South Mills 19 April 1862


Map Code: Ax01542

The Dismal Swamp canal and the Pasquotank River connected Elizabeth City to the Norfolk naval base in Virginia. The Union army had intelligence that a small fleet of Confederate ‘ironclads’ (steam propelled warships) were being built at Norfolk, with the intention of destroying the Union blockade further south. The Union’s fleet of wooden gunboats was very vulnerable and it was decided to send about 3,000 Federal (Union) soldiers to Camden County where, after a two-day march, they would destroy the canal locks. A hapless guide accidentally took the wrong route, resulting in a ten-day march. By the time the Union soldiers reached the locks, the Confederate forces were entrenched. A battle ensued, with the Confederates ultimately fleeing, but the locks were left undestroyed. Both sides claimed victory. The guide was executed for his mistake.

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