Plymouth, on the Roanoke River just before it reaches Albemarle Sound, has big plans for the weekend of April 25-27: The town’s 24th annual Living History Weekend will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Plymouth. The engagement on April 19, 1864, was the second-largest Civil War battle fought in the Tar Heel State, involved more than 20,000 soldiers and sailors, and was the last major victory for the Confederacy.
Plymouth is about 265 miles from Charlotte, about a five-hour drive.
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Special activities for the anniversary include artillery and musket-firing demonstrations, an encampment, a Civil War-era fashion show, and re-enactors portraying the likes of Confederate Gen. Robert Hoke, Capt. James Cooke of the CSS Albemarle and famed photographer Matthew Brady. Other events include boat rides on the Roanoke River, a Civil War tea party and a visit from the Civil War Balloon Corps. That Saturday’s main event is the Land and Sea Skirmish; Sunday’s will be the Fall of Fort Compher battle re-enactment.
Along with all the special Living History Weekend events, Plymouth also boasts the Port O’ Plymouth Museum, one of the top year-round Civil War attractions in the Carolinas. Besides interpreting the town’s role during the war, the facility focuses on Plymouth’s early history as a port. The town, founded in 1787, quickly became one of the state’s six main ports of entry. By the early 1800s, Plymouth was North Carolina’s ninth-largest town. During the Civil War, the town’s strategic location took on even greater significance.
Plymouth fell to Union forces in 1862; using the town as a base, the federals were anxious to advance northwest, with the aim of destroying the bridge at Weldon and cutting the vital Wilmington-Weldon railroad line. Loss of that crucial supply route would have had a disastrous effect on Confederate war efforts in the eastern theater. To counter this threat, rebel forces constructed Fort Branch along the banks of the Roanoke about 20 miles west of Plymouth. They also built the ironclad gunboat CSS Albemarle, one of four such warships built in the state during the conflict. Of them, the Albemarle, was by far the most successful. Joining with Confederate land forces led by Hoke, it engaged in a combined land-water assault on the federals at Plymouth on April 19, 1864. The Albemarle sank the U.S. warship Southfield and severely damaged the U.S. Miami. The Confederates recaptured the town and held it for several months, until a daring commando raid led by U.S. Lt. William Cushing sank the Albemarle. Loss of the ironclad gave control of the river and the town back to the federals.
An exciting addition to the museum experience is the 3/8th-scale replica of the Albemarle: It measures 63 feet from stem to stern, is 14 feet across, and rests on pontoons. The scaled-down version looks very authentic moored behind the museum or as it steams out to the center of the Roanoke River for firing demonstrations.