Battle of Forks Road, 20-21 February 1865
“On February 20th, Northern forces opposing General Robert F. Hoke numbered about 8500 and in probing his position, sent five US Colored Troop (USCT) regiments comprising 1600 men in repeated assaults that day and the next, though the advance crested about 150 yards from Hoke’s lines. As Hoke’s lines were stretched out, the brunt of the Northern attack was received by General Thomas Clingman’s Brigade of North Carolinians, numbering about 900 men, under Colonel William Devane. It is notable that Clingman’s command included Captain Lippitt’s 51st North Carolina that routed the 54th Massachusetts regiment at Battery Wagner, near Charleston, in July 1863. The 54th Massachusetts was a black regiment led by white northern officers, as were the black troops that assaulted Hoke’s entrenched position.
“Clingman’s [Brigade] fire ravaged Wright’s [USCT] brigade with continuous volleys of musketry, while the Rebel artillery assisted with barrages of iron case shot” (Wilmington Campaign, Fonvielle). The enemy was swept off the field by the destructive fire from the Wilmington Horse Artillery. Realizing further attacks would be futile, the black troops “promptly erected a defensive line” at the front while white Pennsylvania troops were safely entrenched a half-mile to the rear.
“Despite General Johnson Hagood’s defeat at Town Creek making Hoke’s position at Forks Road increasingly untenable, Wilmington’s defenders defiantly floated mines downriver to surprise Northern gunboats, killing several sailors and nearly sinking the Osceola. Late in the evening of the 20th, Hoke telegraphed the approaching General Hardee that with his two brigades soon in Wilmington, the city may yet be saved from the invader.
On February 21, Hoke’s firmly entrenched lines at Forks Road stoutly resisted a series of additional assaults that sent the USCT back to their trenches, and the shore batteries below Wilmington were still harassing any movements of enemy gunboats. Hoke was resolutely holding his impregnable position in hopes that Hardee’s brigades would soon arrive, but General Braxton Bragg, Hoke’s superior, had already telegraphed Hardee and advised him to avoid Wilmington. Bragg was concerned that the Wilmington railroad line was soon to be severed, and sent Hardee from Florence on to Cheraw, South Carolina
General Lee ordered Bragg to abandon the city and set fire to all tobacco, cotton and naval stores that could be used by the enemy. Also destroyed was the ironclad Wilmington, nearly completed at Beery’s Shipyard on Eagles Island across river from the city. The ironclad would have been a welcome addition to Cape Fear defenses.”
Read more at: http://www.cfhi.net/TheBattleofForksRoad.php
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission