General Prince at this interview also invited me to volunteer to take the command of the expedition, which I declined in the most positive and unmistakable language. I was entirely willing to take my chance with others of either falling upon the field or being taken prisoner, but my own good sense promptly told me that the size of the expedition and the importance of its trust forbade one of my limited military experience from assuming its command, except under positive orders from my superior officers, and then, in obedience to a willing heart, I could only promise to do the best I could to accomplish the object of the expedition.
At about 10 a. m. on April 8 a messenger called at my room and told me that General Palmer desired to see me at once. I immediately proceeded to his headquarters, when he informed me that the command of the expedition would fall upon me. This was the first intimation I had received that this important trust would be placed under my charge. I expressed my astonishment at it, and told General Palmer that I could not assume the command unless I received a written order to that effect, which he assured me I should have before starting.
I have deemed it due to truth and the interest of the service that these fact should be stated in this report, as they form a link in the history of the efforts made to relieve the invested garrison.
I then crossed the river, and shortly after reaching the other side was handed the following order:
FORT ANDERSON, NEUSE RIVER,
April 8, 1863.
Brigadier General F. B. SPINOLA,
U. S. Volunteers, New Berne, N. C.:
GENERAL: The force for the relief of Washington are hereby placed under your command, and a list of them is furnished to you. General Foster, commanding this department, has given positive instructions that all the available force at New Berne shall march to Washington to his relief. You will perceive that this order has been implicitly obeyed as far as placing the troops at your disposition is concerned.
You have informed me that you have read the orders sent to General Prince by General Foster. As these are the only instructions I have seen I can only direct you to bear in mind the letter of General Foster and exercise your best judgment in carrying out his views. The sole object of the expedition is too get the troops into Washington, now invested by the enemy, and I feel confident that everything that can be done will be effected.
Please to keep me informed of the state of affairs as you proceed. Look well to the roads leading into your route the direction of Kinston. Should you be obliged to build a bridge at Swift Creek it should be protected, for the supplies for your command may not be able to start until to-morrow.
I will not anticipate a failure to get through, but should you be obliged to return (for I shall send for you if this place is attacked by any force that I think will be able to overcome the force left here) let the return movement be conducted with order and great care.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
I. N. PALMER,
on the receipt of which I directed the column to be ready to move at 3 o'clock that afternoon. I organized the several regiments comprising the command into three brigades, of five regiments each, and assigned to each brigade its proper portion of artillery, and also gave the cavalry the necessary instructions to govern them on the march.
The First Brigade was put the command of Colonel Amory, of the Seventeenth Massachusetts Volunteers, and comprised the following infantry and artillery: The Seventeenth Massachusetts Volunteers, two 32-pounder howitzers, Forty-third Massachusetts Volunteers, One hundred and first Pennsylvania Volunteers, Ninety-sixth New York Volunteers, Third Massachusetts Volunteers, and Belger's battery.