north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

      Union General Ambrose Burnside’s expedition into eastern North Carolina in 1862 scored a series of successes with the capture of Roanoke Island in February, New Bern, and Washington in March, and Fort Macon in April. Among the few Confederate victories in that season was the defeat of a force sent to destroy the Dismal Swamp Canal locks at South Mills. Burnside ordered 3,000 men under General Jesse Reno to blow up the locks in order to preclude the chance that Confederate ironclad gunboats might be floated down the canal from Norfolk. The troops landed just south of Elizabeth City on the evening of April 18.

      Carrying with them two wagons of explosives, the Federals made a strategic error by taking a wrong road and adding ten miles to their overland route north. (They executed the mulatto guide who had misled them.) Weary and robbed of any chance of surprise, the Union troops meet 900 Confederates, commanded by Colonel Ambrose Wright, a few miles below South Mills. Fighting began around noon. The Confederates held their opponents in check for three hours. In late afternoon General Reno withdrew his men who returned the next day to New Bern. Thirteen Union soldiers were killed and 101 wounded; the Confederates suffered six dead and twenty wounded.

John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963)
William R. Trotter, Ironclads and Columbiads: The Civil War in North Carolina: The Coast (1989)
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion
(Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot, March 30, 1997 (account of reenactment)
Location: County:

Original Date Cast:




north carolina highway historical marker program

Col. Ambrose R. Wright

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources