Henry Shaw

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150 Years Ago: Saturday, February 8, 1862

On the North Carolina Shores, Union army and navy forces wake up ready to finish the battle they started yesterday. Using the only road on the island, they advance north towards the waiting Confederate forces led by second-in-command C.S.A. Colonel Henry M. Shaw. Shaw is filling in for former Virginia Governor and current Brigadier General Henry A. Wise, who is hospitalized and unable to take part in the battle.

Shaw places 400 infantry in the path of U.S. Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside’s troops. A thousand Confederates are in reserve about 250 yards in the rear, but the front is so constricted that Shaw can only deploy a quarter of his forces. His defensive line ends in an area with swamps on both sides, so he leaves his flanks unprotected.

The 25th Massachusetts, part of the First Brigade commanded by Brigadier General John G. Foster, begins the assault and fire at the Confederates for two hours. The 10th Connecticut relieve the exhausted 25th, but they are also unable to penetrate the Confederate lines. When the Second Brigade arrives, Brigadier General Jesse Reno orders his men to penetrate the swamp on the Union left; Foster orders two of his reserve regiments to do the same on the Union right. The Union flanking movements are not coordinated, but they emerge from the swamp at approximately the same time. At the front, the Third Brigade commanded by Brigadier General John G. Parke takes over for the 10th Connecticut. Now being attacked from three sides, the Confederate lines break and the men begin to flee.

Shaw has no troops in reserve and no artillery; he sees no need for additional loss of life, so he surrenders his 1,400 troops along with the guns in the nearby forts. Two additional Confederate regiments arrive after the surrender to provide reinforcement, but they are too late and become prisoners of war.

Capture of Roanoke Island, February 8, 1862
By Currier & Ives

Roanoke Island now gives the Union a critical advantage, as they can easily access North Carolina and Virginia from this new Union stronghold. An extra bonus are the direct roads to the Confederate capital of Richmond, including supply points along the way. It gives the Union a viable option to capture Richmond from the South instead of what they have been attempting to do for the last nine months – capture it from the North.

After two days of battle, the Union has 277 casualties (37 dead, 214 wounded and 13 missing); the Confederate have 413 casualties (23 killed, 58 wounded and 62 missing). The Union victory is a great start to what is being called the “Burnside Expedition.”

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