The Landing at Slocum’s Creek

After the much delayed, but highly successful operation to take Roanoke Island, Ambrose Burnside was ready to turn his amphibious force against the Confederate stronghold of Newbern. The city of Newbern was located at the confluence of the Neuse River and its smaller brother, the Trent. The Confederate government had created a District of Pamlico command which made its headquarters in Newbern, a city protected by a string of Confederate forts along the western bank of the Neuse. Gaining control of this area was essential to Burnside’s future objective of taking the important port of Beaufort through the use of the railroads beyond Newbern.

As had been the case with most of his North Carolina operations, Burnside’s movement against Newbern was delayed by bad weather. The initial loadout of troops from Roanoke Island began on the 3rd and 4th of March 1862, but had to be delayed as a gale blew in from the Atlantic.

On March 5th, Oliver Case and the troops of the 8th Connecticut began loading onto the steamer Chasseur. According to Oliver’s letter to his sister on March 11th, the soldiers of the expeditionary force were acting on:

…orders from Gen. Burnside were received that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd brigades should hold themselves in readiness to march on an hours notice, each man to carry one woolen blanket, one days rations in his haversack (two others to be cooked and carried in bulk,) 40 rounds of ammunition in the cartridge boxes and twenty more in pockets. Each man is to be held responsible for his blanket and the excitement of an engagement or of a charge will not be deemed a reasonable excuse for their loss. We are eager for a start and shall probably go today and we expect to make a hole somewhere when we move. It is likely that the fleet and land forces will act in conjunction and while the former peppers them in front, we shall attack them in the rear.[1]

More storms and delays in the loadout from Roanoke Island slowed the process until finally, on Tuesday, March 11th, the fleet began the movement to Newbern. A new round of rainstorms pounded the fleet but subsided by later in the day. The progress of the fleet was slowed again when several ships including the Chasseur were temporarily run aground, a common malady during the North Carolina campaign. All were freed by the afternoon as the entire fleet moved into Hatteras Inlet to drop anchors for the night.

 

Chasseur drawing

Steamer Chasseur from January 4, 1862 edition of Harper’s Weekly

 

With Hatteras Inlet serving as the connection point via shipping lanes to the north, mail was delivered to the expeditionary force including the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut as they laid at anchor in the inlet. Based on Oliver’s description of receiving the letter from his sister on Wednesday, it would appear the mail delivery was not taken on board the Chasseur until the following morning before the ships departed Hatteras Inlet heading up the Neuse River. Just before darkness set in, the fleet reached the mouth of Slocum’s Creek near Burnside’s intended landing site. Given the late hour, there was no choice but to drop anchors and await daylight to before beginning the landing operation.

As more than 10,000 soldiers of Burnside’s command settle in for the night, they receive a late-night morale boost when mail from home is distributed. Every soldier scrambles to find a light source to read the latest news knowing that tomorrow will likely bring battle and it may be many days before more correspondence is received from family and friends.

Sunrise on the morning of March 13, 1862 brings orders from General Burnside to begin the landing operation at the mouth of Slocum’s Creek. Although Oliver confuses the day of the landing, his description of the events of the landing and movements are accurate as he writes that the 8th Connecticut landed in a “small cove and immediately commenced marching up the river [Neuse River].” Oliver and the Connecticut troops are part of the Third Brigade of Burnside’s force commanded by John Parke. The landing at the mouth of Slocum’s Creek is slow as troops are ferried by smaller boats pulled by tugboats into the shallow waters.

 

Slocum Creek landing site map

The Landing Site for Burnside’s Expedition at Slocum’s Creek, March 13, 1862[2]

 

Slocum’s Creek probably seemed more like a river to Oliver and many of the boys from Connecticut compared to many of the creeks back home. The 8th marched along the creek’s edge on what Oliver called “the beach” for about two miles before turning to head inland. Not long after heading away from the water, the regiment came upon a welcome sight that was just too good to resist for some of the troops.

In a short time we came up to an encampment of cavalry which had been evacuated but a short time. Some of the boys fell out and helped themselves to chickens, ham, biscuits etc. We travelled till after sundown over the muddiest road (if road it could be called) that I ever saw. We passed several farmhouses on our journey but most of the road lay through the woods.[3]

Good things cannot last and so it was for the feasting troopers who were soon given the order to move out. In a scene that would be a preview of Burnside’s infamous “mud march” in Virginia almost one year later, the troops struggled against terrible conditions. Oliver described it this way:

We travelled till after sundown over the muddiest road (if road it could be called) that I ever saw.[4]

The Confederate commander closest to the landing, Colonel R. P. Campbell, in command of the Confederate right wing, had interpreted the supporting gunfire from the Union ships as an indicator that another landing of Union troops would follow the first and orders his troops to pull back to the defense line near Fort Thompson. When the Union regiments reach the entrenchments on the 13th, they find them abandoned.

Oliver observed the abandoned enemy camps and fortifications realizing that the soldiers of Parke’s Brigade may have dodged the bullet for this day.

About the middle of the afternoon we came to the first battery, which had just been evacuated and the barracks set on fire, which were still burning as we passed. We found out afterward that if we had been a day later the rebels would have had their forces there and mounted and it would have taken the lives of many men to have dislodged them for it is a very strong point. The fortification is a mile long, with a large ditch in front protected in the rear by breast works of huge trees felled top of one another. It would have been almost impossible to have flanked them and they would undoubtedly have had to be charged upon to have dislodged them.[5]

The expedition continued to march until nightfall when they halted and prepared for follow on operations at daylight the next morning. General Parke reported that “roads generally were in bad order, and the men marched in many localities through water and mud. In addition, heavy showers fell at intervals during the day and night, and although the men had their overcoats and blankets the bivouac was extremely trying.”[6]

After struggling against the terrible road conditions, the troops were allowed to make camp for the night to include building fires using the available pitch pine wood which burned even in the wet conditions. That night, wrote Oliver, the rain “commenced in good earnest” creating miserable conditions for the soldiers who found that “after 12 o’clock very little sleeping was done by the soldiers in this division.” Oliver observed that the milder southern climate granted some relief when the order to move out came at 6 am, although “our blankets were as heavy as 8 ought to be.”[7]

Tomorrow would be a new day as the march toward New Bern continued.

NOTES:

[1] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (11 March 1862)

[2] From Baylor University collection, http://contentdm.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/tx-wotr/id/1846

[3] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 March 1862)

[4] IBID.

[5] IBID.

[6] OR, Parke, March 22, 1862.

[7] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 March 1862)

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