Battle of New Bern

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Battle of New Bern

Battle of New Bern

Other Names: New Berne

Location: Craven County, North Carolina

Campaign: Burnside's North Carolina Expedition (February-June 1862)

Date(s): March 14, 1862

Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside [US]; Brig. Gen. Lawrence O’B. Branch [CS]

Forces Engaged: Expeditionary Force and Foster’s, Reno’s, and Parke’s Brigades [US]; 5 regiments, militia [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 1,080 total

Result(s): Union victory

Civil War Battle of New Bern, North Carolina
Battle of New Bern Historical Marker Photo.jpg
(New Berne, NC)

Battle of New Bern
Battle of New Bern.jpg
Artwork depicting Battle of New Bern

(Right) Titled "Passing the barricade, the gunboats are advancing the river to New Berne." March 14, 1862. NPS.
 
Summary: On March 11, 1862, Brig. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside’s command embarked from Roanoke Island to rendezvous with Union gunboats at Hatteras Inlet for an expedition against New Bern. On March 13, the fleet sailed up the Neuse River and disembarked infantry on the river’s south bank to approach the New Bern defenses. The Confederate defense was commanded by Brig. Gen. Lawrence Branch. On March 14, John G. Foster’s, Jesse Reno’s, and John G. Parke’s brigades attacked along the railroad and after four hours of fighting drove the Confederates out of their fortifications. The Federals captured nine forts and 41 heavy guns and occupied a base which they would hold to the end of the war, in spite of several Confederate attempts to recover the town. The capture of New Bern was another accomplishment towards the fulfillment of General Winfield Scott's "Anaconda Plan."

Forts protecting Wilmington Weldon Railroad
Battle of New Bern, NC.jpg
New Bern, North Carolina was a vital Southern port city during the Civil War

History: Occupation of the coastal city of New Bern, North Carolina, by Union troops would essentially cut off rail and naval supply lines to the north, separating and isolating the Confederate forces in Virginia.

Founded in 1710, New Bern is the second-oldest city in the Old North State, founded by German and Swiss adventurers. Prior to the American Revolution, Royal Gov. William Tryon made this seaport his colonial capitol and commissioned the construction of Tryon Palace in 1770.

By August 1861, the Union army had secured the Pamlico Sound inlets after defeating the Confederate forces and capturing Forts Clark and Hatteras. By winter 1862, Gen. A. E. Burnside and Commodore L. M. Goldsborough had seized the Confederate positions on Roanoke Island and New Bern. Union control of the inner coastal position now tightened the blockade of the North Carolina coast, but the state didn't capitulate until April 26, 1865, when Gen. Joseph Johnston surrendered the last major Confederate army to Gen. William T. Sherman near Durham, North Carolina.

The Battle of New Bern was contested on March 14, 1862, near the city of New Bern, as part of Burnside's North Carolina Expedition. On March 11, Brig. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s command launched from Roanoke Island to rendezvous with Union gunboats at Hatteras Inlet for a joint Army Navy attack on New Bern. The defending Confederate commander was Brig. Gen. Lawrence Branch. On March 13, the Federal fleet progressed the Neuse River and disembarked on the river's south bank only a few miles from the city's defenses. On March 14, three brigades under John G. Foster, Jesse L. Reno and John G. Parke attacked along the railroad and drove the Confederates out of their fortifications. The Federals captured nine forts and 41 heavy guns, and despite several Confederate attempts to retake the town, it remained a Union occupied base until the end of the war. The ensuing occupation of the city of New Bern essentially cut off rail and naval supply lines to the north, isolating the Confederate Army of Virginia.

New Bern National Cemetery was officially established shortly after the war, Feb. 1, 1867, and many of the burials at New Bern are reinterments of remains from the surrounding area, including Beaufort, Hatteras and locations along the coast. Lacking dog tags and personal information at the time of burial were just a few of the factors that contributed to the numerous mass graves of the conflict. Over 1,000 unknowns are buried in a separate section at this national cemetery. New Bern National Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

Civil War Battle of New Bern Map
Civil War Battle of New Bern Map.gif
Battle of New Bern, North Carolina

New Bern National Cemetery was officially established shortly after the war, Feb. 1, 1867, and many of the burials at New Bern are reinterments of remains from the surrounding area, including Beaufort, Hatteras and locations along the coast. Lacking dog tags and personal information at the time of burial were just a few of the factors that contributed to the numerous mass graves of the conflict. Over 1,000 unknowns are buried in a separate section at this national cemetery. New Bern National Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

Sources: National Park Service; Fort Raleigh National Historic Site; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; North Carolina Civil War Tourism Council, Inc; New Bern Historical Society; North Carolina Museum of History.

Recommended Reading: The Civil War in the Carolinas (Hardcover). Description: Dan Morrill relates the experience of two quite different states bound together in the defense of the Confederacy, using letters, diaries, memoirs, and reports. He shows how the innovative operations of the Union army and navy along the coast and in the bays and rivers of the Carolinas affected the general course of the war as well as the daily lives of all Carolinians. He demonstrates the "total war" for North Carolina's vital coastal railroads and ports. In the latter part of the war, he describes how Sherman's operation cut out the heart of the last stronghold of the South. Continued below...

The author offers fascinating sketches of major and minor personalities, including the new president and state governors, Generals Lee, Beauregard, Pickett, Sherman, D.H. Hill, and Joseph E. Johnston. Rebels and abolitionists, pacifists and unionists, slaves and freed men and women, all influential, all placed in their context with clear-eyed precision. If he were wielding a needle instead of a pen, his tapestry would offer us a complete picture of a people at war. Midwest Book Review: The Civil War in the Carolinas by civil war expert and historian Dan Morrill (History Department, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historical Society) is a dramatically presented and extensively researched survey and analysis of the impact the American Civil War had upon the states of North Carolina and South Carolina, and the people who called these states their home. A meticulous, scholarly, and thoroughly engaging examination of the details of history and the sweeping change that the war wrought for everyone, The Civil War In The Carolinas is a welcome and informative addition to American Civil War Studies reference collections.

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Recommended Reading: The Civil War on the Outer Banks: A History of the Late Rebellion Along the Coast of North Carolina from Carteret to Currituck With Comments on Prewar Conditions and an Account of (251 pages). Description: The ports at Beaufort, Wilmington, New Bern and Ocracoke, part of the Outer Banks (a chain of barrier islands that sweeps down the North Carolina coast from the Virginia Capes to Oregon Inlet), were strategically vital for the import of war materiel and the export of cash producing crops. From official records, contemporary newspaper accounts, personal journals of the soldiers, and many unpublished manuscripts and memoirs, this is a full accounting of the Civil War along the North Carolina coast.

 

Recommended Reading: Ironclads and Columbiads: The Coast (The Civil War in North Carolina) (456 pages). Description: Ironclads and Columbiads covers some of the most important battles and campaigns in the state. In January 1862, Union forces began in earnest to occupy crucial points on the North Carolina coast. Within six months, Union army and naval forces effectively controlled coastal North Carolina from the Virginia line south to present-day Morehead City. Union setbacks in Virginia, however, led to the withdrawal of many federal soldiers from North Carolina, leaving only enough Union troops to hold a few coastal strongholds—the vital ports and railroad junctions. The South during the Civil War, moreover, hotly contested the North’s ability to maintain its grip on these key coastal strongholds.

 

Recommended Reading: The Civil War in Coastal North Carolina (175 pages) (North Carolina Division of Archives and History). Description: From the drama of blockade-running to graphic descriptions of battles on the state's islands and sounds, this book portrays the explosive events that took place in North Carolina's coastal region during the Civil War. Topics discussed include the strategic importance of coastal North Carolina, Federal occupation of coastal areas, blockade-running, and the impact of war on civilians along the Tar Heel coast.

 

Recommended Reading:  Storm over Carolina: The Confederate Navy's Struggle for Eastern North Carolina. Description: The struggle for control of the eastern waters of North Carolina during the War Between the States was a bitter, painful, and sometimes humiliating one for the Confederate navy. No better example exists of the classic adage, "Too little, too late." Burdened by the lack of adequate warships, construction facilities, and even ammunition, the South's naval arm fought bravely and even recklessly to stem the tide of the Federal invasion of North Carolina from the raging Atlantic. Storm Over Carolina is the account of the Southern navy's struggle in North Carolina waters and it is a saga of crushing defeats interspersed with moments of brilliant and even spectacular victories. It is also the story of dogged Southern determination and incredible perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. Continued below...

For most of the Civil War, the navigable portions of the Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, Chowan, and Pasquotank rivers were occupied by Federal forces. The Albemarle and Pamlico sounds, as well as most of the coastal towns and counties, were also under Union control. With the building of the river ironclads, the Confederate navy at last could strike a telling blow against the invaders, but they were slowly overtaken by events elsewhere. With the war grinding to a close, the last Confederate vessel in North Carolina waters was destroyed. William T. Sherman was approaching from the south, Wilmington was lost, and the Confederacy reeled as if from a mortal blow. For the Confederate navy, and even more so for the besieged citizens of eastern North Carolina, these were stormy days indeed. Storm Over Carolina describes their story, their struggle, their history.

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