Burnside Expedition Part 5

Battle of New Berne – Aftermath

The collapse of the defense ay Fort Thompson left only implanted piles and the threat of torpedoes to prevent the advance of the Union fleet to New Berne. The barriers consisted of “a series of piling, driven securely into the bottom” and cut off just below the waterline, a second row of angled piling with pointed ends, and a row of torpedoes. The torpedoes, about thirty in number, consisted of kegs containing 200lbs of powder and connected “with metal fuses” to the angled pilings. Like any unobserved obstacle they were negotiated with relative ease and minimum damage. The Commodore Perry had one pointed pile broken off in her hull, the Commodore Barney was pierced with a six inch hole, and the Stars and Stripes were slightly damaged by a sharpened piling. Fortunately for the Federal boats and crews none of the torpedoes detonated.

The fleet moved up the Neuse unchallenged to the New Berne wharf. As they approached the city fires were spotted “where stores had been accumulated.” Also burned was a two gun battery encased in cotton bales and a small steamer. A fire raft containing “barrels of pitch and bales of cotton” was released to the current of the Trent River and snagged on the railroad bridge. It was engulfed in flames, completely destroying it. Coupled with the destruction of the draw portion of the road bridge the victorious Union forces were stranded on the south side of the river. The retreating Confederate troops, however, were discouraged from reorganizing in the town by a few rounds from the gunboats and continued north. BG Branch was unable to get them reassembled until they reached Kinston, about 30 miles away. A detail was landed to take possession of the city. The first order of business was to put out the fires. This was done by the remaining inhabitants who were “induced to aid in extinguishing the flames.”

At 1400 Commander Rowan dispatched “several of our vessels” to the southern bank of the Trent River to ferry General Foster’s brigade across to the city. By 1600 the city was occupied. In a March 15th letter to Flag Officer Goldsborough, Rowan announced that;

“New Berne is ours and a splendid thing it is.”

And so it was and would remain so for the remainder of the war. The small victory here would have major consequences for events in Virginia. Believing that the foothold at New Berne placed the Navy Yard at Norfolk in between two major Union forces was a contributing factor to the Confederate officials decision to abandon the yard on May 10,1862. Fort Macon – Prelude With New Berne in his grasp Burnside was free to pursue other objectives. First, to consolidate his new base of operations he ordered Foster’s Brigade to push out pickets well beyond the boundaries of the city and a regiment was sent to occupy Washington. Reno’s 2nd Brigade was deployed south of the Trent River and threw out patrols “to burn all the bridges on the stream for 30 miles above the one held by us.” They also went to work repairing the destroyed railroad bridge and another to open communications “to our supply trains and artillery.” Burnside also realized to secure his new base of operations he would have to take hold of Beaufort, Morehead City and ultimately to retake Fort Macon. The five sided fort was located on the eastern end of Bogue Banks about thirty miles southeast of New Berne. General Parke’s 3rd Brigade was detailed for operations in this direction. On 19 March the 4th Rhode Island Infantry and the 8th Connecticut Infantry were loaded on the Eastern Queen for the short trip to the Slocum’s Creek landing. The following day they disembarked and began a “severe march” toward the coast. They were joined at Havelock Station by the 5th Rhode Island Bn who had marched down the railroad. The column continued to Carolina City where they found “a large hotel, turpentine works, and a few other buildings comprising the city were destroyed by the rebels shortly before our arrival and all that remained of them were black smoking ruins.” About two miles further down the main road was “another small collection of houses and a large railroad station and wharves” known as Morehead City. There they found two ships flying “the English colors”, one at the wharf and the other anchored off shore “just beyond our reach.” The advanced guard of the column took possession of the tied up vessel and two days later the vessel at anchor was burned by her crew. By the 21st Parke understood that “in order to regain possession of the fort it was first necessary to take possession of Beaufort.” At midnight of the 21st four companies (Co’s A and B of the 4th RI and two Co’s of the 8th CT) were at the Morehead City docks to conduct the “difficult and dangerous operation.” The boats to carry them past the fort were manned by “colored fishermen” who served as guides and pulled the muffled oars. Covered by fog and darkness the troops experienced only a brief scare when challenged by a sentry. The challenge was answered by the call of “relief” from his replacement. This fortuitous coincidence allowed the boats to escape unnoticed and move into Beaufort unopposed. By 0200 guards were posted at the Beaufort wharf and the nearly deserted resort town occupied. With Beaufort in his control Parke issued a request to Colonel M. J. White for the surrender of the fort. In a terse reply White declined the opportunity of “evacuating Fort Macon.” Parke resolved to besiege the fort, but complete investment of the fort could not be accomplished until troops were put on Bogue Banks. A 29 March reconnaissance by 21 men determined that no resistance would be met outside the fort. In the next thirteen days Parke shuttled 8 companies of the 4th RI, 7 companies of the 8th CT, and the 5th RI Bn on to the banks. The only thing needed to attempt a siege was artillery.

Burnside Expedition (Campaign Series)


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