In a combined operation with the ironclad ram CSS Albemarle, Confederate forces under Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke, attacked the Federal garrison at Plymouth, North Carolina, on April 17. On April 19, the ram appeared in the river, sinking the USS Southfield, damaging the USS Miami and driving off the other Union Navy ships (USS Ceres & USS Whitehead) supporting the Plymouth garrison. Confederate forces captured Fort Comfort, driving defenders into Fort Williams. On April 20, the garrison surrendered.
Construction of the ironclad began in January 1863 and continued on during the next year. Word of the gunboat reached the Union naval officers stationed in the region, raising an alarm. They appealed to the War Department for an overland expedition to destroy the ship, to be christened Albemarle after the body of water into which the Roanoke emptied but, the Union Army never felt it could spare the troops needed to carry out such a mission. It was a decision that would prove to be very short-sighted.
In April 1864, the newly commissioned Confederate States Steamer Albemarle, under the command of Captain James W. Cooke, got underway down-river toward Plymouth, North Carolina. Its mission was to clear the river of all Union vessels so that General Robert F. Hoke‘s troops could storm the forts located there.
[…] two paddle steamers, USS Miami and USS Southfield, lashed together with spars and chains, approached from up-river, attempting to pass on either side of Albemarle in order to trap her between them.
Captain Cooke turned heavily to starboard, getting outboard of [the] Southfield but, running dangerously close to the southern shore. Turning back sharply into the river, he rammed the Union side-wheeler, driving her under. Albemarle’s ram became trapped in Southfield’s hull from the force of the blow and her bow was pulled under as well. As [the] Southfield sank, she rolled over before settling on the riverbed. This action released the death grip that held the new Confederate ram.
Miami fired a shell into Albemarle at point-blank range while she was trapped by the wreck of Southfield but, the shell rebounded off Albemarle’s sloping iron armor and exploded on [the] Miami, killing her commanding officer, Captain Charles W. Flusser. Miami’s crew attempted to board Albemarle to capture her but, were soon driven back by heavy musket fire. [The] Miami then steered clear of the ironclad and escaped into Albemarle Sound.
With the river now clear of Union ships, and with the assistance of Albemarle’s rifled cannon, General Hoke attacked and took Plymouth and, the nearby forts.
From The History Channel:
Confederate forces attack Plymouth, North Carolina, in an attempt to recapture ports lost to the Union two years before. The four-day battle ended with the fall of Plymouth but, the Yankees kept the city bottled up with a flotilla on nearby Albemarle Sound.
In 1862, the Union captured Plymouth and several other points along the North Carolina coast. In doing so, they deprived the Confederacy of several ports for blockade-runners and the agricultural products from several fertile counties. In the spring of 1864, the Confederates mounted a campaign to reverse these defeats. General George Pickett led a division to the area and launched a failed attack on New Bern in February. Now, General Robert Hoke assumed command and moved his army against Plymouth, fifty miles north of New Bern. He planned an attack using the C.S.S. Albemarle, an ironclad that was still being built on the Roanoke River inland from Plymouth.
With 7,000 men, Hoke attacked the 2,800-man Union garrison at Plymouth on April 17. His troops began to capture some of the outer defenses but, he needed the Albemarle to bomb the city from the river. The ironclad moved from its makeshift shipyard on April 17 but, it was still under construction. With workers aboard, Captain James Cooke moved down the Roanoke. The Albemarle‘s rudder broke and the engine stalled, so it took two days to reach Plymouth. When it arrived, the Rebel ship took on two Yankee ships, sinking one and forcing the other to retreat. With the ironclad on the scene, Hoke’s men captured Plymouth on April 20.
The Rebel victory was limited by the fact that the Albemarle was still pinned in the Roanoke River.
“The battle began at 0730 on March 14th, and raged for nearly six hours.”
The Battle of New Bern (also known as the Battle of New Berne) was fought on 14 March 1862, near the city of New Bern, North Carolina, as part of the Burnside Expedition of the American Civil War. The US Army’s Coast Division, led by Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside and accompanied by armed vessels from the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, were opposed by an undermanned and badly trained Confederate force of North Carolina soldiers and militia led by Brigadier General Lawrence O’B. Branch. Although the defenders fought behind breastworks that had been set up before the battle, their line had a weak spot in its center that was exploited by the attacking Federal soldiers. When the center of the line was penetrated, many of the militia broke, forcing a general retreat of the entire Confederate force. General Branch was unable to regain control of his troops until they had retreated to Kinston, more than 30 miles (about 50 km) away. New Bern came under Federal control, and remained so for the rest of the war.
Hatteras Island, on the outer shore of North Carolina, fell to Union forces in August, 1861. Roanoke Island, just to the north, was captured on February 8, 1862. Elizabeth City on the mainland followed days later. With the freedom to navigate unmolested through Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, Brig. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside’s command looked for other strategic targets of opportunity. The city of New Bern was a significant target, as the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad that connected the coast with the interior passed through there. On March 11, 1862, Burnside’s force embarked from Roanoke Island to rendezvous with Union gunboats at Hatteras Inlet for a joint expedition against New Bern. On March 13th, the fleet sailed up the Neuse River and disembarked infantry south of the Confederate defenses, about 4,000 men behind breastworks at Fort Thompson. The defenders, a mix of North Carolina infantry, cavalry and artillery, were commanded by Brig. Gen. Lawrence Branch. On March 14th, the brigades of Brig. Gens. John G. Foster, Jesse Reno, and John G. Parke attacked along the railroad and after four [sic] hours of fighting, drove the Confederates out of their fortifications. The Federals captured several nearby gun positions and occupied a base that they would hold to the end of the war, in spite of several Confederate attempts to recapture it.
On March 13th 1862, 11,000 Union troops led by General Ambrose Burnside, along with 13 heavily-armed gunboats led by Commodore Stephen Rowan, landed at Slocum’s Creek, now part of the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station. Their objective was [the] capture of the town of New Bern because of its strategic position and the fact that the Atlantic and North Carolina railroad was also located here. Union strategists hoped to use New Bern as a stepping off point to cutting off the main Confederate north-south railroad supply line at Goldsboro.
Awaiting the Union forces were about 4,500 inexperienced and ill-equipped Confederate troops commanded by General Laurence [sic] O’Bryan Branch, a politician with virtually no military experience. Branch positioned his infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment, local militia and three gun batteries to defend a line extending from Fort Thompson on the Neuse River and running approximately one mile west to the Weatherby Road at the eastern edge of Brice’s Creek. Extending Branch’s right wing to the railroad tracks was the 26th North Carolina Regiment commanded by Colonel Zebulon Vance, later governor of North Carolina.
Despite support from Commodore Rowan’s gunboats, this attack stalled. However, a regiment of General Parke’s brigade flanked the position of a militia battalion in the vicinity of Wood’s brickyard adjoining the railroad. Parke’s infantry drove these poorly armed, fresh militiamen from their position leaving the right flank of the 35th North Carolina Regiment exposed. The Confederate line was broken between the 26th and the 35th regiments, and the Union forces pushed through forcing the retreat of the Confederate troops.
The Battle of New Bern was the baptism of fire for the 26th North Carolina. Later, in July 1863, the 26th lost 588 of 800 men at the Battle of Gettysburg, sustaining the largest numerical losses of any unit, North or South, during the entire course of the war.
Estimated casualties for the battle: 1080 total. The fierce battle in the swamps and along the railroad five miles south of New Bern, proved to be a major victory for the Union and led to the ensuing occupation of New Bern for the remainder of the Civil War. Although Union forces never seized and held the rail line at Goldsboro, their presence in New Bern required the Confederacy to divert troops to the railroad’s defense that might have been used in the critical battles in Virginia. For General Ambrose Burnside, the New Bern victory was a factor in his subsequently being given command of the Army of the Potomac and leadership in the Union disaster at Fredericksburg.
One-hundred and fifty-seven years ago, today… ~Vic