Hatteras Island, on the outer shore of North Carolina, fell to Union forces in August, 1861. Roanoke Island, just to the north, was captured on February 8, 1862. Elizabeth City on the mainland followed days later. With the freedom to navigate unmolested through Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, Brig. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside’s command looked for other strategic targets of opportunity. The city of New Bern was a significant target, as the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad that connected the coast with the interior passed through there. On March 11, 1862, Burnside’s force embarked from Roanoke Island to rendezvous with Union gunboats at Hatteras Inlet for a joint expedition against New Bern. On March 13th, the fleet sailed up the Neuse River and disembarked infantry south of the Confederate defenses, about 4,000 men behind breastworks at Fort Thompson. The defenders, a mix of North Carolina infantry, cavalry and artillery, were commanded by Brig. Gen. Lawrence Branch. On March 14th, the brigades of Brig. Gens. John G. Foster, Jesse Reno, and John G. Parke attacked along the railroad and after four hours of fighting, drove the Confederates out of their fortifications. The Federals captured several nearby gun positions and occupied a base that they would hold to the end of the war, in spite of several Confederate attempts to recapture it.