On February 8, 1862 Flag Officer William F. Lynch of the Confederate States Navy having exhausted his ammunition in the battle of Roanoke Island withdrew his ships and came to Elizabeth City to replenish his supplies. Upon arriving here he found only enough provisions to furnish two ships. Sending one, the Raleigh, up the canal to Norfolk for the needs of his fleet he loaded the flag ship, Seabird, and the Appomatox, and started to return to Roanoke Island. At the mouth of the river he met a boat and was told that Roanoke Island had capitulated. Knowing that there were men on a floating battery in Croatan Sound he continued on his way with the hope of being able to rescue them. He had gone only a short distance in the Albemarle Sound when he saw a fleet of enemy gunboats making for the Pasquotank River. Reversing his course he headed back up the river with the enemy in full pursuit. Darkness fell and he was able to evade his pursuers and return here. The enemy, after entering the river with thirteen ships, came to anchor ten or twelve miles below town. Commodore Lynch, realizing a battle was imminent, made his plans to defend the city. He took the schooner Black Warrior, which was armed with two thirty-two pounders and had been converted to a gunboat for the defense of the town, and moored her across the river opposite Cobb's Point where a fort had been erected. He divided his ammunition among his six ships, four of which had stayed here when he left to return to Roanoke Island, and formed a line back of the fort, diagonally across and up the river with his right resting on the fort.
Going ashore to see the condition of the fort he found it armed with four smooth bore thirty-two pounders and with twenty-eight rounds of ammunition. It was in the charge of a civilian, a Mr. Hinrick, who had several militiamen with him.
Colonel C. F. Henningsen and a small detail of troops who had been in the area since about February 8 had tried to have the local militia called out but were unable to do so without the approval of several magistrates. This approval was finally granted but the militia, with the exception of the seven men Commodore Lynch had found at the fort, still failed to answer the call. Also about the same time, Colonel Martin had received two hundred pounds of powder form Norfolk and one hundred pounds of blasting powder was found and made up into cartridges.
About eight-thirty on the morning of February 10, the enemy steamers were sighted coming up the river. The fort and the Black Warrior opened fire with their thirty-two pounders as soon as they came within long range but inflicted no severe damage. Commodore Lynch, thinking they would not attempt to pass the fort until they had silenced it, continued firing. The Federal fleet did not return the fire until they were within three-quarters of a mile of the fort. Then their commander gave the signal, ''Dash at the enemy.'' They lunged ahead at full speed with their guns firing. The Black Warrior was disabled and set afire by her crew who escaped ashore. The militiamen at the fort deserted, leaving only two guns manned and these were useless as soon as the head of the enemy column had passed as they could not be brought to bear. When this happened the officers and men spiked the guns and withdrew from the fort. A horse-drawn battery had been found and sent into town for its defense but the Federal fleet passed so quickly that the defenders did not have time to set it up and were forced to flee with it.
The enemy flotilla soon sank or disabled our fleet. Only one ship that had been in this action escaped up the canal. The Ellis, commanded by Lt. J.W. Cooke was captured. This was the same Cooke that later commanded the ram, Albemarle, in the battle of Plymouth. The Sea Bird and Fanny were set on fire and sunk, the steamer Forrest that had been disabled at Roanoke Island was burned, as was a new vessel under construction. These were destroyed to avoid capture. Two schooners in the harbor were captured one loaded with furniture and the other with 4500 bushels of corn. These were later sunk by the enemy in the outlet of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal.
Col. Henningsen, when no troops arrived to give assistance, saw that the town was sure to be captured and ordered Sgt. Scruggs, son of a Virginia senator, to aid citizens in setting fires to destroy the city. However only two blocks and a few buildings on the outskirts were burned. The home of Dr. W. G. Pool which stood on the southwest corner of Pool and Main streets and the wooden courthouse standing on the site of the present Courthouse were among those destroyed in this fire. Sgt. Scruggs was captured and was reported doubled-ironed on one of the vessels in the harbor and was threatened with being hanged as an incendiary.
Thus began the darkest days in the history of our city.
• The Civil War in Elizabeth City
• The Bombardment (Or Surrender) Of Elizabeth City
• The Burning Of Elizabeth City
• Aunt Mamie's Civil War Era Memories
• The Battle of South Mills, Camden County Civil War History