Hatteras Inlet, off of North Carolina, was frequently traveled and vulnerable during the 1860s. Once the state of North Carolina seceded from the Union and became a member of the Confederate states, soldiers and slaves constructed forts at the southern end of Hatteras to control access to Pamlico Sound. They named the forts Clark and Hatteras.
During the American Civil War the Confederate states had a hard time defending the coastline. Their ports were vulnerable to blockade and difficult to defend.
North Carolina’s coast consisted of a two hundred mile series of narrow barrier islands offshore. Hatteras Inlet was the biggest of these. If the Union blockaded Hatteras, it left every other port in the state also blocked. Blockade runners frequented this area, along with privateers.
The taking of this important inlet became a priority for Union forces. Seven Federal ships opened fire on Fort Clark on August 28, 1861. The ships stayed out to sea, beyond the range of Confederate artillery. Poorly equipped Confederate troops abandoned Fort Clark and fled to Fort Hatteras. Union soldiers took Fort Clark.
The taking of this inlet was a major morale booster to the Union. This was its first victory in the war. After being roused from bed in the middle of the night and given the news, President Abraham Lincoln was said to have “danced a jig in his nightshirt.”
After this the Confederate-held East Coast, between Wilmington, North Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia, crumbled. This was a huge first step toward ultimate victory.
But the Union sighted bigger prey.
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