By early March 1865, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman was operating with nearly complete freedom in North Carolina on his way north to form a junction with Union forces in Virginia. The responsibility for ensuring a functioning railroad from New Bern to Goldsboro in support of Sherman’s movement rested with Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox. On March 2, 1865, Cox ordered his hastily assembled Provisional Corps to march toward Goldsboro. In response to Cox’s movement, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston executed a bold but risky plan to divert troops away from Sherman by turning back Cox’s advance. Under the command of the aggressive but controversial Gen. Braxton Bragg, the Confederates stood for four days (March 7-10) and successfully halted Cox at Wise’s Forks. This delay provided Johnston with the precious time he needed to concentrate his forces and fight the large and important Battle of Bentonville.
Located just east of Kinston, the Battle of Wyse Fork, as it is known in contemporary terms, was the first major attempt to defeat General Sherman’s forces in the Old North State. Today, the N.C. Department of Transportation’s proposed Interstate 42 bypass around Kinston threatens to all but destroy the entire left flank of Cox’s defensive position, where on March 10, his Federal divisions successfully turned back two separate attacks: The first, carried out by Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke’s division and a subsequent attack by remnants of the Army of Tennessee commanded by Gens. D. H. Hill and Edward C. Walthall.
It is important to note that in 2017, the U.S. Department of the Interior entered the approximately 4,000-acre Wyse Fork Battlefield into the National Register of Historic Places. You are probably wondering how can the proposed bypass occur considering the battlefield’s National Register status. Simple, for the specific portion of the interstate project that impacts the battlefield, the state accepts no Federal dollars, thus circumventing mandated mitigation actions required due to its historical significance.
The Save Wyse Fork Battlefield Commission, which falls under the 501c3 organization Lenoir County Historical Preservation Group, a non-profit since June 2002, is spearheading the preservation effort to save the battlefield. In close consultation with state and local elected officials, American Battlefield Trust, North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the group seeks to alter the proposed route, thus preserving significant areas of the battlefield.
How can you or your organization help? First, go to the online petition sponsored by the American Battlefield Trust and let them know you support the preservation of this battlefield. https://www.battlefields.org/preserve/speak-out/protect-site-second-largest-battle-fought-north-carolina?blm_aid=17276932
Next, join the Facebook groups, Save Wyse Fork Battlefield, and Kinston Civil War Round Table to obtain updates and information regarding ongoing preservation efforts. Finally, please consider donating to support the ongoing effort to save the battlefield. The photograph of the billboard along U.S. Hwy. 70 as you travel through the battlefield is just one of several outreach projects that require your financial support. This is a national issue, not just local. You can donate online by clicking on the links found on either of the two groups’ Facebook pages, or you can mail a check to the address below.
Please mail checks to:
Save Wyse Fork Battlefield Commission
901 Phillip’s Rd.
Kinston, NC 28504
See you on the high ground!
COL, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Co-author with Mark Smith, ‘To Prepare for Sherman’s Coming,’ The Battle of Wise’s Forks March 1865 (Savas Beatie, 2015)
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