Battle of Washington, NC
Description: While Longstreet operated against Suffolk, D.H. Hill’s column moved against the Federal garrison of Washington, North Carolina.
By March 30, the town was ringed with fortifications, but the Confederates were unable to shut off supplies and reinforcements arriving by ship. After a week of confusion and mismanagement, Hill was maneuvered out of his siegeworks and withdrew on April 15.
The Battle of Washington took place from March 30 to April 20, 1863, in Beaufort County, North Carolina, as part of Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet's Tidewater operations during the American Civil War.
While Longstreet operated against Suffolk, Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill's column moved against the Federal garrison at Washington, North Carolina. The local Union commander in the area, Maj. Gen. John G. Foster personally arrived to take personal command of the garrison.
By March 30, the town was ringed with fortifications. Hill set up road blocks and established batteries along the Tar River to impede reinforcements. Foster, a West Point trained army engineer, put his skills to good work improving the town's defenses as well as employing the use of three gunboats in the defense. The Confederates sent a reply to Foster demanding surrender. Foster replied saying "If the Confederates want Washington, come and get it". Despite this defiance Foster lacked the strength to dislodge the besiegers and Hill was under orders to avoid an assault at the risk of sustaining heavy casualties. Thus the engagement devolved into one of artillery and even so the Confederates limited their bombings to conserve their ammunition.
With the siege at a stalemate, Hill was still able to undertake foraging operations as long as the Federals were pinned down in Washington. While the Confederates gathered supplies in the countryside, the Federal war effort was also active but with less results. A Federal relief column under Brig. Gen. Henry Prince sailed up the Tar River. Once Prince saw the Rebel batteries he turned the transports around. A second effort under Brig. Gen. Francis Barretto Spinola moved overland from New Bern. Spinola was defeated along Blount's Creek and returned to New Bern. Foster decided that he would escape Washington and personally lead the relief effort, leaving his chief-of-staff, Brig. Gen. Edward E. Potter in command at Washington. On April 13, the USS Escort braved the Rebel batteries and made its way into Washington. It was aboard this ship on April 15, Foster made his escape. The ship was badly damaged and the pilot mortally wounded but Foster made it out and back to New Bern. About the same time Foster made an escape, Hill was faced with numerous reasons that led ultimately led to his withdrawal: the completion of his foraging efforts, Union relief attempts and supplies reaching the Federal garrison and finally a message arrived from Longstreet requesting reinforcements for an assault on Suffolk. Hill broke off the siege on April 20 and withdrew.
Apart from raids conducted by Foster and Potter, North Carolina remained relatively quiet until 1864 when Robert E. Lee was able to spare troops for another operation against Federally control posts on along the coast