2nd Battle of Kinston: Union Account

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Union Army and Battle of Kinston

2nd Battle of Kinston, North Carolina (AKA Battle of Wyse Fork): Union Account

Kinston, N. C.
March 8-10, 1865

23d Army Corps and Provisional Division, District of Beaufort.

Wilmington was occupied by the Union troops under Gen. Schofield
on Feb. 22, and steps were immediately taken to open railroad
communications between the seacoast and Goldsboro, in order to
get supplies to Sherman's army.

It was soon discovered, however, that communications could be
more easily established from New Berne and the base of
operations was transferred to that point.

On Feb. 26, Maj.-Gen. J. D. Cox was ordered to assume command of
the movement. Cox reached New Berne on the last day of
February, organized his forces into two divisions, commanded by
Brig.-Gens. I. N. Palmer and S. P. Carter, and at once commenced
the work of repairing the railroad.

A little later he was joined by Ruger's division of the 23d
corps. The first opposition was met near Kinston, about 30
miles from New Berne.

About 3 miles from Kinston is a stream called Southwest creek,
along the banks of which some skirmishing occurred on March 7,
and the enemy was found to be in greater force than had been
anticipated. Several roads leading to Kinston crossed Southwest

Near the mouth of the stream was the Neuse road, running almost
parallel to the river of that name Between Kinston and Southwest
creek two roads - the Upper Trent and Dover - branched off from
the Neuse road and followed a general southeasterly direction.

On the east side of the creek, and nearly parallel to it, was
the British road, while the Lower Trent road left the Neuse road
a short distance east of the creek and ran for some distance
nearly due south, crossing the British and Dover roads a little
way south of the railroad.

The crossing of the British and Dover roads was known as ''Wise's

After the skirmishing on the 7th along Southwest creek (q. v.)
Cox placed Upham's brigade of Carter's division at this point to
cover the left of the Federal position, a strong picket line was
pushed up to the bank of the creek, and Ruger's division was
stationed at Gum swamp, where it could move to the support of
any part of the line at short notice.

Cox had received information that Hoke's division was at
Kinston, and that a Confederate ironclad was lying in the Neuse
in front of the town. He did not know, however that Gen. J. E.
Johnston, who had just been assigned to the command of the
Confederate forces in North Carolina, had ordered Gen. Braxton
Bragg to move with his command from Goldsboro, unite with the
remnant of Hood's army, under Gens. Clayton and D. H. Hill, at
Smithfield, and strike a decisive blow at the Union column
coming up from New Berne, in the hope of cutting off Sherman's
supplies, after which his intention was to concentrate the
entire force at some available point to prevent Sherman from
forming a junction with Schofield.

On the morning of the 8th, while Schofield and Cox were in
consultation as to what course was best to pursue, the enemy
suddenly appeared in force between Upham and the rest of the

Upham's troops were principally new recruits and could not be
rallied after the first attack in time to meet the second. The
result was that three-fourths of the brigade were captured.

Ruger was hurried to Carter's support and the two divisions,
protected by a light breastwork, held their position against the
repeated assaults of the Confederates. In order to create a
diversion Palmer was ordered to make a vigorous demonstration in
his front, as though he intended to force a crossing.

Here a few prisoners were taken, from whom it was learned that
at least three divisions of the enemy were engaged at Wise's
Forks, and that Bragg was in command.

Upon receiving this information Schofield directed Cox to act on
the defensive, holding his position if possible, until the
remainder of the 23d corps could be brought up.

Skirmishing was kept up during the 9th, but no serious attack
was made on any part of the Union lines.

A short time before noon on the 10th Hoke's division made a
desperate assault on Cox's left. McQuiston's brigade of Ruger's
division was moved on the double-quick to Carter's left, and at
the same time both Carter's and Ruger's batteries began pouring
a perfect shower of shrapnel and canister into the Confederate

After an hour they broke and fled, closely pursued by McQuiston
until the latter was recalled to support the center, where the
line was too thin to successfully resist an attack should one
be made.

At 3:45 p. m. Bragg sent the following dispatch to Johnston:
''The enemy is strongly intrenched in the position to which we
drove him. Yesterday and today we have moved on his flanks, but
without gaining any decided advantage.

His line is extensive, and prisoners report large
reinforcements. Under these conditions I deem it best, with the
information you give, to join you, which I shall proceed to do,
unless otherwise directed.''

That night the ironclad was burned and sunk, and Bragg moved to
Goldsboro to effect a junction with the main body of Johnston's
army. Kinston was occupied by the Federal forces on the 14th.

The Union losses in the several engagements about Kinston were
65 killed, 319 wounded and 953 captured, most of the last being
members of Upham's brigade, which was surprised on the morning
of the 8th.

No detailed report of the Confederate casualties was made. The
number of prisoners taken was 266, and as the enemy was the
attacking party it is quite probable that their loss in killed
and wounded was equal to or greater than that of the Union army.

Source: The Union Army, Vol.6, p. 541

Recommended Reading: Sherman's March Through the Carolinas. Description: In retrospect, General William Tecumseh Sherman considered his march through the Carolinas the greatest of his military feats, greater even than the Georgia campaign. When he set out northward from Savannah with 60,000 veteran soldiers in January 1865, he was more convinced than ever that the bold application of his ideas of total war could speedily end the conflict. Continued below…

John Barrett's story of what happened in the three months that followed is based on printed memoirs and documentary records of those who fought and of the civilians who lived in the path of Sherman's onslaught. The burning of Columbia, the battle of Bentonville, and Joseph E. Johnston's surrender nine days after Appomattox are at the center of the story, but Barrett also focuses on other aspects of the campaign, such as the undisciplined pillaging of the 'bummers,' and on its effects on local populations. About the Author: John G. Barrett is professor emeritus of history at the Virginia Military Institute. He is author of several books, including The Civil War in North Carolina, and coeditor of North Carolina Civil War Documentary.

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Recommended Reading: Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea, by Noah Andre Trudeau (Hardcover). From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Trudeau, a prize-winning Civil War historian (Gettysburg), addresses William T. Sherman's march to the sea in the autumn of 1864. Sherman's inclusion of civilian and commercial property on the list of military objectives was not a harbinger of total war, says Trudeau. Rather, its purpose was to demonstrate to the Confederacy that there was no place in the South safe from Union troops. Continued below…

The actual levels of destruction and pillage were limited even by Civil War standards, Trudeau says; they only seemed shocking to Georgians previously spared a home invasion on a grand scale. Confederate resistance was limited as well. Trudeau praises Sherman's generalship, always better at operational than tactical levels. He presents the inner dynamics of one of the finest armies the U.S. has ever fielded: veteran troops from Massachusetts to Minnesota, under proven officers, consistently able to make the difficult seem routine. And Trudeau acknowledges the often-overlooked contributions of the slaves who provided their liberators invaluable information and labor. The march to the sea was in many ways the day of jubilo, and in Trudeau it has found its Xenophon. 16 pages of b&w photos, 36 maps.


Recommended Viewing: The History Channel Presents Sherman's March (2007). Description: “The story of General William Tecumseh Sherman who helped devastate the South's army at the end of the Civil War is told here via vivid reconstructions of his actions.” This is a great reenactment, presentation. It's not dull like some documentaries that just continually talk with the same guy for an hour. This includes several individuals that are extremely knowledgeable in their respective fields--be it civilian or military historian. Also, it includes many re-enactors that portray “Sherman as well as his entire command.” It literally takes the viewer back to 1864 to experience it firsthand.


Recommended Reading: Sherman's March: The First Full-Length Narrative of General William T. Sherman's Devastating March through Georgia and the Carolinas. Description: Sherman's March is the vivid narrative of General William T. Sherman's devastating sweep through Georgia and the Carolinas in the closing days of the Civil War. Weaving together hundreds of eyewitness stories, Burke Davis graphically brings to life the dramatic experiences of the 65,000 Federal troops who plundered their way through the South and those of the anguished -- and often defiant -- Confederate women and men who sought to protect themselves and their family treasures, usually in vain. Dominating these events is the general himself -- "Uncle Billy" to his troops, the devil incarnate to the Southerners he encountered.


Recommended Reading: The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman's Troops in the Savannah and Carolinas Campaigns. Description: This book contains an examination of the army that General William Tecumseh Sherman commanded through Georgia and the Carolinas, in late 1864 and early 1865. Instead of being just another narrative of the March to the Sea and Carolina Campaigns, however, Glatthaar's book is a look at the individuals that composed the army. He examines the social and ideological backgrounds of the men in Sherman's army, and evaluates how they felt about various factors of the war--slavery, the union, and, most significantly, the campaign in which they were participating. Continued below…

The result is a fascinating look at Sherman's campaigns through the eyes of the everyday soldier. Glatthaar makes the army come alive, and shows the men not as heartless animals who delighted in wanton destruction, not as mechanized marching machines who could perform the most difficult marches without even flinching, but instead as real human beings, complete with sore feet, empty stomachs, and minds engaged in contemplation over the ethical ramifications of what they were doing to the people of the South. This book is a refreshing change from the norm in Civil War history. The book’s great value is its ability to assist the reader in understanding that the war was fought by individuals--not masses of blue and gray--and what these individuals felt, thought, and believed during America’s most trying era.


Recommended Reading: The Battle Of Bentonville: Last Stand In The Carolinas, by Mark L. Bradley (Hardcover). Description: Mark L. Bradley's book could not have come at a more proper time. The terrible fighting that took place in the fields of North Carolina in March of 1865 has been long forgotten; thankfully, Mr. Bradley has reminded us of the sacrifices that our ancestors endured on that sacred ground. Bentonville is a stirring reminder of the American spirit...something that was exhibited on both sides of the lines during those fateful three days in March. Mr. Bradley has written a stirring tribute to the two armies that fought in this last great battle that pitted the forces of "Uncle Billy" Sherman, against his old nemesis "Old Joe" Johnston. Continued below…

Mr. Bradley has written an outstanding account of the soldiers who fought this landmark battle in the waning days of the war, and he has given us a thorough look at what was going on in the minds of the Generals who led their soldiers to the killing fields of Bentonville. Bradley has also included an outstanding photo collection of the battlefield as it appears today, something that is rarely added to most of the narratives on Civil War battles. These photos give us an understanding of the terrain that each man, Union or Confederate, faced on those days in March 1865. I heartily recommend this narrative to all students of the Civil War. The Battle of Bentonville has been neglected too long. Thankfully, Mr. Bradley has corrected that mistake, and he has provided us buffs with a truly compelling story. Special appreciation is due to Mark A. Moore. Mr. Moore's maps of the campaign are outstanding, and they help the reader understand and comprehend the many troop movements of this last major battle of the Civil War in the Eastern Theater.

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