The Coastal War in North and South Carolina: An Analysis of the Evolution of Joint Naval-Army Operations 1861-1865

A Scholarly Monograph By Kevin Dougherty

27 September 2002

The Papers of the Blue and Gray Education Society, Number 14

War on the Carolina Coast

The Civil War marked a significant increase in cooperation between the United States Army and Navy. This cooperation evolved through the series of operations conducted by Federal forces along the North and South Carolina coasts. Beginning with modest operations in which the Navy dominated the battle and the Army provided an occupying force afterwards, these endeavors grew into truly amphibious assaults with land and naval forces working in tandem. Key battles in this succession occurred at Hatteras Inlet, Port Royal Sound, Roanoke Island, New Bern, and Fort Fisher. Taken together, these operations comprise a campaign.

The operations took advantage of both the superior Federal Navy and the revolution in naval warfare made possible by steam power. They allowed the Federal force to maintain the initiative by determining the time and the place of the attack, which compelled the Confederates to tie up forces defending the myriad of possible Federal objectives along the vast Confederate coast.

Coastal operations were an important and effective part of the Federal strategy against Confederate logistics. While the Navy blockaded Southern ports, the Army both held terrain and severed rail communications. It was a powerful combination.1

Each specific operation offers its own unique lessons for the student of joint operations and reveals a stage in the evolution of Army-Navy capabilities and cooperation. Hatteras Inlet was the first such venture attempted, albeit one limited in scope. It was a Navy-dominated affair in which the possibilities of the steam engine became apparent.

Port Royal Sound was more ambitious and reflected the Federals’ growing confidence in coastal warfare. Even more than Hatteras Inlet, Port Royal Sound was a Navy show. Port Royal Sound demonstrated just how much the steam engine had altered the historic balance between the ship and the fort.

At the Roanoke Island operation, the Federal Army and Navy actually worked simultaneously rather than sequentially. This amphibious assault featured innovative techniques in landing and naval gunfire but was limited in that the Federal force did not advance inland after this initial success. Eventually, the Federals would exploit their possession of Hatteras Inlet by attacking New Bern. New Bern was not just a port, but one with important rail lines stretching first to Goldsboro and from there to Richmond. New Bern showed another dimension of the logistical impact of coastal war.

All of these were small-scale operations compared to Fort Fisher. The first Federal attempt ended in failure due to the inability of the Army and Navy commanders to work together. A change in Army leadership brought excellent cooperation between the two components, illustrating the necessity of unity of effort. With the Federal victory at Fort Fisher, the coastal war was over. Army-Navy operations had advanced greatly throughout the course of the war.

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