02/01/04 — Hundreds gather for re-enactment of Battle of Goldsborough Bridge

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Hundreds gather for re-enactment of Battle of Goldsborough Bridge

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on February 1, 2004 2:03 AM

Few people in Wayne County know that Goldsboro was the site of a fierce Civil War battle in 1862. But Saturday about 500 people heard a about the Battle of Goldsborough Bridge and then saw soldiers re-enact the battle at Waynesborough Historical Village.

The program will be repeated today with a lecture at about noon and the battle at 1 p.m.

Kirk Keller, a Rosewood resident who portrayed Confederate Gen. Thomas Clingman, said 95 percent of Wayne County residents were not familiar with the battle. The battle was re-enacted to educate the public on the wealth of history in the county.

Randy Sauls, a Goldsboro lawyer and historian, portrayed Union Gen. John Gray Foster. He said the city played an important part in the war because the War Department decided Goldsboro had strategic importance.

Sauls said the Union plan was to destroy the railroad bridge over the Neuse River so that Confederate troops in all directions could not be resupplied. The Wilmington-Weldon rail line extended from the port up Center Street in Goldsboro to Richmond, the Confederate capital.

At the same time that Foster's troops were advancing from New Bern, Gen. Ambrose Burnside's Army of the Potomac was to attack Fredericksburg in northern Virginia. Burnside was defeated, but Foster's army defeated a Confederate force, outnumbered by 5-to-1, on Dec. 17, 1862.

Sauls explained that the railroad bridge was at the same location as the current bridge that can be seen from Old Mount Olive Road. A nearby wagon bridge over the Neuse was left standing, and its cement pilings still can be seen on the west side of U.S. 117.

The re-enactors came from as far away as Virginia. Sauls said they had spent their own money to buy their uniforms and had to sleep on the cold ground for two nights during the program. One said he could do battle re-enactments every weekend if he wanted.

The battle started with an exchange of long-range cannon volleys. Then a group of Union infantrymen darted from the left flank and took positions near the Confederates. They exchanged rifle fire until the Southerners retreated. The wounded were taken to field hospitals, where demonstrations were held later.

Sauls said the battle happened like this:

Foster had left New Bern with 10,000 infantrymen, 640 calvarymen, 18 cannons and 170 wagons with supplies -- forming a column more than five miles long. The Confederates had 2,000 men and five cannons.

When the Union reached the bridge, soldiers lit fuses but could not set it on fire. A private from New Jersey then jumped from the bridge, gathered sticks and twigs and ran under the bridge, where he discovered Confederates were hiding. Pvt. Lyons was hit four times but not injured, and he climbed back on the bridge and set it on fire. Union forces then pulled up rail ties and set them on fire.

Foster left a small rear guard and began to retreat. At the same time, the Confederates thought they could damage the remainder and let out "blood-curdling yells and scared the bejesus" out of the Union troops. But Foster heard the noise and turned around and his Union troops mowed down the Confederates.

The Union troops again retreated. A small creek had become a raging torrent, because a mill dam gate had been opened, and some soldiers drowned in the creek. Woods around the current Mar Mac community were set on fire, ending the battle.

"Foster did what he intended to do," Sauls said.

The next time Union forces entered Goldsboro was in March, 1865, when 100,000 troops occupied the city.