The Siege and Burning of Washington, April 1864

The shelling of Washington. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

On April 30, 1864, Federal troops partially burned the town of Washington in Beaufort County.

Washington was first occupied by the Federals in March 1862 following the fall of New Bern. Although many of the inhabitants fled before troops arrived, those who remained were generally strong supporters of the Union.

In March 1863, Confederate Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill laid siege to the town in an unsuccessful effort to recover it for the Confederates.

As a result of Brig. Gen. Robert F. Hoke’s capture of Plymouth on April 20, the garrison received orders to evacuate the town on April 26. Hoke’s forces laid siege to Washington on April 27. Beginning that night and continuing for the next three days, Federal troops looted and vandalized the town.

As the last of the troops prepared to board ships on the afternoon of April 30, fires broke out across the town. At least half of the settlement was destroyed, leaving many of the inhabitants destitute and homeless.

The conduct of the departing Federal garrison was harshly condemned by both the Confederates and by Brigadier General Innis Palmer, Federal commander of the District of North Carolina.

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