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age, came into the camp of our troops at Hatteras. He proved to be a bright, intelligent lad, had escaped from his master, a Mr. Robinson who lived on Roanoke Island, and sought protection from our forces. His name, he said, was "Tom." General Williams chanced to hear of him, and, wishing for information, questioned him and ascertained that he had something of real value to communicate. When General Burnside arrived, General Williams sent Tom on board the flag ship. General Burnside had a long interview with the escaped slave. Tom knew all about Roanoke and the forts and forces there. There was one strong battery about in the centre of the island. There were two or three others at different points. There were infantry and artillery on the island. There were the "Overland Greys," "Yankee Killers," "Sons of Liberty," "Jackson Avengers," "O. K. Boys," from North Carolina, and some, with a more respectable name, from Virginia-altogether a pretty formidable array. Did Tom know of a good landing place? "Oh, yes; at Ashby's Harbor, about two miles below Pork Point." Tom knows all about it, has lived not far from the harbor, has been there many a time, and will gladly go there with the troops and show them the way. Up from the harbor is a pretty good road to the place where the rebel battery is. The troops will march up there, drive the enemy out, and take the shore batteries in reverse. Here was an important auxiliary. Tom's information was particularly valuable. The boy was immediately taken care of, and made to feel that he was no longer a slave. Captain Richmond took charge of him, and found him, during the campaign, faithful and true in every respect. The very important facts which he imparted were of the greatest service, and most materially aided in accomplishing the success of the movement. He was a quick-witted and bright boy, and he was observed afterwards in the general's quarters at Falmouth, conning over a spelling-book of which he had possessed himself, and steadily engaged, at every leisure moment, in learning to read.
Roanoke Island, which was the object of General Burnside's
first attack, is an island about twelve miles long from north to south, and three miles broad, occupying a commanding position in the dividing waters between Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds. Of Pamlico, we were already in possession, and could, at any time, have occupied any of the towns upon its shores. But to do this, leaving Roanoke Island in our rear, would have manifestly been a useless and very dangerous work. Roanoke Island, moreover, commanded the approaches. to Norfolk from the North Carolina side. It was an outpost of Norfolk, indeed, and had been fortified by the rebels with considerable care and skill. A long narrow spit of sand lies beyond Roanoke, breaking the waves of the Atlantic. Between this and the island is a narrow, shallow sound, not navigable by gunboats of any great size. Across this spit, at a point about opposite the middle of Roanoke Island, the sea had at some time broken through and formed an inlet, which had afterwards closed. A little hillock of sand, marking the place, is called Nag's Head. Further to the northern extremity, the sea had forced another passage, which is called Currituck Inlet. Beyond this was still another long, narrow neck of land, which, at the north, opens upon the main land, and thence to Norfolk the way was comparatively unobstructed. Roanoke Island was, then, a position of the utmost importance to the enemy. Its reduction and occupation would give us the undisputed command of Albemarle Sound, and would be a perpetual menace to Norfolk. The occupation of the debouches, and the entire line of the Dismal Swamp and Albemarle and Chesapeake Canals, which was contemplated by the instructions of General McClellan, would give to our army an easy communication with Hampton Roads.
To protect this important place, the enemy had erected no less than five earthworks of different size, and defended, for the most part, by heavy ordnance. Three of these were built at different points upon the western shore of the island most suitable for defence. One was built in the interior of the island upon rising land—the highest point-and was the key
to the position. Upon the main land opposite, were other batteries, and in the channel of Croatan Sound, near the southernmost work, piles were driven and hulks were sunken, to form a barricade for the prevention of the near approach of any hostile fleet to the land. The position of the barricade was immediately within range of the heavy guns mounted upon the lower forts. The batteries on the shore were to be silenced by the navy, while the troops were landing. But the barricade might prove to be a very serious obstruction to the naval operations. Lurking behind the barricade in the channel, the enemy had a fleet of eight small steamers. The names of the earthworks, beginning with that on Pork Point-the first encountered-are mentioned as Forts Bartow, mounting ten guns, in casement; Blanchard, four guns, en barbette; Huger, at Weir's Point, about three miles above Bartow, thirteen guns, in embrasures; Shallowbag Bay Fort, a small earthwork, mounting two guns on pivot; the Centre Redoubt, commanding the causeway through the marshy land to the solid ground of the island, three guns, en barbette, and Fort Forrest, eight guns, at Redstone Point, on the main land of North Carolina. The barricade of piles and sunken vessels extended from Fort Bartow to Fort Forrest, entirely across the Sound. The forts were armed mostly with smooth bore 32-pounders. The island was held by three regiments, reënforced on the day of battle by two regiments and two battalions-among which was the company once famous in the annals of the Virginia Militia, as the "Richmond Blues," under the command of Captain O. Jennings Wise. The entire garrison was under the command of Brigadier General Henry A. Wise, with headquarters at Nag's Head, who acted under the orders of Major General B. C. Hill, commanding the Department. At the time of the action, General Wise was not upon the island, and the command devolved upon Colonel Henry M. Shaw, of the 8th North Carolina Volunteers. That the garrison was brave, even to desperation, was amply proved by the gallant but unavailing resistance which they made to our determined troops.