On this day in 1862, at the Battle of New Bern, Union General Ambrose Burnside captures North Carolina’s second largest city and closes another port through which the Confederates could slip supplies.
The capture of New Bern continued Burnside’s success along the Carolina coast. Five weeks earlier, he led an amphibious force against Roanoke Island between Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. The Yankees captured the island on February 8; now Burnside moved against New Bern on the mainland. On March 13, he landed 12,000 troops along the Neuse River, 15 miles south of New Bern. Accompanied by 13 gunboats, Burnside’s army marched up river to face 4,000 Confederate troops commanded by General Lawrence O. Branch.
The city was protected by extensive defenses, but Branch did not have enough soldiers to properly staff them. He concentrated his men along the inner works a few miles downriver from New Bern. Early on the morning of March 14, Burnside’s men attacked in a heavy fog, and two of the three Yankee brigades crashed into the fortifications. General Jesse Reno’s brigade struck the weakest part of the line, where an inexperienced Rebel militia unit tried to hold off the Federals. Burnside’s third brigade joined Reno and the Confederate line collapsed. That afternoon, Union gunboats steamed into New Bern.
Union casualties for the battle were around 90 killed and 380 wounded, while the Confederates suffered approximately 60 killed, 100 wounded, and 400 captured. The conflict produced a Confederate hero, Colonel Zebulon Vance, who rescued his regiment by using small boats to bypass a bridge set afire by his comrades. Vance was elected governor of the state later that year.