Battle of Wyse Fork

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MARCH 8-10, 1865

Battle of Wyse Fork History and Map
Battle of Wyse Fork.jpg
(Click to Enlarge)

In the late stages of the Civil War the Union forces were intent on moving up the rail line from New Bern through Kinston to Goldsboro. Their objective was to unite with Sherman and open a supply route through eastern North Carolina. Confederate troops entrenched on Southwest Creek sought to impede their progress. For three days the opposing armies clashed in the fields and woods south and east of the creek. Union Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox commanded over 13,000 soldiers, most belonging to the divisions of Brig. Gen. Innis N. Palmer and Brig. Gen. Samuel P. Carter. Gen. Braxton Bragg led a Confederate force of 12,500 men, organized in divisions led by fellow North Carolinians Gen. Robert F. Hoke and Gen. D. H. Hill. The Junior Reserves, mostly seventeen-year-olds mustered in only months before, came under Hill’s command.

Union & Confederate Battlefield Troops - Movements
Battle of Wyse Fork Map.jpg
(Civil War Map and Photograph of General Cox)

Battle of Wyse Fork Map
Battle of Kinston Map.gif
Battle of Kinston Map

By March 6, Union troops were gathered in Gum Swamp three miles east of Wyse Fork. Travel, along the bed of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad and through swampy terrain, was difficult, made more so by heavy rains and a lack of wagons. Meanwhile Gen. Bragg had moved his army up from the lower Cape Fear region. On the evening of March 7, advance Union guards skirmished with Confederates at Wyse Fork as Palmer’s division moved into position 800 yards east of the creek.
Friday, March 8, was the high point for the Confederates. In mid-morning Hoke’s division moved down Upper Trent Road and around the head of the millpond. With whoops and yells, they “burst through like a torrent,” striking the Federals’ left flank. Concurrent with Hoke’s move, Hill’s division crossed the creek and struck the right flank. The 15th Connecticut, positioned south of Dover Road and 500 yards east of Jackson’s Mill, was besieged. Col. Charles L. Upham’s brigade shattered, with 890 men taken prisoner and horses and guns abandoned. By the end of the day Confederates, with the support of artillery fire, occupied a line along British Road. That evening a division led by Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Ruger arrived to offer additional Federal support.

Battle of Wyse Fork Historical Marker
2nd Battle of Kinston.jpg
(aka 2nd Battle of Kinston Civil War History)

2nd Battle of Kinston, North Carolina
North Carolina American Civil War.jpg
(Click to Enlarge)

On Gen. Cox’s orders, Union forces hastily threw up a continuous line of breastworks on both sides of Lower Trent Road. Short of supplies they used boards as shovels. Confederates on March 9 tested the Union’s right flank by conducting a reconnaissance survey down the Neuse Road. Artillery exchanges continued through the night of March 9. At 11:30 AM on March 10, a “vigorous assault” was made on the extreme left of the Union line. An hour later the Confederates left the field, soon thereafter returning to attack the center. Union positions were tested and driven in, but held. The 66th NC Regiment, organized in Kinston, came within 50 yards of the Federal works, withstanding a “galling fire.” At 2:30 PM the Confederates made their final charge and Union skirmishers fell back to their main rifle pits. With nightfall Gen. Bragg’s troops withdrew from their trenches and retired to Kinston. With the exit of Bragg’s force, the crew of the ironclad Neuse burned and sank their ship.
The Battle of Wyse Fork (also known as the 2nd Battle of Kinston and the Battle of Southwest Creek) involved one of the largest concentrations of troops ever on North Carolina soil. The armies engaged were exceeded in size only by those at Bentonville. Over 225 Confederates were taken prisoner and an unknown number left dead or dying on the field. Total Union casualties for the three days were fewer, with 57 killed and 265 wounded. As a delaying maneuver the battle was a success for the Confederates. Gen. Bragg’s ultimate failure to defeat Gen. Cox and his subsequent withdrawal came about in the face of rapidly mounting Federal strength. In the days thereafter forces on both sides pressed on to Goldsboro and to the last major conflict in the state, at Bentonville on March 19-21, 1865.

(References and related reading below.)

Recommended Reading: Sherman's March: The First Full-Length Narrative of General William T. Sherman's Devastating March through Georgia and the Carolinas. Description: Sherman's March is the vivid narrative of General William T. Sherman's devastating sweep through Georgia and the Carolinas in the closing days of the Civil War. Weaving together hundreds of eyewitness stories, Burke Davis graphically brings to life the dramatic experiences of the 65,000 Federal troops who plundered their way through the South and those of the anguished -- and often defiant -- Confederate women and men who sought to protect themselves and their family treasures, usually in vain. Dominating these events is the general himself -- "Uncle Billy" to his troops, the devil incarnate to the Southerners he encountered.

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Recommended Reading: Sherman's March Through the Carolinas. Description: In retrospect, General William Tecumseh Sherman considered his march through the Carolinas the greatest of his military feats, greater even than the Georgia campaign. When he set out northward from Savannah with 60,000 veteran soldiers in January 1865, he was more convinced than ever that the bold application of his ideas of total war could speedily end the conflict. Continued below…

John Barrett's story of what happened in the three months that followed is based on printed memoirs and documentary records of those who fought and of the civilians who lived in the path of Sherman's onslaught. The burning of Columbia, the battle of Bentonville, and Joseph E. Johnston's surrender nine days after Appomattox are at the center of the story, but Barrett also focuses on other aspects of the campaign, such as the undisciplined pillaging of the 'bummers,' and on its effects on local populations. About the Author: John G. Barrett is professor emeritus of history at the Virginia Military Institute. He is author of several books, including The Civil War in North Carolina, and coeditor of North Carolina Civil War Documentary.


NEW! Recommended Reading: Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea, by Noah Andre Trudeau (Hardcover). From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Trudeau, a prize-winning Civil War historian (Gettysburg), addresses William T. Sherman's march to the sea in the autumn of 1864. Sherman's inclusion of civilian and commercial property on the list of military objectives was not a harbinger of total war, says Trudeau. Rather, its purpose was to demonstrate to the Confederacy that there was no place in the South safe from Union troops. Continued below…

The actual levels of destruction and pillage were limited even by Civil War standards, Trudeau says; they only seemed shocking to Georgians previously spared a home invasion on a grand scale. Confederate resistance was limited as well. Trudeau praises Sherman's generalship, always better at operational than tactical levels. He presents the inner dynamics of one of the finest armies the U.S. has ever fielded: veteran troops from Massachusetts to Minnesota, under proven officers, consistently able to make the difficult seem routine. And Trudeau acknowledges the often-overlooked contributions of the slaves who provided their liberators invaluable information and labor. The march to the sea was in many ways the day of jubilo, and in Trudeau it has found its Xenophon. 16 pages of b&w photos, 36 maps.


Recommended Viewing: The History Channel Presents Sherman's March (2007). Description: “The story of General William Tecumseh Sherman who helped devastate the South's army at the end of the Civil War is told here via vivid reconstructions of his actions.” This is a great reenactment, presentation. It's not dull like some documentaries that just continually talk with the same guy for an hour. This includes several individuals that are extremely knowledgeable in their respective fields--be it civilian or military historian. Also, it includes many re-enactors that portray “Sherman as well as his entire command.” It literally takes the viewer back to 1864 to experience it firsthand.


Recommended Reading: The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman's Troops in the Savannah and Carolinas Campaigns. Description: This book contains an examination of the army that General William Tecumseh Sherman commanded through Georgia and the Carolinas, in late 1864 and early 1865. Instead of being just another narrative of the March to the Sea and Carolina Campaigns, however, Glatthaar's book is a look at the individuals that composed the army. He examines the social and ideological backgrounds of the men in Sherman's army, and evaluates how they felt about various factors of the war--slavery, the union, and, most significantly, the campaign in which they were participating. Continued below…

The result is a fascinating look at Sherman's campaigns through the eyes of the everyday soldier. Glatthaar makes the army come alive, and shows the men not as heartless animals who delighted in wanton destruction, not as mechanized marching machines who could perform the most difficult marches without even flinching, but instead as real human beings, complete with sore feet, empty stomachs, and minds engaged in contemplation over the ethical ramifications of what they were doing to the people of the South. This book is a refreshing change from the norm in Civil War history. The book’s great value is its ability to assist the reader in understanding that the war was fought by individuals--not masses of blue and gray--and what these individuals felt, thought, and believed during America’s most trying era.


Recommended Reading: On Sherman's Trail: The Civil War's North Carolina Climax. Description: Join journalist and historian Jim Wise as he follows Sherman's last march through the Tar Heel State from Wilson's Store to the surrender at Bennett Place. Retrace the steps of the soldiers at Averasboro and Bentonville. Learn about what the civilians faced as the Northern army approached and view the modern landscape through their eyes. Whether you are on the road or in a comfortable armchair, you will enjoy this memorable, well-researched account of General Sherman's North Carolina campaign and the brave men and women who stood in his path.

References: Andrea Lee Novick, National Register of Historic Places nomination (2005); Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, XLVII, pt. 1, pp. 973-1001; Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Walter Clark, ed., Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina (1901); Sheldon B. Thorpe, The History of the Fifteenth Connecticut Volunteers (1893); Johnson Hagood, Memoirs of the War of Secession (1910); John G. Barrett, Civil War in North Carolina (1963).

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