On the Roanoke river in North Carolina, about eight miles from the Sound,
lies the town of Plymouth, a place once important on account of its highly advantageous position as depot, through which might pass, in transportation, the products of the State.
Tar, rosin and pitch, the prominent and well known articles
of manufactore in this land of Pines were brought from all parts of the
interior to this point as a place of shipment, and consequently it came to be more or
less identfied with the interests of the southern people; so that it was not strange
they should make vigorous efforts to keep it in their possession, or failing in this for a time, would again renew their attempts to wrest it from the hands of their
Rather than its resources should be employed in
enriching those they deemed their enemies, they sought its destruction by fire. It was partly saved however,
and. by the force of circumstances, afterward became appropriated as the most northern outpost of the U.S. forces in the State.
Thus held, it was garrisoned by four regiments of infantry, one light
battery, two companies of heavy artillery, and a few cavalary, all under command of Brig. Gen. H. W. Wessels, a noble officer and a brave man. Three forts-Gray, Williams and Wessels _ offered grateful protection to these men, while Compher and Coneby redoubts, and a line of connecting breast works, afforded strong ground of hope that the position of an advancing foe might, at least, be rendered somewhat uncomfortable by the peculiar greeting they might receive in consequnce of thse. Added to these, and designed to act in harmony with them was the naval fleet, consisting of the gun boats "Miami", "Southfield", "Ceres," "Whitehead," and "Bomb-shell," under command of Capt. Flusser. So far as these were concerned, they certainly presented a formidable array of weapons with which to hurt missiles of deadliest intent against those who would murderously assail the devoted band of Unionists to whom was assigned the duty of keeping the place from invasion; but these, be they -never so abundant, are fruitless, Without the requisite hands to work them, as the sequel with its hopeless sorrows and regrets fully proved to us.
But as familiarity with anything even with anything, even with danger has a tendency to make that tolerable which -was once highly forbidding so while forbidding thin,," threw about us their friendly shadows, a feeling of comparative security took possession of our minds, and fancy reveled in safety ; a state suggestive of that of the ancient worthies, retired to the secret caves of the mountains- the strength of the hills their covert; the voiceless woods their guard; the deep-toned thunder their music; their rocky depths only illuminated as the kindly sun shed pitifal gleams by day, and the stars came out in solemn parade at night to assure them that the might- of Truth should eventually conquer their foes, and let the burdened free.
But we were not suffered long to cherish the illusions of fancy, for we soon found ourselves in condition to yield to the sudden impulse of stem necessity, and battle for that which was temporarily
our kingdom and our crown.
The morning of the 17th of April, 1864, dawned upon us in our warlike retreat in all the beauty and loveliness with which nature is wont to adorn herself at such a season of the year. It was the hallowed
day of the seven;-a time when the mind of the soldier naturally reverts to other scenes and other days,
when it soothes itself by the remembrance of quiet services in home sanctuaries where no sights or
sounds give evidence of war, except it be of that moral conflict which the individual is called upon to
wage silently with the hosts unseen. Guard-mounting was witnessed as usual, and at the roll-call sixteen hundred men were reported for duty. All necessary positions being occupied, the rest were at liberty to follow their inclinations, and as mine sent out their sweet invitations to repair to the sacred temple, I obeyed, and listened to a sermon from the Rev. Mr. B-,Chaplain of the 101st Pennsylvania Volunteers, in the morning, and in the afternoon went to Grace Church, one of those places still left open to lure the feet of the Christian warrior, where he may calmly consider the prospect of ultimate victory and success in the holiest warfare in which man can engage; -a consideration always attended by that other thought, that second to this only is the national strife in which his whole energies are enlisted, and which he is bound by every principle of honor and justice to maintain, until the coveted issue shall make it no longer a necessity.
Just at the close of the services, and shortly before the hour for Dress Parade, while yet the impressions of the day were thick about us, the cavalry pickets came dashing into town, having been driven in by the rebels. Artillery and cavalry were immediately sent out to ascertain the strength of the enemy, but they soon returned, reporting a short engagement with a superior number, in which one of their men were killed, and a Lieutenant badly wounded. It soon became manifest that we were to be fearfully pressed, as three brigades of infantry were bearing down upon us, together with a heavy siege train of artillery, manned by a revengeful foe who were eager to take possession of the town, and send us to homes they had provided in mercy not particularly tender. With us were the 85th N.Y. commanded by Ferdella, an Italian officer, the 101st P.V., together with the 103d of the same state, under Col. Lehman; the 24th N.Y. Independent Battery, under the direction of Capt. Cady; two companies Mass. Heavy artillery, Capt. Sampson, and a slight force of 12th N.Y. cavalry.
An attack was made upon Fort Gray, a mile or so above the town on the river, and as the shot and shell came swiftly down to us upon their death-fraught errands, our quickened apprehensions were not slow in the discovering the propriety of using all available means for safety. One of the latter striking near the tent of Capt. Morse, reminded us of the thought, that, especially in war,
There is but a step 'tween life and death, One moment
life's pulses play, the next, soul is gone with the breath.
In anticipation of the battle the women and children of the town were placed on board the steamer "Massasoit," bound 'for Roanoke Island, among which were the wives of loyal North Carolinians; of men whose attachment to the Union cause could not be broken by threats; whose devotion to the government whose fostering care they had long enjoyed, nothing could quench, and therefore they bad enrolled themselves as among the truest soldiers of the Federal cause when the crisis appeared, and there was no alternative but to do or die ;-to be free or ruled with despotic power. To this place, whither these were sent as a place of refuge, Co. H of our own regiment, the 16th Ct., had gone in the morning, for the purpose of relieving some other troops, and were thus fortunate enough to escape the attack, the while, supposing we were resting under the silent wing of peace, when way's chosen arrows were flying thick and fast about us.
The morning following this first outbreak we were aroused from our slumbers before sunrise by the roar of cannon, and the disturbance occasioned; the half-conscious state of the mental faculties which was speedily induced, made it seem that what was struggling for prominence was the idea that it was decided incivility on the part of the "rebs" to prompt such early rising. But what was wanting in dimness of vision for a moment was soon made up in the keenness which we felt inclined to exercise in the survey of things about us. Everything began to look dark, and signs were fearfully ominous of what was approaching. About 7 o'clock, Capt. Burke came in from the skirmish line in front, wounded in the shoulder. Firing was heard at intervals through the day, but no general advance until nearly dark, when the enemy came pouring in from the woods in great numbers, and charged upon our line of skirmish with their characteristic yell.
The few, of course having no chance before the many, they retired within the fortifications when the exultant foe rapidly wheeled a battery into position, and under its destructive influence our beautiful amp was soon completely riddled, and Fort Williams pretty effectually silenced.
At this juncture, Lt. Col. Burnham ordered the Band to the breast-works, and bade them strike Lip some national airs, and though they might not have been particularly edifying to the gray-robed legions without, the spiritstirring strains were in no wise lost upon the hearts of our own boys. Brave hearts became braver, and if the patriotism of any waxed cold, and the courage of any faltered, they here grew warmer and stronger until pride of country had touched the will, and an indomitable principle had been kindled that virtually declared the man a hero until death. It was with something of this new-imparted energy that our scantly forces were able, by the use of means still in their possesion, to silence their opposers, and make it convenient for them to retreat; but supposing they would speedily rally and come down upon us with new strength and ardor, we continued on the watch, relaxing not through the whole night. Snatching a few moments in the interval of quiet, I ran over to my ten, - a place, strange as it may seem, around which some fond associations clustered, and you ye soldeier-reader, can alone tell how sadly I felt when I saw rude marks that bore unequivocal testimony that it had been visited by one of those unsought and unwelcome bodies-a shell. Yes! In my absence it had found both ingress and egress, but as there is light not far off, either behind or above it, so I consoled myself with the reflection that it had its way alone, and I was not there for its entertainment.
Notwithstanding the temporary success, the third day after the attack had things in a bad plight for us. The "rebs" had come into possession of Fort Wessels, and their iron-clad ram, the "Albermarle," had found its way down the river, passing our batteries without being molested, sunk the "Southfield" and driven off the rest of the navy. Every hour our prospect grew darker and our hopes weaker, for the men were completely exhausted by continual duty through the day, and as constant watching by night. Our garrison was so small that all hands were required at the breast-works, and even then, it was altogether insufficient for the work. Intense were our longings for reinforcements, but the threatening "Albemarle" kept any from coming to our relief, and we began seriously to think of a march to Richmond, Va., and the registry of our names at her famous Libby Hotel. Not particularly inclined to take such a journey, we resolved to wait until there was no further hope, and at half past one we were furnished with intrenching tools and told to work for our lives in building bombproof, traverses, &c., and in a comparatively short time we were sheltered from the fire of the enemy, which was coming into our rear from their engine of death upon the river. Towards evening, having posted a line of pickets and reserve, I went over to my tent, hoping to gain a moment's slumber, but the increased cannonading having by no means a soothing effect, I returned again to the breast-works, where many a weary, way worn comrade was to watch through the night, although "tired nature" pleadingly called for some "sweet restorer." Long before daybreak the enemy, under cover of the cannon's roar, advanced up the Columbia road and with wild cheers and yells charged upon the two redoubts which formed our protection upon the east side of the town. After a short, buy bloody and decisive conflict they accomplished their object, and flushed with their success they came down through the camp of the 101st P. V., upon our regiment, evidently thinking there could be no barrier to whatever they should attempt to do; but their bravery was met by a corresponding principle on the part of our boys, and they were repulsed with great loss to them. Yet a slight advantage could do but little for us at this time, for the rebels had possession of Fort Wessels, the two redoubts on the Columbia road, and the entire river side of the village. From the position they were pouring a terrible fire into our rear. Six very fine horses on a caisson near me were shot down in quick succession, and many of our men were sadly wounded. At this time two or three officers came in, bearing a flag of truce, with a demand from Gen. Hoke for the surrender of the town and its garrison. After a short consultation the demand was refused by our General, and the fight went on our part, as we were thoroughly exhausted by our previous labors. The refusal, however, soon brought them down in force upon us, leaving no alternative but to surrender, although it was done with no willing grace, yet it could but be attended with the consciousness that we had tried the virtue of resistance to the utmost.
We were at once marched out of town to their reserve picket force, on the Washington road, where we remained for the night being allowed to retain our blankets, overcoats, and indeed all that we had with us, cepting, of course, our arms and equipments. I saw but One instance of robbery at the beginning, and that was by an officer, evidently in a state of intoxication. Riding up to one of our boys, lie drew his sword and demanded his watch, using threatening and insulting language, and
declaring he would split open his head if lie refused. Of course, there was no way but to yield. We wrote hasty letters to our friends, which we hoped by some good fortune to send to them, on the route, or at least at the end of our march,-
For none will e'er forget his friends,
If his heart be true and tender;
Though adverse gales blow swift and
long, Love's ties we'll still remember.
On the morning of the 21st we awoke to new experiences. Instead of the calls to which we had been wont to listen, and the labor we had been accustomed to perform, we were but passive beings, subject to the will of a conqueror. In the early part of the day, rations were issued to us for four days, consisting of twenty-five hard crackers, and about two pounds of raw salt pork each. They were from the provisions taken with the town, and consequently were of good quality, although we did not particularly relish talking from their hands what, a few hours previously we had counted our own, but we remembered that prisoners, like- " beggars, mus'nt be choosers, and that there was no way but to succumb as cheerfully as circumstances would allow. Our own regiment was over four hundred strong, and the whole number captured at the surrender, 2,197, so that we were quite a company, doomed to the miseries of rebeldom.
About noon we took up our line of march for the interior of Secessia, and kept on until nine in the evening making a distance of seventeen miles, having passed through the vilIves of Foster's Mills and Jamesville, both of which were visited by our troops some time before under Maj. Gen. Foster, when be made his rade from Newbern to Whitehall and Kinston. Many white, ghost-like chimneys were still standing to mark the former abodes of the chivalry At night over stopping place was in a corn-field by the road-side and our bed the places between the furrows, but lying on the cold, bare ground was no new experience for us, for we had often been dependent upon mother earth for a resting place, and the time and circumstances had also been when we had been more willing to "wrap the drapery of her couch" about us, and we could have lain down to "pleasant dreams." Now, with wet, cold feet, gained by fording many a creek through the day, our situation was not very enviable, and it is not strange if visions of downy beds came floating over the minds of some on that eventful night.
The 25tj N. C. constituted our guard, and we can say of them what can not be said of all the Southern troops, that they were a gentlemanly set of fellows, and treated the Northern soldier with some consideration. To have seen us through the day one would have supposed that we were the captors and they the prisoners, for as we were "marching along" we sun(, that song which usually falls with such - ,tran&e significance on the ears of' sensative Southerners-
"John Brown's body lies mouldering in the
Crowds of women and children lined the roadside, apparently eager to get even a glimpse of the '-Yankees," of whom they had heard Such fearful things, but we marked what seemed to us a look of surprise, as they surveyed what was unquestionably a set of decent, respectable looking fellows.
The next day we marched, with very little rest, until half past one, when we arrived at Williamston, N. C. Here we were conducted to a large pine grove by the road-side, and allowed to rest quite a little time. As before, a large concourse of women and children gathered to witness the strange sight, and in view of it find myself recording a paragraph like this-" Wonder what they think. of us! I don%
care what the ugly looking ones think, especially those who chew snuff, but I do hope the good looking ones don't hate us."
The village post-master came about amono, us, promising to mail letters for us, so we soon loaded him down with short letters, containing tidings of our fate to the dear ones at home, wliieh we ardently hoped might reach them to relieve them of anxiety, or, at least, of suspense, and dispel the uncertainty which would otherwise exist to torture them.
After our short but grateful rest, we started again, marching until sunset, when we halted and Went into camp in a grass field, and as we filed in, each man helped himself to a rail, so that the entire fence was soon appropriated as fuel for our evening fires. Our guards made no objection to it, but on the whole seemed to think it quite a good joke on our part. Water was plenty by the road-side, and after making some "crust coffee," and eating some hard-tack and raw pork, we spread our blankets upon the ground and slept peacefully and well, fearing no very ill treatment from men who had showed so much consideration as to pitch a tent for the accommodation of one poor sick sufferer. After this night, our early morning ablutions were performed at a little brook, this followed by a scanty breakfast, and we fell in with the already moving column, feeling in excellent condition, physically, at least. At nine o'clock we reached Hamilton, and were introduced into the yard of a man who had once taken the oath of allegiance to Uncle Sam, but who was now very glad of the opportunity to bake poor corn-bread, or "pone," as the Southerners say, and sell it to us for $5.00 a loaf. At this place we bade adieu to our N.C. guards, with some regret, for they had treated us well, and we had yet to learn the spirit of those who were to take their places.
Nevertheless, our little squad of Co. A boys was bound to make the best of it, and selecting a pleasant spot, we put our things upon the ground in the order in which we expected to sleep, and then resorted to various expedients for amusement. There was "right smart of trading" went on between our boys and the Johnnies, some of the trades causing considerable merriment.
The 24th was the Sabbath, and what strange vicissitudes one short week had wrought for us. In not many things could we say it was a blessed contrast. Then we were free, now we were prisoners;-then we had plenty of food and comfortable shelter, now we had neither, or at least but little to satisfy our hunger. My friend, Sam B-,and myself, managed to make out what we called a breakfast, with the few scraps that we had left of our four days' rations, but the change was perhaps quite as keenly felt in the blighting of hopes as in anything. Plymouth was lost. We had hoped to save it for the Union side, but it was gone, and mourning was useless. It only remained for us to travel on until our
foes were satisfied. Not even the hours of holy time could be our own, but on, and still on, was the watchword. During the forepart of the day the people of the surrounding country gathered about us, it being their day for visiting and recreation. About noon we were to start for Tarboro, a distance of twentytwo miles, but a little before the time came some of the officers and men formed a group and sang "Home, sweet home," "Sweet hour of Prayer," and many other beautiful hymns, richly suggestive of homes on earth, and home in heaven. Our captors evidently thought it a strange and novel scene.
After forming our line in the road, ready for marching the ranks were searched for deserter from the rebel army, a number of whom were detected and taken away. They had entered our service a Ion, time before and were captured with us. We never knew their fate, but suppose them to have been shot.
After this inspection we pursued the way our guards were treading, making twelve miles before nightfall, in season to seek the hospitality of pine woods near by. It rained some, but making a sort of tent of our blankets, we concluded to let heaven and earth take care of us as best they could.
An easy march of ten miles brought us, on the morrow's noon, to the place of our immediate destination. The camp assigned us here was by a river-side, near the bridge. We were counted as we proceeded to pass through an immense crowd, of both sexes and all classes, who seemed to have congregated for no other purpose but to examine and criticise us, poor unfortunates.
Our boys were nearly starved, and before rations could be procured they bartered away clothing, gold rings and pens, in short, whatever they had, for a bit of something to eat. Five dollar in Confederate money would buy a piece of corn bread, baked with little or no salt, of the size of a man's hand, and for a small piece of pie I gave the last greenback dollar I had In the world. The citizens were perfect extortioners and robbers, but most of them so ignorant they could easily be imposed upon, and in consequence, our boys played some very sharp tricks upon them. Sometime before the capture of Plymouth, our forces made a raid into Elizabeth City, and some of the men breaking into the Farmers' Bank at that place, appropriated to themselves a large number of unsigned certificates of deposit. These were made to serve us a good turn in our extremity. They were now us a good turn in our extremity. They were now filled out with any names that came convenient, and passed with the greatest readiness as good, sound money.
One mad had a watch chain, made of brss, made in imitation of Uncle Sam's gold dollars, linked together, and after a brightening process, to make it resemble as nearly as possible the valuable coin, it brought in the fortunate the valuable coin, it brought in the fortunate possessor s small fortune in Confederate money.
The distribution of rations soon claimed our attention to the exclusion of everything else, as the "inner man" was sadly in need of refreshment.
These consisted of a cup of meal, the same quantity of black peas, and a small piece of bacon for each man. Kettles and wood were supplied to us, and making lively use of these, we soon had something to eat once more, after which we retired to rest as happy as men could be in such a condition.
"True happiness," says Addison, "is of a retired nature," and so far we might have realized the idea of the man of letters, but we felt not quite like saying "Celestial happiness," more "divine," could they pillow their heads upon other than Confederate soil.
Two-thirds of the prisoners were sent to Goldsbrough, N. C., the next day, on their name, rank and regiment, was taken as he filed out of the guarded enclosure, consequently they made slow progress in the work, and our they made slow progress in the work, and our regiment, from its position, could not come in with those who were to leave that day. Employment diverts the mind, so we betook ourselves to the cooking of our rations, which were more justly distributed than on the day before, and also to make preparation, as best we could, for the satisfaction of hunger while we could, for the satisfaction of hunger while on the journey we supposed would be taken on the morrow.
How far back in the past then seemed our day of New England comforts, but the present claimed our energies, and we thought ourselves in a fair way to become somewhat skilled in the art of making corn-dodgers, especially if we should abide long in Southern society. Trading was brisk as ever through that day, although at one time the Confederate soldiers were forbidden by their officers from taking any more "greenbacks," as there was a law making it a crime for a Southerner to possess or attempt to pass them; but in spite of the order they were still glad to take them when they could do it without fear of detection. We were told by the men in authority that we would probably leave at noon, but noon came. And the shades of evening gathered about us also, without any signs of leaving, so that there remained nothing for us but to compose ourselves to the idea of staying another night upon our miserable camping ground. To add to our discomfort, the bacon dispensed was not part of the sweetest variety, but we knew memory would be faithful to her trust in its rememberance, and the feeling of retaliation excited, we felt quite sure would find expression if any future time allowed the opportunity. During the day saw a copy of the Richmond Examiner, giving an account of our capture and the taking of the town, in a manner not very flattering to us, but the sadness occasioned was somewhat overborne by the intelligence almost simultaneously received, that the rebels had been foiled in their attack upon Newbern, and their iron-clad ram "the Neuse," blown up.
The indolence and monotony which characterized these days was unpleasant in the extreme. Sometimes we found little variety in spicy debates with rebel officers, upon the war and slavery. They seemed to be very fond of arguing with us, although our boys almost invariably got the better of them.
For a little time small squads were allowed to go out for wood, under guard, and I was fortunate enough to belong to one of these parties, and right glad was I to get way from our filthy surroundings, and breathe the pure, fresh air of heaven, as it swept through the woods. Its influence was really exhilarating to spirit as well as body. Coupled with this was information that we might be exchanged in a few days, and altogether hope became quite buoyant. Some cars appeared in our vicinity, and it began to look a little like departure. The possibility of its truth was inspiriting, although we knew not what change would bring us, but of one thing we were certain, that a prisoner's life in the South had more of unpleasant reality that romance. That night it was very cold, and with but one blanket between tow, it was impossible to keep comfortable between two, it was impossible to keep comfortably warm, but hearts were animated by the thought of our.
DEPARTURE FROM TARBORO.
About seven o'clock in the morning, it now being the 29th, the welcome order, "get ready to leave," but, as usual, our regiment was the last to be on the way. The street through which we passed on our march to the depot was very beautiful, and we all agreed it was the prettiest place we had seen in the South. It is the county seat of Edgecomb County, situated upon the banks of the Tar river, and must have been a place of some importance before the war. It is in railroad connection with the South by a short branch road which strikes the Weldon road at a little place called Rocky Mount.
The train left at 10 o'clock, and we had a fair ride until night, when we became so weary we longed for a little sleep;- to lose ourselves in grateful unconsciousness for a little while, but we found there was not room for us all even to sit down, much less to place our bodies in such a position as to experience anything like rest, for there were fort-seven prisoners and five or six guards crowded into a box car, and a small one at that. Soon after dark the doors were shut by order of the officer of the guard,- Capt. Johnson, of the 28th Georgia, and we passed most miserable night, nearly smothered, and pressed almost out of all shape.
We passed Pikeville, and some other places of little not, on the way to Goldsborough. Here we stopped some time, and drew rations for the next twenty-four hours, receiving three small hard crackers and a little scrap of bacon to subsist on for that time. It was very evident our enemies did not intend we should suffer from being over fed.
At midnight we reached Wilmingtion, where the guard availed themselves of the opportunity to do something for their own comfort. They alighted, kindled fires, and had a good time all to themselves, while we, poor creatures, were obliged to stay in our wretched car until morning. Soon after sunrise we were ordered from our miserable confinement and marched down the dock, where a ferry boat was in waiting to convey us to the opposite side. We landed on a large lumber dock, where we made a stay of several hours, during which time we received our allowance for twenty-four hours more; this time obtaining a small loaf of sour wheat bread, no larger than a man's fist, and some bacon that smelled so badly that, hungry as we were, we left it upon the ground untouched. "Is there any excuse for this treatment here under the very shadow of one of the wealthiest cities of the South?" was the question was asked ourselves. And the reply dictated by reason was, "there can not be; it is equally inexcusable and inhuman."
Three large blockade runners were lying at the docks the Wilmington side; very sharp; rakish looking steamers, painted grayish white, in order not to be seen at a distance when at sea. While gazing at them we suddenly heard heavy and rapid firing in the distance, the intent of which was soon ascertained in the return of a handsome steamer with the Confederate flag floating in the breeze, it having been repulsed in an attempt to run out at the mouth of the river.
A short time before our arrival the place had suffered from an immense fire. Remains of buildings and docks were still smoking and burning. One of the prisoners who went through in advance of us, placed a lighted pope in a bale of cotton, and before it was discovered the fire had made too much progress to be easily arrested. The loss was estimated to have been about six millions of dollars, one million of which belonged to the Confederate government.
Our companionship with lumber was broken by orders to embark for Charleston. Our Asthmatic locomotive had a great time in climbing a steep grade near the city, but after an untold amount of whistling and screaming it succeeded in pulling us up and sending us away on our journey. We passed several trains loaded with troops, either on their way to Lee's army or to Newbern.