President Lincoln, by issuing War Order No. 3 on March 11, 1862, changed the leadership at the top of the Union Army. This order created three separate departments, with McClellan no longer General-in-Chief of all Federal troops. Instead, McClellan was in charge of the East region, retaining command of the Army of the Potomac. Henry Halleck was in charge of the West and John C. Fremont commanded soldiers in the Appalachian area.
The relationship between Lincoln and McClellan had been a tumultuous one. Lincoln was outdone with McClellan’s arrogance, as well as his contempt of the President, often ignoring orders and withholding information. Yet, McClellan had accomplished much – reorganizing the Union army, restructuring it, and training troops into a fighting machine.
However, even McClellan knew that he was overwhelmed as General-in-Chief, and he accepted the demotion, although he did not like it. The new structure would give him more time to plan his next move against Richmond, the Confederate capital.
For the next few months, all three commanders, Fremont, Halleck, and McClellan, would report to Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War.
Battle of New Berne
The Union was working its way along the Carolina coastline, and had captured Roanoke Island in early February. On March 11, Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside and his troops departed Roanoke Island, headed for Hatteras Inlet to meet up with Union gunboats, and together, they would move against New Berne, on the mainland.
Two days later, twelve thousand Yankee troops landed on the banks of the Neuse River, just a few miles south of New Berne. The Army, supported by thirteen Union gunboats, moved toward New Berne, which was protected by impressive defenses. However, General Lawrence O. Branch and four thousand Rebel troops were not sufficient to man all the defensive positions. Most of the Confederate troops were militia groups, many with little experience.
Lawrence placed his troops at the inner works on the downriver side of the city. On March 14, in the early morning hours in a heavy fog, Union forces attacked. After four hours of fighting, the Confederate line broke and the Rebels were forced from their defensive fortifications.
Casualties amounted to more than a thousand, with 90 Union soldiers killed and 380 wounded. Confederate losses included 60 dead, 100 wounded, and about 400 captured.
With the victory, the Union captured a total of nine forts and forty-nine heavy guns. Another Rebel port was closed, cutting off a source of incoming supplies. North Carolina’s second largest city was captured. The Union would control this area until the end of the war.