Baptists and the American Civil War: March 14, 1862

Painting, Battle of New Bern, by Herbert Eugene Valentine

Painting, Battle of New Bern, by Herbert Eugene Valentine

New Bern, founded in 1710 and named after Bern, Switzerland, is the second oldest town in North Carolina and served as the first state capital. Located at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent Rivers, it is a beautiful town. And yet the city’s rivers prove its undoing during the war, as Union soldiers arrive today at dawn by transport ships and accompanied by gunboats.

The inland town is of military significance partly because the railroad passes through it on the way to and from the North Carolina coast. The Confederate and North Carolina governments, however, have not prepared adequate defenses of the town. When Union soldiers climb ashore across from New Bern as gunboats shell Confederate fortifications, there is little hope that under-manned Confederate defenses will be able to withstand the onslaught. Fog and poor communication within Confederate ranks make matters worse. Within hours, the Confederates are overpowered and begin fleeing across the Trent River bridge into New Bern.

A rout is on as Union gunboats shell the retreating Confederates and drive them out of town, where they flee for some thirty miles before regrouping. During the shelling of New Bern, the steps of the First Baptist Church are dented by cannon ball.

A combined total of 154 men are killed during the conflict. Seizing the town, Union forces occupy New Bern for the remainder of the war. During this period, worship services are suspended in the church and Union troops convert the building into a commissary. The Union army appropriates use of the church bell to signify the changing of the Union guard. The church building remains intact, but suffers damage and is repaired following the war.

Sources: Historical sketch of New Bern (link); Battle of New Bern and painting, “The advance of the Gunboats up the river to New Berne, N. Carolina. Passing the Barricade,” by Herbert Eugene Valentine, Herbert Eugene (link); Historical sketch of First Baptist Church New Bern (link)