New Bern and Beaufort Offer Glimpses Into Civil War Life

Jody MerrittNew Bern and Beaufort Offer Glimpses Into Civil War Life

At Fort Macon State Park, you can tour the living quarters, powder magazines, moat and cannons

Life on the front lines of the Civil War was different than life behind them. See where soldiers fought in the Beaufort area and New Bern, including a battlefield that has gone untouched for nearly 150 years. Then go behind the lines and visit war hospitals and buildings where freed slaves embraced a new start. Spend some times here, along the banks of the Neuse River, and you’ll understand what it was like to live through the war.

2-Day Itinerary

Day 1: See how Civil War soldiers lived and fought at Fort Macon near Beaufort and on the New Bern battlefield.

Day 2: Go behind the front lines when you visit a recreated Civil War hospital, a home occupied by a Union general and a cabin where freed slaves lived.

Day 1: Fort Macon and New Bern battlefield

It took Union troops more than a month to retake Fort Macon, the five-sided waterfront fort that guarded Beaufort Inlet and Beaufort Harbor. At Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach, tour the living quarters, powder magazines, moat, original and replica cannons — including a 20-foot model that staff fire — and a restored ammunition furnace and bake oven.

Visiting the fort will take most of the morning, so plan on having lunch before heading inland. The Cedars Inn & Restaurant, which was built in 1768, serves seafood, some caught just steps away, and you can watch wild horses and dolphins while you eat at Front Street Grill at Stillwater.

New Bern is about an hour's drive from Beaufort via U.S. Highway 70, but what you’ll see first has changed little in 150 years. Spend the afternoon at 30-acre New Bern Civil War Battlefield Park, where you’ll find trenches and a monument to the 26th Regiment, led in battle by future North Carolina Gov. Zebulon Vance. For a guided tour, contact the New Bern Historical Society.

The Harmony House Inn, home to Union soldiers during the occupation, and the Sail Inn, an antebellum building that has received great reviews, are two popular places to stay in New Bern.

Day 2: Tryon Palace, New Bern and James City

Three centuries of history are depicted through living and interactive programs at Tryon Palace. It takes aim at the antebellum era and Civil War with frequent lectures, special events and the Regional History Museum. Among its buildings, you’ll find Stanly House, which was a Union headquarters and then a convent for Sisters of Mercy, who nursed patients at nearby Union hospitals. You’ll also find New Bern Academy, which was used as a Confederate hospital in 1861 and a Union one after the New Bern battle. In the 1980s, it became a museum, which has four permanent Civil War exhibits.

It’ll be time for lunch when you’re done at Tryon Palace. A good choice is Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant on the Neuse River, where you can enjoy a salad or sandwich. You’ll need the fuel for your afternoon hike.

Stop by the New Bern Visitors Center and pick up its map of African-American sites. It shows the way to a dozen stops, including the George H. White House, which was built for slaves. The center also has a Civil War tour map that includes the battlefield; Cedar Grove Cemetery, where many Confederate soldiers are buried; and Attmore-Oliver House, a repository for historical objects.

You won’t find much left of New Bern’s freedmen’s colony — James City. But at the Craven Regional Airport, you can visit the Crockett-Miller Slave Quarters, an 1845 slave cabin that was relocated and restored by the James City Historical Society. Tours of the 24-by-17-foot wooden building, where 22 people lived, can be scheduled through the society by contacting member Ben Watford at (252) 638-8536. You also will see an outhouse, graveyard and a memorial to 522 slaves and freedmen buried in unmarked graves.

Pete Anderson is a Gastonia-based writer who says lakes, race tracks and barbecue joints are his favorite places to enjoy North Carolina.

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