The scars of the Civil War are still visible in Washington NC. Crossing the Pamlico River on Highway 17 look off to the west and you will see the remains of the Union Army's ship, Picket, jutting from the Tar River where it blew up on September 6th, 1862. Driving down Main St. you will view houses with dates of construction in the 1850's 60's and 70s', testimony to the fact that the town was burnt by Union troops during their evacuation after the fall of Plymouth, NC. Even more startling are the two houses on Water Street which were built in 1780 and 1795. They stood through the fires and barrages of the war, having cannon balls imbedded in their walls, a bequest of the shelling of the town by the Rebel troops located on the southern shore of the Pamlico River.
If you want to learn more of the little known, but violent history of Washington, NC during the War Between the States, drop in to the Beaufort Hyde Martin Library at Market and 2nd Streets, where you can read the first hand stories of people who lived through the whole ordeal.
War came to Washington in March of 1862 when federal troops, escorted by the gunboat Picket, arrived at Washington. According to Charles Warren "Two companies and a band marched from the wharf to the courthouse playing national aires."
The Confederate force of infantry and cavalry troops slipped into the town on the morning of September 6, 1862 surprising the Federal troops and capturing their artillery. Federal cavalry, on their way to Plymouth, were alerted to the attack by the sound of gunfire. Charging up Main St. they clashed with Confederate cavalry at Market Street. A furious battle ensued with both sides advancing and retreating. Meanwhile mysteriously the Federal ship, the Picket, blew up killing the captain and nineteen crewmen.
In the spring of 1863, Confederate troops needing food and supplies for Lee's armies in Virginia, placed Washington under siege and several skirmishes resulted. The Confederate Armies were able to resupply the troops in Virginia without any serious intervention from the Federal troops in Washington.
The tragedy of Washington:April 30, 1864 "The fire was set at Haven's Wharf...to destroy naval stores, cotton etc. to prevent falling into the hands of the Confederates." An eye witness account by Charles F. McIntire, Company G, 44th Massachusetts Infantry. "The fire rapidly spread north across Main Street, down Van Norden Street, consuming everything to Fifth- the last street in town...it burned the length of Gladden and Respess streets...every home on Bridge went down. "
"Furiously the fire raged from Bridge Street down Second sweeping everything in its path to Respess St... Chimneys were all that was left of homes where only defenseless, though brave, women and children had lived." Other fires were lit by soldiers in Union uniforms at non-military facilities according to reports by locals after the war.
The source of most of the information and quotes is from:
Washington & The Pamlico
Edited by: Ursula Loy & Pauline Worthy
Washington - Beaufort County Bicentennial Commission
The suggestion that some fires were deliberately started by some federal forces was taken from a pamphlet produced by the BUSINESS WOMEN'S Circle of the 1st Methodist Church of Washington, NC dated September 1932, written by H.I.Glass Leader, entitled Historical Sketch which reportedly describes an eyewitness report of arson at the church.