Battle of New Bern, North Carolina March 1862 Facts and Trivia

Date: March 13th and 14th, 1862

Location: Craven County, North Carolina, approximately five miles south of the city of New Bern.

Approximate Troop Strength: Union 11,000 in three infantry brigades plus artillery units. Union land forces were assisted by the U.S. Navy. Confederate 4000 in seven infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment, and one militia unit.

Commanders: Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside (overall U.S. commander); Brigadier Generals John G. Foster, Jesse L. Reno, and John G. Parke, brigade commanders. Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch commanded Confederate forces.

Union Casualties: Army 90 killed, 380 wounded, 1 missing; Navy 3 wounded.

Confederate Casualties: 64 killed,101 wounded, 413 captured or missing.

Result: Union victory

What Happened: In February 1862, Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside led a combined Union Army and Navy expedition against Confederate forces on the North Carolina coast. On February 7th, the Navy cleared the way for the way for the landing of ground troops on Roanoke Island. The next day, the U.S. troops defeated the Confederate forces defending the island. Burnside’s next objective was the town of New Bern (also spelled New Berne), North Carolina.

On March 13th, Burnside’s land forces went ashore on the North Carolina mainland on the west shore of the Neuse River about 16 miles from New Bern. Burnside immediately marched toward the city, with the Navy ships steaming upriver accompanying the march. Burnside halted for the night near the main Confederate defensive line about five miles from New Bern.

Landing of U.S. Troops Battle of New Bern

The rebel forces were well entrenched in this line that extended about two miles, anchored on the river (on the Confederate left) by Fort Thompson, a 13 heavy gun emplacement. Only three of the guns were aimed at the land approach, with the others set up to defend against an attack from the river. Additional batteries were also deployed in smaller numbers further upriver as part of this defense.

Gen. John G. Parke

On the morning of the 14th, Burnside deployed his infantry in three columns by brigade. Brigadier General John G. Foster’s brigade of once Connecticut and four Massachusetts regiments was on the Union right. Brigadier General Jesse L. Reno, with four regiments from Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, was on the left. General John G. Parke’s of Connecticut and Rhode Island regiments were in the center along a line of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad, which ran from Morehead City on the coast through New Bern and on into the interior of the state. Parke’s troops were deployed in a narrow front and were to be used as a reserve and move where needed. The Navy would also provide artillery support.

Map of Battle of New Bern

The fighting was intense, with the Federals unable to break through the Confederate defenses. After about three hours, Colonel Isaac P. Rodman of the 4th Rhode Island Infantry of Parke’s division, was informed of a gap in the center of the Confederate line where the railroad passed through. He received permission to attack, and his regiment broke though the line and into the Confederate rear. As Rodman was advancing in the center, Foster charged along his front. The Confederates retreated back to New Bern, burning the bridge over the Trent River as they retreated to slow down the U.S. troops advance. With Union gunboats arriving at New Bern, the Confederates withdrew further to Kinston, North Carolina and Burnside occupied New Bern. The city remained in Union hands for the rest of the war.

Battle of New Berne NC

Union Officers

Gen. Ambrose Burnside

General Ambrose Burnside: The general with the famous whiskers commanded a brigade at First Bull Run as a Colonel; that action resulted in promotion to Brigadier General. For his victories at Roanoke and New Bern Burnside was rewarded with a promotion to Major General. Before the year was over, Burnside would command the newly formed 9th Corps, fighting at Antietam before reluctantly become commander of the Army of the Potomac. His tenure culminated with the U.S. defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December. Burnside returned to 9th Corps command, leading it at Knoxville, and in the Overland Campaign. His career effectively ended when the 9th Corps was defeated in the Battle of the Crater during the Siege of Petersburg. Initially, Burnside and his commanders were blamed for the debacle, and although he was later cleared, he never commanded again.

Brigade Commanders

Brigadier General Jesse L. Reno was a native of Virginia who stayed loyal to the Union. He was promoted to Major General in the summer of 1862,

Gen. Jesse L. Reno

and commanded the 9th Corps at the Battles of Second Bull Run and Chantilly. A lead from the front type of commanders, Reno was mortally wounded at the Battle of South Mountain on September 14th, 1862.

Brigadier General John G. Parke, like Reno, was promoted to Major General in the summer of 1862. Parke served as Burnside’s Chief of Staff, and also commanded the 9th Corps at various times while Burnside was on other assignments; he took over the 9th Corps for good after Burnside’s departure after the Crater fiasco. He remained in the army after the war and retired in 1889.

Gen. John G. Foster

Brigadier General John G. Foster, like Reno and Parke, was promoted to Major General in the summer of 1862. Foster remained in North Carolina as commander of the Department of North Carolina, and conducted various operations in eastern North Carolina, including the Goldsboro Expedition in December of 1862. He later led the Department of the South, in command of Union forces along the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Florida. Foster stayed in the army after the war, and died in 1874.

Other Officers of Note

Colonel Isaac Rodman of the 4th Rhode Island Infantry, who led the breakthrough in the middle at New Bern, was promoted to Brigadier General in April of 1862. Rodman commanded the 3rd Division of the 9th Corps at the Battle of Antietam, and was mortally wounded.

Colonel John F. Hartranft commanded the 51st Pennsylvania Infantry at New Bern. Hartranft. Prior to that, Hartranft fought at First Bull Run, and would be awarded the Medal of Honor in 1886 for his actions there. Hartranft commanded his regiment at Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Vicksburg; he commanded a 9th Corps division at Knoxville. When the 9th Corps went east in 1864, Hartranft commanded a brigade in the Overland Campaign and was promoted to Brigadier General in May of that year. Later in the war he was promoted to commander of a 9th Corps division, and his command repelled the Confederate assault at Fort Steadman on March 28th, 1865 at Petersburg, Virginia. In the immediate aftermath of the war, Hartranft served on the military court in the trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. Following the war, Hartranft became a politician and civil servant in Pennsylvania.

Gen. Lawrence O’Bryan Branch CSA

Confederates: North Carolina native Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch, as well of most of the North Carolina troops under his command, were transferred to the Army of Northern Virginia after New Bern. Branch commanded a brigade in General A.P. Hill’s Division of Stonewall Jackson’s Corps, and participated in the Peninsula Campaign, Second Bull Run, the capture of Harper’s Ferry, and the Battle of Antietam. He was killed in action at Antietam.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert F. Hoke of the 33rd North Carolina Infantry would eventually rise to the rank of Major General. Along the way, Hoke was Colonel of the 21st North Carolina, a brigade commander in the Army of Northern Virginia, and eventually a division commander. He fought in campaigns in both Virginia and again in North Carolina, ending with the Battle of Bentonville. Hoke survived the war and died in 1912.

Gettysburg Connections

Six of the North Carolina regiments at New Bern fought at the Battle of Gettysburg. The 26th North Carolina was part of Brigadier General James Pettigrew’s Brigade of Major General Henry Heth’s Division, and fought the Iron Brigade in McPherson’s Ridge on the first day of battle, July 1st, 1863. The 7th, 28th, 33rd, and 37th North Carolina regiments were in Brigadier General James Lane’s Brigade of Major General Dorsey Pender’s Division. All five of these regiments participated in the famous Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd. Although he commanded a brigade of Virginia regiments in Pickett’s Division, Brigadier General Lewis Armistead was born in New Bern. He was killed in the attack. Besides the infantry regiments, the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry was part of General J.E.B. Stuarts’ Cavalry Division at Gettysburg.

Gen. Robert Hoke CSA

While New Bern remained in Union hands after it was captured, the Confederates did try to take it back. In the winter of 1864, General George Pickett’s Division, accompanied by Robert Hoke’s Brigade, were detached from service in Virginia and sent to North Carolina in an attempt to recapture the city. Pickett attacked New Bern on February 1st-3rd, 1864, but failed to take the city.

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