The Civil War Connections Blog

The Hurricane Expedition

Hello readers, and welcome back to the connections blog. As the east coast recovers from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who lost their lives as a result of the weather. While the Hampton Roads area was spared the brunt of Sandy’s power, our fellow Americans to the north have suffered badly. Indeed, even during the Civil War bad weather caused its share of damage, but nothing like this. While it is perhaps still too early to address the impact of Hurricane Sandy, it is not too early to reflect on the role that storms had on our ancestors 150 years ago.

Storms were apparently quite prolific, since they dominate the titles of many, many Civil War books.


As the Civil War raged across the United States, soldiers and civilian alike had to deal with the occasional hurricane and tropical storm. Thankfully, the four year span of the Civil War saw a surprisingly mild amount of damage from hurricanes. The biggest and most notable hurricane experience from the war happened on November 2nd, 1861. The Union navy had amassed a large fleet in Hampton Roads, commonly believed to be the biggest assembly of American men and vessels up to that point in history. After being hit by a small storm on October 28th, the fleet left Hampton Roads to attack Port Royal in South Carolina – while en route they were caught in the November 2nd hurricane, which claimed several ships and scattered the fleet. In the aftermath, they were able to reorganize their expedition and would go on to win the Battle of Port Royal, paving the way for the Siege of Charleston. The expedition would come to be known as the “Hurricane Expedition” because of the storm that hit them in transit.

The fleet got hit off the North Carolina coast, when the hurricane was moving along the red part of the line.


Unfortunately, the hurricane on November 2nd does not have a name. In the United States, hurricanes have only been given names since 1953 – before then, hurricanes were “named” after their numerical occurrence in a year, or their positions on the longitude/latitude lines. This made it somewhat confusing for everyone who tried to follow the life of a particular storm, and when combined with the widespread lack of radar in the years before World War II, the result is that the record keeping on hurricanes is much less complete than in more modern times. People back then were not able to track oncoming storm systems as well as they are today, and they likely would have only known of an approaching hurricane when it physically arrived. Thankfully, the Civil War years were at least largely spared from natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, which would have made the intense suffering of the time even more pronounced.

For more information, click HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.