Burning of Winton by Union Troops, 1862

On February 20, 1862, Union troops burned Winton, a small village in Hertford County overlooking the Chowan River.

The previous day, six gunboats transporting soldiers from New York and Rhode Island steamed up river to Winton, intent on destroying a railroad bridge. Confederate soldiers from North Carolina and Virginia opened fire on the vessels. Despite riddling the wheelhouse of the lead gunboat, the USS Delaware, the volley did little damage, and the shelling commenced. That night the Union fleet anchored seven miles south of Winton, and Federal officers decided that the town of 300 inhabitants should be burned.

The fleet returned to find the town almost completely abandoned. Soldiers, fresh from victory in the Battle of Roanoke Island, landed and took possession of Winton. The invaders burned military goods, along with the courthouse and several private homes; soldiers often ransacked homes before torching them.

Word of the destruction spread fast in newspapers, North and South. Southern editors fueled public outrage. A Norfolk paper proclaimed the action a “vile incendiary.” The action at Winton proved to be a precedent for the practice of “total war” embraced by Sherman later in the conflict.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.