|The Neuse River, looking toward the site of the sinking of the USS Mystic at Maple Cypress.
In early April 1865, the Army of Northern Virginia had abandoned the lines around Richmond and Petersburg, and the Army of Tennessee had retreated to Greensboro. In many aspects, the war was drawing to a close. Yet there were still military actions taking placs. On April 5, 1865, Colonel John N. Whitford led a raid against two Union vessels on the Neuse River in North Carolina.
Whitford was a
Craven County, North Carolina, native and a merchant in New Bern prior to the
war. When the war came, he commanded Company I, 1st North Carolina
Artillery, and was a part of the Fort Fisher garrison. Whitford went on to
serve as major in the 1st Battalion, Local Defence Troops, and then
colonel of the 67th North Carolina Troops. He was wounded at the
battle of Fort Branch but returned in time to command a brigade at the battle
of Wyse Fork and the greater Bentonville Campaign.
brigade was composed of the 67th and 68th North Carolina
Troops. Whitford had been left behind as a rear guard when the Confederates
pulled out of Kinston. On March 16, they had retired to Goldsboro (where the 68th
NCT joined Whitford). His brigade was said to number 1,000 men. On March 18,
they were ordered to Cox’s Bridge on the Neuse River. When they were attacked
on March 19, Whitford fired the bridge and fell back, after a sharp skirmish.
It is not clear if they took part in the actual battle of Bentonville. When the
rest of the Confederate army pulled back west, toward Raleigh and Greensboro,
Whitford’s command, augmented by cavalry, remained behind, skirmishing with the
Federals and tearing up the railroads. Writing on April 9, 1865, Whitford
stated that on April 5, Lieutenant [James] Marshall [of] Company F . . . burned
the steamer Mystic, near Maple Cypress [on the Neuse River].” On that
same day, “Captain [James] Tolson, Company A . . . destroyed a transport loaded
with commissary stores near Cowpen Landing [also on the Neuse River]. Finally,
on April 7, “four privates of Company A. . . captured and destroyed (burned) 1
side wheel steamer, the Minquas, and 2 barges, all loaded with quartermaster’s
and commissary stores.”
Five naval vessels
all destroyed by a land force within two days! Finding information about these
vessels, only two of which are named, is quite a chore. The USS Mystic was
built in 1853 in Philadelphia and when acquired by the U.S. Navy prior to the
war was known as the USS Memphis. The Mystic was on blockade duty
along North Carolina in 1862, and along the York River and Chesapeake Bay in
1863. Nothing seems to be mentioned about her bearing burned by the Confederates
in April 1865, only that she was sold in June 1865 to a private party and renamed
General Custer. Chances are she was salvaged and raised and then sold.
The other mentioned
vessel was the USS Minquas or Minquass. The Minquas was a side-wheel
steamer built in 1864 in Wilmington, Delaware. It is not clear if the USS Minquas
was ever raised.
Maybe there is some type of paper trail someplace with more information on these five vessels. The event does not seem to appear in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Federal naval officers, probably in the glow of helping win the war, seemed to have neglected the loss of these five vessels.