War of the Rebellion: Serial 009 Page 0327 Chapter XX. ENGAGEMENT AT SOUTH MILLS, N. C.

Search Civil War Official Records

Ferebee, commanding the drafted North Carolina Militia, and Lieutenant D. A. French, who succeeded to the command of the battery of artillery after the death of its gallant captain, McComas.

I would forward these reports to you at once, but there are some discrepancies and omissions in them which I desire first to have corrected, and will therefore try to make a brief statement from these reports, to give you and the War Department information concerning this severe and well-fought action, which was successful, inasmuch as the enemy failed to accomplish his object and was obliged to retire to his vessels with great loss.

I send herewith a sketch of the country between South Mills and Elizabeth City, showing the position of the battle.

All the forces under the command of Colonel Wright were the Third Regiment Georgia Volunteers, some drafted militia, under Colonel Ferebee, of North Carolina (Colonel F. Omits to state in his report how many he had on duty), McComas' battery of artillery (one rifled piece and three bronze 6-pounders), and one company of cavalry, Captain Gillett's Southampton company.

On Friday, the 18th, I had ordered forward the Thirty-second North Carolina Regiment (Colonel Brabble's) and the First Louisiana Regiment (Colonel Vincent's), but they did not arrive until after the battle.

On Friday, the 18th, Colonel Wright occupied South Mills with three companies of his regiment (160 strong) and the drafted North Carolina Militia, two companies at the intrenchments at Richardson's Mills (125 effectives) and five companies (about 300 men) and McComas' battery of artillery at Elizabeth City.

On Friday evening, anticipating the enemy's advance and in compliance with my instructions to concentrate his forces at or near South Mills, he ordered the companies at Elizabeth City to retire 9 miles to Richardson's Mills. From some cause not yet explained these companies did not leave Elizabeth City until after daylight on Saturday morning.

The cavalry company from Camdem Court-House reported at 8.30 o'clock.

On the 19th, the enemy approaching, having then passed the Court-House, Colonel Wright moved forward with his three companies, and bat 9.30 o'clock was met by Colonel McComas with his battery. After advancing 3 miles from South Mills the road emerged from the woods, and the field on the right and left extended 160 to 180 yards to thick woods and swamp. On the edge of the woods, on both sides of the road and perpendicular to it, was a small ditch, the earth from which was thrown up on the south side in a ridge, upon which was a heavy rail fence. From this point the road led through a narrow lane (Sawyer's) for 1 mile, with cleared land on both sides of it. Here he determined to make his stand.

About 300 yards from the woods ran a deep, wide ditch parallel with the one first mentioned and extending to the woods on either side of the road, and a short distance beyond it were dwellings and outhouses which would give cover for the enemy. Colonel Wright therefore ordered them burned. The large ditch in his front he filled with fence rails and set them on fire, his object to have this ditch so hot by the time the enemy came up they could not occupy it. (This ditch is marked on sketch as "Roasted Ditch.")

Two pieces of artillery (the road was too narrow for more) were placed in the road just where it emerged from the woods, which commanded the road - the range of the guns. He also threw down the fences for