The Civil War

In eastern North Carolina: 1862
By Fred W. Harrison, Jr.
The Civil War

From Harper’s Weekly Magazine (June 28, 1862) depicting the Battle of Tranter’s Creek near Washington, N.C., that took place on June 5, 1862. (Langford North Carolina Collection, ECU.)

Eastern North Carolina residents today would have little difficulty comparing the events of 1862 with the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. It can probably be said that at no other time before or since has there existed such overall uncertainty and fear for the preservation of life and property in North Carolina than during this time 150 years ago.

North Carolinians were not of one mind on the matter of secession. The state reluctantly joined the Confederacy on May 20, 1861. With the fall of Hatteras late that year, the Union army moved quickly to extend its control over eastern North Carolina. On February 7, 1862, troops under Gen. Ambrose Burnside landed on Roanoke Island and forced surrender of the Confederate garrison. A month later the same forces removed to New Bern and captured that town on March 14 and from there Fort Macon in Carteret County. These victories gave Union forces control of the strategically important Albemarle and Pamlico sounds.

Using captured coastal communities as their base, particularly New Bern and Washington, Federal forces repeatedly raided interior eastern North Carolina in a continuous effort to cripple the critical rail link for the Confederacy between Wilmington and Richmond.

It was during the latter half of 1862 that eastern North Carolina would experience the most voracious of these forays in the two-part epic known as Foster's Raid. In early November 1862, the towns of Williamston and Hamilton suffered significant destruction in the wake of John G. Foster's army's unsuccessful attempt to reach the railroad in Tarboro. The Battle of Rawles Mill in Martin County was the first significant opposition displayed by rebel forces in Foster's Raid. A second phase of the raid occurred in December with the battles of Kinston, Whitehall and Goldsboro.

Learn what it was like in 1862

Currently on display in Joyner Library's Langford North Carolina Collection at East Carolina University are a number of rare books, maps prints and other visual ephemera chronicling the year 1862 and the many events that contributed in making eastern North Carolina a civil war battleground.

A great source of information provided in the exhibit are regimental histories, most of which were compiled immediately after the war by Union solders. Some of the earliest photographic images of landscapes in the region are contained in these, particularly street scenes of New Bern. Of special note is James B. Gardner's "Record of the Service of the Forty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in North Carolina." The Langford Collection owns one of a very few surviving limited editions of this volume containing 32 hand-pasted albumen images of places visited by the 44th during its stay in eastern Carolina.

Even more fascinating is a newspaper, The New Era, published in "Little" Washington on June 25, 1862. Only two or three issues are known to have survived. The June 25th issue is unique in itself. Washington was captured on March 20, 1862, and the newspaper was one of many Union-sanctioned enterprises during the Federal occupation of that town.

Several contemporary prints from Harper's Weekly Magazine further illustrate the bombardment and occupation of Washington and New Bern, Roanoke Island and successes generated by Gen. Ambrose Burnside.

An exceptional publication on view is Alfred S. Roe's "The Twenty-Fourth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers, 1861-1866" (1907). More exceptional is John Jasper Weyth's 1878 volume, "Leaves from a Diary Written While Serving in Co. E, 44 Mass., Dep't of North Carolina, from September 1862 to June 1863," with map and details of the Battle of Rawles Mill in Martin County.

About the Author

Fred W. Harrison Jr. is staff librarian with the North Carolina Collection, Joyner Library.

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