Burnside Expedition of 1862

Burnside Expedition of 1862 (HM12KN)

Location: Manteo, NC 27954 Dare County
Country: United States of America

N 35° 53.141', W 75° 40.101'

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Much of coastal North Carolina fell to Union forces in 1862. For the duration of the Civil War Northern troops kept a sizable presence in the area. The peculiar geography of the Outer Banks and the sounds region, a damper to antebellum trade, proved indefensible for the outnumbered and poorly equipped Confederates. Under Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, a Rhode Islander, Union forces swept across the region, rolling up one victory after another.

In August 1861 Confederate Forts Hatteras and Clark on the north side of Hatteras Inlet were overrun following naval bombardment. In October Burnside gained approval for an expedition designed to divert Confederate from tidewater Virginia and disrupt inland supply lines. He assembled a 78-vessel fleet under joint command with Adm. Louis Goldsborough. By February 1, 1862, the last troop transport was "across the swash," inside Pamlico Sound. Their target was Roanoke Island.

Acting on a tip from an escaped slave, Burnside chose Ashby's Harbor on the island's west side for his assault. On February 7 over 7,500 Union troops moved ashore. The next day Confederates led by Brig. Gen. Henry Wise withdrew under fire to the island's north end. The Federal feet shelled positions in support of the land offensive and Col. Henry M. Shaw surrendered 2,488 men. It was the Union's first sizable victory in ten months and Burnside briefly was a national hero.

Within weeks Burnside's lieutenants, Brig. Gens. John G. Foster, Jesse L. Reno, and John G. Parke, extended Union control into the waterways feeding the sounds. Elizabeth City was seized on February 10. Two days later Edenton was in Federal hands and on February 20 Winton was burned. Moving up the Pamlico River, gunboats took Washington on March 20. The single Union defeat took place on April 19 at South Mills, where Confederates repelled Reno's men, foiling their attempt to demolish the Dismal Swamp Canal locks. The next target was the state's second largest city, New Bern (1860 pop. 5,432).

On March 12 Burnside and 11,000 troops anchored south of New Bern at Slocum's Creek. Defending the city were fortifications lining the Neuse River and 4,000 untested Confederates led by Brig. Gen. Lawrence O'B. Branch. The Federals went ashore on March 13 and, the next day, marched north along the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad. Assisted by fire from the flotilla, Union troops broke the center of the Confederate line. The four-hour battle left 90 Union and 68 Confederate soldiers dead. After a full-scale retreat across the Trent River, New Bern was occupied. Many residents had fled in anticipation of the invasion.

The next objective was Fort Macon. Parke organized the assault, marching his men along the rail line from New Bern to Morehead City. Col. Moses J. White defended the fort with 54 cannon. Federals laid siege to the fort in late March, moving their artillery to within 1,500 yards of its walls. Crowds at the docks in Morehead City and Beaufort witnessed the shelling on April 25. The white flag appeared late that day and surrender was arranged on April 26. Access to the deepwater harbor at Beaufort spared the Federals the need to rely on the treacherous inlet at Hatteras.

In July, on orders from President Abraham Lincoln, Burnside moved most of his troops to Virginia to assist in a planned assault on Richmond. Burnside had hoped to rally Union sympathizers within North Carolina and undermine support for the war effort, a dream that went unrealized. The Burnside Expedition spurred Confederate recruiting and steeled the determination of North Carolina's political and military leaders to assemble an effective fighting force.
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HM NumberHM12KN
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Date Added Monday, September 1st, 2014 at 7:01am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 439675 N 3971475
Decimal Degrees35.88568333, -75.66835000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 35° 53.141', W 75° 40.101'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds35° 53' 8.46" N, 75° 40' 6.06" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)252
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 1 Visitors Center Circle, Manteo NC 27954, US
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