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Battle of Kinston, North Carolina
in the American Civil War

Union Battle Summary

Kinston, N.C., March 8-10, 1865. 23rd Army Corps and Provisional Division, District of Beaufort. Wilmington was occupied by the Union troops under Gen. Schofield on Feb. 22, and steps were immediately taken to open railroad communications between the seacoast and Goldsboro, in order to get supplies to Sherman's army. It was soon discovered, however, that communications could be more easily established from New Berne and the base of operations was transferred to that point. On Feb. 26, Maj.-Gen. J.D. Cox was ordered to assume command of the movement. Cox reached New Berne on the last day of February, organized his forces into two divisions, commanded by Brig.-Gens. I.N. Palmer and S.P. Carter, and at once commenced the work of repairing the railroad. A little later he was joined by Ruger's division of the 23rd corps. The first opposition was met near Kinston, about 30 miles from New Berne. About 3 miles from Kinston is a stream called Southwest creek, along the banks of which some skirmishing occurred on march 7, and the enemy was found to be in greater force than had been anticipated. Several roads leading to Kinston crossed Southwest creek. Near the mouth of the stream was the Neuse road, running almost parallel to the river of that name. Between Kinston and Southwest creek two roads - the Upper Trent and Dover - branched off from the Beuse road and followed a general southeasterly direction. On the east side of the creek, and nearly parallel to it, was the British road, while the Lower Trent road left the Neuse road a short distance east of the creek and ran for some distance nearly sue south, crossing the British and Dover roads a little way south of the railroad. The crossing of the British and Dover roads was known as "Wise's Forks." After the skirmishing on the 7th along Southwest creek (q.v.) Cox placed Upham's brigade of Carter's division at this point to cover the left of the Federal position, a strong picket line was pushed up to the bank of the creek, and Ruger's division was stationed at Gum swamp, where it could move to the support of any part of the line at short notice.

Cox had received information that Hoke's division was at Kinston, ad that a Confederate ironclad was lying in the Neuse in front of the town. He did not know, however, that Gen. J.E. Johnston, who had just been assigned to the command of the Confederate forces in North Carolina, had ordered Gen. Braxton Bragg to move with his command from Goldsboro, unite with the remnant of Hood's army, under Gens. Clayton and D.H. Hill, at Smithfield, and strike a decisive blow at the Union column coming up from New Berne, in the hope of cutting off Sherman's supplies, after which his intention was to concentrate the entire force at some available point to prevent Sherman from forming a junction with Schofield. On the morning of the 8th, while Schofield and Cox were in consultation as to what course was best to pursue, the enemy suddenly appeared in force between Upham and the rest of the division. Upham's troops were principally new recruits and could not be rallied after the first attack in time to meet the second. The result was that three-fourths of the brigade were captured. Ruger was hurried to Carter's support and the two divisions, protected by a light breastwork, held their position against the repeated assaults of the Confederates. In order to create a diversion Palmer was ordered to make a vigorous demonstration in his front, as though he intended to force a crossing. Here a few prisoners were taken, from whom it was learned that at least three divisions of the enemy were engaged at Wise's Forks, and that Bragg was in command. Upon receiving this information Schofield directed Cox to act on the defensive, holding his position if possible, until the remainder of the 23rd corps could be brought up. Skirmishing was kept up during the 9th, but no serious attack was made on any part of the Union lines. A short time before noon on the 10th Hoke's division made a desperate assault on Cox's left. McQuiston's brigade of Ruger's division was moved on the double-quick to Carter's left, and at the same time both Carter's and Ruger's batteries began pouring a perfect shower of shrapnel and canister into the Confederate ranks. After an hour they broke and fled, closely pursued by McQuiston until the latter was recalled to support the center, where the line was too thin ti successfully resist an attack should one be made. At 3:45 p.m. Bragg sent the following despatch to Johnston: "The enemy is strongly intrenched in the position to which we drove him. Yesterday and today we have moved on his flanks, but without gaining any decided advantage. His line is extensive, and prisoners report large reinforcements. Under these conditions I deem it best, with the information you give, to join you, which I shall proceed to do, unless otherwise directed."

That night the ironclad was burned and sunk, and Bragg moved to Goldsboro to effect a junction with the main body of Johnston's army. Kinston was occupied by the Federal forces on the 14th. The Union losses in the several engagements about Kinston were 65 killed, 319 wounded and 953 captured, most of the last being members of Upham's brigade, which was surprised on the morning of the 8th. No detailed report of the Confederate casualties was made. The number of prisoners taken was 266, and as the enemy was the attacking party it is quite probable that their loss in killed and wounded was equal to or greater than that of the Union army.

Source: The Union Army, Volume 6, Cyclopedia of Battles, 1908


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