Forgotten Forts Series - Fort Compher (NC)

NFB22

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jun 21, 2012
Location
Louisville, KY
From the outset of the war, the town of Plymouth, North Carolina was always vital as it controlled access to the Roanoke River which leads deep into the heart of North Carolina and Virginia. The river also gave whoever controlled it direct access to the valuable town of Wheldon further upriver which served as a major hub for multiple railroads. It was for this purpose that Plymouth was hotly contested early in the war finally falling under Union control in late 1862.

It was after the Union capture of Plymouth that forces there constructed a series of forts and redoubts surrounding the town with US Navy vessels supporting the army from the river. One of these forts was Fort Compher, sometimes referred to as Fort Comfort, on the town's eastern edge.

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Fort Compher was named for Captain Alexander Compher of the 101st Pennsylvania which was part of Plymouth's garrison. The fort was composed of a mixture of earthern redoubts fronted by a ditch that faced outwards with a stockade sealing back of the fort which faced the town. It was armed with two 12-pounders and two 32-pounders. The garrison of Fort Compher and other fortifications around Plymouth had a relatively quiet 1863 as the war raged in other places. This changed in April of 1864.

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(Photo by Don Morfe, partially reconstructed earthworks seen in background)
Further up the Roanoke River, Confederate forces had finished construction of their new ironclad ram, the CSS Albemarle. In April the new vessel under Captain James Cooke proceeded downriver towards Plymouth as Confederate land forces under then-Brigadier General Robert Hoke approached Plymouth. As Hoke's forces began their assault on multiple fronts around the town, Fort Compher's garrison would get a front row seat to the sinking of the USS Southfield by the Albemarle early on April 19 after the Confederate vessel had navigated the river obstructions placed by Union forces in an effort to keep any vessels bottled up. Meanwhile, troops on the eastern side of town under the direct command of Brig. General Matthew Ransom prepared for a final assault on Fort Compher.

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(Partially reconstructed earthworks at the center of the image. The parking lot to the right is where historic markers and the memorial are located)
On the morning of April 20 the Confederates made their final assault on Fort Compher. Troops made their way through the ditches surrounding the fort and engulfed the earthern fortifications as other troops flanked the position. The fight on this portion of the line was relatively quick with many of Fort Compher's defenders surrendering to overwhelming numbers. Those Union troops that were able to escape to the west would surrender later that morning when the commander of the garrison, Brigadier General Henry Wessells, surrendered his command to Hoke. Wessells along with Captain Compher would eventually end up being some of the unlucky officers used as human shields at Charleston, SC while Union forces responded with the "Immortal 600". Confederate forces would hold Plymouth until later in the year when they moved further upriver to garrison Fort Branch which held out until the end of the war.

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Today little of the fortifications around Plymouth exist with the exception of a reconstructed portion of the Fort Compher earthworks seen in the aerial image above while some others may be slightly visible around town. At the Fort Compher location is a memorial dedicated to the troops in the Battle of Plymouth along with multiple information markers. Around town there are other various markers illustrating locations of various redoubts and forts as well as the battle itself.

A few blocks west of Fort Compher is the Latham House where the historic marker illustrates how the town's residents took cover in the home's basement during the battle. The home still features holes from the battle that raged around it. Along the river is the Port o'Plymouth Museum which features numerous relics from the Battle of Plymouth and also has a 3/8 scale replica of the CSS Albemarle. The location is definitely a bucket lister if you're in the vicinity of Pamlico or Albemarle Sound.
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
A great post about the fortifications at Plymouth! US occupation of Plymouth, New Bern, and (Little) Washington gave the Federals effective control over the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, and thus most of the North Carolina coast. From those bases, they were able to send raids into the interior to disrupt supplies and railroad transport.

Roy B.
 

NFB22

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jun 21, 2012
Location
Louisville, KY
Another fun fact from the Battle of Plymouth. After the USS Southfield was sunk by the Albemarle, one of her Dahlgrens was salvaged by Confederate forces. It was transported to South Carolina and used on the CSS Pee Dee which was later scuttled. In 2015 the gun was recovered from the Pee Dee River along with two others and taken to Charleston where it was preserved and is now on display at the National Cemetery in Florence, South Carolina.
 
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