Remembering the Battle of Washington
By Ray Midgett
At the time of the Civil War, Washington was an important river port for North Carolina and the Confederacy.
Washington being a significant transshipment location for Confederate supplies compelled the Federal forces to capture the town, which they did on March 21, 1862, and to invest significant resources to maintain an occupation.
During the war, the Confederates made several attempts to unshackle Washington from its Union occupiers. Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012, marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Washington, the second attempt by the Confederate army to liberate the town. Because I believe it is important for us as a community to observe our past and communicate it with others, I am writing to share the details of this noteworthy anniversary.
At day break on Sept. 6, 1862, Confederate Maj. Stephen D. Pool, who previously directed the defense of Fort Macon, led 1,000 North Carolina Confederate infantry, cavalry and artillery troops against a Union garrison of 1,200 men. The Confederates surprised Union pickets stationed on the west side of town near Elmwood Plantation, which today is the area west of Washington Street from the Tar River north to U.S. Highway 264. After a brief skirmish, the North Carolina troops charged down Second Street while the cavalry rushed down Market Street. At the corner of Second and Bridge streets, a Union battery was captured and the troops advanced farther into town. Though surprised, the Union forces regrouped and attacked westward down Main, Second and Third streets, pushing the Confederates back as far as Bridge Street.
Meanwhile, the Union gunboats Picket and Louisiana anchored abreast the town in the Tar River and engaged the Confederates by shelling the west end of town. Unexpectedly, the Picket’s shell magazine exploded, sinking the gunboat and killing the captain and 19 of the crew. Today, the remains of the Picket lie just west of the U.S. Highway 17 Business bridge on the bottom of the Tar River.
After more than two hours of hard fighting, the Confederate forces withdrew. Confederate casualties were 31 killed, 30 wounded and 24 taken prisoner, while the Union lost 26 killed, 55 wounded and 12 captured. There were some reports of civilian casualties. Following the encounter, the Union garrison was forced to strengthen the defenses around the town, allowing them to maintain the occupation until they withdrew from Washington on April 30, 1864.
Ray Midgett is a former information-technology director for the City of Washington.