The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864 (Univ. Press of Kansas, 2019)
by Hampton Newsome
“In this fascinating new book, Hampton Newsome makes a valuable contribution to Civil War literature, offering a compelling account of Confederate efforts in early 1864 to turn the tide of war in eastern North Carolina. Though these efforts produced decidedly mixed results, the same cannot be said of Newsome’s. Well-researched, informative, and unfailingly interesting, this superb study merits the attention of anyone interested in the course and conduct of these operations, their strategic and operational effects, and the challenges leaders on both sides faced as they pursued victory in the Old North State in 1864.”
—Ethan S. Rafuse, author of Robert E. Lee and the Fall of the Confederacy, 1863–1865 and coeditor of Guide to the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign
On a cold day in early January 1864, Robert E. Lee wrote to Confederate president Jefferson Davis “The time is at hand when, if an attempt can be made to capture the enemy’s forces at New Berne, it should be done.” Over the next few months, Lee’s dispatch would precipitate a momentous series of events as the Confederates, threatened by a supply crisis and an emerging peace movement, sought to seize Federal bases in eastern North Carolina. This book tells the story of these operations—the late war Confederate resurgence in the Old North State.
Using rail lines to rapidly consolidate their forces, the Confederates would attack the main Federal position at New Bern in February, raid the northeastern counties in March, hit the Union garrisons at Plymouth and Washington in late April, and conclude with another attempt at New Bern in early May. The expeditions would involve joint-service operations, as the Confederates looked to support their attacks with powerful, homegrown ironclad gunboats. These offensives in early 1864 would witness the failures and successes of southern commanders including George Pickett, James Cooke, and a young, aggressive North Carolinian named Robert Hoke. Likewise they would challenge the leadership of Union army and naval officers such as Benjamin Butler, John Peck, and Charles Flusser. Newsome does not neglect the broader context, revealing how these military events related to a contested gubernatorial election; the social transformations in the state brought on by the war; the execution of Union prisoners at Kinston; and the activities of North Carolina Unionists.
Lee’s January proposal triggered one of the last successful Confederate offensives. The Fight for the Old North State captures the full scope, as well as the dramatic details of this struggle for North Carolina.