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“LETTER FROM HATTERAS” – Logansport Journal, October 19, 1861, p. 2, c. 3-4

Logansport Journal, Logansport, Indiana, October 19, 1861, p. 2, c. 3-4

LETTER FROM HATTERAS

Fort Clark, Hatteras Inlet

Oct. 7, 1861

Ed. Journal: – On the 4th of October, a 8 o’clock in the morning, a fleet of vessels hove in sight on Pamlico Sound, and a few officers and soldiers gathered out of curiosity on the beach to witness their approach.  They were thought to be our vessels, and from their number, we judged that some of them were prizes, as there had been evidence of a fight on the Sound the day previous.   Upon nearer approach the strange action of the fleet in showing no colors, and their peculiar signals, gave rise to a suspicion that they were rebel steamers.  The fleet consisted of seven steamers, two schooners, one floating battery, and a number of transports for landing troops.

The long roll call was sounded and the 20th prepared to repel the enemy from landing.  The fleet of the enemy gradually drew up in a line of battle, and first a shot plowing up the sand, and then a shell bursting in air, directly over the camp, told us that stern and savage war was upon us.  The regiment moved to the left of the camp to avoid exposure, and took a position on a hill in a clump of woods.  The guns of the enemy having got the range of the camp, and the shells bursting amid the tents, set on fire, and filled the camp with smoke.  The hospital seemed to be their chief aim; and it was soon destroyed.  We know not what became of our sick.  By the aid of spyglasses it was discovered that the enemy had at least three thousand troops aboard their vessels, and that arrangements were being made to land them under the cover of the bombardment.  The island here is about a half a mile wide, and the guns in some cases, threw shell clear over into the sea.

Our regiment was drawn up on a hill, flanker thrown out, sharp shooters in the woods, and the officers and men eager for a battle.  Our force was 550 men – one company being seven miles south of us guarding a landing, and three companies having been left at Fortress Monroe.  The enemy outnumbered us six to one, besides their steamers and batteries.  It has been pronounced an outrage that we should have been placed in such a position, without steamers, and out of reach of reinforcements.

It must be mentioned here that we were wholly unprepared to resist an attack with artillery, or to make a successful retreat.  We had no guns, no baggage wagons; the first vessel sent to us with provisions had been captured by the enemy, and we had nothing but the old fashioned muskets to fight artillery and resist a landing, and not food enough to last one day.  The fire became rapid. A shell struck the little wind mill in front of the camp, knocking it to splinters. – Yet we still watched them, and prepared to give them a warm welcome.

While the cannonade was going on, a movement of the fleet showed that while they intended to render our position on the island untenable they also meant to land a force about 18 miles south, near Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, where the beach is about 300 yards wide, from sound to ocean and about three miles long and by bringing that artillery to bear, take us in flank, as well as in front, thus cutting off our retreat should we attempt it, and bagging us, as it were, in a net.

The excitement was intense.  The enemy were preparing to land, our troops waiting to receive them, when Colonel Brown received a peremptory order from Col. Hawkins to retreat.  A meeting of the commissioned officers was called, and it was decided that, under the circumstances it was most judicious to retreat.  And we sorrowfully turned our backs on our camp, and prepared for the long march to Hatteras Lighthouse, where we expected reinforcements from Col. Hawkins.

This was about 9 o’clock.  The sun was shining on the white sand of the beach, heating the air as if it were a furnace.  The men had neither provisions nor water.  The haste in which they had rushed to repel the enemy had prevented this, and it was too late to go back to camp.  Company F., Capt. Logan, was thrown forward in the advance, and Company K, Captain Reed, was detailed as a rear guard, and well he performed his duty, picking up the stragglers and keeping the enemy in check.  Several times the enemy advanced in force, and he halted to give them battle, but they declined.

It was a march I shall never forget – The first ten miles was terrible.  No water, the men unused to long marches, the sand heavy and the feet of the men sinking into it at every step, and a point below to be gained in order to join company F to prevent their being cut off.  As the regiment pushed along man after man would stagger from the ranks, and fall up on the hot sand, and looking back I saw our Colonel trudging along with his men, having given up his horse to a sick soldier.

But the most sorrowful sight of all was the Islanders leaving their homes from fear of the enemy.  They could be seen in groups, sometimes with a little cart, carrying their provisions, but mostly with nothing, fleeing for dear life.  Mothers carrying their babes, fathers leading along little boys, grandfathers and grandmothers straggling along from the homes they had left before.  Relying on our protection, they had been our friends, but in an evil hour we were compelled to leave them.

We still toiled on, the heat most intense and no water.  Hunger was nothing in comparison with thirst.  It was maddening.  The sea rolling at our feet and nothing to drink.  Man after man wandered toward the Sound to drink the water of the marshes.  I started to take a scout to watch the movement of the enemy’s vessels.  I skirted the Sound for some ten miles.  In every clump of bushes I found men utterly exhausted.  The enemy’s vessels were now nearly opposite steaming down the sound to cut off our retreat.  I would tell them this, but they would say, “They did not care, they would die there,” so utterly hopeless did they seem.

Near sunset I caught sight of the army drawn up in line of battle on the beach about a mile distant.  Soon joining them I found that the enemy  were reported in force in front.  After some delay the army marched by the right flank, skirmishers ahead, until we reached the narrow inlet about five miles above Hatteras Light House, and here our great danger was at once seen.  The fleet of the enemy had drawn up in line, so as to sweep the beach and render a passage impossible, but had neglected to land their men. It was now near twilight.  The clouds in the West reflected the bright tints of the sun and showed us the enemy in the foreground.  In the East heavy gray clouds lowered and our uniforms correspondingly hid us from their view, as we silently stole along, the roar of the surf drowning the footsteps of the men and the commands of the officers, yet every little while we would watch expecting to see the flash of the enemy’s cannon, or hear the report of the bursting shell in our little band.  It was a narrow escape, and a providential one, and our Colonel was affected to tears at the danger we had passed.

At midnight we reaching Hatteras Lighthouse, having made a march of 28 miles.  Here we found water, and using the Lighthouse as a fort we encamped for the night, and woke up the next morning feeling like sand crabs, and ready like them, to go into our holes, could we find them.

As the day broke we could see two men of war anchored near the beach, and found them to be the Monticello and Susquehanna, having been sent to our relief from Fort Hatteras.  The officers treated us kindly, sent us ashore provisions, and the jolly tars gave us all the tobacco they had.  Upon informing them of the position of the enemy they immediately steamed up the coast, and as we left our camp we could hear them bombarding thye enemy, could see the smoke of both fleets , and it is reported that our fleet destroyed two of theirs.

Here we were reinforced by eight companies of Col. Hawkins’ Zouaves and at 12 o’clock left for Hatteras Inlet, and after a tiresome march through the sand, reached there at 8 o’clock.  About 4 o’clock I captured a cooked sweet potatoe, and thought it the most delicious morsel I ever ate.  The Zouaves treated us like princes, fed us, gave up their beds and slept on the sand.  They are gay boys and will always have our friendship.

We are now at Fort Clark, Hatteras Inlet.

We have borrowed enough tents to sleep in, but have nothing else, the enemy having captured everything.  As soon as we make another move you shall hear of it.

Gen. Mansfield arrived here to-day from Fortress Monroe, and assumed command of this Department.  It is said now that sufficient force will be concentrated here to hold the forts, and take the Sound, and drive the enemy from it.

The sun is shining with the heat of midsummer, and we all have our coats off, sweating, and working like so many bees in order to get things to rights again.  Our three companies arrived today in the Spaulding, so our regiment is together again.

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