Battle of White Hall Ferry (Whitehall)

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North Carolina and Civil War Battle of White Hall

High Casualties Force Yankee Withdrawal From White Hall

Civil War Battle of Whitehall, NC
Whitehall Bridge.jpg
White Hall Bridge, North Carolina

Battle of White Hall (AKA Whitehall and White Hall Ferry)
 
On December 15-16, 1862, on a raid at Whitehall, Union troops led by Gen. J. G. Foster damaged the Confederate Ram "Neuse." The following is a short history, or sketch, of the battle with period photos, maps, and markers.
 
Although the Yankees slightly damaged the CSS Neuse and destroyed a large portion of White Hall, they suffered nearly 150 casualties, were forced to withdrawal, and then regrouped at Goldsboro. Confederate losses* were reported as “few.”
 
The engagement between Federal and Confederate forces at Whitehall (today known as Seven Springs) took place during Union General J. F. Foster’s raid from New Bern to Goldsboro--known as the Goldsboro Expedition and even Foster's Raid--in late 1862. On December 15, Foster’s contingent of three companies of cavalry and several pieces of artillery entered Whitehall, which is located on the south bank of the Neuse River several miles above Kinston, hoping to capture or destroy the railroad bridge and confirm suspicions of Confederate ironclad construction on the river.

Civil War Map of the Route to Goldsboro, NC.
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(Map) Route of Goldsboro Expedition (Foster's Raid) in Eastern North Carolina

Neuse construction site
Battle of White Hall Civil War River.jpg
Battle of White Hall

(Right) Seven Springs, N.C. "Whitehall [Seven Springs] River bank [aka Neuse River bank], where the Confederates were building the gunboat [Ironclad Neuse]." Photograph 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 571. Photo by William G. Reed of Boston. Neg. 80-219.

Upon their arrival, they found the bridge burned by the Confederates in order to protect the ironclad and the opposite bank of the river occupied by several regiments of Confederate troops under the command of Brigadier General B. H. Robertson. During the ensuing battle, which lasted through December 16, the Federal artillery bombarded Confederate positions with such a barrage that the dense woods along the bank were cut down for a quarter of a mile back from the river and construction materials for the ironclad were damaged or destroyed.

While Union and Confederate Forces occupied opposite sides of the river, a fierce artillery duel ensued.

Civil War Battle of Whitehall Ferry
North Carolina Civil War Battle Coast.jpg
(North Carolina Coast Civil War Battle)

(About) Whitehall, present-day Seven Springs, North Carolina. Whitehall Bridge over the Neuse River, from Company A, 44th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia position." Photo produced in 1884. Credit: Record of the service of the Forty-Fourth in North Carolina, August 1862 to May 1863. Boston: Privately printed, 1887. VC970.742 M41r, print 569. Photo by William G. Reed of Boston. Neg. 80-217.

Neuse River (present-day)
Neuse River.jpg
(Civil War Battlefield)

After the Confederates had burned the Neuse River Bridge (aka White Hall Bridge), they assumed position on the North side of the river. While the Union forces occupied a hill on the South side of the river, the two sides exchanged devastating artillery fire.
 
Federal reinforcements arrived the next day and Foster placed them in exposed locations along the river bank, resulting in heavy casualties. Confederate casualties were low since geographical restrictions on the river at the site of the conflict allowed only one regiment at a time to engage the Federals.
 
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. Eager to move toward Goldsboro about eighteen miles distant, Foster withdrew his forces from Whitehall during the evening of the sixteenth, confident that the bridge and ironclad were destroyed.

Union and Confederate Army Positions at White Hall
Battle of Whitehall Battlefield Positions.jpg
Battle of Whitehall Map of the Union and Confederate Armies

However, damage to the Neuse was minimal and work resumed on the ironclad after Foster’s withdrawal. Local citizens were left with the tasks of cleaning up, burial of the dead in mass graves, and providing care for the wounded. In recent years questions have arisen about the Whitehall battle, with speculation that many of the Union casualties were the result of friendly fire and that body counts were purposefully under-reported by the Federal government.

Battle of White Hall Graveyard
Battle of White Hall Graveyard.jpg
(North Carolina Battle of Whitehall)

(About) Battle of Whitehall [present-day Seven Springs] graveyard. Photograph 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 570. Photo by William G. Reed of Boston. Neg. 80-234.

*D. H. Hill, Jr., Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865. page 113, states the casualties as follows: "General Robertson reported his loss at 10 killed, 42 wounded. The Federal loss was 8 killed and 73 wounded."

Battle of Whitehall Civil War Map
Battle of Whitehall Civil War.gif
Battle of White Hall North Carolina Civil War Battlefield Map

(References listed at bottom of page.)

Recommended ReadingThe Civil War in North Carolina. Description: Numerous battles and skirmishes were fought in North Carolina during the Civil War, and the campaigns and battles themselves were crucial in the grand strategy of the conflict and involved some of the most famous generals of the war. John Barrett presents the complete story of military engagements across the state, including the classical pitched battle of Bentonville--involving Generals Joe Johnston and William Sherman--the siege of Fort Fisher, the amphibious campaigns on the coast, and cavalry sweeps such as General George Stoneman's Raid.

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Recommended Reading: Iron Afloat: The Story of the Confederate Armorclads. Description: William N. Still's book is rightfully referred to as the standard of Confederate Naval history. Accurate and objective accounts of the major and even minor engagements with Union forces are combined with extensive background information. This edition has an enlarged section of historical drawings and sketches. Mr. Still explains the political background that gave rise to the Confederate Ironclad program and his research is impeccable. An exhaustive literature listing rounds out this excellent book. While strictly scientific, the inclusion of historical eyewitness accounts and the always fluent style make this book a joy to read. This book is a great starting point.

 

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...

The author 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.

 

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 on the Outer Banks: A History of the Late Rebellion Along the Coast of North Carolina from Carteret to Currituck With Comments on Prewar Conditions and an Account of (251 pages). Description: The ports at Beaufort, Wilmington, New Bern and Ocracoke, part of the Outer Banks (a chain of barrier islands that sweeps down the North Carolina coast from the Virginia Capes to Oregon Inlet), were strategically vital for the import of war materiel and the export of cash producing crops. From official records, contemporary newspaper accounts, personal journals of the soldiers, and many unpublished manuscripts and memoirs, this is a full accounting of the Civil War along the North Carolina coast.

References: John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963); CSS Neuse State Historic Site; W. W. Howe, Kinston, Whitehall, and Goldsboro Expedition: December 1862 (1890); L. G. Williams, A Place for Theodore (1997); Goldsboro News Argus, December 6, 1993; (Raleigh) News and Observer, October 22, 1991; NC Office of Archives and History; D. H. Hill, Jr., Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865.

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