Burnside Biography: Chapter Five

Excerpted from:
Major-General Ambrose E. Burnside and the Ninth Army Corps:
A Narrative of Campaigns in North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, During the War for the Preservation of the Republic.
Augustus Woodbury, 1866
Available on Google Books: http://goo.gl/1xx3Qq

Chapter V. Newbern and Fort Macon. (pp. 51-75)

THE second part of General Burnside’s instructions contemplated the occupation of Newbern. As soon as affairs were sufficiently settled at Roanoke Island, and the necessary preparations had been made, it was the commanding general’s intention to proceed at once to the main land. Not a long time was required for either labor. In the course of a week or two, the forts on Roanoke Island were put in proper order and condition for defence, and the 51st Pennsylvania and 5th Rhode Island regiments were detailed for a temporary garrison. These regiments were relieved, early in March, by the 9th New York and 6th New Hampshire, and Colonel Hawkins was appointed Post Commandant. Expeditions were sent out during the month of February, to reconnoitre the neighboring country. One or two regiments were sent over to Elizabeth City, and remained there for a short time. Winton, on the Chowan river, was examined on the 18th, and Old Currituck Inlet on the 19th. At these places, some public property and artillery were found and destroyed or captured. But these excursions were simply designed to distract the attention of the enemy, and to afford occupation to the troops while preparations were making to strike the heaviest blow of all. General Burnside was also engaged in administering the oath of allegiance to the inhabitants of the island and others who desired to renew their political relations with the United States. On the 18th, the commanding general, jointly with Flag Officer Goldsborough, issued a proclamation to the people of North Carolina, disabusing their minds of the false impressions which the rebel government had sought to make respecting the objects of the war, and inviting them to return to their allegiance.[1. See Appendix.] But the loyal sentiment of the people was not particularly strong, and the well-meant measures of reconciliation had but little effect. General Burnside was also occupied, during the month of February, in disposing of the prisoners that had fallen into his hands. He could not spare the transports which would be required to carry them North. He could not leave a large body of his troops on the island to guard them. He remembered the prisoners that had fallen into the hands of the enemy at the battle of Bull Run, and as he recalled the story of their sufferings, he resolved that he would leave no pretext to the enemy for a deferral of an exchange. Good policy and humanity alike dictated liberal terms to the vanquished. He determined, therefore, to parole his prisoners and release them. Lieutenant Colonel Osborne, of the 24th Massachusetts, was sent to Elizabeth City to confer with the enemy’s officers near that point upon the subject. The result of the consultation was that the prisoners in our hands should be released, upon signing a parole not to take up arms against the United States, nor to give any information respecting our forces until regularly exchanged. In the meantime, the enemy was to make arrangements in good faith to exchange the prisoners in his hands, according to rank, or with certain equivalents, according to the rules of war. The prisoners were conveyed to Elizabeth City on the 20th, and there released. Lieutenant Colonel Osborne performed his duty with great acceptance, and General Burnside had the satisfaction of feeling that proper measures had been inaugurated for releasing from the enemy’s hands our unfortunate men. His action was approved by the Secretary of War.

On the 26th of February, the troops — with the exception of the garrison at Roanoke — were ordered to be in readiness to embark. But it was not till the 6th of March that they commenced going on board the transports, and it was not till the 9th that all were in readiness to move. The last regiment to embark was the 4th Rhode Island, of General Parke’s brigade. At ten o’clock on the evening of the 11th, the fleet anchored off the mouth of Hatteras Inlet, in Pamlico Sound, and on the morning of the 12th, the commanding general issued a general order, notifying his troops that they were on the eve of an important movement, which would greatly demoralize the enemy, and assist the Army of the Potomac in its contemplated operations against Richmond. It was a bright, warm, and beautiful day, and the expedition had every promise of success.

At this time, events were taking place in Hampton Roads which demanded the presence at that point of the Flag Officer of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. The enemy’s ironclad ship, called by the rebels the “Virginia” — fitted from the United States ship Merrimac, abandoned by us at the time of the evacuation of the Norfolk Navy Yard — ran out of the harbor of Norfolk, and approached our naval station near the Fortress. Several wooden tenders or consorts accompanied the ironclad. The particulars of the remarkable and disastrous naval battle that ensued are well known, and need not be repeated here. The powerlessness of our wooden ships to contend with the foe ; the sinking of the Cumberland, her crew fighting her guns till the very last, and going down with the vessel with the flag still flying ; the burning of the Congress ; the disabling of the Minnesota by running aground; the timely arrival of the Monitor and the effectual punishing which she gave the audacious enemy, are familiar facts. The fear which such an almost invulnerable and invincible monster was liable to produce; the mischief which she might do, if she should succeed in getting out to sea, in dominating Chesapeake Bay and even the entire coast, and laying Washington, Balti more, Philadelphia, New York and other northern cities under contribution, and the necessity of guarding against such a contingency, all required extraordinary vigilance. As it was, the enemy’s ship came near neutralizing General McClellan’s plan for a movement upon the Peninsula. One can readily imagine what destruction she might cause among a fleet of transports. The duty of providing for the preservation of our fleet and our army must be committed to no inferior. Flag Officer Goldsborough accordingly left the waters of North Carolina, and did not appear in that quarter again during the war. He had cordially cooperated with General Burnside while the two officers were together, and had rendered most efficient service to the country. His administration of naval affairs had been judicious, and he had acted the part of a gallant and patriotic sailor. He had been especially fortunate in his subordinates, chief among whom Commander Rowan and Lieutenant Flusser had already given promise of the distinction which they afterwards acquired. Commander Rowan was left in command of the cooperative fleet.

Before proceeding to Newbern, General Burnside had made himself somewhat acquainted with the enemy’s force and means of defence. His scouts had visited the town and the fortifications, and had brought back full reports. It was known that the enemy had batteries planted along the west bank of the Neuse, and that extensive fortifications were built upon or near the railroad connecting Beaufort with Newbern, a mile or two south of the Trent river, and extending west from the Neuse a distance of three miles. On the river bank, a large fort was constructed, mounting thirteen guns, and completely commanding the river channel on the one side and the line of works on the other. From this fort, the works extended to the centre, defended by a moat in front, and terminating in a bastion. Beyond was the railroad, which was itself fortified, and beyond that was a sytem of redoubts, thirteen in number and a mile in length, erected upon six little mounds or hills which rose conveniently to the main work, furnishing admirable sites for defensive works.[2. These last named works, however, were not known to the scouts or to our officers. They were doubtless hastily thrown up in the interval between the report of the scouting party and the day of battle.] Along this fortified line were mounted forty-six guns of different calibres, some of which were field artillery. Three miles below these works was a shore battery, Fort Ellis, mounting eight guns, and two miles below this was Fort Dixie, garrisoned by light artillery. From these two works extended lines of defences running across the road and into the country in the rear. About three miles in the rear of the main line ran the river Trent, spanned by a railroad and a turnpike bridge, of seven hundred feet or more in length, which connected the adjacent country with the city of Newbern. General Burnside’s scouts had at one time attempted to burn these bridges, but with indifferent success. Against the formidable works of the enemy, garrisoned by eight thousand men, under the command of General L. O’Brien, General Burnside was to lead his infantry regiments, supported only by eight small naval howitzers for artillery, and by the gun boats in the river.

On the morning of March 12th, the fleet of transports, escorted by a fleet of fourteen gunboats under the command of Commander S. C. Rowan,[3. The naval vessels in this expedition were the Philadelphia, Stars and Stripes, Louisiana, Hetzel, Delaware, Commodore Perry, Valley City, Underwriter, Commodore Barney, Hunchback, Southfield, Morse, Blinker, and Lockwood. They were commanded by the same officers as when in the movement against Roanoke Island, with the exception of the Underwriter, which was now under the command of Lieutenant A. Hopkins.] got under way from Hatteras and sailed across the placid waters of Pamlico Sound, heading for the mouth of the Neuse river. The Sound was as smooth as a mirror. Scarcely a ripple stole over its bosom. The light winds that were blowing from the North could barely flutter the ensigns and pennants. The sun was shining, and the command was hopeful of victory. At noon, the sky began to be clouded, and when the fleet, after pushing up the Neuse, anchored at nightfall off the mouth of Slocum’s Creek, about fifteen miles below Newbern, the heavens were dark with portents of rain and storm. The signs were not deceptive, and the next morning opened cheerless and rainy enough to dispirit men of ordinary courage. But at eight o’clock, the clouds broke, the sun shone out once more, and the troops in high spirits prepared to disembark. At nine o’clock, they were in the launches, and soon after, the flag was planted on the shore by a detail of a sergeant and three men belonging to the 51st New York regiment. The boats, obeying the signal, dashed away for the landing. Unfortunately, the water was very shallow, and the men were obliged to wade a considerable distance to the firm earth. The sun was again shut in, and the rain began to fall. But wet as the troops were, they commenced their march with undiminished vigor, and fully merited the confidence which General Burnside had already expressed. It was a long, wearisome, and muddy march, through sand, through mud and water, over fallow land, along forest paths. The gunboats flanked the column, maintaining a position a little in advance, shelling the shore to disperse any hostile force that might be disposed to dispute our progress. The men trudged on along the muddy roads, cheering each other with joke and song and laugh, as best they could. A few officers were mounted, but most were on foot, sharing the labors of the men. Each carried his own baggage. The gunboats had furnished a battery of six howitzers, each of which was dragged by twelve sailors, commanded by naval officers detailed for the purpose, and led by Lieutenant R. S. McCook, of the gunboat Stars and Stripes. Two Wiard 12-pounders, manned by sailors from the transports, were commanded by Captains Bennett, of the Cossack, and Dayton, of the Highlander. The skirmishers of the 24th Massachusetts led the advance, and the 11th Connecticut brought up the rear. Through the afternoon the troops toiled forward, and soon after dusk, bivouacked at a point nine miles distant from the landing, and about a mile from the enemy’s defences. Nothing of great interest had happened during the march, except the discovery that the enemy had abandoned the two lower lines of earthworks and camps. General Reno’s brigade marched along the railroad ; the other troops occupied the county or turnpike road. One prisoner was captured, who communicated the welcome intelligence of the evacuation of Manassas and the advance of General McClellan from around the fortifications of Washington. Tired, wet, and hungry, the men were glad to halt and seek what rest might be found in the mud around the camp fires.

Occasional showers fell during the night, and when the morning of the 14th dawned, clouds of fog enveloped the army itself and all surrounding objects. The troops were early awake and ready for the day’s work. Much of the ammunition had been spoiled by the excessive moisture, and during the subsequent action many of the men had nothing but the bayonet to rely upon for either offensive or defensive operations. But there was no murmuring, and the discipline and good order of the army prevailed over every unfavorable circumstance. The plan of the attack was very simple. The position of the enemy admitted of little or no maneuvering of the troops. The works to be assailed must be captured by downright fighting. They could not be turned. They would have to be stormed. The large work on the river, Fort Thompson by name, had four guns bearing on a party advancing by land. The breast work to the railroad was fully manned and armed. The small redans upon the enemy’s right beyond the railroad were filled with men, and prevented any flanking movement on our part. The enemy’s right rested upon an almost impenetrable morass. It was simply a question of unflinching bravery. Would our men march steadily up to works blazing with artillery, and enter them in the face of every opposition? General Burnside believed that they would. It was an audacious enterprise. But its very audacity contributed to its success. The simple plan was to “move on the enemy’s works” and capture them.

The line of battle was formed with General Foster’s brigade on the right, General Reno’s on the left, and General Parke’s on the right centre, ready to render assistance to either wing as the occasion might demand. General Foster formed his brigade by posting the 25th Massachusetts on the extreme right, fol lowed in order by the 24th Massachusetts in line of battle, with the left resting on the county road. Immediately on the left of the road the Highlander’s howitzer was placed, under command of Captain Dayton, supported by the 27th Massachusetts. Lieutenant McCook’s battery of boat howitzers was posted on the left of Captain Dayton’s gun, and the 23d Massachusetts regiment was placed in support on the left of the 27th. The 10th Connecticut coming up, was formed on the left of the 23d Massachusetts. These dispositions were made by eight o’clock and the battle opened. The firing on both sides was very heavy and at short range, but from the bad condition of our ammunition, our men could do but little execution. The enemy’s fire was hot and somewhat destructive. The ammunition of the 27th Massachusetts was soon expended, and these troops were obliged to retire from their dangerous position. Their place was supplied by the 11th Connecticut, of General Parke’s brigade, which had been sent round by General Burnside for that purpose. The ammunition of the naval howitzers giving out, the 25th Massachusetts was marched by the flank to their support, leaving the 24th Massachusetts on the extreme right. Here this regiment was exposed to a hot fire from Fort Thompson, which was partially kept down by the deliberate and accurate fire of our own men and by the guns of the fleet. The entire line of breastwork was alive with men, and furnished but little opportunity for any execution, except as the enemy exposed himself above the parapet. Our men were compelled to seek shelter by lying down in the hollows of the ground, and directing thence their fire upon the foe. But, with such a trial of endurance and courage, the New England brigade man ‘s 7 © o fully held its ground and kept up a well directed and continuous fusilade. The enemy was fully occupied until the time came for the final advance of the entire line. The attack in all parts by General Foster’s brigade was exceedingly well sustained, and afforded great assistance to the more decisive operations on the left.

General Reno, at an early hour in the morning, put his brigade in motion along the railroad, with the 21st Massachusetts in advance, followed in order by the 51st New York, 9th New Jersey and 51st Pennsylvania. At about the same time that General Foster became engaged, the skirmishers of the 21st, proceeding cautiously but rapidly through a belt of woods along the left of the railroad track, descried a locomotive battery coming down the track. A few well directed shots sent it back within the defences, and soon after the head of the column struck the right flank of a battery, that rested at this point upon a deep cut in the railroad and a cleared brick yard, containing several buildings and brick stacks. The air was filled with mist and the smoke of the battle which was raging on the right. But little could be seen, and one company of the 21st was sent forward to reconnoitre, while the remainder of the regiment was formed in line for attack. General Reno, with characteristic gallantry, was with the extreme front of his brigade — at one time just saved from death by Colonel Sinclair of the rebel service, who desired to capture rather than kill him[4. Colonel Sinclair’s command, as the men saw General Reno approach, prepared to fire upon him, but were peremptorily forbidden to do so. For this act of humanity Colonel Sinclair was accused of treachery to the rebel cause, and was obliged to leave the service.] — and immediately ordered the regiment to charge and take the brick yard. The enemy retired at the approach of our troops, and took a position immediately in the rear of the yard, and in a trench upon the opposite side of the railroad, from which they poured in a very destructive fire upon our advancing lines. While this movement was going forward, the 51st New York and 9th New Jersey came up and formed on the left of the 21st Massachusetts — the 51st Pennsylvania being held in reserve on the extreme left. As soon as General Reno could understand the position of affairs and could penetrate the mist, he found that he had not reached the enemy’s right, but that the redans on the hills extended far beyond his own lines. His safety consisted in attacking in front, and he moved his brigade as nearly as possible towards the enemy’s works, ordering the men to pick off the enemy’s gunners — meanwhile vigilantly watching for an opportunity to advance. The 21st Massachusetts found that opportunity and gallantly improved it. Lieutenant Colonel Maggi had resigned the command of the regiment while at Roanoke Island, and Major W. S. Clark promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, was now its commanding officer.[5. Colonel Augustus Morse of the 21st had lit>en detached at Annaipolis amifllaced in command of the depot of supplies at that place.] General Reno ordered him to charge upon the enemy’s position, intending to support him immediately with the rest of the brigade and sweep the hostile lines, but found that he could not do so. Lieutenant Colonel Clark started forward with four companies of his men in the midst of a most galling fire, pressed vigorously on, planted the flag within the enemy’s intrenchments, rallied his men around it, and made a second charge. He was opposed by a six gun battery, which he immediately attacked with great fury. So vigorous was the assault, that the enemy retired with precipitation, and the guns fell into the hands of the brave men of the 21st. But the supporting regiments could not come up, and Lieutenant Colonel Clark, with his little band of brave men, was in danger of being himself cut off and captured. The enemy, recovering from his first surprise, and perceiving the smallness of the force that had driven him out, returned to the attack in overwhelming numbers. Lieutenant Colonel Clark, with difficulty, but with great skill, extricated his command and retired to the railroad. It was a brave attempt, and had General Reno been able to bring up the remainder of his brigade from under the fire of the redans upon his left, it would have been a magnificent success. But it was reserved for General Parke to strike the decisive blow with the 4th Rhode Island regiment.

General Parke, soon after daylight, formed his brigade and moved in rear of General Foster upon the county road. The 4th Rhode Island was in advance, followed by the 8th Connecticut and the 5th Rhode Island battalion. The 11th Connecticut, of this brigade, had been assigned to General Foster’s command to support the howitzer battery, as has already been stated. Upon General Foster’s opening of the battle, General Parke was ordered to file to the left and take such position as would enable him to support either General Reno or General Foster, as the vicissitudes of the fight might require. General Parke moved to a point about midway between the two wings, a little in the rear, and halted. The ground in front, so far as it could be observed, was discovered to be quite difficult, abounding in swampy places and broken with hollows and ridges of a slight elevation. Among these ridges the men found some shelter from the missiles of the enemy, which were now flying thick and fast among them. Colonel Rodman, of the 4th Rhode Island, finding his position too much exposed, moved forward to the railroad and rested his men near the embankment, which afforded good cover. It was now about eleven o’clock in the forenoon. While here, Colonel Rodman noticed the gallant but ineffectual charge of Lieutenant Colonel Clark and his subsequent retirement. He put his men on the alert, and meeting Lieutenant Colonel Clark, was informed of the situation of affairs and the feasibility of renewing the attack. Colonel Rodman immediately assumed the responsibility of assaulting, ordered his men to the charge, sending intelligence to General Parke of the movement which he designed to make. General Parke at once sent an aide to ascertain the real condition of the troops and the enemy, and upon his report of the practicability of the movement, approved the action of Colonel Rodman and advanced the rest of his brigade in support. Colonel Rodman pressed forward with his regiment, entered the works which Lieutenant Colonel Clark had left, and fought his way along gun by gun, until he had swept the enemy’s lines for some distance to the right, and captured nine pieces of artillery. The 8th Connecticut followed closely upon the steps of the 4th Rhode Island, and the 5th Rhode Island brought up the rear, turning the enemy completely out of the works which he had so well defended. General Foster, observing the progress made by General Parke’s brigade, ordered an advance along his entire front. His troops charged cheering, and the 11th Connecticut soon stood side by side with its old comrades. But the enemy, now thoroughly shaken and demoralized, did not wait for the attack. He hurriedly retreated from his intrenchments, and Fort Thompson and the whole line of breastwork from the railroad to the river fell into the hands of our victorious troops. The action on the left was not yet over. General Reno’s brigade was still hotly engaged. Sending out the 8th Connecticut and the 5th Rhode Island battalion as skirmishers to ascertain what the enemy was doing, General Parke ascertained that the rifle pits and redoubts on the left of the railroad were still occupied, and that our troops were exposed to a galling fire. Again he called upon the 4th Rhode Island to charge the enemy. Again did Colonel Rodman lead his men through a heavy and severe fire to victory. They charged gallantly through the storm of shot and shell, took the enemy’s line in flank, rolled it up and swept it away. General Reno pressed his brigade forward, leading on his troops with impetuous daring. They quickly cleared the rifle pits, they stormed the redoubts, they carried everything away before them. The day was bravely and brilliantly won, and as General Burnside rode into the captured works, he was received with enthusiastic cheers. The victorious army was immediately put upon the track of the retreating rebels. But the flying foe was too quick in his movements. A train of cars was in waiting on the track in rear of the enemy’s lines, and the defeated troops at once filled it and were carried across to Newbern. Others fled across the railroad and turnpike bridges, setting the former on fire and destroying the draw of the latter. Not stopping at Newbern longer than to apply the torch to several of its buildings, the enemy’s commanding general pushed on into the country in the rear, and scarcely felt himself secure till at Kinston he had placed another river between himself and General Burnside’s army. But, devoid of cavalry as we were, our troops could make no pursuit. They marched rapidly to the river Trent — finding other abandoned works on the way — and were there stopped by the burning bridge. Later in the afternoon, General Foster’s brigade was carried across to the city, and encamped in and about the place. The next day was occupied in posting the troops in and around the city. On Saturday night, the commanding general — having ordered Divine Service for the morrow — had the satisfaction of knowing that the week had ended well. His second great victory had been won, and the shores of Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds were now in undisputed possession of our arms. It was certainly an occasion of gratitude to the Almighty, who had given the success.

The battle of Newbern was a peculiar conflict. It may be doubted whether another such was fought during the war. It was a bold attack upon a strongly fortified position, heavily armed and abundantly manned, made by an infantry force without siege guns or any artillery, in fact, except a few howitzers. It was a fight in a fog. Our officers did not really know the extent of the works to be assaulted, till the army was immediately under their guns. It would seem that the existence of the redoubts upon the enemy’s extreme right was hardly suspected until General Reno found his brigade suffering from their fire, and was unable, in consequence, to support Lieuten ant Colonel Clark’s movement as he had at first intended. But, on the other hand, the enemy was laboring under the disadvantage of not knowing the number of the forces that were attacking him. He knew that there were men in his front, but how many, and with what engines of destruction, he did not know. The unexpected appearance of Lieutenant Colonel Clark’s battalion of four companies in the midst of his intrenchments disconcerted him for the moment, and he yielded the battery which they attacked without fully understanding by how small a force it had been captured. His right wing fought better than his left, and continued the contest with great gallantry, even after the fortune of the day had been decided. As it happened, Lieutenant Colonel Clark’s charge was an act of great temerity. But General Reno, when he ordered it, intended to follow immediately with the remainder of his brigade. As it resulted, it proved a great benefit; for it revealed the weak places of the enemy’s line. Colonel Rodman, with a fine soldierly instinct, perceived that the enemy’s line could there be successfully pierced, and his prompt and daring spirit suggested that, without losing time in waiting for orders, he should take advantage of the opportunity so fortunately offered. General Parke, had he been a martinet in discipline, might have recalled his subordinate from his perilous enterprise. But he had sufficient sense and sagacity to perceive that Colonel Rodman was acting for the best, though upon his own responsibility. He accordingly followed up the attack with his remaining force, and, effectually and successfully piercing the enemy’s centre, broke up his line and threw his troops into confusion and dismay.[6. When General Burnside was told that the 4th Rhode Island was in the rebel works, as he saw the flag moving rapidly along, he exclaimed, “I knew it. It was no more than I expected. Thank God, the day is won!”] In this battle, moreover, every man was engaged. There were no reserves, properly so called. Every regiment was under fire from the start, and was put into the action whenever and wherever it could most effectively do its required work. General Burnside was along the line at every point where his presence was most required, repairing a mistake here, pushing an advantage there. His subordinate officers were thoroughly brave and skilful soldiers, and his men were flushed with victory and inspired with unlimited confidence in their commander. The enemy was shaken by the defeat on Roanoke Island, the Commanding General Branch was not distinguished for any remarkable soldierly qualities, and the impression which the valor of Burnside’s troops, already tried and proved, had made, was not encouraging for any prolonged resistance. On both sides, the number of assailants and defenders was about equal, but the advantage clearly lay with the enemy, who was emboldened by his sense of security behind his defences. The contest, therefore, was somewhat stubborn, though not of long duration, and the victory that was gained reflected great credit upon our arms; for it demonstrated beyond all cavil the fearlessness of our soldiers and the skill and bravery of their officers. The fruits of the victory were the possession of the North Carolina coast washed by the two Sounds, the occupation of the city of Newbern, which proved to be an invaluable accession, the capture of about two hundred prisoners, sixty-six guns, a great amount of forage, supplies and naval stores, tents and barracks for ten thousand men, and large quantities of small arms, equipments, accoutrements, and horses abandoned by the flying enemy. It was a very damaging blow to the enemy in that quarter, and it spread a wholesome idea of the power and the prowess of the army of the Union among the people of North Carolina.

The casualties among our troops in the battle of Newbern amounted to eighty-eight killed and three hundred and fifty-two wounded. The 21st Massachusetts, from its exposed position and the daring of its officers and men, suffered the greatest loss. Among the wounded was Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Potter of the 51st New York. He received his injury early in the action, but, bandaging the wound as well as he could at the time, he continued with his regiment till the close of the engagement, and rendered great service. Major Stevenson of the 24th Massachusetts, received a severe wound while exhibiting great gallantry before the enemy’s works. Captain Frazer of the 21st Massachusetts, was taken prisoner at the time the charge was made upon the enemy’s position. But upon the retreat of the enemy, he managed to keep in the rear, and, drawing his revolver, captured and brought in the three men left to guard him. The abandoned earthworks which were discovered upon the march to the field were found by Captain R. S. Williamson, of the Topographical Engineers, who made several daring reconnaissances, accompanied by Captain Potter and Lieutenants Pell, Fearing, Strong, Reno, Morris, and other staff officers.

Among the killed were numbered several excellent officers. Rev. O. N. Benton, Chaplain of the 51st New York, was mortally wounded, and died soon after the action. He was a most useful man in the regiment, and exercised a very beneficial influence by the exemplary Christian character which he illustrated in word and deed. He was struck while encouraging and cheering on the men in the midst of the severest part of the engagement. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Merritt of the 23d Massachusetts was killed early in the engagement, while bravely urging his men into line in a most exposed position. He was from Salem, Mass., was a very promising officer and an estimable man. He is mentioned by the commanding officer of his regiment as of kindest heart and of great gallantry in action. He had gathered in a large measure of confidence and friendship, and his loss was severely felt by all who knew him. Captain Charles Tillinghast of the 4th Rhode Island was killed, while gallantly leading his company forward in the charge upon the enemy’s works. He was a faithful officer — “frank, manly, courteous and kind” — and rendered excellent service in council, camp, and field. His last words, addressed to his Lieutenant, were: “If I fall, press on with the men.” Lieutenant Henry R. Pierce, of the 5th Rhode Island battalion, was killed in the second charge upon the enemy’s lines. He was a teacher by profession, had applied for and accepted his commission in the finest spirit of duty. He was a man of very estimable and worthy character, of scholarly attainments, and of manly principles. He stood in the very front rank of his profession in the State of Rhode Island, and his death was felt as a public calamity by many who were beyond the immediate circle of his personal friendship.

But among those who gave up their lives in their country’s service upon this field of sacrifice and victory, the most interesting and striking character was that of Adjutant Frazar Augustus Stearns. His extreme youth, (he was not quite twenty-two years of age when he fell,) his high tone and spirit, his gallant and daring behavior when in action, his faithful and dutiful conduct in camp, and his earnest, affectionate and religious disposition at all times had endeared him to his comrades and attracted the warm regard of his superior officers. He was the son of President Stearns of Amherst College, Mass., had been tenderly reared, carefully nurtured, and thoroughly trained in habits of study. He was a student in Amherst Col lege at the outbreak of the war. But the quiet and secluded life of a student did not suit the thoughts or desires of one who felt that the call for men which was made after the battle of Bull Run was meant especially for him. “There is a call for Frazar A. Stearns,” he said, and after much deliberation and discussion, gained the consent of his father and friends, and gave himself to his country. He was commissioned First Lieutenant in the 21st Massachusetts Regiment in the summer of 1861, and was ordered, with his regiment, to Washington on the twenty-first of August. The regiment was soon after stationed at Annapolis, and became a part of the Expedition to North Carolina. General Reno desired to have the young officer upon his staff, but Lieutenant Stearns preferred remaining with his regiment, of which he was now Adjutant. His bravery was conspicuous on the battle field of Roanoke Island, where he received two wounds. His ardent and impulsive temperament urged him into the thickest of the conflict, while his firm Christian faith kept him cool and composed in the midst of all dangers. He received his death wound early in the battle, while his regiment was charging gallantly into the enemy’s works near the brick yard. He was the first to fall, receiving a bullet in his right breast, and uttering a short ejaculation he breathed forth his spirit, supported in the arms of one of his soldiers. It was a pure and beautiful life sacrificed with a willing devotion to duty, freedom, and God. A Memoir, written by his father, and published by the Massachusetts Sabbath School Society, is a warm and graceful tribute to his memory as a man, a soldier and a Christian. General Burnside directed, in special orders dated March 16th, 1862, that “the six-pounder brass gun taken in the battery where Adjutant Stearns, of the 21st Massachusetts Volunteers, met his death while gallantly fighting at the battle of Newbern, be presented to his regiment as a monument to the memory of a brave man.” The regiment voted to present the piece to Amherst College. General Reno expressed, in his official report of the battle, his admiration of young Stearns as “one of the most accomplished and gallant officers in the army.” His death was the occasion of numerous kind and cordial expressions of sympathy from officers and soldiers, and from many friends and acquaintances who had been attracted to him by his generous and affectionate nature.

In the battle of Newbern, the navy rendered efficient service, by bombarding the enemy’s earth works, by defending the right flank of our army, by crossing the troops to the city and holding it in connection with the land forces. General Burnside, in his official report, mentions the conduct of the naval officers in terms of high commendation. Captain Thomas P. Ives, in command of the Picket, is declared to have rendered marked service here, as at Roanoke and elsewhere. The fleet under Commander Rowan was always ready for any service which General Burnside desired. The naval battery, that was sent on shore under Lieutenant McCook, was most handsomely and efficiently handled. It suffered a loss of two men of the Union Coast Guard killed, and two officers, five men of the Guard and four seamen wounded. Near the close of the action, the battery captured Colonel Avery and a portion of the 25th North Carolina, who had been driven out of the rifle pits and were endeavoring to escape, when encountered by Lieutenant McCook and his command. Commander Rowan speaks of the obstructions in the river as “very formidable, and prepared with great care.” “The lower barrier was composed of a series of piling driven securely into the bottom and cut off below the water. Added to this was another row of iron-capped and pointed piles, inclined at an angle of about forty-five degrees down the stream. Near this was a row of thirty torpedoes, with trigger lines attached to the pointed piles.” A second barrier “consisted of a line of sunken vessels closely massed and chevaux de frise,” leaving open only a narrow passage directly under the guns of Fort Thompson. In passing the barrier, the Commodore Barney and the Stars and Stripes were somewhat injured. The Commodore Perry struck one of the iron stakes and carried off with her its head sticking in her bottom. The torpedoes did not explode. The Delaware ran up to the city and captured one schooner, two steamers, and a large amount of naval stores sufficient to load nine vessels. Thus brilliantly and without serious casualty did Commander Rowan and his sailors do their part of the work.

The next point in General Burnside’s instructions was to secure the towns of Beaufort and Morehead City, and to reduce Fort Macon. Not a moment was lost in proceeding to this task. As soon as the captures at Newbern could be properly cared for, and the necessary business of closing up the affairs, which a battle of this kind always carries in its train, had been transacted, General Burnside made his preparations for investing Fort Macon. The storage of supplies, the paroling of prisoners, the communications with the enemy respecting the late contest, the settlement of affairs in the city and the inauguration of a new order of things occupied considerable time. The position required to be fortified to some extent, to guard against any attempt of the enemy to reoccupy it. It was feared at the North, that a portion of the enemy’s forces, which had just evacuated Manassas and its neighborhood, might have been sent to North Carolina to drive our troops away from that point. The battle of Newbern demonstrated the ability of General Burnside and his troops to take care of themselves against an ordinary or equal force of the enemy. But it was yet barely possible, that an overwhelming number of the enemy might attack them. Newbern was open to such attack, and must consequently be fortified, so that it could be easily defended even against superior forces. Happily its situation at the confluence of the rivers Neuse and Trent was such that fortifications could be speedily thrown up, and a canal dug between the two rivers, which when filled with water, would entirely insulate the city, and thus render it when defended by a resolute garrison, almost impregnable. It was also necessary to destroy the railroad leading westward towards Goldsboro’ for a considerable distance. General Burnside initiated these two undertakings and then gave his attention to Fort Macon.

The first act was to take possession and occupy the railroad leading from Newbern to Beaufort, by gradually extending our outposts towards the latter city. General Parke’s brigade was selected for this movement, and the navy, at the proper moment, was to go round by sea and assist in the reduction of the fort. The distance from Newbern to Beaufort is about forty miles, and the country between is a series of morasses, traversed by the railroad and the common highway. Our forces could use both these roads in marching. But the destruction of the bridge at Newbern prevented the use of the railroad for purposes of transportation. Still our troops were in the rear of the desired points, and no resistance was anticipated except immediately under the guns of the fort. No resistance was made. The first movement was a reconnaissance down the railroad for about fifteen miles, made by General Burnside and Lieutenant Williamson, engineer officer, on the 18th of March. It was found that a force could be transported by water to Slocum’s Creek, there land, and march thence by way of the highway and railroad. Hand cars on the railroad were used for carrying supplies. On the 20th, this movement was made, and a part of the command proceeded as far as Havelock Station, about a mile from the landing, where one company of the 5th Rhode Island Battalion remained until the 23d as guard of the post. Captain Arnold, who was in command, found near his camp an abandoned grist mill, the machinery of which the rebels had attempted to destroy, when they abandoned the neighborhood. The mechanics of the 5th, under the intelligent direction of their captain, soon put it in order again, and the mill was found to be very serviceable to the comfort and subsistence of the troops. The rest of the command marched on well into the night, and finally reached and occupied some barracks which had been previously built and used by the enemy’s troops. On the 21st, the advance proceeded as far as Carolina City, a village containing from fifty to one hundred inhabitants, a few respectable dwellings and the ruins of a large hotel — a place of considerable summer resort. The hotel had been burnt by the enemy a few days before the arrival of our troops. Opposite the town across a narrow channel was Bogue Island, on the eastern extremity of which was Fort Macon. On the 22d two companies of the 4th Rhode Island were sent to Morehead City, and on the night of the 25th another detachment of the same regiment, supported by one company of the 8th Connecticut, occupied Beaufort. On the night of the 23d the command was closed up, the 5th Rhode Island occupying Newport. Here a railroad bridge had been destroyed by the enemy, which Major Wright was directed to rebuild. He commenced work on the 24th, and by the night of the 29th he and his command had constructed a bridge of one hundred and eighty feet in length, capable of bearing a train of the weight of fifty tons.

General Parke made his headquarters at Carolina City and summoned the fort. Its commandant, Colonel Moses J. White, declined to surrender his post. He was even disposed at one time to bombard the towns occupied by our forces, but happily refrained from such an unwarrantable proceeding. The citizens seemed to be about equally divided in their sentiments of loyalty. In some instances our troops were welcomed with great cordiality. It was remarked at the time, as an encouraging fact, that on the Sunday following the occupation of Beaufort, prayers for the President of the United States were read in the Episcopal church of the town and responded to with marked earnestness.

Fort Macon itself is a small, but strong stone, casemated work, mounting sixty-seven guns at the time, and was then garrisoned by a battalion of about five hundred men. Its commandant was a brave and resolute officer, and though entirely isolated, was determined to hold his position till the last moment. He had made preparations for defence by procuring supplies, by levelling the ground for the sweep of his guns, by undermining and overthrowing the neighboring light-house, and was evidently resolved to give an attacking party a warm reception. General Burnside therefore decided to make a complete investment of the fort, and, by a combined attack by land and sea, force its surrender. General Parke was an accomplished engineer, and to him the work of besieging the fort by land was entrusted. It could not have been committed to better hands. Assisted by Captain Williamson and Lieutenant Flagler, General Parke began his task. On the 29th, he threw a part of his brigade upon the island and prepared to construct his batteries. The operations for investing the fort were materially assisted by the configuration of the island. General Parke found here what General Gillmore afterwards found on Morris and James Islands near Charleston — long, low ridges of sand, behind which the troops could work almost unmolested by the enemy’s fire. These ridges are doubtless formed by the wind, and like the sands of Cape Cod, and other exposed places upon our seaboard, change their situation and form according to the force of the gale to which they are opened. Some delay had been experienced by the destruction of the railroad bridge. But immediately upon its completion, large quantities of ordnance stores and siege material began to arrive from Newbern. Trenches were dug, mortar beds formed, and the mortars mounted, some heavy Parrott guns placed in position and the number of troops on the island increased. Nearly a month was occupied in these important operations. General Parke was vigilant and indefatigable. General Burnside was as frequently at Beaufort and Carolina City as affairs at Newbern permitted his presence, and the siege was pushed on as rapidly as the circumstances of the case would allow. The fort was hemmed in on every side. The blockading squadron, consisting of steamers Daylight, State of Georgia and Chippewa and the bark Gemsbok, all under the command of Commander Samuel Lockwood, kept a sharp look out at sea. Our soldiers picketed the island in all directions. A few small sailing boats that had been found at Beaufort were made extremely convenient by our officers for parties of duty and pleasure, and considerable information and an occasional prisoner were picked up from time to time. The siege was by no means devoid of variety, and our officers enjoyed the opportunity of making acquaintances among the former adherents of Jefferson Davis, some of whom did not hesitate to profess an amount of original “Unionism” which was absolutely suspicious. There were two English vessels lying in the harbor of Beaufort when our forces occupied the town, the officers and crews of which dis played a somewhat unfriendly spirit. It had been supposed that the noted rebel privateer and blockade runner, the Nashville, was lying at Morehead City. But she had run out to sea immediately after the battle of Newbern, and succeeded in eluding our blockading fleet.

The month of April was drawing to a close. At last, on the 23rd, General Parke reported himself ready. Under his intelligent direction every preparation had been thoroughly made and there was no hope for the devoted fort. No shot had as yet been fired by our men. But so complete had been the arrangements, that General Burnside, who was now present and desired to prevent a loss of life, again summoned Colonel White to surrender, offering generous terms. Colonel White again declined in the fewest possible words. Nothing more was to be done than to open our batteries. Commander Lockwood, ever ready to cooperate, stationed his vessels near the point on which the fort was built, with the expectation of taking part in the bombardment. But, unfortunately, the weather was boisterous, the sea was rough, and on the day of battle, the naval forces could accomplish but little. They had a smart engagement with the fort of about an hour’s duration. The Daylight was struck once and had one officer wounded.

On the morning of the 25th, General Parke opened his guns on the fort. He had prepared three siege batteries, one of three thirty-pound guns, under the command of Captain L. O. Morris, one of four eight-inch mortars, under the command of Lieutenant D. W. Flagler, one of four ten-inch mortars, under the command of Second Lieutenant M. F. Prouty, of the 25th Massachusetts. From these the fire was accurate and destructive. The bombardment continued through that day, the fort replying vigorously. But the commandant saw that his case was desperate. For ten hours our missiles of destruction rained down upon the work. Our heavy guns made breaches in its walls, our shells exploded within its en closures. The ramparts were swept clean of men. Seventeen guns were disabled and dismounted. The face of the fort showed the marks of many an indentation. The garrison was too small to make a prolonged existence without exhaustion. On the morning of the 25th, therefore, Colonel White hung out the white flag, obtained honorable terms of capitulation, marched out his command, and surrendered to General Parke the fort which he had so persistently defended. The 5th Rhode Island battalion at once marched in, took possession, and the flag of the United States once more floated over the recovered work. This was the second of the forts which had been “reoccupied and repossessed” by our forces by process of siege, Fort Pulaski having surrendered to General Gillmore, after a fierce bombardment, on the eleventh of April. The fall of Fort Macon, so creditably accomplished by General Parke, gave us possession of a new base of supplies and of operations, and relieved that portion of the blockading fleet which had been lying off the harbor of Beaufort. Not many supplies were found in the fort, as the length of the siege had depleted the store houses. The armament and the fort itself had been considerably injured by our attack. Much of the artillery, however, was in good condition as it fell into our hands. The losses on both sides were inconsiderable. Upon our part, but one man was killed and five wounded. The enemy lost eight killed and twenty wounded. The interior of the fort is said to have been “literally covered with fragments of bombs and shells.”[7. Commander Lockwood’s Report.]

But one stronghold of the enemy on the coast of North Carolina now remained unconquered — that of Wilmington, which was heavily fortified and well defended. But it was not permitted to General Burnside to add the capture of this important place to his series of victories. He had already done enough to deserve the commendations of his grateful country men, but he would have been glad to complete the occupation of the North Carolina shores. He received the most flattering testimonials from the authorities at Washington of the appreciation of the service which he had already rendered. The Secretary of War expressed his gratitude in the following terms: “The report of the late brilliant successes of the United States forces under your command at Newbern has afforded the highest satisfaction to the President, to this Department, and to the whole nation, and thanks for distinguished services are again tendered to you and the officers and soldiers under your command.”
[NOTE: Mr. Stanton’s Letter, as quoted in General Order No. 23.] These expressions of approval were not mere empty words. General Burnside was promoted to Major General of Volunteers, his commission dating March 18th. Generals Foster, Reno, and Parke were also promoted to the same grade, dating from the fall of Fort Macon, April 26th. Colonel Rodman received a deserved advancement to the rank of Brigadier General, dating from the 28th of April. Flag Officer Goldsborough and Commander Rowan also received the thanks of Congress for their services at Roanoke Island and Newbern, and were duly promoted to a superior rank. Thus did a grateful country manifest its approval of patriotic and heroic deeds.