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What's left of the Confederate ship CSS Neuse

Ryan Shaffer
PRE News & Ideas

The Confederate ironclad ship CSS Neuse was built to protect Goldsboro and deter Union troops from moving inland, but it hardly saw battle.

The more than 200-ton ship had a flat bottom, similar to a barge, and was one of 26 ironclad ships commissioned by the Confederacy. It was the target of a Union advance in December 1862 while under construction in Seven Springs, N.C. Union soldiers left New Bern for Goldsboro, a critical railway junction for the Confederacy. Traveling up the Neuse River, the Union soldiers caught sight of the CSS Neuse, but were on the opposite side of the river.

Unable to get to the other side, a daring soldier swam across the river while Union soldiers fired at Confederates to provide cover. The Union soldier, Henry Butler, made it to the other side with the intent to set the CSS Neuse on fire but was stopped by Confederate soldiers who tried to capture him. Butler quickly dove back into the river, and the CSS Neuse was spared. Union troops moved on to Goldsboro.

While not destroyed, the attack did delay construction. The CSS Neuse was completed in the summer of 1863 and made its way to Kinston, where its iron hull was affixed and was outfitted with weaponry.

In April of 1864, the CSS Neuse was finally ready for battle. It set off to recapture New Bern in late April, but was promptly grounded just half of a mile downstream. It did not make it to New Bern for the mission, and the city remained in Union hands. The CSS Neuse stayed grounded until May, when the river rose. But the prospect of the ship seeing battle was increasingly remote due to a scarcity of resources, a lack of manpower and repeated Federal raids.

The CSS Neuse carried out its second and final mission a year later on March 12, 1865. Union troops were rapidly advancing on Kinston, and Confederate troops evacuated the city. Following orders from General Braxton Bragg, the Confederate crew shelled Union troops and scuttled the boat. These were the only shots fired aboard the CSS Neuse in battle, and soon afterward the boat was set ablaze. A few days later, Union troops took control of Kinston.

The remains of the CSS Neuse sat in the Neuse River for a century. It was excavated a century later and what's left of its hull is on display in a true-to-size reconstruction at the CSS Neuse Museum in Kinston.

Ryan is an Arkansas native and podcast junkie. He was first introduced to public radio during an internship with his hometown NPR station, KUAF. Ryan is a graduate of Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., where he studied political science and led the Tufts Daily, the nation’s smallest independent daily college newspaper. In his spare time, Ryan likes to embroider, attend musicals, and spend time with his fiancée.