NORTH CAROLINA INVADED, 1861-1862
On 10 June 1861, at Big Bethel, Virginia, a small Confederate force, which included D. H. Hill's First North Carolina Regiment, defeated a much larger Union command. Even though Bethel was little more than a skirmish, it aroused considerable enthusiasm in the South. North Carolinians now confidentially expected another Confederate victory once General Irvin McDowell moved his Union army out of the protective confines of Washington for a push on Richmond. These expectations were fulfilled on 21 July at Manassas Junction when McDowell's forces were routed and hurled back on the nation's capital.
Following this setback Northern strategists turned their attention to eastern North Carolina. As a consequence there was little fighting in Virginia for the remainder of the year.
North Carolina's coast is indented by Currituck, Albemarle, Pamlico, Core, and Bogue Sounds, into whose shallow and sometimes narrow waters empty most of the rivers of the coastal plain. To command this strategic sound area, Union troops first had to control the long sandbank reaching from the Virginia line to Bogue Inlet below Beaufort, North Carolina. This sand strip, known as the Outer Banks, and broken by numerous inlets, separated the sounds from the ocean.
Shortly after North Carolina seceded from the Union, Governor John W. Ellis made preparations to defend the coast. Forts were constructed at Oregon, Ocracoke, and Hatteras Inlets. Of these installations Forts Hatteras and Clark were the most important because they guarded Hatteras, the main inlet north of Beaufort.
The first troops arrived at Hatteras in early May. Yet by the end of the summer there were no more than 580 men on the Outer Banks. They came primarily from the Seventh North Carolina Regiment, Colonel William F. Martin commanding, and the Tenth North Carolina Artillery.
The state's second line of defense was its navy, five small steamers jokingly called the mosquito fleet. It was under instructions to defend the sounds and rivers and to seize enemy shipping moving along the coast.
The success of these diminutive vessels, as well as Confederate privateers operating out of the sounds, caused violent repercussions in Wash