New Bern Civil War History

New Bern sustained two major battles during the Civil War. The first battle was March 14, 1862 when advancing union forces approximately 11,000 strong came upon a defending confederate force of approximately 4,000. The battle ended in a union victory. A portion of the first battlefield is preserved with a visitor center, walking trails and monuments. It is about 4-5 miles south of New Bern on Taberna Drive.

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.

The second battle February 1-3, 1864 was a three-pronged attack under the overall command of General George Pickett. The attacks came from the James City side with confederate troops in Pollocksville advancing. The second attack was against Ft. Anderson (Bridgeton side of New Bern). The third attack was on the western side of New Bern and action occurred at Batchelor Creek. The result was a failure to recapture the city from Union Forces. The Confederate Army retreated February 4, 1864.

The New Bern Academy was a Confederate Hospital before the town fell to the Union. After the town fell it was used as a Union Hospital. During the occupation, General Foster consolidated many of the houses that were used as hospitals to one central location which was later named Foster General Hospital.

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.

To visit New Bern’s Civil War battlefield and learn more about it, visit the New Bern Historical Society.