Civil War Campaigns
On February 7, Brig. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside landed 7,500 men on the southwestern side of Roanoke Island in an amphibious operation launched from Fort Monroe. The next morning, supported by gunboats, the Burnside's army assaulted the Confederate forts on the narrow waist of the island, driving back and out-maneuvering Brig. Gen. Henry Wise's outnumbered command. After losing less than 100 men, the Confederate commander on the field, Col. H.M. Shaw, surrendered about 2,500 soldiers and 32 guns. Burnside had secured an important outpost on the Atlantic Coast, tightening the blockade.
Following the capture of Roanoke Island in February, Burnside moved to the North Carolina mainland with New Berne as his target. Confederate Brig. Gen. Lawrence O. Branch, plauged by inadequate forces, planned his major defense of the city some 6 miles below, by the Neuse River, across the road most likely to be taken by attacking forces. On March 13, Burnside landed his troops without opposition 12 miles below New Berne and proceeded to move against the Confederate defenses. Branch had pulled his men out of the first line of fortifications and deployed them closer to the city.
Fighting opened on the Morning of March 14. The tenacious Confederate defense blunted the Union advance for several hours, until its center gave way, precipitating a retreat. Some elements of Branch's command did not receive word to withdraw and were captured; others fled pell-mell. Those who managed to cross the Trent River and literally burn the bridge behind them were met by shells from Union gunboats as they arrived in New Berne. Branch realized the untenable nature of his position and moved his army to Kinston by rail. Five days passed before he could effectively concentrate his demoralized command. Union troops occupied New Berne on March 14. The loss of the city was a severe blow to the Confederates, who had to reconsider the military situation in North Carolina and in fact dispatched reinforcements that might have made a difference.
In the middle of March, Burnside was ready to accomplish the 3rd objective of his North Carolina coastal campaign: the seizure of Fort Macon, on the eastern tip of Bouge Banks Island, just below Beaufort. Fort Macon was an old-style, strong, stone, casemated work, mounting 67 guns, garrisoned by over 500 men, and commanded by Col. Moses J. White. On the 23rd, Maj. Gen. John G. Parke, the commander that Burnside had selected to lead the attack, sent a surrender demand to White. White politely but firmly declined the surrender demand. Parke made plans to blast the Confederates out of the fort.
For the next few weeks, Parke had troops and supplies moved to the area surrounding Fort Macon, thus building up his forces and establishing a firm beachhead. There were several small-unit clashes and on April 10, a reconnaissance close to Fort Macon's guns. Parke decided that a seige rather than an attack was his proper course. It only took a few days to complete an investment. By the 15th, enough heavy cannons had been emplaced around the fort to doom its garrison, now reduced to 300 able troops. White stubbornly rejected further demands for surrender, including one tendered by Burnside in person.
On the 25th, Parke's batteries opened a furious fire against the fort, accompanied by salvos from the navy. The bombardment was amazingly accurate and effective. Late in the afternoon, with his works badly damaged, White ran up a flag of surrender. With his capitulation, the most strategic portion of the North Carolina coast fell into Union hands, enabling Burnside to plan a drive inland. The seige of Fort Macon was officially listed as from March 23- April 25.
During the seige of Fort Macon, Burnside also was simultaniously attacking Camden, his 4th objective of the campaign. He had picked Brig. Gen. Jesse L. Reno to lead the attack. Learning that the Confederates were building ironclads at Norfolk, Burnside planned an expedition to destroy the Dismal Swamp Canal locks to prevent transfer of the ships to Albemarle Sound. Reno's troops embarked on transports from Roanoke Island on April 18. By midnight, the convoy reached Elizabeth City and began disembarking troops.
On the morning of April 19, Reno marched north on the road to South Mills. At the crossroads a few miles below South Mills, elements of Col. Ambrose Wright's command delayed the Federals until dark. Reno abandoned the expedition and withdrew during the night to the transports at Elizabeth City. The transports carried Reno's troops to New Berne where they arrived on April 22. The battle outcome was inconclusive.
The final engagement of Burnside's campaign was at Tranter's Creek. The battle was fought on June 5th. Col. Robert Potter, garrison commander at Washington, North Carolina, was selected by Burnside to lead the attack. Potter ordered a reconnaissance in the direction of Pactolus.
Unable to force a crossing, Lt. Col. F.A. Osborne brought his artillery to bear on the mill buildings in which the Confederates were barricaded. Col. Singletary, the Confederate commander, was killed in the bombardment, and his troops retreated. The Osborne's troops did not pursue and returned to their fortifications at Washington.