Battle of White Hall Ferry
North Carolina Civil War History
Battle of White Hall Ferry
Other Names: Whitehall, White Hall Ferry
Location: Wayne County, North Carolina
Campaign: Goldsboro Expedition, aka Goldsborough Expedition (December 1862)
Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. John G. Foster [US]; Brig. Gen.
Beverly Robertson [CS]
Forces Engaged: Amory’s and Stevenson’s Brigades
[US]; Robertson’s Brigade [CS]
Estimated Casualties: 150 total
Result(s): Inconclusive (Federals withdrew)
Introduction: On December 16, 1862, Foster’s Union troops reached White Hall where Beverly Robertson’s brigade was holding the north bank
of the Neuse River. The Federals demonstrated against the Confederates for much of the day,
attempting to fix them in position, while the main Union column continued toward the railroad. Both sides claimed victory. The New York Herald published banner headlines announcing the alleged victory, as several
New York regiments had taken part. The Union men claimed they had won because they inflicted serious damage on the CSS Neuse.
However, the Confederates believed they won, since they inflicted much heavier casualties on the attackers than they suffered,
prevented the Yankees from crossing the river, and had kept the gunboat from being destroyed. The CSS
Neuse was completed late the war, but she got ran aground on a sandbar before reaching the sea and had to be scuttled to prevent
|Battle of White Hall Historical Marker
|(Civil War Battle of Whitehall Historical Marker)
Background: After departing Kinston on the 15th, the Confederates were engaged at White Hall (now Seven Springs),
North Carolina, on the following day. The Confederates were situated on the north side of the Neuse River with the Union
forces mounting their guns on a high hill on the south side. The battle was mainly an artillery duel, or cannon duel, with
very little infantry involvement. See also American Civil War Artillery Organization.
The Confederate ram Neuse was also under construction at White Hall.
During the battle, Union forces thought that they had destroyed it, but very little damage was actually inflicted
on the ironclad. After the engagement, Foster's troops headed for Goldsboro, still traveling on the south side of the Neuse River and encamped that night
just 8 miles from Goldsboro. See also Battle of White Hall: The Neuse.
Summary: The Civil War battle of Whitehall occurred
on Dec. 15-16, 1862, at present Seven Springs in Wayne County when the Confederacy's Brig. Gen. B. H. Robertson and the Union's
Maj. Gen. John G. Foster clashed during Foster's attempt to capture the railroad junction at Goldsboro. Late on Dec. 15, 1862
Union cavalry scouts reached Whitehall shortly after Confederate troops crossed north over the bridge spanning the Neuse River,
set it on fire, and took up defensive positions. Foster's cavalry rolled hundreds of barrels of pitch to the riverbank and
set them on fire to light the Confederate positions. Union artillery attempted to destroy the frame of the Confederate ironclad
Neuse that was under construction while the cavalrymen exchanged fire with Robertson's pickets. After several hours of futile
conflict, the infuriated cavalrymen burned the village and returned to camp.
|Battle of White Hall Ferry from Harper's Weekly
|(Battle of Whitehall)
(About) The battle of Whitehall, present-day Seven Springs, North Carolina, fought 16th December, 1862.
Harper's Weekly, January 10, 1863, p. 20. Neg. 80-425. NCC vault FFCC970.73 B96.
|Battle of White Hall Ferry Map
|Civil War Battle of Whitehall Map
|Confederate Ironclad Neuse
|Civil War Ironclad
The next day Foster arrived at Whitehall and engaged the enemy, attempting
to make the Confederates believe that his men intended to cross the river. Foster thought that he could then slip the rest
of his army past Whitehall to attack a railroad trestle four miles south of Goldsboro. But the Confederates were not fooled
and the battle lasted until sunset. By nightfall on Dec. 16, most of Foster's army had marched west, leaving a small
force at Whitehall to remove the wounded and bury the dead.
On the 18th, Foster withdrew back through Whitehall and retired to New Bern.
After his withdrawal, a Confederate patrol made an alarming discovery. One hundred Union troops had been left unburied on
the field, and a 100-yard-long pit was filled with dead soldiers. Despite promotions for Foster and his men, many northern
newspapers rated the expedition a disaster because of the extensive Union losses and the fact that Foster failed to capture
the crucial railroad junction at Goldsboro.
Battle: On arriving at White Hall, eighteen miles from Goldsboro,
General Foster found the bridge burned and General B. H. Robertson of General Evans' command, posted on the opposite bank
of the river ready for battle. General Robertson, having under his command the Eleventh North Carolina (aka Bethel Regiment), Colonel Leventhorpe; the Thirty-first, Colonel Jordan; 600 dismounted cavalry from Ferrebee's and
Evans' regiments; and a section of Moore's Battery, under Lieut. N. McClees, had been sent to burn the bridge and dispute
Foster's crossing should he attempt to rebuild the bridge. General Foster sent forward the Ninth New Jersey Regiment, followed
by Amory's brigade, and eight batteries took position on the river bank. A heavy artillery and infantry fired commence at
9:30 on the 16th. General Robertson says in his report:
"Owing to a range of hills on the White Hall side, the enemy had the advantage
of position. The point occupied by his troops being narrow; not more than one regiment at a time could engage him. I therefore
held Leventhorpe, Ferrebee and Evans in reserve, leaving the artillery [two pieces], Thirty-first regiment, and two picked
companies in front. The cannonading from the enemy's batteries became so terrific that the Thirty-first regiment withdrew
from their position without instruction, but in good order. I immediately ordered Colonel Leventhorpe forward. The alacrity
of with which the order was obeyed by his men gave ample proof their gallant bearing, which they so nobly sustained during
the entire fight....The conduct of his regiment reflects the greatest credit upon its accomplished and dauntless commander."
|CSS Neuse and the Battle of White Hall
|CSS Neuse and the Battle of White Hall
|Civil War North Carolina Coast
|Civil War Battle of White Hall Memorial
The two guns of McClees were no match for the many batteries across the
Neuse River, but he served them with coolness and gallantry. Captain Taylor, of Foster's signal service, reported that the
fire from the Eleventh was "one of the severest musketry fires I have ever seen." Colonel W. J. Martin, historian of the Eleventh
regiment, says of the conduct of his regiment:
"Posted along the river bank, from which another regiment had just been
driven back, it was pounded for several hours at short range by a terrific storm of grape and canister, as well as musketry;
but it never flinched, and gained a reputation for endurance and courage which it proudly maintained to the fateful end."
The Eleventh regiment that thus distinguished itself was the first regiment
organized in North Carolina, and it was well known as the "First North Carolina." It was also known as the "Bethel Regiment,"
because it had fought at the first land battle of the Civil War. The first engagement was known as the Battle of Big Bethel (aka
Battle of Bethel Church) and it witnessed the first Confederate soldier killed. General Robertson reported his loss at 10
killed, 42 wounded. The Federal loss was 8 killed and 73 wounded.
Analysis: In addition to damaging the town and its river fortifications,
the Confederate ironclad ram, the CSS Neuse, under construction on the north bank of the river, was damaged during the raid.
This fight was inconclusive, although both sides touted victory.
On December 15, Brig. Gen. John G. Foster's Union troops reached White Hall where Brig. Gen. Beverly Robertson
had taken command of Confederate militia holding the north bank of the Neuse River. There was some skirmishing as the Federals
set up several artillery units on a hill overlooking the town and Confederate defenses. According to the
report of the Union commanders, the Federals demonstrated against the Confederates for much of the day on December 16, attempting
to fix the Confederates in position, while the main Union column continued toward the railroad.
|Civil War Battle of Whitehall Ferry
|Battle of White Hall, North Carolina
Local historians dispute this account, claiming that one of the Union objectives of the Goldsboro Campaign
(also known as Foster's Raid) was to destroy an ironclad ramming boat that the Confederates were building on the north bank
of the Neuse river at that location. This boat (CSS Neuse) was one of several identical boats that were being built in upriver
locations throughout the South, their purpose being to break the Union naval blockade. Only one of these boats, the CSS Albemarle,
was completed in time to be useful, and succeeded in sinking several Union ships at New Bern, North Carolina, and opening
the port to Confederate shipping.
(Right) Battle of Whitehall, present-day Seven Springs, Wayne County, N.C.
Viewing the Neuse River bank opposite the position of the 44th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. Photo produced in 1884.
Credit: Record of the service of the Forty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in North Carolina, August 1862 to May
1863. Boston: Privately printed, 1887. VC970.742 M41r, print 572. Photo by William G. Reed of Boston. Neg. 80-220.
The Union plan was to take the bridge at Whitehall (present-day Seven Springs), destroy the CSS Neuse, and
proceed by shorter route to destroy the rail line at Goldsboro. The Confederates had a superior defensive position, and they
burned the bridge to prevent the Union forces from crossing. The Federals spent most of December 16 bombarding the town with
artillery fire to destroy the Confederate defenses and to destroy the boat. Meanwhile, Union riflemen fired at the Confederates
defending the boat. Local tradition says the Union riflemen were firing high all day, because the south bank of the river
(where the Federals were) is actually higher than the north bank, though the river creates an illusion that the banks are
Tradition also says that among the Confederate casualties were two free black teenagers, fighting with the
local militia. During the two days of battle, Union artillery leveled the town and heavily damaged the
CSS Neuse. Tradition says that several civilians took refuge in a stone jailhouse, which was eventually destroyed by cannon
Near sundown on December 16, fearing they would be caught between Confederate forces from Kinston and others
thought to be marching from Goldsboro, the Federals abandoned their attempt to cross the river at Whitehall and withdrew to
the west. They crossed the Neuse River between Whitehall and Mount Olive, and continued on to fight an engagement at Goldsboro.
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: 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.
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...
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.
Reading: A History of Ironclads: The Power of Iron over Wood. Description: This
landmark book documents the dramatic history of Civil War ironclads and reveals how ironclad warships revolutionized naval
warfare. Author John V. Quarstein explores in depth the impact of ironclads during the Civil War and their colossal effect
on naval history. The Battle of Hampton Roads was one of history's greatest naval engagements. Over the course of two days
in March 1862, this Civil War conflict decided the fate of all the world's navies. It was the first battle between ironclad
warships, and the 25,000 sailors, soldiers and civilians who witnessed the battle vividly understood what history would soon
confirm: wars waged on the seas would never be the same. Continued below…
About the Author: John V. Quarstein is an award-winning author and historian. He is director
of the Virginia
War Museum in Newport News and chief historical advisor for The Mariners' Museum's new USS Monitor Center
(opened March 2007). Quarstein has authored eleven books and dozens of articles on American, military and Civil War history,
and has appeared in documentaries for PBS, BBC, The History Channel and Discovery Channel.
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.