Battle of Goldsboro Bridge

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Battle of Goldsboro Bridge
North Carolina and the Civil War

Battle of Goldsboro Bridge
Other Names: Goldsborough Bridge, Goldsboro Bridge, Goldsborough, Goldsboro 

Location: Wayne County

Campaign: Goldsboro Expedition, aka Goldsborough Expedition (December 1862)

Date(s): December 17, 1862

Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. John G. Foster [US]; Brig. Gen Thomas Clingman [CS]

Forces Engaged: Department of North Carolina, 1st Division (10,000) [US]; Clingman’s Brigade (2,000) [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 220 total

Result(s): Union victory

Battle of Goldsboro Bridge
Civil War Battle of Goldsboro.gif
Civil War Battle of Goldsboro

Battle of Goldsboro Bridge
Thomas Clingman.jpg
Clingman commanded Confederates at Goldsboro Bridge

Description: Commanding Federal troops during the engagement of Goldsboro, Brig. Gen. John G. Foster was a West Point graduate, veteran of the Mexican War and commended brigadier of the recent Burnside Expedition. Confederate forces forming the thin gray line were commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas Clingman, who was a former U.S. Senator from North Carolina. A successful lawyer and articulate orator, Clingman was a Fire-Eater and one of the most outspoken politicians of his era. His proslavery position and ironfisted speeches on states' rights, which included the following quote, had chimed throughout the halls of Congress: "Do us justice and we stand with you; attempt to trample on us and we separate!" Clingman initially commanded the 25th North Carolina Regiment, a unit popularized with the movie Cold Mountain starring Jude Law as Private W. P. Inman (he really did exist). The former U.S. senator would later, at Gen. Lee's request, advance his battle-hardened brigade, known as Clingman's Brigade, into the thick of the fight at Cold Harbor and assist in the routing of Union forces. 

On December 17, Foster’s expedition reached the railroad near Everettsville and began destroying the tracks north toward the Goldsborough Bridge (as it was spelled at the time). Clingman's Brigade delayed the advance but was unable to prevent the destruction of the bridge. His mission accomplished, Foster returned to New Bern where he arrived on the 20th. This battle was the high water mark of the Goldsboro Expedition (aka Foster's Raid). It was also important because it demonstrated that the Union forces had the ability to advance from the North Carolina coast, through eastern North Carolina, and push inland to the vital and strategic railroads at Goldsboro.

Result: Goldsboro was a major rail line for the Confederacy. The goal of the Goldsboro Expedition, aka Foster's Raid, was to capture the railroads while Burnside attacked Lee at Fredericksburg in 1862. The Atlantic and North Carolina railroad intersected at Goldsboro with the Wilmington and Weldon railroad (the lifeline of General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia). Foster attacked Goldsboro in December 1862, burned the railroad bridge, but did not actually take the town. Upon burning the bridge, Foster and his troops left for New Bern. The railroad was interrupted, but only briefly, because enough of the bridge was left intact to repair.

Goldsboro Bridge Map
Goldsboro Bridge Map.jpg
Route to Goldsboro Bridge

(About) Newton Wallace, Company I, 27th Massachusetts Infantry, drew this map of the route the Foster expedition took through eastern North Carolina, moving from New Bern to Goldsboro in December 1862. It includes towns, railroads, roads, water features, and a list of distances traveled. The Battle of Goldsboro (sometimes spelled “Goldsborough”) Bridge, noted on the left-hand side of the map, took place on 17 December 1862. Courtesy Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill.

Sources: National Park Service; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

Recommended Reading: The Civil War in Coastal North Carolina (175 pages) (North Carolina Division of Archives and History). Description: From the drama of blockade-running to graphic descriptions of battles on the state's islands and sounds, this book portrays the explosive events that took place in North Carolina's coastal region during the Civil War. Topics discussed include the strategic importance of coastal North Carolina, Federal occupation of coastal areas, blockade-running, and the impact of war on civilians along the Tar Heel coast.

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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:  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: 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. Continued below...

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: Clingman's Brigade in the Confederacy. Description: On November 11, 1862, Brigadier General Thomas Lanier Clingman, despite a lack of formal military training, was named commander of four regiments sent to the eastern counties of North Carolina to prevent Federal troops from making further inroads into the state. Clingman has been called one of North Carolina’s most colorful and controversial statesmen, but his military career received little attention from his contemporaries and has been practically ignored by later historians. Like Clingman, the brigade, composed of the 8th, 31st, 51st, and 61st regiments of North Carolina Infantry, has been both praised and condemned for its performance in battle. Continued below...
About the Author: Retired research assistant from the Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, Frances H. Casstevens, is also the author of Out of the Mouth of Hell: Civil War Prisons and Escapes, Tales from the North And the South, and The Civil War and Yadkin County, North Carolina (1997, Winner, 1998 Willie Parker Peace Award—North Carolina Society of Historians). She is a lifelong resident of Yadkin County.

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