In camp near Newbern
March 16th, 1862
Your letter was received while on board of the “Chassuer” Wednesday night. It had been laying at Hatteras Inlet and was taken aboard by one of the fleet and delivered while we lay by for the night. You ought to have seen that boat about eleven o’clock, every light occupied by at least a dozen different persons each anxious to read the news from home.
We landed Friday A.M. in a small cove and immediately commenced marching up the river. We followed the beach for about two miles through the sand over shoes and then struck off across the fields. 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.
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.
It had been raining some all day and after we had stopped for the night it commenced in good earnest, which was the rule, with slight variations for the night. We were allowed fires which, thanks to the pitch pine wood, could burn as well wet as dry. I can tell you that after 12 o’clock very little sleeping was done by the soldiers in this division. About 6 A.M. we started, wet as rats, but due to the southern climate, not cold and our blankets (were) as heavy as 8 ought to be.
We had proceeded but a short distance when we heard the rattle of musketry and the booming of cannon, telling us that the action had commenced in earnest. As we advanced toward the battery, the balls rung tunes over our heads and occasionally played a little nearer our heads than we cared for. Philo Matson, from out on Firetown mountains, was in the rank ahead of me and was much frightened; he would have fell out if possible. The orders were given to fall down, right up, fix bayonets, fire. As soon as I had fired, I heard Philo say, “Oh, I’m killed”, turned and saw a slight flesh wound on the top of his head. I certainly could not help laughing to see him. He turned to the orderly and asked him if he thought he was killed and, when he found out that he was still in the land of the living, took his gun and made himself missing as soon as possible.
Companies G and H were sent out as skirmishers while we lay here upon the ground. Capt. Epham(?) of Co. H was wounded in the shoulder at this time; it is feared mortally. Howes Phelps from Co. B was killed. At this time, word came that the 21st Mass. had charged upon the battery and were repulsed. We were ordered on double quick through [word unreadable] until we reached the rail road where was a high embankment where we halted to form. The balls, meanwhile, were flying as thick as hailstorms. The rebels fired one volley which wounded several and killed two from our regiment. We were then ordered to fall and by mistake our colors fell too, and the rebels, deceived by our gray coats, took us to be rebel reinforcements arriving by rail road and ceased firing upon us; this mistake probably saved many lives. When we started from there we went double quick to charge their battery, but as they did not like the look of cold steel they left in a hurry. The color guard immediately ran up to the battery and planted the colors which were the first upon the battery.
The U.S. flag had two bullet holes shot through it while being planted. We were ordered to file right towards the other battery and were drawn up in a line of battle, and the two flank companies again sent out as skirmishers. In a few moments, a Gen’s aid came with his horse upon a run, and asked, “why we did not charge upon that battery?” saying that we were wanted there very much. The Col. told him to go to Gen. Parke; that he was the man to give orders. The Gen. ordered the left wing of the brigade to charge and the right to flank them (the enemy) if they attempted to retreat to the right, which we were much afraid of as by this means they would get possession of the first battery again, and if the Rhode Island regiment was driven back that we should reinforce them. Three different times we prepared to charge, but each time some circumstances happened that prevented it. As we lay upon the ground the balls whistled over our heads in abundance but did not do our regiment much injury. I think there is but three killed and about a dozen wounded in the 8th. The 11th suffered more than we when lying upon the ground, for the balls simply whistled over our heads and hit right in amongst them.
Capt. Lee from Hartford was killed and two of his company by the same ball. Our loss is about 100 killed and 200 or 300 wounded. There are two wounded in our company, one in the wrist and one in the head – neither serious. I had no idea of the noise created in battle by artillery and the musketry until I heard it. It was like one continuous roll of thunder for perhaps half an hour without the least intermission, and then perhaps after a few seconds another more deafening, if possible, than before.
After the taking of the second battery, we took the railroad for Newbern. We came upon three secesh camps about three or four miles from the batteries situated within about a quarter of a mile of each other. The camps had just been left; the principal Q.M. and Commissary tents were in flames, but the barracks and sheds for the horses and two commissary tents with a lot of provisions and horse feed were left in good condition. There were lots of clothes left that had never been worn, also double barrel shot guns, carpet bags full of trinkets, letters, daguerreotypes, etc. I have read about a dozen of the letters, but find nothing interesting in them and of not interest in themselves except as specimens of poor spelling. We marched past the camp one half mile but were ordered back to camp for the night.
The forward part of our division went to Newbern and captured several thousand prisoners. 120 car loads left at the approach of our troops. The rebels burnt all the public buildings and any others that they thought would be of any value to us. It was the grandest sight I ever saw. It looked like a needless sacrifice of property, but I suppose it was better than to have it fall into our hands. We have taken 60 pieces of artillery in the different fortifications besides many military stores. I suppose the next stand of the rebels will be at Goldsboro where we shall probably attack them in a few days. There is no one of your acquaintances killed in the battle.
Alonzo wrote me some time ago, asking Lieut. Marsh if Duane’s money had been sent. I wrote him that it was sent to Melvin Goddard, North Canton, Conn. The reason why it was sent there was that Philo Matson told them it was best and he was the only one that knew anything about his family, in the company. I was upon the hospital boat at the time.
There were a few of our boys that fell out before the battle and have thus made themselves the laughing stock of the company. I tell you it does not play well to play coward here. We have been living some since we came here upon what the secesh left. We have found molasses, sugar, rice, coffee, etc. which we cook ourselves. Just imagine a soldier having his griddlecakes for breakfast, fresh meat for dinner, boiled rice and coffee for supper and you have an idea of the way we are living at present.
There is one thing I forgot to tell you. It is that in the Rhode Island 4th there is a woman that goes with them wherever they go. I saw her first upon the Island, but have seen her often since. She dresses in bloomer costume with black pants, a closely fitting bodice with a skirt coming nearly to the knees, men’s boots with her pants tucked inside and a nice velvet hat. There, that is the first time I ever described a lady’s dress and I hope you will not criticize it too much. I saw her with the regiment Thursday straining(?) through the mud with her blanket on her shoulder, equal to the best of them. There was one of the officers’ aides riding one horse and leading another one when he came up to where she was. She jumped on to the horse as easy as any man. It was the first time I ever saw a woman ride a horse like a man.
In the morning when we got up to start, the regiment formed in the road close by her; she was ahead carrying the flag. She went with them into the battle field and ran some very near chances of being hit, the shell of one bursting close by her side. She begged the Col. to let her kill one of the wounded rebels to pay for her husband being wounded. She looks, a little way off, like a young girl of twelve or fourteen years. She was out in the three months campaign. Her husband is now the Lieut; he was orderly when she was married. There are not many men with more pluck than she has.
There came into camp last night about 35 contrabands and more are coming in continually.
I left your letter with my knapsack on the boat and cannot now tell what you wrote. I did not like the idea of having the secesh read my letters so did not bring them with me. George Lewis sends respects.
Give my love to Grandmother. Love to all.
My postage stamps are on the boat.
Your ever aff. brother,