When Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside was putting together his plan for a fleet to attack Roanoke Island in early 1862, he wanted to insure safe passage of ninety horses for mission support of infantry units from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. An old transport ship, The Pocahontas, was contracted to do the job and when called she sailed out of her home port of Baltimore after bringing on crew, some military personnel and a cargo of one hundred and thirteen high quality horses.
The ship, over thirty years old and not in good repair, steamed south with the convoy, made a short stop at Fortress Monroe before heading south in the open Atlantic toward Hatteras Inlet. All went well until the fourth day out of Baltmore when the Pocahontas and the entire fleet encountered a strong nor'easter about ten miles off the coast of Hattaras Island, north of the Cape. The old side wheeler, antiquated and never designed for open ocean service, immediately ran into difficulty. The boiler blew out and the smokestack collapsed, leaving it nearly helpless. The crew dispatched many of the horses overboard far from land to die while the captain headed the ship toward shore under almost no power but with the help of the wind and waves until she ultimately ran aground. She was then battered to pieces, helpless against the relentless waves against her hull.
At that time, a significant number of horses remained tethered on the lower deck. The assigned teamsters, only interested in saving their own skin, abandoned their equine charges to fend for themselves or drown and agonizing death. As a result, when all was said and done, only twenty three prize horses were saved. The entire crew made it safely ashore.
It offers just another example of how beautiful animals can be wasted with no real concern where war is concerned. But we know that war is truly hell. In the case of these horses, their demise was due to using a non-seaworthy ship to transport them. What a crying shame.
If you visit the Outer Banks, the Pocahontas can still be seen off the coast of the town of Salvo on Hatteras Island. It is another victim of sailing unprepared into the "Graveyard of the Atlantic," and what a large graveyard she is.