The Richmond Daily Dispatch
Feb. 12, 1864
|Soldier in North Carolina uniforn|
(Liljenquist Family Collection/
Library of Congress)
Kinston, N. C., Feb.8.
It was hard on to four o'clock in the morning when the battle actually begun, although random shots had been heard for an hour or more. It was very dark and foggy, with every prospect of rain. When daylight came the artillery opened in good earnest, and roared through the woods a spiteful greeting to the foe, while every few moments a rapid fire of musketry rattled along the line. Lying upon a small island, our boats hauled up under the tall sedge and grass which fringed the bank, bivouac fires smouldering — just enough to give us a little warmth, without showing smoke to the enemy — wearied and worn by nights of hard work and wakefulness, the men lay and slept or listened to the noise of the fight as Pickett drove the Yankees before him. Nearer and nearer grew the battles until it was abreast of us — beyond us — and we heard the guns of the fortifications open upon the victorious advance guard. Bachelor's creek, a small, deep, and tortuous stream, runs across the country a few miles above Newbern, and finally empties into the Neuse. Some five or six miles from the town the railroad crosses it, while still further on is the Trent road, leading towards Kinston. At this point the Yankees had erected formidable field works, and beside them a strong block-house. Here were their reserves, living securely in pleasant encampments, and beyond, pushed out three or four miles, the advance. So quietly had Gen Pickett managed his troops, the enemy was entirely without knowledge of this approach of any body of men, although the proximity of the pickets told them the Confederates were pushing upon them. Some four miles beyond Bachelor's bridge the fight began. Straggling shots were fired about two in the morning, but Pickett held back until daylight, when he turned loose upon them, and began "driving them"in Stonewall Jackson style. Retreating into the fortifications across the creek, they made a fierce stand, and opened a heavy fire from the block-house and the works. No use, however; for, advancing steadily up to them until within easy distance, Hoke and Clingman carried the forts in fine style, and scattered the Yankees in every direction. Then came a race. Gen. Pickett pressed close upon them, and kept them moving towards the railroad, where another reserve had been drawn up to await his approach. Here, too, was a railroad battery, which, mounting some heavy guns, had been run out from the town. Driving the Yankees across the embankment, a battery was sent down to engage the iron monster, and in a few moments it was driven back, and the rails torn up to prevent another advance. A sharp fight now occurred; but in a short time the enemy was forced to retreat, their line broken, and Pickett had them on the race. Following close upon them, pouring the shot into them whenever they endeavored to form, our troops pressed them into a run, and for a few miles they made "amazing tracks" to get under cover of the guns of the forts built around the town. Regiments became disorganized and scattered through the woods, and men and officers, with the shout of "sauve qui pent," threw away knapsack and rifle and ran for their lives. By three in the evening the enemy had taken shelter within the fortifications, and stood awaiting the anticipated attack upon the town; but straggling bands were found scattered through the woods, and were every moment being brought in by our men.
During all this brilliant little affair only two brigades were engaged. Gen. Barton, with the pick troops of the division, had been sent to the south side of the Trent, and his approach was looked for with great anxiety. Gen. Pickett listened anxiously for the sound of his guns, expecting every moment to hear him open upon the town in the rear; but the day wore away and nothing was heard from him; evening came on, and still no news. Just across the Neuse, hardly three-quarters of a mile from Newbern, was Fort Anderson, and this, to prevent the garrison assisting in the fight, and also to keep reinforcements from coming on from Washington, had been closely invested. Col. Dearing, with a brigade of infantry, three battalions of cavalry and two batteries of artillery, had completely surrounded it, and kept the men under arms, expectantly waiting an attack. This, however, was almost impossible from the land side; for the place was remarkably strong, the fort 14 feet high, mounting 11 guns of large calibre, with a ditch from 4 to 6 feet deep and 12 feet wide. The garrison, under Col. Anderson, was composed of 860 infantry, with some heavy artillery. The most that could be done was to keep this force engaged, and at the same time to threaten the Washington road to prevent reinforcements. This Col. Dearing accomplished.
For some two miles around Newbern the forest had been cleared, and the guns of three large forts, together with two parks of field artillery stationed in the town, had a clear sweep, and would have played havoc with our advance. Evidently the attack must come from the rear. Night was fast coming on; and still no news of Gen. Barton. Just as the sun was sinking behind the tree tops word was brought that the enemy was endeavoring to make a demonstration on the extreme right. Gen. Pickett was standing under a tree, in full sight of the town and its fortifications, his staff lying upon the ground around him looking anxiously towards the Trent, twirling his sword knot around his small white hand, or, as if in perplexity, fastidiously biting his finger nails. I knew he was thinking of Barton. Just then rode up the soldier Hoke, and, dismounting, explained the movement on the right. Evidently to feel the force, being securely near the forts, some cavalry, artillery and infantry had advanced, but the cavalry had been easily repulsed by his pickets, and the whole column had halted.--"They must be driven back," said Gen. Pickett; "Can you do it?" "Yes, " replied Hoke, brightening up, "with my own brigade;" and vaulting into the saddle he rode away. Half an hour afterwards we heard the humble of artillery towards Newbern, and knew the Yankees were retiring. When the sun set the enemy was confined within their fortifications; but still no news from south of the Trent. Gen. P. looks more perplexed than ever, and twists his sword knot more rapidly, and bites his nails persistently. Presently he disposes of the troops for the night and turns away from the field. As he passes the tired soldiers who have fought all day rise to greet him, smiles cover their dusty faces, caps wave, and we know that hearty cheers would follow but for the proximity of the enemy.
The day's fight was ended. Still, as the daylight lingered, small bands of prisoners were brought in, until between 180 and 200 had been collected, and the whole put on the route to Richmond. Besides the prisoners was some artillery, several wagons, a quantity of stores, together with sundry plies of private baggage. And this is all I know about the battle. What occurred south of the Trent I do not know, and I do not care to speak from hearsay or to draw any inferences. The conduct of Gen. Pickett, Hoke, and Clingman, won my entire admiration, and I think all will concur as far as affairs were pushed. The loss was very small on our side. Col. Shaw was killed on the field, and Gen. Clingman slightly wounded.--"Thirty- five," I believe, is a number which will cover all casualties.
When night came, as I said in my previous letter, we made preparations to go again in search of Yankee gunboats, and this time through a reconnaissance in the evening, the position of one was marked. The other had gone higher up the Trent. About 11 o'clock we dropped down the stream, and pulled to where the river widened into an estuary just off the town, the lights of which twinkled through the dark. The stars were shining brightly, and the first blush of the rising moon began to appear. Winding down in two long black lines for another half hour, the boats were again brought alongside for prayers — instructions were issued, and once more we were on the way. Pulling around into the Trent, Captain Wood arranged the boats in two divisions opposite the "Under writer," whose lights were now visible, and each was instructed to board in its own position, one forward and the other aft. Five bells struck as we were gradually nearing the side, and soon followed the watchman's call, repeated again as he sprang the rattle which summoned the men to quarters. We were then upwards of four hundred yards away and had to give way strongly for it, to prevent the Yankees slipping the lines and giving her a turn ahead. Lieutenant Loyall's boat was first at the side, just aft the wheelhouse, then came Capt Wood amidships, while forward came up Lieuts. Hoge, Korr, Gardner, Goodwyn, Porcher, Roby, and Wilkinson, in quick succession, tumbling on board as soon as the grapnel was made fast. The fight I have spoken of before.--Lasting about ten minutes only, but in that short time the enemy was overpowered, the decks in our possession, and the prisoners secured. The engineers, with the exception of poor Gill, who fell upon the deck, took possession of the engine-room, the fireman rushed below, Lieut. Gardner was stationed at the Captain's cabin, and Hoge at the guns. Throughout the ship each man went immediately to his post. Finding the fires out, the water shoal, and everything against getting the steamer out, it was determined to burn her, and almost at the same time a shot from the shore damaged the upper machinery and put her hors du cumbat.
Well, there is little more to be said We burned her and retired, under fire from the shore batteries and also from a volley of musketry which whistled along the water. All the prisoners were secured but three or four, who jumped into a small boat and made for the shore. Captain Westervelt was one of this number. We could hear the cheers of the soldiery as they struck the bank. The morning of the attack the "Underwriter" had been hauled in shore as far as possible, and had her guns on the land side, trained upon the Neuse road, by which it was supposed we should advance. The other gunboat taking the alarm made up the Trent as fast as her steam would carry her, and, luckily for us, did not dare take part in the fight. Westervelt was slightly wounded in the leg by a ball which passed through his cabin. His officers say he was not upon the deck during the engagement, and accuse him of cowardice. When the shell exploded on the decks he leaped overboard, and, I dare say, will appear next as a Munchausen story teller in the Northern press. Although the navy did not accomplish all it anticipated, enough was done, in cutting out a gunboat under Yankee batteries, moored to a shore bristling with cannon, to show the spirit which animates it, and which only awaits opportunity to display itself in more glorious colors.
In conclusion, I may say, quite a quantity of provision was obtained from the county, and a company of disloyal people--North Carolina "Buffaloes," they call them — captured. They were deserters from our army, caught in arms against us, and the example of hanging them, after sentence of court martial, had a good effect upon the army and the people. I am confident, from observation and information received during two weeks sojourn in the Old North State, that too many false tales are circulated about growing dissatisfaction. Wherever I went, the people, almost without exception, were loyal and true to our Government. I saw no evidence of dissatisfaction, and heard nothing which could induce one to think such a thing existed. The action of a few traitors alone has brought this general accusation against the State, and I am sure it is repeated quite too often.