The Civil War
Roanoke Island, North Carolina
by Mike Tames
I found my first relic, a dropped bullet, lying half exposed on a dirt trail while walking to junior high school one morning. It was in Washington, D.C. back in the early seventies and that trail crossed through the grounds of what used to be one of 68 forts and batteries built during the Civil War to protect the nations capitol. Almost every time it rained I would go up and down that hilly dirt path looking for bullets that might have washed out of the eroded ground. And believe it or not, I found a few more bullets, including some musket balls and a handful of items that I imagined came from the Civil War. This started my lifelong study of that conflict also referred to as The War Between The States.
Our family first vacationed on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the early sixties. My parents bought a second home in Manteo, on Roanoke Island, around 1972. When I got interested in the Civil War my dad told me about a prison camp on the island he had heard about (Confederate soldiers were detained on the island for two weeks after the Union victory at the battle of Roanoke Island). The next time we came to Manteo my dad made a casual remark to a photographer friend of his who lived in town about the prison camp and this led to me meeting a local relic hunter. The local, David, along with many others had been finding relics in a camp on the island since the early seventies. I was to learn later that North Carolina regiments, Confederate prisoners and Union troops all occupied the camp at various times.
David first took me, a friend of mine, and my dad into the camp on the north end around 1974. I didn't have a detector at that time and could only scratch around the many bottle pits that had been dug in the woods. I remember rolling a .69 caliber musket ball out of one of the holes that first day. Now that we knew where the camp was I persuaded dad to take us back again. My friend and I sifted the dirt we shoveled out of one of the pits using a screen another hunter had left in the woods. We found a clay pipe and other little artifacts during that summer trip to North Carolina. I would hunt that camp almost every time I came to Manteo.
In 1981 I moved to Manteo. By that time most local relic hunters had given up hunting the camp. They had amassed large collections of bottles and artifacts which had come out of easily located trash pits. Deeper relics could still be found, and small bottle pits remained, it just took more effort to find them. I hunted periodically through the eighties and was able to put together a modest collection.
Over time I found less and less and didn't venture into the camp as much. I expanded my search to other sites on the island while researching more about what happened here. There were soldiers all over the north end so one had a chance of finding something anywhere you looked.
In 1997 I purchased a group of letters written by William S. Chace, a captain in the 4th Rhode Island Infantry. The 4th was in Burnside's Expedition to Roanoke Island and Chace's descriptive letters opened up a window to the Civil War I hadn't realized existed. I have now collected dozens of letters both singularly and in groupings, along with various documents, all written from the island. The letters offer up bits of information that help in my research. But just as important to me, I bring back to the island and to their point of origin the Civil War soldiers own words, written on fragile paper in their own hand, and I can connect with them.
Much about the Civil War here, it may surprise you, is still not known. And so the search goes on. In the early nineties Camp Reno was purchased by The National Park Service and is now obviously off limits to relic hunting. I do very little hunting now. Searching for original soldier letters and documents is more important to me.
This web site, at 16 plus pages long is meant to give the interested person an overview of how Roanoke Island was thrust into the Civil War, how it caused a battle to be fought here, become home to a Freedmen's Colony, and was garrisoned until after the wars end.
I've always been more interested in soldier life than other aspect of the study of the Civil War. Therefore, you won't see images of the more common military items that I've found. Artifacts that can give the reader a better understanding of how Johnny Reb and Billy Yank lived here day-to-day are shown.
I hope you find the following pages both informative and interesting.
page1. Confederate Occupation
page2. Chicamacomico Races
page3. A Federal Plan For A Sea- Borne Invasion
page4. A Bleak Winter on Roanoke Island
page5. Burnside's Coast Division Sails
page6. The Lost Confederates of Roanoke
page7. The Yankees Are Coming!
page8. The Battle is Joined
page9. Incidents and Anecdotes of the Battle
page10. Burnside's Troops Occupy the Island
page11. Garrisoned for the War
page12. Soldier Life
page13. Soldier Life Continued
page14. Soldier Life Continued
page15. The Dead End
page16. Research and Resources
tourpage A Driving Tour of Civil War Sites on Roanoke Island