The grandiosely styled ‘Athens of the South’, New Bern was founded by Swiss colonists. By the outbreak of war, it was a prosperous port, and logical target for the Union’s increasingly confident and aggressive deployment of amphibious warfare. In the previous six months, such operations had seized Pamlico Sound, Elizabeth City and Roanoke Island further up the coast, so the defenders of New Bern had fair warning, but their requests for reinforcements were unheeded by the Confederate High Command. Nevertheless, Confederate General Branch marshalled his 4,000 raw recruits in a defensive line along the west bank of the Neuse, their flanks protected by Fort Thompson on the riverbank, and swampland to the west. Ambrose disembarked on the 13th but, after stout resistance, the Confederate defence buckled the following day, destroying bridges and fortifications during their retreat. New Bern was occupied and remained in Union hands for the rest of the war.
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