I thought this morning we would turn our attention to Lenoir County, over toward the east coast. Lenoir County is named for Gen. William Lenoir (1751-1839). The county was formed in 1791 from Dobbs County. Lenoir was a patriot in the American Revolution. He lived in modern Caldwell County, where the county seat, Lenoir, is also named for William Lenoir. Kinston, which had served as Dobbs County’s seat, was retained as Lenoir County’s seat. Kinston was incorporated in 1762. The name was originally Kingston and named in honor of King George III.
In 1860, Lenoir County had a population of 10,220, including 5,131 slaves and 177 free blacks. And during the 1860 Presidential election, Lenoir County voters cast 533 votes for Breckinridge, 317 for Bell, and 21 for Douglas.
February 1861 found Lenoir County voting 447 for a convention to consider secession, with 195 against the question. Representing the county during the convention of May 1861 was John Cobb Washington, a relative of George Washington. J. C. Washington was born in Kinston in 1801. He was a merchant and a farmer and was opposed to secession.
Numerous companies were recruited from Lenoir County, including Company D, 5th NCST; Company C, 13th Batt. NC Infantry; Companies C and D, 27th NCT; 1st Company K, 32nd NCT; Co. E, 61st NCT; and Companies C and H, 1st Batt. Local Defense Troops.
The county was the site of numerous raids during the war. Lenoir County was between the Federal army at New Bern, and the Confederate-held (and extremely important) Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. We are going to focus our time on the two larger battles in the county, namely, the battle of Kinston, fought December 13-14, 1862, and the battle of Wyse Fork, fought March 8-10, 1865.
The first battle of Kinston was part of a general troop movement by Union forces which extended as far west as Goldsboro, as far north as Fredericksburg, Va. and as far south as Wilmington. Union troops under the command of Brigadier General John G. Foster of New Hampshire had already taken the town of New Bern. Foster’s force consisted of about 10,000 infantry, 640 cavalry, and 40 pieces of artillery, supported by nine small gun boats on the Neuse River. Defending Kinston were a little more than 2,500 Confederates under the command of Brig. Gen. Nathan G. “Shank” Evans. On December 11, 1862, the raid commenced, and on December 13, the two forces collided. Federal cavalry battled Confederate infantry at Southwest Creek, with the North Carolinians being driven back. Evans consolidated his forces about two miles away at a bridge crossing over the Neuse. The next day, the Federals faced stiff resistance but were able to cross a swamp and out- flank the Confederates. Evans, believing all his men were across the bridge, ordered it burned. However, not all of his men were across the river, and he lost 400 captured to the Federals, along with eleven pieces of artillery. The flames on the bridge were extinguished by the Federals, who were able to cross over into Kinston. Evans continued to retreat, and skirmishes were fought at Seven Springs (then Whitehall) in Wayne County. Eventually, the Federals reached Goldsboro, but were unable to capture and destroy the bridge due to Confederate resistance, and were forced to retreat. By Dec. 14, Foster's inland expedition resulted in 90 Union soldiers killed, 478 wounded, and nine missing. On the Confederate side, 71 were killed, 268 wounded, and over 400 captured.
The battle of Wyse Fork, also called the Second Battle of Kinston, was fought March 7-10, 1865. This battle has been called the second largest battle in the state and was a delaying action by Braxton Bragg against forces of John Schofield. Schofield planned to advance inland from Wilmington in February, at the same time assigning Maj. Gen. Jacob Cox to direct Union forces from New Berne toward Goldsboro. On March 7, Cox’s advance was stopped by Hoke’s and Hagood’s divisions under Gen. Braxton Bragg’s command at Southwest Creek below Kinston. On the 8th, the Confederates attempted to seize the initiative by attacking the Union flanks. After initial success, the Confederate attacks stalled because of faulty communications. On March 9, the Union forces were reinforced and beat back Bragg’s renewed attacks on the 10th after heavy fighting. Bragg withdrew across the Neuse River and was unable to prevent the fall of Kinston on March 14. Federal loses were 1,101. Confederate losses were estimated at 1,500.
Also of importance to Lenoir County history is the Confederate ironclad CSS Neuse. “ The CSS Neuse, named after the river on which it was based, was constructed in 1863 amid Confederate hopes that the ironclad could help regain control over the rivers and sounds of eastern North Carolina. In April 1864, the Neuse, not yet fully equipped, left Kinston to help with a planned attack against New Bern. Before it reached its target, the Neuse ran aground and eventually returned to its base. On March 12, 1865, she was burned by her crew to prevent capture. The wreck remained in the river until 1963 when it was raised, then located in its present site. The remains of the Neuse (much of its wooden lower structure and some of its iron plating) are displayed” at the CSS Neuse State Historic Park.
There are numerous things to see in Kinston and Lenoir County pertaining to the war. There is a driving tour available of the battle of Kinston. You can gain information on the tour by visiting the Visitor Center on Hwy. 70 just on the outskirts of town. The Visitor Center has a video and numerous artifacts from the battles. There is also a monument on the Visitor Center grounds. If memory serves me correctly, the Visitor Center is on part of the battlefield. The Historic Preservation Group in Lenoir County has preserved 56 acres of land pertaining to the March 1865 battle at Wyse Fork. There are also several signs and markers detailing this battle. The remains of the CSS Neuse can be visited, along with the “Cat Hole of the Neuse” a spot on the river where construction of the ironclad was finished. Right in the middle of town is the CSS Neuse II, a full-size replica of the original ironclad.
I was in Kinston in August of last year and greatly enjoyed my visit. I encourage you to also drop by.