Fort Branch

Fort Branch is located just south of Hamilton, North Carolina. Its location high above a bend on Rainbow Banks in the Roanoke River area, gave Confederate troops at the fort a clear view of any approaching Union gunboats. It all provided a method of comfort and security to the citizens of the Upper Roanoke Valley. Cannons at Fort Branch offered great protection for the railway bridge over the Weldon River. It was also vital in protecting the construction area for the C.S.S. Albemarle, which played an important role in sinking wooden Union ships.

Construction of the fort began in February of 1862 and went through two construction periods. Initial plans and construction of the fort included a lower and upper battery with several guns on each level and a magazine between the two sections. After several small skirmishes with Union riverboats in July, Confederate officials and local residents were concerned that the fort did not have enough defenses and it was decided to reinforce the fort with better protection. A fort was needed that would not only provide protection for troops and locals, but one that was capable of preventing or slowing down Union raids. Although the original setup of the fort was deemed appropriate, the construction was quite poor. In October, more than 600 laborers began the second period of construction of Fort Branch. The parapet's thickness was increased to withstand heavy artillery fire, the flooring strengthened and the hillsides around the fort were cut back further to allow more gun mobility. By February 1863, the second period of construction on Fort Branch was completed and guns were added. It was inspected by Confederate Brigadier General J.G. Martin on May 13, 1863 and was deemed "capable of repelling any attack of the enemy by land or water, less than a regular siege, so long as it is properly garrisoned and provisioned."

Though things were quiet at Fort Branch due to the Confederate Army's control over the mouth of the Roanoke River, improvements were made to the fort's defenses in the middle to latter part of 1864 and not a moment too late. In late October of 1864, a Union steam launch managed to torpedo and sink the Ram C.S.S. Albemarle, which had proved so important in heading off and sinking approaching enemy ships. With the Confederates being pushed back upriver, Fort Branch provided an opportunity for them to regroup and prepare for an inevitable assault.

Union Army commander Colonel James Frankel marched his troops to the fort in mid-December but was greeted with a tremendous defensive attack and was forced to withdraw due to lack of supplies. In the early part of 1865, troops began to withdraw from the fort as it became more apparent that the war was turning in favor of the Union. With Union General Sherman's capture of Goldsboro and Confederate General Robert Lee's abandonment of the capitol of Richmond, Virginia, Confederate General Joseph Johnston made the decision to evacuate the fort area and have various bridges burned to impede Union advancement. On April 10, 1865, District Commander General Laurence Baker ordered Fort Branch and all military stores destroyed and for all troops to leave. The fort was set on fire and many guns were pushed into the river to prevent use by the Union Army.

Today, the Fort Branch site continues to go through various restorations in order to preserve its historical importance in the Civil War. Many of the original guns have been retrieved from the river and the fort is believed to be the only Southern earthwork fort to have its original artillery on display in their original location. Various history programs and re-enactments are held at the site, giving visitors and locals alike a glimpse of the Civil War skirmishes that occurred at this historical fort.

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Terms: North Carolina Civil War Trail: Fort Branch

North Carolina Civil War Trail: Fort Branch

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