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[From the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, March 28, 1897.]
The Movement on New Berne Thirty-three Years Ago.
A RICHMOND BATTERY'S PART.
Both Land and Naval Forces—A Singular Charge and a Singular Chase— A Quick Surrender.
RICHMOND, VA., March 23, 1897.
To the Editor of the Dispatch:
Enclosed find an article on the movement to New Berne, N. C.,
by Pickett, in 1864.
very little credit given some of the Richmond men engaged.
E. W. GAINES.
Thirty-three years ago the Confederate government conceived the idea of capturing New Berne, N. C., the movement being proposed by General George E. Pickett, who was at that time in command of the Department of North Carolina. As to why the movement was entertained, and what was to be gained, many opinions have been expressed by soldiers who were on the outside, rather than the inside, of councils held by their superior officers.
It was known that the government was preparing to build boats on the Neuse river at Kinston; in fact, one was under way. The movement was finally made, the forces engaged on the south of the Neuse river, consisting of Generals Hoke's and Clingman's North Carolina brigades and a portion of Corse's brigade, with the 38th battalion of artillery, consisting of the Richmond Fayette artillery, Caskie's battery, Stribling's battery and Latham's battery; General Dearing, with his cavalry and three regiments of infantry, was to threaten the north of the Neuse, while Benton's and Terry's Virginia brigades and Matt. Ransom's North Carolina brigade, with some cavalry and artillery, were to move on the Trent road.
At the time of issuing of orders for the above movement, the
Fayette Artillery, of Richmond, was in winter-quarters at Petersburg. The men had erected good quarters, and were greatly enjoying the rest so much needed by them. In fact, they were so nicely fixed that they entertained strong hopes it would be a long time ere they should have to take another long march, or participate in some bloody struggle.
It was near the close of December, 1863, when this company was ordered into line, and orders were given to prepare rations for a march of several days. Here the hopes entertained by the men, as expressed in the preceding paragraph, were dashed to the ground, and all kind of conjectures were expressed as to what this movement meant-where were they to go; what was to be undertaken; what was to be gained, and lastly, but not the least, would all hands come back again?
The members of the company needed rest; they desired a relaxation from the long marches and severe struggles so recently undergone; but orders issued during war are inexorable; so to the work the men went. Camp-fires were kindled, and rations, composed of the best of the land that could be furnished by the powers that then existed, were prepared and packed away in haversacks In a few hours all was in readiness for the march. The drivers here received orders to harness and hitch horses to the guns, the ammunition in the gun-chests and caissons was examined as to condition, etc., and a report made to the commanding officer, Lieutenant William I. Clopton. As soon as this report was received, the drivers were ordered to mount, and to the command, "Forward, march!" the battery moved off, the men still wondering, where!
The battery had not been on the road but a very few hours before it was discovered that the company had crossed the line and were in North Carolina. The march was continued on to Goldsboro, when the cars were taken to the town of Kinston, on the Neuse river. On reaching Kinston we encamped for several days, in order to give the men and horses rest.
On the 1st of January, 1864, the weather being as warm as an August day, the company was again ordered on the march. The sand in the road just below Kinston was several inches deep, and the pulling of the guns and heavy caissons was exceedingly hard. After we had proceeded about ten or twelve miles the horses, covered with a lather of foam and the men considerably fatigued, on account of the heat and the tramp through the heavy sand, a countermarch was ordered. Back to Kinston we went, where we encamped until February.
During this encampment the men learned through some source on what point this portion of the army was expected to move. It was whispered through the camp that the march was to be on to New Berne, and it was further said that the land forces were to be supported, or assisted, in the attack on the town by men in long boats on the Neuse river, under command of Colonel R. Taylor Wood. These boats, it was stated, were to be equipped with all necessary appliances and the men were to be armed with cutlasses, etc., for boarding vessels, and on arriving in sight of the town, and if gunboats should be seen in the river, the men were to lay to their oars and secrete themselves as best they could under the over-hanging boughs of the trees on the banks of the stream, when they were to remain until nightfall, when a concerted move on the part of the crews of the several boats was to be made on the Federal gunboats and the latter taken, if possible, by boarding; or, finding that this would be an impossibility, they were to make the attempt to blow them up if they could do so. A boat was captured by this expedition, but not without severe resistance.
The month of February at last arrived, camp was broken, and the forward march again resumed. As the battery, with the infantry and other artillery took the road toward the little seaport town of the Old North State, the boats above spoken of, with their crews, the latter being in high spirits and proposing to give a good account of themselves, moved off quietly down stream.
None of the men of the land forces knew anything of the road upon which they were traveling. They did not know what was in front of them or how many of the enemy they might encounter before they reached the goal the government at Richmond seemed to be so desirous of possessing. The forces had traveled three days and had not obtained sight of a single man decked out in blue. On the night of the third day there was a halt, orders were quietly issued that there were to be no camp-fires, and all talking must be done in a very low tone.
The guns stood in line in the middle of the road with the horses still hitched to them, and the men lay on the ground to get, if possible, a few minutes' rest; for they fully realized that they were in the enemy's country, and knew not what was in store for them on the next day, or how severe a struggle they might have to go through. The morning broke with a thick fog or mist hanging low, and the
men could not see a great distance ahead of them. A forward movement was ordered, the men again being reminded to be as quiet as was possible. Probably not more than half a mile had been traversed before another halt was ordered, the command given to unlimber the guns, and for the third time was the company reminded to be very quiet in executing orders.
After the guns had been unlimbered, to the surprise of the cannoneers and the non-commissioned officers, the command was given to move the guns forward by hand. All orders were executed to the letter, but in carrying out the last command (to move the guns by hand) the distance proved very short, for the men found themselves on the crest of an incline which led down to a small stream of water, which was afterwards learned to be Bachelor's creek. After the guns had been planted, orders were given to prepare for action; the guns were loaded and their fire directed on a block-house or fort on the opposite side of the creek, the outlines of which could barely be distinguished, owing to the fog or mist. The firing was very rapid, solid shot and canister being used, which made it very hot for the Federal soldiers who held the fort.
Finding that the enemy still held on in spite of the heavy fire, and would neither vacate nor surrender, a movement was made by the Fayette artillery which had never been attempted before during the war, nor was it done by this company afterward, or by any other, so far as has been ever known. A charge was made on this block-house or fort by the artillerists, they moving the guns down the incline and across the creek by hand, stopping occasionally to fire a shot at the fort and loading as they advanced.
As the company crossed the creek and secured a position within about seventy-five feet of the fort, and before they could fire a shot, a section of artillery was driven out and started rapidly down the road toward New Berne. The horses of the Fayette Artillery were brought up, hitched to the guns as quickly as possible, and the battery started in pursuit of the enemy, which was kept up for six miles ahead of the infantry. During this pursuit neither party fired a shot.
The horses of the Fayette Artillery having to be brought from the hill where the battery first went into position, and the guns having to be limbered up, this and the good condition of the enemy's horses gave the Federals great advantage over the Confederates. The flying section reached the junction of the railroad and country road running to the town several minutes ahead of the pursuers,
went into position, fired upon us, limbered up, and fairly flew to New Berne, the Fayette Artillery not having a chance to reply to their shot. In running and chasing between the block fort and the railroad Sergeant-Major Robert I. Fleming, of the Fayette Battery, succeeded in capturing Colonel Fellows and his adjutant and orderly.
On the right of the county road and several hundred feet from the railroad the trees had been cut down, leaving stumps about knee high. In this place, with hardly room to move a gun, the commanding officer of the artillery ordered the guns into battery, it having been learned through some source that a train was approaching loaded with troops destined for the town to reinforce the garrison.
A few minutes after the guns had been placed in position the Confederate infantry came up, and, moving to the right and to the left, formed a line of battle near the railroad.
The infantry had not been in battle array more than half an hour when the noise from the approaching train was heard. All hands were on the qui vive. The artillerists quickly came to their post to the guns, and patiently waited the turn of events. The train soon came into sight, and, as it got in range of the guns firing was opened upon it, but, being protected by an embankment, no damage, so far as could be seen, was done to the cars, nor were any of the soldiers killed or wounded.
As the train thundered by, going at a rapid rate of speed, the infantry on board opened fire on the Southerners, and although the bullets flew thick and fast, not an artillerist or horse received a wound.
Just at this point it may not be out of place to say that, had the officer in command (as he was requested to do) permitted one or two of the guns to have taken up position in the road, where a fair sweep could have been had at the moving train, it is believed by survivors of that engagement that the train would never have reached New Berne, but would have been brought to a standstill, and the train, with its load of infantry, particularly the latter, brought back as prisoners.
The section of artillery from the block-fort and the train having got safely into the town, the next move of the Confederates was to make a forward movement on that place. The guns were limbered up and the infantry brought into column, and the forward movement begun. The column moved down the county road, crossed the railroad, marched up a slight incline, reaching a level plateau. On the