Civil War Transcendence, Part 59


Virginia Cavalry, 1861

Harper’s Weekly illustration of 1st Virginia Cavalry, 1861 via Library of Congress



The Neuse River’s wide mouth is at the southern end of Pamlico Sound.

The river’s wide expanse continues south and then turns northwest and proceeds to New Bern, NC. Here the river narrows, enters North Carolina and thus proceeds inland for a number of miles. The river’s wide expanse and depth allowed a supply depot to be created at New Bern, where Union supply and troop transports ships could unload cargo.

The Union buildup was finally completed by the end of May, 1862. McClellan had over 90,000 troops, 100 cannon, and 2000 cavalry. Still he stalled and wanted more. Lincoln stated there were no more troops to send without stripping the army protecting Washington City from the twin threats of Confederate Generals Joe Johnston and Thomas Jackson.

The Confederate Army commanded by Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who was in charge of the defense of the Confederate Atlantic coast,  had advanced to Kinston, N.C., which was about 30 miles from New Bern and north of the Neuse River with an army of 55,000 men. He had his army dig rifle pits and breastworks on the north bank of the Neuse River.

McClellan took more than a week to move his army toward the Confederate position, and once he had taken position south of the Neuse River, began a three day bombardment of the Confederate positions. The Confederates would simply move out of the range of the Union cannon during the day, reoccupy the positions during the night, and make any needed repairs to their breastworks.

Finally, McClellan began a crossing of the Neuse River on June 18, 1862. He had badly used his cavalry as a scouting force and didn’t know that the Confederates were ready for him.  The few Union scouts that got a quick view of the Confederate position reported the Rebs had retreated.

Confederate artillery cut the advancing Union brigades to pieces. A large Confederate Infantry Blocking force was in the breastworks, while a Confederate Division attacked each of the Union flanks.

It was a disaster for McClellan.

He had two divisions chewed up when the Confederates attacked his flanks. The Confederate Cavalry, under Ashby Turner, circled the Union Army and caused havoc by attacking the rear of the Union Army. Then the Confederate blocking force attacked the front of the Union Line.

The Union Army gave way with many regiments routed. However, enough Union units gave ground grudgingly to allow the Union Army to retreat back to New Bern without being decimated.


About Civil War Reflections

Vernon has been a Civil War buff since childhood, but had been inactive in Civil War history for over two decades. However, in the early 1990s his interest was rekindled after watching Ken Burns’ “Civil War Documentary” on PBS. He particularly became interested in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) and decided to learn more about this epic struggle.
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