The Outer Banks became a battleground in August 1861 largely because of its significance to maritime commerce and war positioning. On Hatteras Island, the Confederate government ordered the construction of several forts including two at Hatteras Inlet, Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark to maintain their control of the North Carolina waterways and to protect the privateers activities.
This action would be the Union's first joint forces operation of the war consisting of the Navy, Army, Coast Guard, and Marine's. The Confederate forces at Hatteras Inlet were completely unprepared for the Federal bombardment in late August.
On Aug. 28th the Federal Naval Expedition consisting of seven war ships delivered the most intense bombardment up to that time of the civil war. By noon, confederate troops from the 7th NC Independent Company fled Fort Clark to Fort Hatteras for safe haven. That afternoon about three miles north of Fort Clark the Union was attempting an amphibious landing of federal troops. Due to the heavy breakers they were only able to get ashore about 320 men consisting mostly from the 20th NY (Turner Rifles) and the 9th NY (Hawkins Zouaves). As evening approached with their powder wet and the men cold they moved towards Fort Clark to find that it had been abandoned. This is where they remained for the night.
The bombardment continued the morning of Aug. 29th, but Confederates could hold out at Fort Hatteras only until about 11 a.m., when they flew the white flag. During the night some of the Confederates were able to escape Hatteras and fled to Roanoke Island for refuge. After the surrender the Confederate soldiers were transported to prisons in New York and Boston Harbor's.
A few men died in the Hatteras battles, but the exact number is not known. You can learn more about this event and many other historical "firsts" that occurred on the beaches of Hatteras Island during the Civil War during the Flags Over Hatteras event in August. For more information click here.