The Battle of Forks Road

Battle History

The Battle of Forks Road, February 20-21, 1865, was fought for the possession of Wilmington, NC. During the battle, the Union army and the United States Colored Troops (USCT), led by Brigadier General Charles J. Paine, successfully defeated the Confederate army under the command of Major General Robert F. Hoke. Wilmington was, at that time, the Confederacy's last major seaport and the Union won control of the city, the city’s railroads, the seaport, and the Cape Fear River.


Over 1600 USCT fought in the Battle of Forks Road, including the 1st, 5th, 10th, 27th, and 37th USCT. Their numbers included at least three Medal of Honor recipients: Powhatan Beaty, Milton M. Holland, and Robert Pinn. Beaty and Hollard both escaped slavery and joined the USCT in 1863. Pinn was born a free black in Ohio.


Many of the USCT regiments who fought at Forks Road escaped slavery with their families and joined the army in Union-occupied New Bern, NC, just up the coast from Wilmington. They joined the USCT with their own vision and their own desire to fight for freedom. Following the war many of these soldiers settled in the Wilmington area.


The Horne Family

A compelling story in the history of this site, is the story of Confederate soldier Corporal Hosea Lewis Horne of the Wilmington Horse Artillery and his brother, Corporal Jacob H. Horne, a Union soldier and a guide with General Terry's Provisional Corps. These young men literally fought "brother against brother" at the Battle of Forks Road. Both young men paid visit to their mother, Catherine Lanier Horne in the days before the battle.




Timeline


January 13, 1865

Major General Alfred H. Terry’s troops come ashore at Federal Point. Col. Louis Bell’s Third Brigade including U. S.Colored Troops 27th Infantry Regiment lands first at Myrtle Grove Sound (little resistance from Confederates dug in west of the Sound). By 3 p.m. 9600 men land and march south toward Ft. Fisher. Confederate Commander Braxton Bragg does not attack the Union landing force.


January 15, 1865

Union naval and land forces assault Ft. Fisher.

Midnight- Brig. Gen. Louis Hebert at Smithville telegraphs Gen. Bragg, “Last information is that Ft. Fisher is surrendered. I await orders.”


February 19, 1865

Confederates in “full retreat” toward Wilmington. Maj. Gen. Robert Frederick Hoke (dispatched by Gen. Robert E. Lee from the Army of Northern Virginia in December 1864 to defend Wilmington) sets up headquarters three miles south of Wilmington along the Federal Point Road.


February 20, 1865

Gen. Hoke sends troops to be entrenched across Forks Road—“revetted with heart pine logs.” Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Clingman has a 900-man brigade, including the 8th, 31st, 51st and 61st North Carolina infantry regiments, commanded by Col. William S. Devane. An officer of the 6th U. S. Colored Troops calls them Bragg’s “bad men.” Gen. Terry, commanding a corps of 8000 men, advances on the east side of the Cape Fear River toward the Confederate positions. Other Union forces fight their way toward Wilmington on the west side of the river.


3 p.m.: Gen. Terry’s men appear. The 5th U. S. Colored Troops under Col. Elias Wright’s Third Brigade command are first to approach the Confederate trenches on the Forks Road. “The enemy’s fire along our whole front was found to be that of a single rank or a little more, and his artillery fire was from six or seven guns,” wrote Gen. Charles J. Paine. Terry sent Wright’s entire brigade against the defenders, but they were driven back. Union casualties were heavy. “The 1st, 5th and 27th U. S. Colored Troops suffered the heaviest losses.”


February 22, 1865

Gen. Bragg orders troops to withdraw from Wilmington. Early that morning, Col. James F. Randlett, 3rd New Hampshire infantry regiment, scouting the Confederate position, rode back to Union lines and shouted “They have gone.”

Based on “The Wilmington Campaign: Last Rays of Departing Hope.” Chris E. Fonvielle, Jr. Stockpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. 2001.

Prepared by R. E. Smith Jr.