The American Civil War tore the United States apart unlike any other event in American history. Fought on battlefields from Pennsylvania to Georgia and as far west as Texas, it literally pitted brother against brother and friend against friend. That was especially true in the Albemarle, a region very divided throughout the entire war. Almost 50% of the total population was slave, and sizeable numbers of the white populations remained Unionists or were reluctant Confederates at best.
Militarily, the war in the region was largely a naval one, fought on the sounds and rivers. Imperative to the Union goal of gaining control of eastern North Carolina was controlling the sounds and rivers of northeastern North Carolina. This meant controlling Oregon, Hatteras, Ocracoke, and Beaufort inlets that afforded passage from the treacherous Atlantic to the calmer sounds. The first military action in the region came in August 1861. With the Confederate government taking a lax approach to protecting these inlets and waterways, the Union navy was able to capture forts Hatteras and Clark at Hatteras Inlet, followed shortly by the abandonment of forts Ocracoke and Oregon.
Roanoke Island quickly fell to Union forces on February 8. Two days later, on February 10, the Confederate mosquito fleet, that included the CSS Blackwarrior, was destroyed at Elizabeth City as the Union navy sought to seal the southern end of the Dismal Swamp Canal. By the end of the month, the Albemarle region had fallen under Union control, many towns surrendering without resistance.