Charles Frederick Henningsen

Featured Character – 1861-1862

Charles F. Henningsen

Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress

Charles Frederick Henningsen was born February 21, 1815, in England. After the Conscripts Act was enforced in November 1862, Henningsen was called to duty in the 59th Virginia Volunteers, where he saw action in Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Meanwhile, his wife ran the Henningsen Hospital in Richmond. After the fall of Roanoke Island in February 1862, Henningsen was in command of the defense of Elizabeth City. Seeing the Confederate Navy destroyed in less than an hour at the Battle of Elizabeth City, Henningsen ordered the evacuation of the city. However, local Confederate sympathizers petitioned him to burn Elizabeth City to keep the town from being used by Union soldiers. Henningsen set fire to several homes, the Court House, and two blocks of downtown Elizabeth City. This act became a center of controversy, the South looking upon it as a “display of self sacrifice” while Unionist Commodore S.C. Rowan wrote that his “generous offer to go on shore and extinguish the flames applied by the torch of a vandal soldiery upon the houses of their own defenseless women and children is striking evidence of the justness of our cause.” Henningsen survived the war, passing away on July 14, 1877. He was buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.