Following his February 8, 1862 capture of Roanoke Island, Union Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside decided to send the naval portion of his expeditionary force to mop up the pesky Southern Mosquito Fleet that was still operating in North Carolina’s sounds. After running out of ammunition while taking a minor part in the defense of RoanokeIsland, Confederate Capt. William F. Lynch had sailed a little fleet up the Pasquotank River to Elizabeth City to be resupplied. Upon learning of the fall of Roanoke Island, Lynch surmised that Elizabeth City would be the next Union target and made what dispositions he could with the force available to him.
A small fort at Cobb’s Point near Elizabeth City held four guns but was only manned by eight frightened militiamen. On the morning of February 10, 1862, when Union Capt. Stephen C. Rowan’s powerful gunboats were sighted coming up the river, the gunners quickly ran away, forcing Lynch to send artillerists from one of his small boats to man the guns. They managed to fire only two shots from the badly positioned cannon before the Yankee flotilla passed Cobb’s Point and dashed toward the Mosquito Fleet, which lined up to meet the attack.
The CSS Black Warrior was the first to receive the blasts from the powerful Union cannon and was so badly torn apart that her crew was forced to set her on fire and abandon ship. Then the USS Commodore Perry rammed the CSS Seabird, splitting her in two and sinking her. The USS Ceres closed on the CSS Ellis, and the Union sailors grappled, boarded, and captured the Ellis in a short, fierce hand-to-hand fight. The CSS Fanny caught fire from the Union shells, ran aground and was abandoned.
Only two Southern ships, the Beaufort and Appomattox, managed to escape the furious Union attack. The Beaufort passed through the canal to Norfolk, Va., but the Appomattox found that she was two feet too wide for the canaland was scuttled and burned. The Mosquito Fleet was utterly destroyed and Elizabeth City, now undefended, was quickly occupied.
Fascinating Fact: Union losses in the battle of Elizabeth City were 2 killed and 7 wounded. Southern losses were 4 killed, 6 wounded, and 34 captured.