General Hoke – The Stonewall of Forks Road
A living history occurs today February 8, 2014 at the remnants of the Forks Road battle site behind the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington.
Here, General Robert F. Hoke’s entrenched division held off repeated and futile attacks by US Colored Troops. Hoke could not be dislodged and only because of the fall of Fort Anderson across the Cape Fear River, and the immediate threat of enemy forces reaching Wilmington to his rear, was Hoke forced to withdraw.
“The Northern force opposing Hoke was being guided by Jacob Horne, a local man who betrayed his State, family and brother -- the latter was among Hoke’s defenders. On February 20th, Northern forces opposing Hoke’s spread-out 3000 men numbered about 8500 and in probing his position, sent five US Colored Troop (USCT) regiments comprising 1600 men in repeated and near-suicidal assaults that day and the next, getting no closer to Hoke's breastworks than 150 yards.
As Hoke’s lines were stretched out, the brunt of the Northern attack was received by General Clingman’s Brigade of North Carolinians, numbering about 900 men, under Colonel Devane.
It is notable that Clingman's command included Captain Lippitt's 51st North Carolina that routed the 54th Massachusetts at Battery Wagner, near Charleston, in July 1863. According to Chris Fonvielle’s The Wilmington Campaign, “Clingman’s [Brigade] fire ravaged [the USCT] brigade with continuous volleys of musketry, while the Rebel artillery assisted with barrages of iron case shot.” The attackers were swept off the field by a murderous fire from the Wilmington Horse Artillery’s 6 and 12-pounders. Realizing further attacks would be futile, the black troops “promptly erected a defensive line” at the front while white Pennsylvania troops were entrenched a half-mile to the rear.”
At Forks Road, the Northern gunboats were out of range and could not effectively support the attack of the USCT, which helped ensure the failure of the assault. Several Northern gunboats grounded in the shallows of the Cape Fear River below Wilmington, and lighter craft were severely damaged or driven off by the strong artillery batteries Lee, Campbell, Meares and Davis just south of the city and effectively anchoring Hoke’s western flank. The Northern transport Thorn blew up in the river after striking a submerged torpedo at Orton Cove, one of twenty known to have been strategically placed to destroy invading enemy ships.
Despite 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 transport Osceola. Late in the evening of the 20th, Hoke telegraphed the approaching General William J. Hardee that with his two brigades soon in Wilmington, the city may yet be saved from the invader. On February 21, 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 instead sent Hardee from Florence on to Cheraw, South Carolina.” Read more at: http://www.cfhi.net/