On the morning of this day in 1862 (December 17), a force under Major General John G. Foster reached the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad Bridge just south of Goldsborough, North Carolina.
Foster’s goal was to destroy the bridge and thus break an important link in the Confederacy’s logistic system. For this task, Foster had 10,000 infantry, 640 cavalry, and some 40 cannon. Starting from New Bern on December 11, Foster engaged Confederates at Kinston (December 14) and Whitehall (December 16) where his raiders damaged the ironclad CSS Neuse then under construction. When Foster’s raiders arrived at the bridge on December 17, they faced less than 2,000 Confederates and twenty pieces of artillery (at least one of which was mounted on an armored railroad car). Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Pool commanded the artillery defending the bridge. He described the action in his official report (filed two days after the action):
… About 2 p.m. the Fifty-second [North Carolina Infantry Regiment] broke and in confusion retired from the bridge, leaving the south of that important structure entirely undefended except by the forces on the north bank of the Neuse. Orders were immediately sent by me to Captain Starr to open fire with shrapnel on the mouth of the bridge to prevent the enemy if possible from entering and destroying it. The order was immediately obeyed. While the left of the Fifty-second was retiring I saw a small force of the enemy running down the railroad bank, shouting and yelling as if in pursuit. Suspecting their design to be to enter and destroy the bridge, I cautioned my men to be on the alert and as soon as they came within range to pour their fire into them. This was done so effectually that two were instantly killed; the others fled precipitately. Our fire having disclosed our exact position, the enemy opened upon us with a most severe fire of canister, shell, and shrapnel for about half an hour, our guns replying with rapidity and effect. During this fire my men on the banks of the river remained perfectly quiet, receiving the enemy’s fire unflinchingly. Thinking they had dislodged us, the enemy sent forward 2 men to effect the destruction of the bridge by fire. I cautioned my men of the approach of the men, and as soon as they broke cover for the bridge fire was opened upon them. One fell back wounded, the other succeeded in reaching the projecting brick-work, where he was enabled to complete his work in perfect security from any fire from the north bank of the river. No effort was spared by my men to reach him with their fire. Different points of the bridge were selected, and shot after shot poured in in the vain hope of killing him. His work proved successful, and in less than ten minutes the entire southern and eastern faces of the bridge were in flames. Seeing the destruction completed, I gave orders to retire to the rear of the section of Staffs battery posted on the railroad. Subsequently my entire command was ordered to the county bridge; two pieces of the battery were placed in position.
With the bridge destroyed, along with a few miles of track, Foster’s raid achieved the defined objective. But failures along the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg diminished any gain from the destruction along the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. Within weeks Confederates repaired the damage.
Today, part of the battlefield is preserved within a county park. The Goldsborough Bridge Battlefield Association maintains the battlefield and has a rather informative website on the battle. We have a related set for Goldsborough Bridge posted to the Historical Marker Database for “browsing” the battlefield today.
One question… Now days is it Goldsborough or Goldsboro?