This week 150 years ago in the war, Union Brigadier Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside leads an amphibious assault in the North Carolina coastal sounds with thousands of soldiers and sailors and more than 60 ships.
Now seen as a minor engagement, the federal attack on Roanoke Island gave the Union a much-needed victory early in the conflict. Federal forces would seize that island and hold it for the rest of the war. It began in earnest on Feb. 7, 1862. Burnside landed about 7,500 men on the southwestern side of Roanoke Island as his fleet approached after sailing from federally held Fort Monroe off southeast Virginia.
The next day, federal fighters backed by their gunboats thrust themselves on fortifications held by more than 2,500 Confederate fighters. The invaders rapidly outgunned and overran an overwhelmed foe during the two-day assault. Union losses were reported as 37 killed and 214 wounded. Confederate forces reported 22 dead and 58 wounded amid fierce cannon and rifle fire before their remaining troops surrendered or fled.
The move secured President Lincoln's military a strategic outpost on North Carolina's coast, further shutting off supply lines to the Confederacy as he tightened a federal maritime blockade on the South. For the North, still beaten down by the disastrous defeat months earlier at the Battle of Bull Run, the victory was a morale booster that gave fresh impetus to fight. The Philadelphia Inquirer, in reporting on the war this week 150 years ago, called it "a great victory" for the Union side.
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