Operations against Newbern in 1864.

Report of General Pickett.

Headquarters Department North Carolina, February 15, 1864.
General,--I have the honor to report that, in accordance with instructions received from General Lee, under date of January 20, 1864, the expedition left Kingston as follows:

General Barton with his own brigade and that of Kemper, and three regiments of Ranson's, eight rifle-pieces, six Napoleons, and six hundred cavalry on the morning of the 30th ultimo to cross the Trent and take the works in front of Newbern, in reverse, and prevent the enemy being reinforced by land or water. Later in the day I sent off the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Virginia to report to Colonel Dearing on the north side of the Neuse river — with this three pieces of artillery,--Whitford's regiment, and three hundred cavalry. He was to have attacked, if practicable, “Fort Anderson” --Barrington's. Commander Wood, of the navy, with his boat party, left on the 31st ultimo, and I, with Hoke's brigade, three regiments of Corse's and two of Clingman's [2] brigade, five rifle pieces, five Napoleons, and thirty cavalry, started on the evening of the 30th ultimo.

The attack was to have been made simultaneously by the different parties on Monday morning. Barton, with his cavalry, was to have cut the railroad and crossed Brice's creek, taking the forts on the bank of the Neuse (which ascend to the water) and pass across the railroad bridge, effectually, should he only succeed in the first cutting off of rein-forcements; Dearing, by taking “Fort Anderson,” would have a direct fire upon the town and an enfilading fire upon the works in frontof it; Commander Wood, having received the gunboats, would co-operate, and I, with the party under my command, create a diversion, draw off the enemy and, if the chance offered, go in the town.

Accordingly, on Monday morning at 1 o'clock, I pushed forward General Hoke, who upon his arrival at Bachelor's creek, nine miles from Newbern, was met in strong force by the enemy, although they were evidently surprised; still the night being dark, and the enemy being posted in a strong position, and having destroyed the bridge, it was impracticable for General Hoke to force a passage till after daylight. This he did in most gallant style. At this time the enemy, reinforcing heavily by railroad and trying to rake our lines with the guns on the steam iron-clads, they attempted to turn my right flank with these reinforcements. I threw Corse forward to drive them in, which he did handsomely, and Clingman, with his two regiments, following General Hoke. After effecting the crossing the enemy were hotly pursued, but having no cavalry, and the men much worn by the long night's march, and not having been allowed fires, we were unable to press our advantage as we would have done had there been fresh troops on hand; in fact it was 3 o'clock before General Corse could come to the crossing of the Neuse road with the railroad, some two-and-a-half miles from the town; there was unfortunately no co-operation, the other parties having failed to attack, and I found we were making the fight single-handed. Commander Wood went down the Neuse on the night of the 31st with his party but did not find the gunboats. Dearing found “Fort Anderson” too strong to attack. Barton's cavalry failed to cut the railroad and telegraph to Morehead City — nor was it ever done by his party. This was afterwards done by General Martin, but no communication was received of the fact from General Barton till some time after we moved back. General Barton communicated to me by courier, on Tuesday morning, saying he found the work laid out for him impracticable. This not being satisfactory to me I sent Captain Bright, my aid-de-camp, across the Trent to communicate with him in [3] person. This was accomplished by Captain Bright at a good deal of risk. General Barton informed him he had been entirely misinformed as to the strength of the place, and that he pronounced the work as too strong to attack, and that he had made no advance and did not intend to, and that he had sent out twice his cavalry to cut the railroad and they returned without accomplishing it.

Captain Bright then, by my direction, ordered him to join me. General Barton said he would try to cross at Pollocksville, but would be unable to cross that night (the 2d), and expressed some doubt as to whether he could cross at all at that point; should he fail there, he would be compelled to go much higher up the river. Thus the earliest possible moment at which he could have joined me, would have been on the evening of the 3d instant. I could not thus have attacked before the 4th instant. General Barton afterwards informed me, verbally, that he could, positively, have done nothing on his side of the river.

General Barton had orders from me, in case he found it impracticable to perform his part of the work, which was the most important, to at once cross to me, and let me try a “coup de main.” I could, however, hear nothing from him for some time, and when I did, it was the unsatisfactory note I have alluded to.

On the night of the 1st instant, Commander Wood gallantly attacked and took the six-gun steamer “Underwriter,” but was compelled to burn her, thus losing us her invaluable services. The enemy having had ample time to reinforce, both by water and railroad, the trains running in constantly, night and day, from Morehead City, and in fact, the whole plan by which the place was to be reduced having failed, I deemed it prudent, after consulting with my officers, to withdraw, which we did at our leisure.

The result may be summed up as follows, viz.: Killed and wounded, about one hundred; captured thirteen officers, two hundred and eighty-four privates, fourteen negroes, two rifle pieces and caissons, three hundred stand of small arms, four ambulances, three wagons, one hundred and three animals, a quantity of clothing and garrison equipage, and two flags.

Commander Wood, Confederate States Navy, captured and destroyed United States gunboat “Underwriter.” Our loss about forty-five killed and wounded. A correct list will be forwarded.

I found the ground in my front swept by half a dozen forts, one of them mounting seven rifle guns, with which they fired at pleasure over and into our line of battle. Had I have had the whole force in hand, [4] I have little doubt that we could have gone in easily, taking the place by surprise. I would not advise a movement against Newbern or Washington again until the iron-clads are done.

In the meantime, having received dispatches that the enemy were in force at Suffolk, and advancing on Blackwater, I deemed it prudent to send General Clingman back to Petersburg.

I have, as yet, received no written report from General Barton, but am of the opinion that he should have advanced at the same time that I did. Had he done so, the enemy being fully employed by me, he would probably have carried out this part of the plan. At any rate it was worth the trial, and I respectfully ask an investigation of his want of cooperation. From all that I can learn, no infantry were over on that side of the river.

The present operation I was afraid of from the first, as there were too many contingencies. I should have wished more concentration, but still hope the effect produced by the expedition may prove beneficial.

I am, General, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,


G. E. Pickett, Major-General Commanding. To General S. Cooper, A. I. General, Richmond, Va.

Report of General Hoke.

head quarters Hoke's brigade, Kinston, North Carolina, February 8th, 1864.
Major,--In obedience to orders, I reported to Major-General Pickett, with letters to him from the Commanding-General, on Friday, 22d of January, at Petersburg, and there awaited the arrival of my command, which was immediately forwarded to Garysburg, near Weldon. I expected to find General Corse's at Petersburg, but learned it could not reach there before Wednesday, 27th January, which delayed our movements from this point until Friday, the 29th. In the meantime the artillery was collected and placed upon cars, as it was to be shipped to Richmond, and every piece supplied with a sufficient quantity of ammunition.

The horses were sent to the country to recruit, and after getting several miles in the country were ordered to Wilmington, but were to stop at Wilson, North Carolina, for further orders.

After making all the necessary arrangements at Petersburg, I proceeded [5] at once to Kinston, and finding the enemy had made no change, returned to Weldon, to give the shipment of my troops my personal attention. Saturday, the 30th, being the day for the movement from Kinston, I, on Friday, forwarded to that point from Goldsboroa, all of Kemper's brigade, and three regiments of Ransom's brigade from Weldon, together with six rifled pieces and cannoniers, which, with Barton's brigade, six hundred cavalry, and six Napoleons, now at Kinston, composed the column which was to leave that point on Saturday morning, and move down the Trent road as if upon Newbern. Thence across Trent river, and down the south bank across Price's creek to the rear of Newbern, under the command of Brigadier-General Barton. Two regiments of Corse's brigade were also forwarded to Kinston on Friday, which, with Whitford's battalion, now on duty on north bank of Neuse river, below Kinston, formed the column commanded by Colonel Dearing, which was to make demonstrations against Washington; or, if he could surprise Fort Anderson, was to go in. The remainder of Corse's brigade, two regiments of Clingman's brigade, the Fifty-sixth North Carolina regiment of Ransom's brigade, and my brigade, with four Napoleons, eight rifled pieces and cannoniers, arrived at Kinston during Saturday (the horses having been ordered from Wilson, so as to arrive there at twelve o'clock on Saturday), which being the column that was to the front of Newbern, moved at once upon the Dover road, five miles from Kinston. On this night, General Barton, with his command, was fifteen miles from Kinston. Dearing was progressing finely, and General Martin was en route from Wilmington towards Morehead City. Colonel Wood, with his party, arrived at Kinston Saturday night, and proceeded down the river on Sunday.

On Sunday morning, at 6 o'clock, I, with my brigade at the head of the column, proceeded on the Dover road, arresting all persons who saw us, and directed the march, so as to arrive at Stevens' Ford, a point (10) ten miles from Newbern, and two miles from the outpost of the enemy, after dark, where we encamped without fires until one o'clock Monday morning, the 1st instant, at which time I moved forward, and captured all the outposts, but not without being hailed and fired upon.

I moved down the road with all possible speed, in order to reach Batchelor's Creek before the bridge could be taken up, but upon reaching the point, found they had been alarmed by the firing of the pickets, and had taken up the bridge.

Here I lost a number of men killed and wounded. The enemy at this point were strongly entrenched, and also had a block-house erected. To avoid the loss of men by storming, I threw some trees across the [6] creek, and crossed two regiments over under command of Colonel Mercer of the Twenty-first Georgia regiment, with orders to move upon their flank and rear, while I would repair the bridge and cross over the remainder of the command. This was soon done, arid we were not long delayed. The enemy, in the meantime, had telegraphed for reinforcements, who were about two miles distant, and arrived in time to form in the field in rear of the creek, artillery and infantry, but we soon drove them before us, and completely routed them. They made my anticipated move, which was to throw troops by cars across the creek on the railroad, and came in our rear. This was what we wanted, and I moved with all possible speed, a distance of six miles, to strike the railroad and capture the train, but the enemy by telegraphic communications were apprised of our move, and returned the train loaded with troops, just five minutes before I reached the road. It was my intention, had I gotten the train, to place my men upon it and go into Newbern.

At this point my brigade was halted to meet any advance of the enemy from the town, while General Clingman was ordered across to the Trent road to prevent the return of the enemy from Deep Gully, and also to take all stragglers, but not knowing the country, he failed to reach the road, which was extremely unfortunate, as during the evening, at different times (500) five hundred infantry and (400) four hundred cavalry, passed into the town panic-stricken, leaving their camps in wild confusion.

After General Corse came up to the railroad, I moved my brigade within a mile to the front of the town, to await the sound of Barton's guns from the opposite side of Trent river, when, much to my surprise, I saw two trains come into town from Morehead City, which proved clearly that Barton had not reached the point of destination. We remained in front of Newbern all day Tuesday, waiting Barton's move, when, much to my disappointment, a dispatch was received from him, stating that it was impossible for him to cross the creek. Being junior officer, it does not become me to speak my thoughts of this move.

On Wednesday we were ordered to return towards Batchelor's creek, my brigade bringing up the rear. Colonel Wood, on Sunday, found no boats in the river, but on Monday night most gallantly destroyed one of their first-class boats. Our surprise was most complete, and had all parties done their duty, our hopes would have been more than realized.

We now know the place was within our grasp, which was seen [7] before leaving the front of the town. The enemy were thoroughly routed and demoralized.

I hope, Major, the General will not think it was on account of statements made them con cerning the position and strength of the enemy, forI assure you I found matters more favorable than I expected. The work could have been done, and still can be accomplished. I have recruited my brigade somewhat since I have been in the State, and I am sanguine about increasing it a good deal. My men are in good health and fine spirits. The troops do not look upon our campaign as a failure, as the real object was not known to them, and the capture of several rich camps pleased them wonderfully. General Pickett has, no doubt, reported the extent of our captures. The two three-inch steel rifled pieces, with horses and equipments, were a valuable prize.

I have put (95) ninety-five carpenters and mechanics and (50) fifty laborers from my command, to work on the gunboat, and they will soon have it completed. The material I have made arrangements to have brought forward, and by the first of March I hope to have both of the iron-clads ready for work, with which there can be no doubt of success.

In the meantime I will remain here, where I have already made my men comfortable, and push forward the work, and at the same time give the boat protection, which is absolutely necessary. Major Wharton, who has been acting as staff officer, will be able to answer all questions.

There is no doubt of success in this undertaking, and we cannot and must not stop.

Very respectfully, yours, &c.,

R. F. Hoke, Brigadier-General. Major Taylor, A. A. G.

Letter of General Barton.

Headquarters Barton's brigade, February 21, 1864.
Major,--I have the honor to transmit herewith a copy of a report of the part borne by the forces under my command in the recent advance against Newbern, which I wish forwarded to General Lee. The original has been sent to General Pickett, now at Goldsboroa, N. C., and I desire to avoid the delay. Common rumor assigns me no enviable position in relation to this matter, and I know not how it may affect [8] my superiors. I am anxious to remove as speedily as possible, or as a knowledge of the facts may accomplish, such unfavorable impression.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. M. Barton, Brigadier General. Major T. A. Chestney, A. A. G.

Report of General Barton.

Headquarters brigade, February 21, 1864.
Major,--I have the honor to make the following report of the part borne by the forces under my command in the recent advance against Newbern. These were Kemper's (Colonel Terry), Ransom's, my own brigade (Colonel Aylett), twelve pieces of artillery, and twelve (12) companies of cavalry.

On the 29th ultimo I detached Colonel Baker with seven (7) companies of his regiment (Third North Carolina cavalry) and five (5) companies of the Sixty-second Georgia cavalry (Lieutenant-Colonel Kennedy) to strengthen the picket line between Neuse and Trent rivers, and to cover all the roads and paths south and east of Kinston, so as to prevent information reaching the enemy of any movement likely to create suspicion. At daylight on the 30th the troops commenced the movement and bivouaced that night on the Trent, after a march of eighteen (18) miles. The cavalry were advanced during the night and collected at Trenton. On the 31st, Colonel Baker, with his regiment, was detached and ordered to move by a circuitous route so as to reach the railroad at or near Croatan, ten miles below Newbern, and having destroyed the track and telegraph line, to follow up the railroad and capture the enemy's picket at Evan's Mill, a station on Brice's creek, seven miles from Newbern. The artillery and infantry marched twenty-one (21) miles and bivouaced twelve (12) miles from Newbern. A dark and rainy night and a broken bridge prevented further progress till the moon rose--1:30 A. M. At this hour the column was again put in motion, but such were the difficulties of the road it was 8 A. M. before coming in sight of the enemy's lines. Several citizens of intelligence and known loyalty, who had been brought in during the night and in the morning, assured me that the fortifications on the south of the Trent were of the most formidable character-deemed by the enemy impregnable — and to be approached only by a bridge over Brice's creek, a considerable stream both deep and wide.

A reconnoisance made by General Ransom, Colonel Aylett, and myself, [9] showed an open plain, varying from a mile to two miles in breadth, Teaching to Brice's creek — this very deep, and about eighty yards wide, with marshy banks, the timber upon which had been cut down. A temporary bridge; on the east bank a block-house and breast-works, behind which a camp; at confluence of creek with Trent river, one thousand yards distant, a field-work mounting ten (10) guns; three hundred yards east another work with eight (8) guns; one-half or three-quarters of a mile east, near railroad bridge, and about one mile from Brice's creek bridge, another very large work; south, on Neuse river, about two miles from Brice's creek bridge, a very large fort for land and river defence; a line of breastworks extending from this west to Brice's creek, and terminating in a field-work one mile above the bridge; other works of less importance covering the plain and connecting the forts; on north side of Trent — here seven hundred yards wide--two field-works commanding those on south side.

The plan of operations required me to gain the south bank of Trent river, which was thought to be unprotected by fortifications, in order that my guns planted there should take in reverse the enemy's works between the rivers. Before starting upon the expedition I had made every exertion consistent with secrecy to arrive at accurate information as to this part of the enemy's position, having entertained doubts as to its not being fortified. Scouts and spies, deemed reliable, had been examined, and reported that there were no works there; one in particular, as surveyor of the county, and maker of the sketches and maps of the vicinity upon which we relied, was sent to ascertain the facts. He returned three days before the movement and reported that his maps were correct, that there were no other fortifications than those abandoned by our troops at the capture of Newbern, and that these were constructed to meet an advance from the east and south. Brice's creek was also represented by him not to exceed ninety feet in breadth. I was therefore unprepared to encounter obstacles so serious and was forced to the conviction that they were insurmountable by any means at my disposal.

Had it even been practicable to carry the fortifications on the south side of Trent, the possession of them would have been useless for the accomplishment of our object. In this opinion the brigade commanders fully coincided. It still remained practicable to make a detour by Evan's mill to cross Brice's creek, but this route would have brought me in front of the same and other fortifications. It had been determined in case of a failure in the attack on the south, that my forces should be withdrawn to join General Pickett, and assault on the west. I was already, by the nearest practicable route, (24) twenty-four miles [10] from General Pickett. This detour by Evan's Mill, while it added nothing to our chance of success, added also eleven (11) miles to the distance between us. I, immediately on arriving in front of the works of Newbern, advanced my line of skirmishers close to Brice's Creek.

The enemy opened and kept up a fire upon them during the whole of the 1st and 2d instant from the works and field batteries. The resistance offered to General Pickett's advance seemed to be so obstinate, as indicated by long continuance of firing in the same direction, that I deemed it advisable to make a diversion in his favor, and accordingly opened with six (6) rifles upon the block-house and contiguous forts.

Having accomplished this object the pieces were withdrawn; the enemy seemed to have suffered much by this fire. He endeavored to throw a force across Brice's creek, but it was driven back by the line of skirmishers. Colonel Baker returned at midday on the 1st, having failed to effect a passage across the swamp, assigning the incompetency of his guide and the difficulties of his route, enhanced by the rain and the darkness of the night, as his reasons therefor. He again made the attempt on thenight of the 1st with like result and for the same reasons. On the night of the 2d, with a small party dismounted, he succeeded after very great labor in reaching the railroad and telegraph lines, which he broke up. Lieutenant-Colonel Kennedy on the morning of the 1st ambuscaded a body of the enemy's cavalry, killed one, wounded several, and took five prisoners. On the 2d he drove in the enemy's picket, near Evan's, killing one and taking one prisoner. Immediately after reconnoitering the enemy's position, I despatched several messengers, scouts and couriers to General Pickett informing him of the posture of affairs and asking instructions, and also endeavored to open communication with him by means of signals. I received no communication from him until the evening of the second (2d), when he directed me to join him for the purpose of making an assault on his front. I at once proceeded to do so. Having reached Pollocksville, twelve miles on my route, he directed me to fall back to Kinston, which was accordingly done. My casualties amount to one killed and four wounded, whose names will be forwarded as soon as received.

I have been delayed in forwarding this report awaiting those of brigade commanders, only one of which, herewith enclosed, has yet reached me. The press and common rumor have been busy casting censure upon my course. If my superiors entertain similar opinions, I request that a court of inquiry becalled to investigate the matter.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. M. Barton, Brigadier-General. Major C. Pickett, Assistant Adjutant-General.



Headquarters Department of Richmond, February 26, 1864.
Respectfully forwarded at the request of Brigadier-General Barton.

Arnold Elzey, Major-General.

Headquarters, 3d March, 1864.
I think it due to General Barton that a court of inquiry be granted him.

R. E. Lee, General.

Respectfully submitted to the adjutant and inspector-general.

Samuel W. Melton, Major and Assistant Adjutant-General. Organization Office, March 8, 1864.

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