General Burnside Thanks Naval Commander for His Aid in Capturing Confederate Fort on the North Carolina Coast
Between February and June 1862, General Ambrose E. Burnside led an amphibious assault on the ports of North Carolina in coordination with the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron under Captain Louis M. Goldsborough. One of the highlights of the expedition was the capture of Fort Macon, a coastal fort on the Outer Banks that commanded the channel to Beaufort.
After capturing New Bern on the Neuse River, Burnside next turned his attention to the terminus of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad at Morehead City and Beaufort. Fort Macon, a masonry coastal fort built after the War of 1812, protected both towns. Troops under Burnside’s command seized Beaufort in late March and demanded the surrender of the fort. The commander refused, and a month-long siege of the fort and its 450 defenders began. Union forces set up siege artillery on Bogue’s Banks, the barrier island on which Fort Macon was located. After another refusal to surrender, Burnside ordered a bombardment that began at dawn on April 25. Soon, four vessels from Commander Samuel Lockwood’s Blockading Squadron, including the USS State of Georgia (James F. Armstrong, commander) joined the action. A strong wind created waves that made the steamers rock and disrupted their aim. After an engagement of about one hour, the fleet withdrew.
With the assistance of a Signal Corps officer in Beaufort, the mortar fire from Burnside’s artillery became more accurate, and the bombardment dismounted nineteen Confederate guns and began to destroy the walls of the fort. By 4:30 p.m., the Confederate commander raised the white flag and agreed to discuss terms of surrender. On April 26, the Confederates lowered their flag and marched out of the fort, released on parole until they were properly exchanged.
In this letter, Burnside thanks the captain of the USS State of Georgia for the gift of a flag flown during the bombardment and for his assistance in the capture of Fort Macon.
AMBROSE E. BURNSIDE, Manuscript Letter Signed, to James F. Armstrong, April 27, 1862, Steamer Alice Price. 1 p., 7.75ʺ x 10ʺ. Also includes an engraving of a full-length photograph of Burnside, 1862. 1 p., 8ʺ x 10.75ʺ. Expected folds; repair to one fold on verso; some edge tears; very good.
Head Qrs. Department of N. Carolina
Steamer Alice Price / near Fort Macon
April 27, 1862
Capt. James F. Armstrong
Commg. U.S.S. “State of Georgia”
I beg to thank you, your officers and crew, for the kind feeling which dictated the presentation to me of the flag borne so gallantly by your ship in the action of April 25, 1862 in front of Fort Macon. It bears the evidence of close action, and will be kept by me as an emblem of the gallantry which has always characterized the Navy in their country’s service
Please thank Commodore Lockwood for his kind acquiescence in this gift.
Very sincerely your friend
A E Burnside
Maj Genl Commdg Dept N.C.
Ambrose E. Burnside (1824-1881) was born in Indiana and attended Liberty Seminary until his mother died in 1841. He was apprenticed to a local tailor and soon became a partner in the business. He obtained an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy in 1843 and graduated in 1847. He served in Mexico on garrison duty at the end of the Mexican War, then served two years on the western frontier. In 1852, he was assigned to Fort Adams in Rhode Island, and he married Mary Richmond Bishop (1828-1876) there the same year, but they had no children. Burnside resigned his commission in 1853, and became the commander of the Rhode Island militia, a position he held for two years. He devoted his time to the manufacture of the Burnside carbine, a breach-loading carbine he had designed and patented. After a contract with the U.S. Army fell through and his factory burned, Burnside was forced to sell his firearm patents. He moved west and became treasurer of the Illinois Central Railroad. At the beginning of the Civil War, he raised the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry regiment and was appointed its colonel. He gained promotion to brigadier general in August and from September 1861 to July 1862, he commanded the North Carolina Expeditionary Force that successfully closed more than 80 percent of that state’s coast to Confederate shipping. He became major general in March 1862, and his forces became the IX Corps of the Army of the Potomac in July. When President Abraham Lincoln removed General George B. McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac in November 1862, the president placed Burnside in command, urging him to take aggressive action. The result was the costly and humiliating Union defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Burnside’s second attempt to attack the Confederates bogged down in winter rains and became known as the Mud March. On January 26, 1863, Lincoln replaced Burnside with General Joseph Hooker. Lincoln sent Burnside to command the Department of the Ohio, which included Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky. Burnside arrested Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham for treason, and a military court tried and convicted Vallandigham, making him a martyr for opponents of the war. In the fall of 1863, Burnside engineered the Knoxville Campaign, in which he occupied Knoxville, Tennessee. He returned to the Eastern Theater with his IX Corps and led them in General Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign and Siege of Petersburg. He was relieved of command in August 1864 and never returned to duty. After the war, Burnside was involved in the administration of several railroad companies, and he served as the Governor of Rhode Island from 1866 to 1869. From 1871 to 1872, Burnside was the first president of the National Rifle Association. From 1875 until his death, he served as a U.S. Senator from Rhode Island.
James F. Armstrong (1817-1873) was born in New Jersey and was appointed a midshipman in the U.S. Navy from Connecticut in 1832. He advanced through the ranks in alternating sea and shore duty until the Civil War, when he was placed in command of the steamer USS Sumpter on the blockading squadron. As commander of the USS State of Georgia, he participated in the capture of Fort Macon in North Carolina in April 1862. Armstrong received a commission as captain in July 1862, and his last cruise was in 1864. He remained on the reserve list until 1871, when he was reinstated and given shore duty on the Pacific coast.
U.S.S. State of Georgia was a side-wheel steamer built in Philadelphia in 1851 and purchased by the Union Navy in 1861. It was commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on November 20, 1861, with Commander James F. Armstrong in command. The 200-foot-long vessel carried a crew of 113 sailors and officers and had six 8-inch guns, two 32-pounder guns, and one 30-pounder Parrott rifle. The steamer served as part of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron off North Carolina until September 1864, when it was decommissioned in New York. Recommissioned in January 1865, the State of Georgia was assigned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron for the closing months of the war. Stationed off the coast of South Carolina, the steamer supported General William T. Sherman’s army as it marched northward from Savannah, Georgia. The steamer was decommissioned again in September 1865 and sold at auction. Renamed the Andrew Johnson in May 1866, it was driven ashore at an inlet in North Carolina during a hurricane in October 1866 and destroyed.
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