Perhaps the most memorable day in the annals of Elizabeth City was the day of the bombardment, early in
February, 1862, after the fall of Roanoke Island. After the fight and Confederate defeat at Hatteras the year before,
the sound and river towns of the Albemarle section were in a condition of perpetual trepidation in fear of the invasion
of the Federal troops who had taken possession of Hatteras, and the apprehension of injury was conjured into a
thousand fancies of outrage and destruction of life and property. But Burnside, who was in command at Hatteras was
in no hurry to push his advantage, and the next step for him was to capture Roanoke Island, which was occupied by
various troops, under the command of Col. Henry M. Shaw.
Roanoke Island was attacked and captured early in February, and the people of Elizabeth City were the first o hear the sad news. There seemed to be a sort of mental telegraphy between Roanoke Island and that town, and the news of Roanoke and its fall was soon followed by the news that the Federal gunboats were preparing for a hostile visit to the water owns in North Carolina. We, as nearest to the strategic point, were in a state of tremulous business. On the streets the enemy every day from man to man was, ''Are they coming? When are they coming? Will they shell the town? Shall we fight or what shall we do?'' Some said fight. Col. S. D. Starke, highest in command ordered out the militia and threw up breastworks at Cobb's Point for the defense of our harbor. Many through it best to set fire to our houses and retread by the light, as the Russians had successfully done at Moscow when invaded by Napoleon. Colonel Starke approved it. Others did it when the time came.
We were living on Pasquotank River in the country, nine miles from town, but were in town every day to keep up with current events. Returning from town one day, we heard when in town that the Yankees were getting their gunboats ready to come to town. The rumor had greatly excited the town, and the people were much disturbed what to do when they came. We got home late, communicated the startling news to our disturbed household, and retired. About midnight a messenger from Elizabeth City roused us from sleep and delivered a message from Rev. E. M. Forbes, Rector of Christ Church, saying that a statement had reached town that the Yankee gunboats were preparing to leave Roanoke Island for Elizabeth City, and requested that we would send up wagons to remove his books and valuables to our home in the country for safety. We hurried Isaac off immediately with a farm wagon, a three-mule-cart with driver, and little Peter with a single box wagon. We rose early next morning, in fact, we didn't go to sleep any more that night. While at breakfast, a servant ran into the room from upstairs saying with great alarm that the river was full of steamboats going up towards town, like a wedge, that there was mor'n forty of 'em. We ran upstairs, looked out of an upper window, and there they were, moving like a phalanx, to disturb our peace and happiness. When we went down, Isaac had returned with the debris of Mr. Forbes' goods, wares, and chattels. Great drops of bead sweat were rolling down his ebony cheeks, and his emotions overcame his utterance.
''Well, Isaac, where's Mr. Forbes' things?''
''Lord o' massy, Master Richard, I tell you how dat is. Dey's scattered all along the road from here to 'Lizabeth.''
Finishing our hasty breakfast, we mounted our horse and set out for town, and our eyes opened on a sight we hope never to see again. All the people of the town were on the road, most of them were afoot, shoe-tops deep in mud and slush, muddy, bedraggled, unhappy, wretched. They were looking for an asylum of safety among country friends. We met scores of our town friends, forlorn and miserable. We asked for others, and they told us the town was on fire and was deserted, and that a naval engagement was raging in the harbor; that two Confederates were killed and three Yankees. We soon met General Heningsen on the road, flying before an unseen enemy. We met some ladies afoot, unhappy, looking for an asylum. We met Piemonts in ''Little Billy's'' three-mule cart, looking for our house. They told us of the distress. That it was a dead town. That is was dead as a graveyard, that all had left, some never to return. We asked after our friends. They said that some had set fire to their houses and made tracks for Currituck, that others had done the same and that the whole town was then on fire, to spite the Yankees; that the Elliott's had started on foot for Oxford, that the Martins were in a buggy, flying for Oxford, that Rev. E. M. Forbes was staying in town to meet the Yankees when they landed on the wharf, surrender them the town and ask protection; that Mr. Forbes, when they left, was putting on his ecclesiastical vestments, in order that they might respect his sacred office.
It was a grand, gloomy and peculiar time, such as the town had never seen before, has never seen since, and we trust may never see again.
• The Civil War in Elizabeth City
• The Battle 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