Mission Statement:

"To advance through research, education and symposia, an increased public awareness of the Cape Fear region's unique history."

  “The Stonewall of Forks Road”
General Robert F. Hoke and the Battle of Forks Road, February 20-21, 1865


Cape Fear Historical Institute Papers


Major-General

Robert F. Hoke

 

Prelude to Forks Road: Fort Anderson

Subsequent to the fall of Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865,

Northern forces began a cautious advance on the city

of Wilmington from both sides of the Cape Fear River.

After the evacuation of Fort Anderson on the west side

of the river on February 19 by his subordinate,

Brigadier General Johnson Hagood (future governor

of South Carolina) and his South Carolinians,

Major General Robert F. Hoke had to abandon his

defensive position across the river from that fort,

at Sugar Loaf. Without any strong fortifications to

fall back on, Hoke knew that making a stand

between the enemy and Wilmington would be difficult.

Before evacuating Fort Anderson, General Hagood had held

on against an enemy with overwhelming strength, but his

position was compromised by black residents aiding the

enemy. Incidents such as this had also brought disastrous

results to North Carolina patriots in 1781:

"when British forces under the command of Lord Cornwallis advanced toward the city, slaves flocked to the British lines

in hopes of gaining their freedom; they then assisted in the

plunder of nearby farms and plantations, and stood by

when the Redcoats finally captured Wilmington

and sacked it."

In a May 1st, 1900 address entitled "Defense of Fort Anderson,

1865," Capt. Eugene S. Martin described the action

there as follows:

"The fort proper was commanded by Colonel [Wilmingtonian

John J.] Hedrick with the 40th North Carolina Regiment;

on his right was [Captain Abner] Mosely's [Sampson

Artillery] Battery of Whitworth guns, then came the light

artillery around this [St. Philips] Church, then Major

MacRae's Command, and on our extreme right

Colonel Simonton's Regiment and other South Carolina

troops, the whole command under General Johnson

Hagood...His headquarters were on the road to

Orton [Plantation, now Highway 133]."

The shelling of the fort was incessant from enemy monitors

and gunboats on the 18th and 19th of February which

destroyed many of the tombs around the Church. Just after

midnight on the 18th [Saturday] General Hagood quietly

evacuated Fort Anderson, leaving "Some of the dead [who]

were still in the gun chambers and along the lines, whlie

some had been carried into that sacred Edifice and lay

there with their pale faces turned toward the

silent stars above them..."

The enemy pickets discovered empty fortifications in

front of them as they carefully probed the fort's defenses

at daylight. In his "Land of the Golden River", author

Lewis Philip Hall describes the unopposed

enemy advance:

"Once Northern troops entered the abandoned

Fort Anderson, they were drawn to the historic

graveyard and ruins of nearby St. Philips Church

where they “dug up the remains of the coffins,

broke open the tombs and scattered the bones,

looking for jewelry and silver coffin plates; at which

time many of the gravestones were destroyed”

Before departing the fort for their advance on Wilmington,

Northern troops defaced the Church and removed

its cornerstone.

Author James Laurence Sprunt wrote that patriot

and Judge Parker Quince's "tomb though battered

by Northern shellfire and marred by vandals, [it] still

remains as one of the most imposing there..." Another

Northern cannonball "struck and demolished a s

imple tombstone bearing the epitaph

"Here lies the body of Benjamin Smith, one time

Governor of North Carolina."

When only 21 years old, Smith served as an aide

to General Washington in the retreat from Long Island

in August 1779, and performed his duty gallantly at

Fort Moultrie that same year while driving the

British from South Carolina.

Battle of Town Creek

The Northern forces then caught up with the South Carolinians

at the brief battle of Town Creek, where 3000 troops

assaulted Hagood’s thin line of 450 in their new defensive

position. It was a one-sided battle though an Ohio

regiment sustained heavy casualties while advancing on

the Edenton Bell Battery of the 3rd North Carolina Artillery.

As a testament to the overwhelmed patriots bravery, a Northern

officer commented that the North Carolinians “stood their ground

to the last and did not surrender until the guns were taken

from their hands.” A 12-pounder howitzer of that Battery,

the “Saint Paul,” (so named as it was cast from the melted

bronze bell of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church of Edenton,

North Carolina) was captured by the invaders.

Wilmington-natives with Hagood's forces included Captains'

John D. Taylor and Edward B. Dudley (Anderson Artillery)

of the Thirty-Sixth NC Regiment; Lt. William Calder, adjutant

of First NC Battallion, Heavy Artillery; Lt. John Hampden

Hill of the Fortieth Regiment; Capt. Eugene S. Martin

(Ordnance Officer for Hagood); and

Captain John T. Rankin.

Another veteran of the Fort Anderson and Town Creek

battles was Gabriel J.  Boney, a private in the 3rd NC Artillery.

His capture at the Battle of Bentonville on March 19th, had

him spend the remainder of the war at Point Lookout prison

of war camp. Boney is known for the legacy of $20,000

upon his death in 1915, specifically to fund the Confederate

Memorial (1924) monument to his comrades now

standing at Third and Dock Streets in Wilmington.

 

General Johnson Hagood

Also with Hagood's force were the remnants of Wilmingtonian

Major Alexander MacRae's 1st Battalion, North Carolina Heavy

Artillery which had fought valiantly at Forts Fisher and Anderson.

MacRae was the father of Brigadier General William MacRae

who distinguished himself in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

Both MacRae's are buried in Wilmington's Oakdale Cemetery.

General Hoke Lays His Plan of Defense:

Hoke knew enemy strategy as he was in possession of a captured

order from Northern General Schofield that the ultimate goal was

to reach Goldsboro, and linking up with Sherman’s forces that

had been ravaging the Carolinas. Hoke hoped to thwart this, and

was also aware that a Confederate force of 6,000 troops under

Lt. General William J. Hardee was fast approaching

Wilmington from South Carolina.

He was determined to create a strong defensive work before

Wilmington in order to hold the city until Hardee arrived.

Nor would a Northern naval advance up the Cape Fear River

be easy, Hoke had artillery batteries above Sugarloaf (Town

Creek, Nine Mile, Eagle's Island, and Forts Meares, Campbell,

Lee and Stokes), on both sides all the way up to the

city of Wilmington itself.

At both post-Fort Fisher defensive lines of Sugar Loaf and

later Forks Road, Hoke’s entrenchments were formidable

obstacles facing Northern commanders, and as he deployed

his veterans across the peninsula below Wilmington and

easily fought off repeated assaults, he is worthy of the title

“the Stonewall of Forks Road.” And it was only the success

of vastly overwhelming Northern forces on the western side

of the Cape Fear at Fort Anderson which forced Hoke to

make a strategic withdrawal.

 

Thomas L. Clingman as Colonel

General Hoke’s division consisted of four brigades commanded

by Brigadier General Alfred Colquitt (a future governor of

Georgia), Brigadier General Thomas L. Clingman (who was

convalescing, Col. William Devane in his place), Brigadier

General W. W. Kirkland, and the aforementioned Hagood.

The entire force was made up of North Carolina patriots except

for the South Carolinians of Hagood, and Georgians of Colquitt.

Among Hoke’s Cape Fear defenders were Wilmington natives

Capt. John J. Hedrick, Capt. Samuel Bunting, Corporal

Gabriel Boney, as well as soldiers of the Sampson Artillery

and Bladen Guards. Also near Hoke’s lines were the MacRae

and Parsley batteries, named for local patriots, and located

at Young’s Pond at the “extreme northeastern tip of

Greenfield Mill Pond, on the old Federal

Point Road  (an extension of 12th Street).

 

General Alfred Colquitt

 

Dug In At Forks Road:

On the east side of the river, 3000 of Hoke's men had

entrenched at Forks Road, about 4 miles southeast of

Wilmington and now the site of the Cameron Art

Museum. It is reported that the entrenchments

extended from the Cameron site to the Cape Fear

River, and in the opposite direction toward

present-day Eastwood Road.

 

General William W. Kirkland

 

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 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.

The 54th Massachusetts was a black regiment led by

white northern officers, as were the black troops that assaulted

Hoke's well-entrenched defensive position (see note below).

According to Chris Fonvielle’s The Wilmington Campaign,

“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.” 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.

It was common by 1865 for US Colored Troops to be used in

support roles, or assault troops if white soldiers saw the potential

for great casualties—as at Battery Wagner near Charleston.

Also, the performance of black soldiers in past battles such

as Battery Wagner, Olustee and the Crater made Northern

commanders hesitant to use them in critical assaults.

(see note below).

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 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

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

fleeing back to safety of 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 directed Hardee from Florence on to

Cheraw, South Carolina.

 

Bragg Orders Wilmington Evacuated:
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. Had it been completed before the assault

on Fort Fisher, the new ironclad would have made Northern

gunboat advances up the Cape Fear difficult if not impossible.

When Bragg learned of Northern forces approaching

Wilmington and gaining a foothold on Eagles Island, he

ordered Hoke to retreat and abandon Wilmington on

February 22. Thus, “the Stonewall of Forks Road” led

his veterans from their entrenchments, and left the

earthworks to the invader who failed again and again

to dislodge them. Hoke would pass through Wilmington

amid burning supplies and stores and follow the

Wilmington and Weldon tracks toward Rockfish

Creek, near Duplin Roads (now Wallace), where he

would establish his next strong defensive line.

 

Note on the 54th Massachusetts:

"At Battery Wagner in July 1863, Northern General Strong's

"leading regiment was the 54th Massachusetts, a Negro

regiment commanded by white officers. (Colonel Robert)

Shaw's Negro regiment of 600 men advanced at a double

quick, but broke at the ditch of Wagner under the withering

fire of the Charleston battalion and the 51st North Carolina,

and, says Major Johnson, "rushed like a crowd of maniacs

back to the rear" (Defense of Charleston Harbor, page

104). Colonel Shaw was killed; and as his men, with

a few brave exceptions, rushed back, they, General

Seymour reported,"fell harshly upon those in their rear."

Two of General Strong's regiments had been effected

by the panic of the Negro regiment, and soon the

whole First brigade was routed. General Strong

was mortally wounded."

(Confederate Military History, Vol. IV, D.H. Hill, Jr.,

Blue & Grey Press, pp. 201-202)


Appendix I:

Biography of General Robert F. Hoke:
Robert Frederick Hoke was born at Lincolnton, North Carolina

on May 27, 1837, son of Michael & Frances (Burton) Hoke.

His father was a brilliant lawyer, orator and candidate for

governor in 1844. General Hoke was educated at Lincolnton

Academy and attended the Kentucky Military Institute.

 

Hoke as a Colonel

 

The outbreak of war in 1861 found him managing his families

various manufacturing enterprises, which included a cotton mill

and iron-works. He entered the Confederate military as a

lieutenant of the 1st North Carolina Volunteers, with which

he took part in the battle of Big Bethel.

Hoke was subsequently promoted major and lieutenant

colonel of the 33rd North Carolina and colonel of the 21st.

Hoke made a distinguished record on all the battlefields of

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia from the Seven Days to

the campaign of Chancellorsville. He was severely

wounded during General Jubal Early’s defense of Marye’s

Heights during the latter campaign. In the meantime, he had

been appointed brigadier general to rank from January

17, 1863 for gallant service at Fredericksburg.

After his recovery he was stationed in North Carolina,

suppressing desertion and outlawry in the western part of

the State; and later in eastern North Carolina. For his brilliant

exploit in capturing Plymouth and its garrison of 3000 Northerners,

he was promoted major general by President Davis from April

20, 1864. He aided Beauregard in bottling up Butler at

Drewry’s Bluff and in the repulse of Grant at Cold Harbor;

and his division was again ordered to North Carolina in

December 1864. After participating in the defense of

Fort Fisher and the Wilmington campaign, he served

gallantly under Joseph E. Johnston at Bentonville

until the final surrender.

His soldiers loved him and his final words to them were:
“You are paroled prisoners---not slaves; the love of liberty

which led you in the contest burns now as brightly in your

hearts as ever; cherish it, nourish it and associate it with

the history of the past. Transmit it to your children.

Teach them the rights of freemen and teach them to

maintain them. Teach them too that the proudest day

in all your proud careers was that on which you enlisted

as Southern soldiers.”

Captain Samuel A. Ashe said: “Hoke was Lee’s best

general and the most distinguished soldier in North Carolina.”

After the war General Hoke returned to private pursuits and

refused all political honors. He did with reluctance accept

the appointment from Governor Vance as State Director

of the North Carolina Railroad and held that position for

a few years. General Hoke's nephew, Hoke Smith, became

a successful attorney who provided legal advice to the

General's railroad operations. Smith would become

Secretary of the Interior in Grover Cleveland's

second administration.

On January 7, 1869 he married Lydia VanWyck and they

had six children, one of whom, Dr. Michael Hoke, became

a distinguished orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta. General Hoke

for awhile operated the Cranberry Iron Works and was also

president of the North Carolina Home Insurance Company

in Raleigh where he lived for many years. On July 3, 1912,

he died in Raleigh and was buried with military honors from

the Church of the Good Shepherd (Episcopal)

of which he was a member.

 


Sources:

The Wilmington Campaign, Mark A. Moore, Savas Publishing, 1999
The Last Rays of Departing Hope, Chris Fonvielle, Savas Pub'g, 1997
Generals in Grey, Ezra J. Warner, LSU Press, 1959

The Story of Orton Plantation, James L. Sprunt, 1958
Land of the Golden River,, Lewis P. Hall, Hall’s Enterprises, 1980
Annals of Lincoln County, Wm Sherrill, Regional Publishing, 1937
Lee’s Modest Warrior, Robt F. Hoke, Daniel Barefoot, JF Blair,1996
General William J. Hardee, Nathaniel C. Hughes, J., LSU Press, 1965

Remembering NC's Confederates, M. Hardy, Arcadia Publ'g, 2006

Hoke Smith, Dewey W. Grantham, LSU Press, 1958