Friday, February 2, 2018

Booknotes: New Bern and the Civil War

New Arrival:
New Bern and the Civil War by James Edward White III (Arcadia Pub & The Hist Press).

This is probably the first book to take a serious look at Civil War fighting around New Bern (the most common contemporaneous spelling was New Berne), North Carolina since Richard Sauers's landmark 1996 history of the Burnside Expedition titled "A Succession of Honorable Victories". However, the focus of James Edward White's New Bern and the Civil War is much broader in scope, covering the entire war.

The publisher description offers a rundown of its content. "On March 14, 1862, Federal forces under the command of General Ambrose Burnside overwhelmed Confederate forces in the Battle of New Bern, capturing the town and its important seaport. From that time on, Confederates planned to retake the city. D.H. Hill and James J. Pettigrew made the first attempt but failed miserably. General George Pickett tried in February 1864. He nearly succeeded but called the attack off on the edge of victory. The Confederates made another charge in May led by General Robert Hoke. They had the city surrounded with superior forces when Lee called Hoke back to Richmond and ended the expedition. Author Jim White details the chaotic history of New Bern in the Civil War."

The notes and bibliography indicate a synthesis seasoned with some archival research. The volume displays the publisher's typical excellence when it comes to photographs and other types of illustrations. Of particular interest are the many sketches and formal drawings of the fortifications in the area. In addition to the archival map reproductions, the original battle maps (which look great) are numerous enough to cover all the main actions described in the text. This is definitely one for the to-read pile.


  1. John FoskettFebruary 03, 2018

    I've remarked on this before but the Burnside operations would be a nice target for a new study/update of Sauers. On Amazon, the 1996 book lists as used for $2,796. Good luck on that sale. The White volume seems to be worthwhile.

  2. I agree with Mr. Foskett (to whom I send kudos for his recent interesting review in Civil War News of the new Emory Upton book). I have fond memories of vacations in Emerald Isle in the 90s and visiting the nearby Fort Macon several times with my small children - now in their 30s with their own children and who still kid me about my dragging them there to REL's creation. I also recall fondly my trips to Bill Mason's terrific Civil War bookstore in nearby Morehead City. Bill was a crusty son of a gun who watched my kids like a hawk so they did not put their grubby hands on his books. I learned not to take them to his bookstore on subsequent trips!

    1. John,
      If you are still interested in the fort, I highly recommend Paul Branch's "The Siege of Fort Macon." It's gone through many different editions, growing from pamphlet to book format. The 2002 version is the most recently updated one, I think. It's a very good account of the capture of the fort during Burnside's campaign.

  3. Thanks, Drew. I did pick up a copy of the Branch pamphlet many years ago at the Fort Macon bookstore after our tour guide (none other than Paul Branch himself) talked about it. Also have an apparently self-published paperback by Richard Sauers (The Battle of New Bern) from the same bookstore. Not as comprehensive as his more well-known book,but a whole lot cheaper than trying to buy the latter today!

    1. John FoskettFebruary 04, 2018

      John: I guess the silver lining is that the Sauers book goes for less than a seat at tonight's Super Bowl.


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