The North Carolina Squadron came into being in September of 1861, shortly after the fall of Forts Hatteras and Clark. The ships of the former North Carolina Navy formed its nucleus. The original North Carolina Navy was formed in 1861 prior to North Carolina’s secession from the United States. Marshall Parks (of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal Company) was appointed as commissioner along with Commander William T. Muse to establish a North Carolina Navy by the Governor and Council of North Carolina
The side-wheeler Winslow, purchased in Norfolk by the authorization of Governor Ellis, was the North Carolina navy’s first ship. She began operating as a privateer out of Hatteras Inlet under the command of Lt. Thomas M. Crossan . Three small screw propeller canal tugboats were purchased later and outfitted as gunboats at Gosport Navy Yard in early 1861 as well: the Beaufort, Raleigh, and Ellis.
North Carolina seceded on 20 May 1861. The four vessels of the North Carolina Navy were sold to the Confederate States government in early July. On 22 June 1861, Flag Officer Samuel Barron took command of the naval defenses of North Carolina and Virginia. Commander W. B. Muse commanded the CSS Ellis and Lt. Commanding J. W. Alexander commanded the CSS Raleigh after the transfer of ownership
The NCS Winslow and NCS Beaufort remained under North Carolina’s control until the official transfer of power on August 20th, 1861. After the transfer, Commander Arthur Sinclair assumed command of the CSS Winslow and Lt. William Harwar Parker took over command of the CSS Beaufort.
The Beaufort was without a commander at the time of the transfer. Lt. R. C. Duvall and his crew left her tied up to the dock in New Bern when the ship was turned over to the Confederate government on the 20th. Duvall had been refused a commission in the C.S. Navy due to a health condition. Lt. Commanding William H. Parker was assigned to command the Beaufort in early September 1861.
Two side-wheel steamers (the Sea Bird and Curlew) and two more canal tugboats (the Empire and Edwards) joined the squadron by the end of the summer of 1861. The Empire was chartered and, after inspection, was refused for purchase by the navy, but not before she participated in the Chicamacomico affair. The Edwards later became the Forrest.
The Junaluska, another canal tugboat, saw service with the North Carolina Squadron during the fall of 1861, participating in the capture of the USS Fanny on 1 Oct 1861 and transporting troops for the Chicamacomico affair on 4 October 1861. The wooden schooner M. C. Etheridge (renamed the Black Warrior) was pressed into service at the battles of Roanoke Island and Elizabeth City on 8-10 February 1862.
Flag Officer Barron assumed command of Fort Hatteras on the second day of the Union fleet’s attack at Hatteras Inlet and was subsequently captured along with most of the garrison. The Ellis and the Winslow assisted in the evacuation of those that escaped. Flag Officer William F. Lynch replaced Barron as commander of the North Carolina Squadron on 4 September 1861. Lynch commanded the squadron during the battles of Roanoke Island and Elizabeth City.
After the Empire’s purchase was denied by the Navy Department, Marshall Parks renamed the ship Powhattan and tried to peddle her to the army quartermaster. With the Burnside Expedition approaching Roanoke Island, Lynch seized the Powhattan, had her appraised, and bought her for the Navy Department in a very irregular manner. Parks had already agreed to sell her to the army quartermaster. A rifled 32-pdr. and an 8-pdr. were added to her for armament and she was renamed the CSS Appomattox.
The Winslow struck a sunken wreck at Ocracoke Inlet in November of 1861 and sank. The Curlew sank during the battle of Roanoke Island on 8 Feb 1862; the rest of the squadron retired to Elizabeth City once they exhausted their ammunition at Roanoke Island. Under the command of Commander S. C. Rowan, fourteen Union ships pursued the North Carolina Squadron up the Pasquotank River.
Rowan’s gunboats destroyed most of the squadron in a battle at Elizabeth City on 10 Feb 1862. The Black Warrior‘s crew set her afire and abandoned her during the battle. A shell from the USS Commodore Perry pierced the Fanny; she was run aground and set on fire near Fort Cobb. The Commodore Perry rammed and sank the Sea Bird as well. A boarding party from the USS Ceres captured the Ellis by hand-to-hand combat. The Forrest, disabled in the battle of Roanoke Island, sat on the ways undergoing repairs in Elizabeth City; she was burned to prevent her from falling into Union hands, as were two boats under construction. The Appomattox escaped upriver after her gun was accidentally spiked, but her crew destroyed her when she was found to be two inches too wide to fit through the locks of the Dismal Swamp Canal.
Of the North Carolina Squadron, only the Beaufort and the Raleigh remained after the battle at Elizabeth City. The Raleigh had been dispatched to Norfolk on 9 Feb 1862 in search of ammunition and had not yet returned at the time of the battle. Lynch ordered the Beaufort’s crew ashore during the battle to man the four-gun battery at Fort Cobb; Lt. Commanding Parker sent the Beaufort up the river to Norfolk to prevent her capture. The Beaufort and Raleigh served as tenders to the Virginia in the battle of Hampton Roads. They were later transferred to the James River Squadron.