Washington Grays

Co. K, 10th Regiment
North Carolina Troops, Heavy Artillery
N-SSA Seniority Number 086-TW

The Washington Grays were organized in April 1861, in Washington, North Carolina by Captain Thomas Sparrow. On April 26, 1861, Governor John W. Ellis commissioned the Washington Grays. On May 20, 1861, Captain Sparrow, with four officers and forty-nine men, were stationed on Portsmouth Island, defending Ocracoke Inlet. On Wednesday, August 28, Captain Sparrow was asked and volunteered the Washington Grays to man Fort Hatteras. “We had an uninterrupted view of the fight. It was beyond description. There lay the formidable fleet, (Yankee), of large and small vessels off Forts Clark and Hatteras, and seemingly in the inlet, was a steamer of moderate dimensions, afterwards known to be the Monticello.

Part of the fleet were firing upon Fort Clark, and part upon Fort Hatteras, but the principal engagement seemed to be between Hatteras and the Monticello. We could trace every shot fired at the latter, and see every shot fired at her… We thought from our position that both forts returned the fire. This we afterwards learned to be a mistake. Fort Clark did not reply, being at that time in possession of the enemy. It was hard sometimes to distinguish between the bursting of a shell in the fort, and a gun fired from it… I had never before seen a shell explode. It was sometime before I got to understand the thing. I saw from time to time beautiful little puffs of white, silvery smoke hanging over the fort without at first being able to account for them. I soon learned to know that it was where a shell had burst in the air, leaving the smoke or gas behind it, while the fragments had descended on their mission of destruction. As remarked before, there was such a continual roar of artillery, that we could not at our distance of one, two and three miles distinguish the bursting of a shell from the firing of a gun. This, as well as I could judge, was near 5 o’clock. About this time the firing had almost ceased on both sides, and the Monticello had hauled off the inlet. What was to be done? Landing, I gave orders that the vessel should go close to the shore, and disembark the men as soon as possible. I then hastened to the fort, and entered through the sally-port… Captain Lamb greeted me shortly after I entered. He was as cheerful as usual and said he had defended Fort Clark during the morning until he had shot away nearly every pound of powder. All the men in the fort were in want of nourishment, my own men and self included. We got a little bread and coffee. But this was not general.” “They, (a scouting force of Confederates from Fort Hatteras), had advanced to within a few yards of Fort Clark and had seen no signs of the enemy. We learned afterwards that only a small force was left there, and they got drunk on the whiskey found there and went to sleep.┬áThe fort might have been retaken had the fact been known.”

Thursday, August 29, 1861

Fort Hatteras was being defended with seven guns, five 32 pounders and two 8″ howitzers. Only three of these guns were fired during this engagement due to the placement of the other four in the fort.

“When guns, (two), were assigned to me, the first thought that occurred to me was that owing to the position that the enemy’s ships had taken, there was no protection for my men, as they would be subjected to a raking fire from them …. Orders were immediately issued to Mr. Allen, the engineer, to take down a traverse in the rear of the fort and extend one in the angle named (at right angles to the face fronting the inlet) so as to protect the guns manned by my men. It was only half completed when the firing commenced, so the guns were unprotected. In the engagement both, (guns), were disabled by shells from the Minnesota.

At early dawn their heavy outlines could be decried off the bar to seaward, in all their formidable array. As the morning wore away about 7 o’clock, a signal was fired from the flagship Minnesota, and soon the fleet were in motion for the shore. They moved in, took their positions with apparent deliberation and came to anchor. The bombarding fleet consisted of the following vessels:

Flagship Minnesota; 74 guns; Susquehanna; 74 guns Cumberland; 74 guns; Wabash; 74 guns; Harriet Lane; 7 guns

The action lasted three hours and twenty minutes. Such a bombardment is not recorded in the annals of war. Not less than three thousand shells were fired by the enemy during the three hours. As many as twenty-eight in one minute were known to fall within and about the fort.

It was like a hailstorm, and how so many escaped is known only to Providence, who sheltered and preserved us.”

Excerpts from the “Diary of Major Thomas Sparrow”, Tenth Regiment, (1 Art.), North Carolina Troops.

The Washington Grays were taken as prisoners of war and transported to Governors Island, New York on August 29, 1861. In February 1862, they were exchanged and reorganized into Company K, 10th. North Carolina Regiment.

Their orders sent them to defend the installation at Fort Fisher near Wilmington, North Carolina. There, they were in for an even heavier bombardment than at Fort Hatteras. The shelling at Fort Fisher was the heaviest naval bombardment against any land installation in the world until World War II. They were again taken as prisoners of War.

Though the Washington Grays were captured twice, the Company flag was never captured. It was displayed for many years in the foyer of Washington High School until the new High School was built in 1990. It now is at the Department of Archives and History in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Major Thomas Sparrow, Commander, refused parole when notified of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and escaped the Federals in a small boat. Thomas Sparrow labored as a farmer the rest of his life rather than take an oath of allegiance to the United States.

The Washington Grays were reorganized in January, 1960, to participate in the North Carolina Centennial celebration of the War Between the States. In 1962, the reorganized Confederate Artillery Company joined the N-SSA. The unit fired their probationary skirmish at Kirkland, Ohio. The unit qualified both their artillery team with the six-pound Ames cannon and a musket team.

For thirty-seven years, the Washington Grays have been active participants in the N-SSA in both national and regional activities. The unit has built a team cabin at their campsite at the N-SSA National Range, Fort Shenandoah in Winchester, Virginia. They continue to field the Ames cannon and have added two mortars. The members participate in musket, carbine and revolver competition.

The participation in the Tidewater Region has included hosting many Regional and team skirmishes. They have participated as a Tidewater Regional Team co-hosting two National skirmishes. Washington Gray members, Frank W. Cox, Jr. and Jimmy Barnes, have both served as Tidewater Regional Commanders.

In 1998, the Unit reorganized a sister organization in Washington, North Carolina. The Washington Grays, Camp 919 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, was re-chartered with 50 new members.

Both the N-SSA team and the SCV unit participate frequently in parades, reenactments, educational presentations and artillery and other black powder weapon demonstrations. They have become an institution in their home of Washington, North Carolina and enjoy great popularity at civic events.

On June 22, 1998, Frank W. Cox, Jr., one of the founding members of the Unit passed away. It was a great loss to the Washington Grays, the Tidewater Region and the N-SSA at large. Frank, like the Unit itself, was an institution. Frank was one of the Confederacy’s most loyal sons. He loved his homeland, his heritage and above all, he loved skirmishing. Frank was there, from the beginning to the end.

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