From the Battle of New Bern to the First North Carolina Colored Volunteers, Tryon Palace invites you to experience North Carolina’s Civil War history with special exhibits, artifacts, tours inside 19th-century homes, and Civil War Weekend, held once in the spring and once in the fall.
Discover New Bern's rich Civil War history with these exhibits and resources, found exclusively at Tryon Palace.
On March 14, 1862, following the Civil War’s Battle of New Bern, town officials surrendered the city to U. S. Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside. Accompanied by 11,000 soldiers, Burnside entered a town in flames: Confederate soldiers had burned warehouses and ammunition, in anticipation of the “Yankees” taking over New Bern. Once the smoke cleared, the town’s new occupiers were charmed by New Bern’s quiet tree-lined streets, quaint houses, and surrounding natural resources.
The Union Army stayed in New Bern until the end of the Civil War, making this North Carolina’s largest city under continuous occupation. The Army used many of the town’s existing buildings for residences, offices, hospitals, schools, and jails: the Jones House, now one of Tryon Palace’s historic buildings, was the Confederate jail, and the Palace’s Stable Office was even guarded by details of Union soldiers for much of the town’s military occupation.
New Bern’s population during the war included Union soldiers, escaped slaves (known as “contraband” until the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation), and natives who either could not escape or chose to stay behind. Most of these native townspeople were Secessionists, or “Secesh,” who were loyal to the Confederate army. To keep their homes, many took the Union oath of allegiance, but the scarcity of food and supplies made their lives difficult.
Refugee African Americans from eastern North Carolina plantations found a new life and purpose in Civil War-era New Bern. Men and women worked for the military as laborers, cooks, seamstresses, and laundresses. Some even became soldiers: in 1863, the First North Carolina Colored Volunteers (see the historical highway marker at the Academy Museum), who went on to fight in several Civil War battles, had their first parade on the city green. The military government established schools and the Trent River Settlement that eventually became James City, which housed a vibrant community of freed African Americans.