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General Ambrose E. Burnside to the Secretary of War, March 21, 1862


General Ambrose E. Burnside to the Secretary of War, March 21, 1862


This is the text from a letter between Union General Burnside and the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton from March 21, 1862. In the early spring of 1862, Union General Burnside led an expedition into the North Carolina coast that resulted in Union occupation of eastern Carolina. Due to this Union presence in North Carolina, many enslaved men and women fled to Union lines in search of freedom and protection from the army. In this letter, Burnside reported his movements since landing in North Carolina. He discussed how his forces had taken New Bern and as a result, many “negroes” fled into the city. Burnside commented that though the enslaved men and women were “wild with excitement and delight,” they were now a “very great anxiety” to him because New Bern is “being overrun with fugitives from surrounding towns and plantations.” Burnside hoped to get official policy on this matter, but in the meantime, he would issue provisions to the poor.


General Ambrose E. Burnside


Berlin, Ira et al., ed. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Series I, Volume I, The Destruction of Slavery, (London: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 80-81.




Danielle Brinton




New Bern, North Carolina
Craven County, North Carolina


Newbern {N.C.}  Mch 21 /62

   I have the honor of reporting the following movements in my department since my hurrid report of the 16” inst-

   The detailed report of the Engagement on the 14” is not yet finished, but I hope will be ready to send by the next mail-

   As I reported, our forces occupied this city & succeeded in restoring it to comparative quietness by midnight on the 14”, and it is not as quiet as a New England village- I appointed Gen Foster Military Governor of the city & its vicinity, and he has established a most perfect system of guard & police- nine tenth of the depredations on the 14”, after the enemy & citizens fled from the town, were committed by the negroes, before our troops reached the city- They seemed to be wild with excitement and delight- they are now a source of very great anxiety to us; the city is being overrun with fugitives from surrounding towns and plantations- Two have reported themselves who have been in the swamps for five years- it would be utterly impossible if we were so disposed to keep them outside of our lines as they find their way to us through woods & swamps from every side-  By my next dispatch, I hope to report to you a definite policy in reference to this matter, and in the mean time shall be glad to receive any instructions upon the subject which you may disposed to give-


I have taken the responsibility as I did at Roanoke of issuing provision to the poor, who were & have been for some time suffering for food-  In fact I have had the order issues made in some cases, to persons who have but lately been in affluent circumstances, but who now have nothing but confederate notes, city shin plasters, worthless notes of hand and unproductive real estate, and negroes who refuse to acknowledge any debt of servitude-  the suffering and anxiety is far beyond anything I had anticipated-  it seems strange to me that these people will perceive that this State of things has been brought about by their own injudicious & dis-loyal conduct-

A.E. Burnside


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General Ambrose E. Burnside, General Ambrose E. Burnside to the Secretary of War, March 21, 1862, Civil War Era NC, accessed June 20, 2024,