At the end of February 1865, the last Confederate port, Wilmington, fell to Union forces under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield. The Union armies were now in North Carolina and they planned a converging attack on the key rail junction of Goldsboro (also spelled Goldsborough).
Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman who was in overall command of all Union forces in the region, was driving north from Columbia, South Carolina. Schofield commanded the Army of the Ohio with the support of Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox whose one division would soon be increased to a three-division corps.
Schofield with Maj. Gen. Alfred Terry‘s Expeditionary Corps immediately moved inland towards Goldsboro. Cox’s one division sailed up the coast and landed at New Bern, North Carolina where they were reinforced with two more divisions.
As Cox’s Provisional Corps moved west, they repaired the railroad that would serve as the supply line for Sherman’s formidable Army Group. General Joseph E. Johnston, the overall Confederate commander, was too far away to respond to this move. However, General Braxton Bragg’s forces who were withdrawing from Wilmington were in a position to attack Cox.
Near Kinston, North Carolina Bragg moved against Cox. n October 1864, President Jefferson Davis had sent Bragg to assume temporary command of the defenses of Wilmington, North Carolina, and his responsibility was soon increased at the recommendation of Robert E. Lee to include all of the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. His command had been whittled down by political enemies to the point where he became in effect a corps commander (although his command was less than a division in size) under Johnston for the remainder of the Carolinas Campaign.
Yet, Bragg was still a good general and his men were more than willing to follow their commander. On March 7, 1865, Cox’s 12,000 man force ran into Bragg’s entrenched forces along Southwest Creek east of Kinston. Bragg has positioned his force of about 8,500 men to not only block Cox’s force but also to threaten a vital cross road and the New Bern-Goldsboro Railroad.
Cox understood the importance of the position and moved forward the divisions of Brig. Gen. Innis N. Palmer to protect the railroad and Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Carter to protect the roads. Bragg’s forces were also reinforced by veterans from the Army of Tennessee and the North Carolina Junior Reserves, all under the command of General D.H. Hill.
Reinforced, Bragg went on the offensive and sent a division under North Carolina native Robert Hoke into the Union left flank. Hoke’s attack hit a New England brigade in Carter’s division, capturing an entire regiment. Hill joined the advance with the Junior Reserves but they panicked and refused to go any further. Hill left them behind and moved on with his veterans, hitting the Union brigade and defeating it.
Disaster threatened the Union flank when Bragg stopped Hill’s advance and sent him far to the north to counterattack a Union threat. When Hill arrived he found no Federals in sight. At this time Cox, who had been away from the front lines, returned and moved up his reserve division under Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Ruger to plug the gap between Palmer and Carter.
On March 10th, Hoke again threatened a flank attack but this time the Union forces were prepared for it with artillery and repulsed it within an hour. Hill attempted an attack against the Union center but it to was repulsed by the strong Union artillery. Meanwhile, the remaining elements of the XXIII Corps had arrived from Wilmington and Bragg order a general withdrawal. Once all of the Union forces arrived they then began to move on Goldsboro.
The Battle of Wyse Fork is considered a Union victory because they held the field. Total Union casualties were 1,101 while Confederates sustained 1,500 total casualties. This was a minor battle but it proved to both sides that the Confederates were still capable of offensive maneuvering. It is considered the second-largest land battle to be fought in North Carolina.