gen. Ambrose Burnside led an expedition in 1862 into Eastern Carolina, capturing several other forts -- Roanoke, New Bern, and Fort Macon. Burnside also destroyed the Carolina “Mosquito Fleet,” a fleet of private vessels with guns mounted on them.

After these victories, the federal government created the First Carolina Regiment in 1862 and formed several companies of Hatteras and Ocracoke island men. Unlike other regiments, they were allowed to remain here and were not sent into battle.

“It’s not that they had a strong sentiment for the North,” Pullen explained about the locals enlisting in the Union Army. 

They were on remote islands, often without current news, and were practical about the opportunity the Union gave them.

After Hatteras was captured, slaves ran to the island and sought protection by the Union. They constructed the first safe haven of the war, dubbed “Hotel De Afrique” in Hatteras. This barracks preceded the Freed Man’s Colony on Roanoke Island.

Flags Over Hatteras, from Aug. 22 through Aug. 28, will be the state’s first event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War and will include a conference and a re-enactment the final weekend.

Pullen said that artifacts from all over the United States that relate to the Civil War on Hatteras are being collected to be on view in the Hatteras Village Civic Center, where the conference will take place.

Anyone on Ocracoke and Hatteras who has an ancestor who fought on Hatteras or who was in the First Carolina Regiment may attend the “Blue-Gray Reunion” during the week free of charge as a VIP.
All attendees to the conference must pay the full registration fee of $150 per person, which includes lectures, exhibits at Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, speakers at Hatteras Civic Center, and living history presentations at Hatteras Lighthouse.

Conference registration includes three dinner lectures with these nationally known speakers: James McPherson, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of “Battle Cry of Freedom;” Ed Bearss, retired chief historian of the National Park Service, and Craig Symonds, professor emeritus of history at the United States Naval Academy.

Also during the Flags Over Hatteras event, the committee plans to unveil a large black granite monument in honor of 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.

“The capture of forts at Hatteras Inlet in August, 1861, was the first notable Union victory of the war,” said Drew Pullen, who is chairman of the planning committee. “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.”

“We’re proud to host the first sesquicentennial commemoration for the state,” said Committee Chairman Drew Pullen. “Hatteras was the site for many significant events: the first Union victory of the war, the first joint forces operation, and the first known instance of African American soldiers firing upon Confederates, among many other major points.”


North Carolina’s first Civil War Sesquicentennial event will be in August in Hatteras village.

The event will feature nationally known historians, a Blue-Gray Descendants Reunion, living history displays, and exhibits.

In the conference, award-winning authors James McPherson and Craig Symonds and National Park Service Chief Historian Ed Bearss headline as speakers on the battles and time period.

Event details include:
  • Major exhibits – Aug. 22-28 – Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
  • Blue-Gray Descendants Reunion – Aug. 22-24 – Hatteras Village Civic Center
  • Flags over Hatteras Conference – Aug. 25-27 – Hatteras Village Civic Center
  • Exhibits and demonstrations – Aug. 27-28 – Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
On Friday, Aug. 26, guest speaker Hari Jones, curator for the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum in Washington, D.C., will offer a presentation on African American spy-networking during the war.

Space is limited for the conference and registration is required. Tickets are $175 per person, with 30 spaces being reserved for students at $75 per student. The fee includes light refreshments, daily speakers, three evening events featuring nationally known keynote speakers, three dinners, including a “Taste of Hatteras” and all exhibits and scheduled events.

For more information or register for the Blue-Gray Reunion or Conference, go to www.flagsoverhatteras.com

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