Civil War History in Kinston

The Civil War took its toll on the town of Kinston, North Carolina.  Jan Parson of the Kinston Chamber of Commerce shared information on the hosted tour I was part of.  Jan explained that the state of North Carolina was really on the fence when it came to the War.  “We didn’t want to be in the war.  We were a poor state but between two pillars, Virginia and South Carolina.  There were a lot of Union sympathizers in Kinston. Families were split overall we really didn’t have a dog in the fight.”

North Carolina was the last southern state to secede from the Union.  Early in the war, the nearby town of New Bern was taken by the Union.  This had one happy effect for the enslaved people living nearby.  “African Americans that were slaves realized that if they could get to New Bern, they would be free,” Jan said.

This easy road to freedom tempted many slaves to flee to New Bern.  The former slaves were settled in an area that became the town of James City. 

The town of Kinston is on the Civil War Tour. website states, “In the twilight of a December night, the sounds you hear might be a breeze tickling the grass, or the long lost voices of Confederate and Union soldiers fighting to the death. The bloody First Battle of Kinston began on Dec. 10, 1862 and left 685 casualties after 2,400 Confederates faced 12,000 Union troops. Now you can walk this hallowed ground.”

At the battle of Kinston Jan pointed out Harriet’s Chapel Site where a church has been moved that is like the church that was located there during the heat of the battle.  “Soldiers hid in the church and it was riddled with bullets,” she said

For those interested in paranormal activities, Jan said investigations have shown activity in the area.  While not a ghost story type of girl, I can imagine the horrors that happened here and the stories the soldiers and those that could not leave the city could tell.

Kinston does have a significant contribution to the Civil War, a one of a kind history.  The CSS Neuse, the only ironclad boat still above water is on display at the Interpretative Center and there is also a reproduction of this amazing boat as well. 

During the Civil War, the Confederate Navy did not have warships, so they decided to build them.  The plan was to build a gunboat and clad it in iron.  To obtain the iron, the head of the Confederate Navy, Stephen Mallory turned his eyes on North Carolina.  Using railroad tracks, the iron found a new use, to coat the gunboats.  The CSS Neuse (named because of the nearby Neuse River) was built in the town now known as Seven Springs NC, and floated down the Neuse toward Kinston. It was here at Kinston that she was outfitted with iron, guns and machinery.

David Mooring provided a tour of the Neuse replica, the CSS Neuse II.  Taking a vacant lot and hours and hours of volunteers building the ship using donated funds they succeeded in creating this wonderful historic time capsule.  It took nine years.  “This is the only one in the world,” David said.  “There were no metal ships before the Civil War.”

In April of 1864, Confederate soldiers on the Neuse set out to take New Bern from the Union troops occupying the area.  However, it was a disastrous voyage.  “The Neuse hit a sandbar and they had to wait 30 days to get it back to port,” David said.  “There was a drought and they had to wait for the river to rise.”

Matthew Young, site manager of the CSS Neuse Interpretive Center said that the ship had been returned to Kinston and was waiting to sail again when the Union forces headed their way.  Knowing they were outnumbered the crew of the Neuse destroyed the ship, rather than have it go into the hands of the Union forces.

This however was not the end of the story.  The frame of the ship was recovered in 1963 and placed temporarily at the Richard Caswell Memorial State Historic Site.  She was then moved to the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center in downtown Kinston.  Matthew gave us a wonderful tour of what life was like for those building the ship and living in Kinston at the time of the Civil War.

After the Confederates sank the CSS Neuse, the Union Army arrived in Kinston and the Battle of Wyse Fork was fought March 7-10, 1865.  According to, “Confederate forces numbered 8,500 against 12,000 Union troops as the federal army advanced from New Bern toward Goldsboro. Their goal was to secure the New Bern-Goldsboro Railroad so it could supply Gen. William T. Sherman’s army. The battle left 1,500 Confederates and 1,001 Union casualties.”

This battle field Jan Parson explained is not just in one place. Visitors can drive from place to place to learn about this history. 

Before the war ended one of the saddest stories I have ever heard took place in Kinston.  “There were 22 men that were hanged here,” Jan Parsons told us during our tour with her.  “During the Civil War, there were many deserters. The men just wanted to go home, many had not wanted to join in the first place.”

Not quite understanding the whole story, I learned that Major Gen. E. Pickett was the commander in charge of trying the deserters and hanging them.  Some of the men (between the ages of 15 and 22) after deserting were caught and forced to join the Union Army or they would be shot or imprisoned.  The end result was 22 men were tried and lost their lives.  A sign commemorates this sad event.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the stories we heard during our stay.  The sign outside the replica of the CSS Neuse says it best, “No Yankees of Rebels gather here. We are historians who will teach you Civil War history with truth and understanding.”