Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain


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LIEUT. A. COOPER,

The day was warm and bright, and the men were scattered about the town with no thought of approaching danger. The cavalry had scouted the day before, a distance of twelve or fifteen miles, and found no signs of the enemy, but about 4 p.

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By the absence of Capt. Roach, of Company A, and the sickness of Capt. Hock, of Company F, I was in command of the detachment of cavalry, and at once ordered a bugler who happened to be standing near, to [Pg 14] sound boots and saddles ; sent Lieutenant Russel, who was mounted, having just rode up, to headquarters, to notify General Wessels that our pickets had been driven in and ask for orders for the cavalry.


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He returned just as I had formed the two companies into line with orders to make a reconnoissance on the Washington road, and, without getting into a fight, ascertain, as near as I could, the strength of the enemy in our front. I ascertained by a careful reconnoissance that Maj.

Hoke was in front with about eight thousand troops. Hoke formed his line and threw out his skirmishers, but made no further demonstrations that night, a few shells from Fort Williams having the effect of checking any further movement. Wessels sent the steamer Massasoit, carrying the women and other non-combatants, and the wounded, to Newbern. Among the women were Mrs. George H. Hastings, Mrs.

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Frick, Mrs. Hock, Mrs. Bell, Mrs. Cooper who had been with me from the 7th of February , and others. Preparations were made for a stout resistance by Gen. Wessels, who was a gallant officer. He established a strong skirmish line nearly two miles in length along our entire front and had everything in readiness to repel any attack that might be made; but the night passed without any further demonstration. In this bombardment the gunboat Bombshell, which had been sent to the assistance of the fort, was so crippled that she sank immediately upon reaching the wharf.

The attack on Fort Gray was repulsed, and our skirmish line in front maintained its position all day. At p. I received orders to take the two companies of cavalry, dismounted, up to the breastworks near Fort Williams. Fortunately I was mounted at the time, and rode up to the front, where, sitting on my horse, I had a splendid view of the battle that ensued. Hoke opened on the town with forty-two pieces of [Pg 16] artillery; Wessels replied with just about the same number of pieces, but of heavier calibre.

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From 6 until 8. Several assaults were made on our works, which were repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy. The heaviest fighting occurred on our right centre, where were stationed the 85th New York; but to quote from the gallant Phil.

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This small fort or redoubt was defended by Lieut. It was protected by a deep ditch, twelve feet wide, with an abattis of pine limbs outside, with a draw bridge, which, when raised, formed a door to the entrance. It mounted four or five guns and was well supplied with hand grenades from one-half to two pounds. A number of determined assaults were made upon this work, and in one about sixty of the enemy got inside the abattis and surrounded the ditches; but Lieut.

Clark used the hand grenades so effectually, the boys tossing them over with such precision, and at the same time keeping up such a succession of explosions at the sallyport, that they all surrendered, laid down their arms and were taken inside. Thus Lieut. Clark had twice the number of prisoners he had men under his command. The small garrison of this fort were finally overcome by vastly superior numbers, but not until the enemy had lost in killed over triple the number of its brave defenders.

Our loss was insignificant, as we were behind good works. During the engagement I was struck on the leg by a bullet out of a spherical case shot, but as my pants and drawers were inside of a heavy cavalry boot leg, and owing to the fact that the force of the ball was nearly spent, [Pg 18] it only made a black and blue spot on the side of my leg. We lay at the breastworks all night, but no further demonstrations were made in our front that night.

Before daylight the next morning, however, we were aroused by a shot from the two hundred pound Parrot gun in Battery Worth, and soon the gunboats opened their batteries and a terrific canonading on the river apprised us of the fact that the long expected ram Albemarle had come down and encountered our fleet. Within twenty minutes all was again still, and we anxiously awaited the dawn to learn what had been the result.

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When the dawn finally came we were both mortified and surprised to find that there was no fleet in sight and that the powerful iron-clad ram Albemarle had full possession of the river, cutting off both our retreat and re-inforcements. Commander Flusser, as I have said, was one of the most gallant and efficient Commanders in the U.

As I have before stated, the Miama was a large double-ender, and she was also a very high boat, being a double-decker as well. It was three a. But when the ram passed battery Worth, she was so low in the water and came down so still, and the night was so very dark, that the lookout at battery Worth failed to see her until she had passed the work, although the gunboat Whitehead, Capt.

Barret, dropped down just ahead of her, having been stationed up the river on picket, and notified Lieutenant Hoppins, who was in command of battery Worth, of the approach of the ram. Only one shot was fired at her, and this after she had passed the redoubt, but as she had got by, the aim of the gun was inaccurate, so she passed on uninjured. She ran between the Miama and Southfield, striking the latter with her horn on the forward quarter, just at the water line. The bow of the ram had passed under the forward cable and her horn was, of course, under the wide spreading wales of the Southfield.

This boat was now rapidly sinking, while both she and the Miama were all the time sending solid shot in quick succession against her iron-clad deck and sides. The ram was trying to disengage her horn from the fast settling Southfield, which was drawing her down with her as she settled, [Pg 21] making it every minute more difficult for her to extricate herself. The water was pouring into the forward ports of the iron monster, when unfortunately Capt. Flusser was struck in the breast by a piece of a shell, that had by some mistake been placed in one of his guns, and exploded as it struck the ram at short range, killing him instantly.

As soon as Capt. French, who was in command of the Southfield, learned of his death, he jumped aboard the Miama, calling his crew to follow him, but they bravely staid by their ship. He then ordered the cables cut loose and steamed away down into the Sound, thus leaving the ram in a position to extricate herself from the Southfield, as she could not do while held down by the cable. If French had, instead of cutting the cables, just put on steam, he could have run the ram on the shore stern foremost, as Flusser had intended to do, and for which purpose he had the boats lashed together.

Extricating herself from the Southfield, from whose guns she was continually receiving solid shot, she opened her batteries upon her and soon sent her to the bottom, picking up and making prisoners of the crew. These were very bitter in their denunciation of Capt.


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French, whose cowardice alone, they said, saved the ram from being run ashore and captured, as it would have been had Flusser lived. Being now in possession of the river, the Albemarle took her station about a mile below the town, just opposite our left, which, as I have said, was unprotected by works. This was the only weak point in our defence, and while our own fleet was in the river, they could effectually protect this; but now that they were replaced by the Albemarle, Hoke would have no trouble in getting through and gaining our rear. The greatest obstacle now to be overcome by the enemy, was the passage of a deep, wide creek and swamp, half a mile from the river, which was commanded by Comphor and Coneby redoubts.

At daylight of this, the 19th, we also discovered that the enemy had gained possession of Fort Wessels, the small works mentioned as being over a quarter of a mile on our right, and on a line with Fort Williams. Hodges, brigade-quartermaster on Gen. For a fourth of a mile we were compelled to ride in water up to our stirrups, and within eight hundred yards of the ram, which was in full sight. Any one who has ever seen a troop of cavalry ford a stream, knows what a roar they make in the water, a noise that can be heard for nearly a mile.

We could not expect to reach this place without attracting the attention of those on board the ram, and as we could not go faster than a walk, we would make a fine target for their shell, and we were in momentary expectation of having them exploding about our heads. For some reason that I never could explain, we were allowed to reach our destination without being disturbed. After placing my men where they would not be seen, and cautioning a number [Pg 24] of North Carolinians who had congregated there for safety, to keep out of sight, I took my station on the bank to watch for the boat.

I soon saw a boat crew put off the ram and start down the river, but they kept the north shore, which was a quarter of a mile away, and passed on down below me. Having thus failed to accomplish my mission, and knowing that marching back to Plymouth was equivalent to going into prison, I will say candidly that the temptation was great to patch up an old leaky boat I found there, or build a raft, and try to reach our gun boats in the Sound, only a little over five miles distant.

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But if I did, I would most likely be accused of sneaking out of a fight; for although I had no orders to return, I knew I was expected to do so, and we therefore mounted and retraced our steps back to Plymouth. I found on my return, that Capt. Hodges had taken some men and attempted to get down the creek, but the boat was capsized and the Captain being unable to swim, was drowned. When I reported to General Wessels, he ordered me to take my men into battery Worth, which I did, spending the balance of the day and night in piling up bags of sand to strengthen our little redoubt; firing an occasional shot with our two hundred pound Parrot at the ram, which we struck many times during the day, but we could see by the aid of our field glasses, the immense projectiles glance off her heavily armored sides, like peas thrown against the round surface of a stove pipe.

The projectiles were of such immense size that we could easily watch their course from the time they were twenty rods from the gun, without the aid of our glasses, and could trace their course the whole distance. Taking a carbine from one of our men, I raised the sight for that distance, and placed it between two sand bags, and when a form appeared at the window again, took a good aim, and had the satisfaction of seeing the form suddenly disappear, and I think he received a detail for some other duty, for he did not return again to annoy us.


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We worked during the whole night, expecting an attack on the right that night or the next morning, as the enemy were busy all day, throwing up an earthwork from Fort Wessels, which they had taken the night previous, running it parallel with our right towards the river. Furious assaults were made on Comphor and Coneby redoubts, which were supported by the 16th Connecticut, and after two or three unsuccessful assaults, these works were carried, and the 16th Connecticut fell back towards Fort [Pg 28] Williams, stubbornly contesting every foot of the ground; once or twice charging the advancing enemy, and driving them back, but overpowered by greatly superior numbers, they were driven under the protection of the fort, where rifle pits were hastily thrown up.

At the same time another column charged up along the river to Battery Worth, where I was stationed with thirty men of the 12th New York Cavalry, the ditches being filled with loyal North Carolinians. The ditches were so deep, however, that they were of no use, for the heads of the troops were at least three feet below the surface of the ground. Cady fell back with his light battery as the enemy advanced, losing two pieces within two hundred yards of there doubt.

These pieces were immediately turned upon our redoubt, which, as I have said, was unprotected on that side, this battery having been built solely for the use of the two hundred pound Parrot placed there for the destruction of the ram.

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These guns were trained on the slat door, and on the opposite side was the door of the magazine, which was well supplied with hand grenades, shell, and a large supply of powder. Should a shell come through the door and explode inside this magazine, it would blow us all into eternity. The boys were using their carbines with terrible effect upon those serving the pieces; and although there were but thirty or forty of us, so rapid and accurate were the discharges, that for some time the enemy were [Pg 29] prevented from using them upon us; but the heavy column of Confederates that had poured in on our left and gained the rear of our entire works, were closing in upon us along the river bank, which served them excellently as a protection; while they were within a few feet of the unprotected portion of our redoubt, so near were they, that after a council of the officers, a white flag was raised on a bayonet as a token of surrender, and it had scarcely appeared above the low earthwork, which was only about breast high, when half a dozen rebs stood upon it peering down curiously at us, whom they were surprised to find so few in number, having supposed from the rapidity and effectiveness of our firing, that there were at least a hundred of us.

When I found that a surrender was inevitable, I seized my pistol by the muzzle a weapon that had been presented me before leaving home and threw it far out into the river, rather than have it fall into the hands of the enemy.

Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain
Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain
Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain
Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain
Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain
Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain Prison life among the Rebels : recollections of a Union chaplain

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