First Wednesdays – Siege of Washington, N.C.

On March 30th 1863 Confederate forces under General Daniel Harvey Hill invested the town of Washington, N.C.  For a little more than two weeks Hill continued the siege of the town hoping to capture the garrison inside.  Confederate forces arrayed cannon and infantry seven miles below the town on the Pamlico River in an effort to keep United States forces from relieving the siege by the use of superior naval power.

The Confederate plan was working.  Federal attempts to relieve the siege by land forces sent out of New Bern ended in failure.  Confederate batteries along the river refused passage to Union vessels.  The land batteries aimed at the town of Washington were not so fortunate.  Despite such tactics as firing “hot shot” or heated cannon balls into the city (in an attempt to set it on fire), the Confederate cannons were not effective; so much so that one Union soldier reported Union soldiers regularly played baseball while the Confederates fired at them.   Other Union soldiers reportedly waved their hats as targets for the Confederate artillery.  In an outrageous display of taunting, one Union solder was reported to have placed a rocking chair on the town’s defenses and rocked away in plain sight of the artillerymen.

Myer’s letter reveals the moment the siege became doomed for failure.  He tells his wife of a successful passage of a Union vessel past the Confederates works.  The boat described by Myers is most likely the Union vessel Escort.  The Escort carried elements of the Fifth Rhode Island regiment past the batteries to Washington.  This daring act under heavy fire proved that the siege could be broken.  When the Escort ran the route in reverse, Hill ordered the withdrawal of his troops.

As Union forces secured the area they found a note left by the besieging Confederate forces offering a taunt and a salute: “Yankees! We leave you, not because we can’t take Washington, but because it is not worth taking. Besides a man to live here must be amphibious. . . . We compliment the plucky little garrison of the town, and also salute the pilot of the Escort.  Yours, Company K, Thirty-second N. C. S. T.”

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