22 February 1862: Illustration, “The ‘Picket’ leading the ships of the Burnside expedition over Hatteras Bar.”

Item description: Page 187 from The Illustrated London News, February 22, 1862, “The Civil War in America: The ‘Picket’ leading the ships of the Burnside expedition over Hatteras Bar.”

Throughout January and February 1862, Burnside’s Expedition experienced storms and other unpredictable weather conditions, making for a treacherous passage through North Carolina’s barrier islands. The Union fleet contained more than sixty transports and warships carrying more than thirteen thousand troops.  However, Burnside decided to use the USS Picket, the smallest ship in the fleet, as his flagship for the crossing. According to reports, Burnside’s decision was made in an attempt to boost troop morale: he thought that his troops would be inspired by the sight of the tiny vessel leading their way through the perilous seas.

In a personal narrative, published in 1882 by the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society, Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside gave this description of the passage over the Hatteras Bar,

“The ‘Picket’ led the way, and bravely fought the breakers until she was safely anchored inside the harbor. In thinking of it now, it seems almost miraculous that she escaped the great dangers through which she passed at sea, and the still greater danger of the breakers on the bar. Vessel after vessel followed us in, until we were ready to wish that the fleet were not so large. At one time it seemed as if our little boat would be crushed between two of the larger vessels which had dragged their anchors and were coming down upon her. Fortunately, the commanders of the vessels succeeded in checking them just as they came in contact with us. Most of the fleet arrived inside the bar during the afternoon.”

Item citation: North Carolina County Photographic Collection, Flat Box 02; North Carolina Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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