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The Confederacy’s Strategic Coast: The War in Eastern North Carolina 1861-1865

A BGES Civil War Field University Program

March 7-11, 2018

With Stephen Wise and Wade Sokolosky from Washington, NC


History has a funny way of making locations significant or irrelevant. With the secession of Virginia and North Carolina and the relocation of the new nation’s capital to Richmond Virginia, the Tarheel state presented intriguing opportunities for Federal planners and confounding challenges for Confederate military minds. It was in a word “vital.” Insulated by the killing fields of Virginia, early campaigns, battles, raids and naval engagements that swirled throughout the region generally faded in comparison to the great struggles north and west.

This is our first full examination of this region. A cursory survey of the maps tells us that the inlets and sounds dominate the landscape. Indeed early Federal operations sought to control the eastern part of the state and convinced Robert E. Lee and other planners that the operations were a prelude to a full scale assault on North Carolina. Indeed Lee is delayed in reuniting his army in the spring of 1863 because he is convinced that an attack at Charleston is a prelude to an attack on Wilmington.

This program will bring you a wealth of stories and a unique understanding of the impact of strategic locations on national planning. You know many of the names–now the events that etched themselves in history will be on display. A great theme, in a great location at a great time of the year–join us.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

7:30 PM Eat your dinner early and then gather at the headquarters hotel in Washington, NC. Washington is a city on the Pamlico River that was occupied and defended by the Federals throughout the war. Indeed they endured a Confederate siege in the Spring of 1863 by forces under Major General Daniel H. Hill. Pick up your reading books and name tags while meeting your fellow travelers. Steve Wise will give an introductory lecture and layout his perspective about the tour he is about to conduct.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

8:15 AM departure. On the first day, we will be up early and head to the coast and venture out to Cape Hatteras and the sites of Forts Hatteras and Clark to discuss the North’s initial assault that opened the passage to North Carolina’s sounds. On our return, we will stop at Roanoke Island and visit the sites of Confederate forts and the battleground where Confederates vainly resisted the combined Federal army and navy assault that secured the island and opened the way to the occupation of Albemarle Sound. The surrender of Roanoke Island and capture of former Virginia Governor, Henry Wise caused much turbulence in Richmond resulting in the dismissal of Secretary of War, Judah Benjamin and the recall of Robert E. Lee from his command in South Carolina. The South prepared for an assault from the region of the Dismal Swamp on the Gosport Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia. Lunch is included and dinner is on your own.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Be on board at 8:15 again. This morning we are headed to Plymouth, North Carolina where a detailed tour will take us around the town to the sites of the April 1864 Confederate attack that utilized both land and naval elements including the ironclad Albemarle. A stop will be made at the Port of Plymouth Museum to learn more of the naval fight and Lt. Cushing’s destruction of the Albemarle before heading on to Elizabeth City and tour the fine Civil War exhibit at the Museum of the Albemarle before proceeding to the waterfront to see where Union gunboats overwhelmed the Confederate Mosquito Fleet. We will then make a quick trip to the South Mills battlefield to hear about an unsuccessful attempt by the Federals to destroy a portion of the Dismal Swamp canal. We will end the day at Fort Branch, a Confederate work that guarded the Albemarle’s construction site on the Roanoke River. Once again we will provide lunch but leave dinner to your own choice.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Washington is such a great hub–its easy to understand why the Federals used it during the war. Be on board at 8:15 and we will learn about the 1862 Federal raid by General Foster from New Bern to Goldsboro which resulted in actions at Kinston, Whitehall and Goldsboro. Skipping ahead to 1865 and Sherman’s entrance into the state, we will visit the Kinston Battlefield (Wyse Forks), a fight in March 1865, that found Confederates trying to stop the Federals advancing from New Bern from reaching Goldsboro and resupplying General Sherman’s armies as they move north from Fayetteville. Our guide will be Colonel Wade Sokolosky, author of To Prepare for Sherman’s Coming: The Battle of Wise (Wyse) Forks March 1865. Since we have reached Kinston we will visit the Neuse Museum where the remains of the CSS ironclad Neuse are located. More importantly and nearby there is a full-scale replica of the Neuse that we will be able to board and tour. The day will end with a stop at the Goldsboro Bridge battlefield, where a northern raid in December 1862 briefly disrupted the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. Today is so full we will provide both lunch and a farewell dinner.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hard to believe but the tour is almost over but we have a full day today so be on board by 8:15 AM. The final day of the tour beckons back to the background we set on Thursday as we will better develop sites associated with General Burnside’s very successful 1862 amphibious operations. We will start at the well-preserved, third system fortification– Fort Macon, a stout brickwork that was captured by the North. Working again with local expert Wade Sokolosky, we will pass through Beaufort, NC and take a short excursion on the Neuse River before going to the New Bern battlefield where Federal forces overran a Confederate defense line guarding New Bern. In New Bern, we will stop at a unique Civil War museum before returning to Washington. Lunch is provided.

You may depart at your leisure tonight or tomorrow. Thank you for joining us.


Stephen Wise is the Director of the Marine Corps Parris Island Museum and is a professor of history at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort. A noted historian of the state and the Marine Corps, his books Gate of Hell about the 1863 Charleston Campaign and Lifeline of the Confederacy document the significance of blockade running to the Confederate economy. Steve was recently recognized by the SC Humanities Council for his contributions to preservation and historic interpretation. Well spoken and interesting you will enjoy yourself.

Wade Sokolosky is a retired ordnance officer from the US Army. Colonel Sokolosky has devoted his graduate studies to Sherman’s 1865 Campaign in NC and he has ancestors who served in the Southern armies. He has co-authored two books: The Battle of Wise’s Forks March 1865 and No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Ceasar, Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign. He is now specializing in anything Civil War in North Carolina. This will be his first program with BGES.


This program will be based in Washington, NC. I will post the hotel and provide separate notice when the property is available for reservations.


There are no great airport choices flying into the area–all will need a rental car. Wilmington, NC (ILM) is 100 miles distant, Raleigh-Durham (RDU) which has Southwest Airlines is about 120 miles and Norfolk (ORF) is 130 miles they also have Southwest.

Key Publications and Recommended Reading

You will be provided with a reading book and maps upon arrival. We recommend the following books to enhance your preparation for this tour. has a program to support non profits IF YOU SIGN UP to support Blue and Gray Education Society (EIN 54-1720582) at AmazonSmile. When you sign up there rather than the normal Amazon site one half of one percent of your purchase price is provided to BGES as a donation from Amazon. This will apply not only on this purchase but others you may make at other times.

  • Wade Sokolowsky and Mark Smith. The Battle of Wise’s Forks March 1865. Available on Amazon Smile.
  • Stephen Wise. Lifeline of the Confederacy. Available on Amazon Smile
  • John Barrett. The Civil War in North Carolina. Available on Amazon Smile
  • Jamie Malanowski. Commander Will Cushing, Daredevil Hero of the Civil War. Available on Amazon Smile
  • Robert M. Browning. From Cape Charles to Cape Fear, The North Carolina Blockading Squadron During the Civil War. Available on Amazon Smile
  • William Marvel: Burnside. May be available on the used book market.