The Battle of New Bern - 14th March 1862


General Ambrose E. Burnside

Union thinking in the early part of the American Civil War was to bring it to a speedy end by blocking Confederate supplies and the movement of men and materials. The area around the city of New Bern presented itself as an ideal target for such a tactic, with the Neuse River being a potential thoroughfare for Confederate ships bringing up supplies, bit also the North Carolina Railroad ran only a short distance inland. The capture of this area could inflict a double hardship on Confederate logistics.


Union General, Ambrose Burnside put together a plan of attack which would involve combined operations. On the 12th March vessels of the US Navy transported and disembarked Burnside and his men about 15 miles away from Fort Thompson at New Bern, the ships then proceeded upstream and on the 13th began a bombardment of the initial Confederate positions which lay several miles south of the battle area, The Confederate forces were largely made up of fresh recruits and militia who soon took fright at the naval shelling and pulled back to another defensive line along Butler's Creek and across to the fort itself on the river bank. This retreat allowed Ambrose to make a rapid and unopposed advance on to the fort and surrounding area, and the night of the 13th both armies lay only a short distance from each other. At 7:30am on the 14th, General Ambrose launched his attack.


Suggested initial set up for the Battle of New Bern

ORDERS OF BATTLE - as we have recently, we are describing unit size generally, rather than specific, allowing our information here to be used for a variety of rule sets and personal preferences.


Confederate Forces

Brig.General Lawrence O'Bryan Branch - Commander in Chief - experienced, inspirational leader


Latham's Brigade

26th North Carolina Regiment - trained, inexperienced, good morale, rifled musket

33rd North Carolina Regiment (large regiment) - trained, inexperienced, average morale, smoothbore musket

7th North Carolina Regiment - trained, inexperienced, good morale, rifled musket

27th North Carolina Regiment - trained, inexperienced, good morale, rifled musket

4 gun artillery battery - trained, experienced, good morale, 6lb smoothbore


Brem's Brigade

35th North Carolina Regiment - trained, inexperienced, good morale, rifled musket

37th North Carolina Regiment - trained, inexperienced, good morale, rifled musket

4 gun artillery battery - trained, experienced, good morale, 6lb smoothbore


Harding's Brigade

1/2 North Carolina Cavalry (small unit) - trained, experienced, good morale, sword and pistol

2/2 North Carolina Cavalry (small unit) - trained, experienced, good morale, sword and pistol

Carolina Militia (large unit) - poor training, inexperienced, brittle morale, smoothbore musket

4 gun artillery battery - trained, experienced, good morale, 6lb smoothbore


Fort Artillery

2 gun battery - trained, experienced, good morale, 24lb cannon


Union Forces

Brig.General Ambrose E. Burnside - Commander in Chief - experienced, good tacticain, respected leader


1st Brigade

25th Massachusetts Regiment - trained, experienced, good morale, rifled musket

24th Massachusetts Regiment - trained, experienced, good morale, rifled musket

27th Massachusetts Regiment - trained, experienced, good morale, rifled musket

23rd Massachusetts Regiment - trained, experienced, good morale, rifled musket

10th Connecticut Regiment - trained, experienced, good morale, rifled musket

6 gun artillery battery - trained, experienced, good morale, 6lb smoothbore


2nd Brigade

21st Massachusetts Regiment - trained, experienced, good morale, rifled musket

51st New York Regiment - trained, inexperienced, average morale, rifled musket

9th New Jersey Regiment - trained, inexperienced, good morale, rifled musket

51st Pennsylvania Regiment - trained, experienced, good morale, rifled musket

2 gun artillery battery - trained, experienced, good morale, 6lb smoothbore


3rd Brigade

4th Rhode Island Regiment - trained, experienced, good morale, rifled musket

8th Connecticut Regiment - trained, experienced, good morale, rifled musket

5th Rhode Island Regiment - trained, experienced, good morale, rifled musket

11th Connecticut Regiment - trained, experienced, good morale, rifled musket


THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED


The battle opened at 7:30am on the Union's left flank with an assault on the 26th NC who were dug in on high ground across the creek. The initial artillery barrage made little impression firing up to the elevated position of the Confederates and the infantry were soon called to cross the creek and attempt to scale the slopes on the opposite bank. The Confederates had made crude field works along the ridge with felled trees and undergrowth which they found good protection from the advancing Union musketry. Their advance was halted by determined fire from the 26th NC and were forced back to regroup and rally.


On the opposite wing the artillery exchange was fairly evenly matched and both sides inflicted casualties, but again it was the Union troops who advanced, only this time to a similar number of defenders. The exchange of musketry began to swing in the Confederate's favour and with brief but determined charge of bayonets, the Confederates sent the Union troops back to their starting positions.


Burnside was getting increasingly frustrated with the situation, afterall, his forces outnumbered the enemy over two to one and he took a moment to ponder how to break the line. He noted that the battlefield was divided in two by the North Carolina Railroad, which by its nature required flat and easily crossed terrain. The Confederates defending this rail track were the North Carolina Militia, an inexperienced and rather battle nervous unit. Burnside therefore brought up his 3rd Brigade to attack in column through the gap of his two other brigades and straight up the rail track to attack the militia unit. An assault he led personally


Burnside directs the assault along the rail track

His plan worked; the militia were not willing or able to fend off the Union attack for long and soon broke, opening a gap for Burnside's men to exploit and get behind the Confederate line. The 33rd NC were sent to help plug the gap but the Union assault became so intense they too fell back. Regiments within the 3rd Brigade found themselves having to "leapfrog" to the lead position of the assault as their leading units ran out of ammunition, so fast were their volleys into the defenders ranks.


Facing a renewed frontal attack from the 2nd Brigade and hearing fighting off to their left, the 26th NC began to get nervous and soon were falling back into the woods behind them before turning in retreat to the city of New Bern to the north.


Swinging right, the 3rd Brigade were threatening the flanks of the 35th and 7th NC, while the 1st Brigade once again attacked from the front. Despite courageous efforts from the rebel regiments it soon became apparent that they would be surrounded and cut off if they stood their ground much longer. They too, opted to retreat to New Bern, destroying bridges on their way to prevent a speedy pursuit by Burnside. Unfortunately this left some Confederates trapped behind to be taken prisoner.


It had been a hard victory for Burnside with 90 killed and almost 400 wounded. The Confederates had lost 63 killed and 100 wounded, but over 400 were taken prisoner in the retreat.


WARGAMING THE BATTLE


Despite all focus currently being on Warlord Games Epic Battles series, this battle would lend itself to any rules and any scale. Terrain is relatively simple, with no extreme hills, just a few gentle slopes along the waterways, the most dominant feature being the rail track, so depending on which scale you play it may be time to get the old Hornby set out the loft for this one.


The fort played little to no part in the land battle, so at a push could be omitted from the table if yo wish.