We fellows who do the shooting are not counted as any great shakes ordinarily, but yesterday morning we seemed to be regarded as of very great importance, and it took a great amount of swearing and hurrying to and fro of aids and hoarse shoutings of officers to get us around where we were wanted. We were within a half mile of the enemy’s line, and Reno’s and Parke’s brigades were deploying in front of them, on the centre and left of our line. Foster’s brigade was to take the right, and the 25th led off up the road, followed by the 24th Massachusetts and the other regiments of the brigade. We soon came in sight of the enemy’s works, which were only a short rifle-shot from us. Reno’s and Parke’s brigades had already opened the ball along the center and left. We filed out of the road to the right, moving towards the river. As we moved out we were honored with a salute from one of the enemy’s batteries, but the shots passed harmlessly over our heads. The boys looked a little wild, but with steady step moved on until the 25th and 24th Massachusetts were in line on the right of the road; the 27th and 23d Massachusetts and the 10th Connecticut regiments were on the left. Foster’s brigade was now in line of battle and moving forward towards the edge of the woods next to the clearing. The howitzer battery now came up, took position in the road, between the 24th and 27th Massachusetts, and commenced firing. With the exception of the 25th, Foster’s brigade then opened fire. We were on the extreme right and well towards the river, seeing nothing in front of us to draw our fire. The 24th Massachusetts kept up a scattering fire that kept the enemy well down behind their works.
We were ordered, if possible, to turn the enemy’s left. We advanced nearly to the edge of the woods, and only a short distance from the enemy’s line. I was running my eye along it to see where and how it ended, expecting every moment to hear the order to charge, but just then the boats commenced throwing shell over us, towards the Confederate line. They had got a low range and their shells were coming dangerously near, splintering and cutting off the trees, and ploughing great furrows in the ground directly in front of us. In this condition of affairs we were compelled to fall back. The boats, however, were soon notified of their mistake and ceased firing. We again advanced, going over and beyond from where we fell back, when all at once we received a galling flank fire from an unseen battery. We again fell back a few rods, dressing the line and again cautiously advanced. We now discovered that their works curved and connected with a large water battery, situated just in the edge of the woods and concealed by the trees. In the rear of this battery were mounted old 32-pounder marine guns, which gave them an enfilading fire of the clearing in front of their works. From these guns they fired grape shot, which weighed about four pounds each. To charge was hopeless, and in falling back we received another fire from this battery. From these we lost quite a number of men, killed and wounded. I had the honor of stopping one ball myself; it struck a tree, however, before it did me. Having got back from under the guns of this battery, Col. Upton reported the situation to Gen. Foster, who ordered him to move his regiment to the left of the 24th Massachusetts and support the howitzer battery.
During all this time, however, the battle was raging furiously along the centre and left. While we were bothering around on the right, a little incident occurred, which perhaps is worthy of mention. Lieut. Draper of my company (B), but now attached to the signal corps, reported to Capt. Clark for duty. He said there was nothing more for the signal corps to do and he would like to take his place in the line. The captain told him he could do as he liked; he thereupon joined his company, and did duty with it the rest of the day. Although a young man of only 20 years of age, he has got the stuff in him of which soldiers are made.
In front of our battery the enemy had a large gun which commanded the road, and which proved rather troublesome. This gun after each discharge was hauled around, and again back into position, by a pair of mules. After each discharge a young dare-devil of a marine lieutenant would run down the road almost to the gun, to see what they were up to. On one of these excursions he discovered one of the mules down, probably from a stray shot. He came running back up the road like a wild man, swinging his cap, and shouting at the top of his voice “Come on, come on! for God’s sake, come on. Now is your time!”
The 25th, without any other order, sprang forward, followed by the 24th Massachusetts and all the line. On the charge they received a heavy fire from the enfilading battery, but on they went, scaling the ditch and parapet like blackbirds, but no enemy was there. Seeing us coming, they took that as a notice to leave, and acted on it immediately. Inside the works, I heard Gen. Burnside ask Gen. Foster who gave the order to charge. Foster replied he didn’t know, but it made no difference so long as it was done.
The 25th reformed, and, marching a short distance to the rear, charged across the railroad, into the swamp, capturing Col. Avery and his South Carolina regiment, who were covering the retreat. Thus, after five hours’ hard fighting, ended the battle of Newbern. Victory had again perched upon our banners, and the cheers of the victors were ringing out on every side. Although the battle resulted as I wished, I certainly did not feel like glorying for who can compute the woe, anguish and sorrow of this day’s work? I cannot get over my horror of a battle,
“Where the death angel flaps his broad wing o’er the field,
And human souls go out in agony.”
Our Entrance into Newbern.
Foster’s brigade starts up the railroad for town, leaving Reno’s and Parke’s, brigades to take care of the field. Cautiously we moved along, thinking, perhaps, the enemy may have formed a second line and are awaiting our approach. It soon became apparent, however, that they were making the distance between them and us as long as possible. We then hurried along, arriving at the river where the railroad bridge was burned which crossed into town. The view from here was an appalling one. The railroad bridge, a fine structure upwards of 1500 feet in length, was in ruins and the town was on fire in several places. Dense clouds of smoke of inky blackness settled like a pall over the town, while every few moments the lurid flames, with their forked tongues, would leap above the clouds, and the bellowing of the gunboats on the river, throwing their large shells over the town after the retreating enemy, conspired to make a most hideous scene.
It was near the middle of the afternoon when the old ferry boat Curlew (which a few weeks before I had wished sunk) arrived. On board this, Major McCafferty, with a mixed company of about 100 men, with the colors, crossed the river and landed on the wharf at the foot of Craven street. These were the first troops and colors in the city. After landing we marched up Craven nearly to Pollock street, when we halted. The major did not appear to have any business on hand or instructions to make any, so we waited for further orders or for the regiment to join us.
Here was presented an indescribable scene. A town on fire, an invading army entering its gates, the terror-stricken inhabitants fleeing in every direction. The negroes were holding a grand jubilee, some of them praying and in their rude way thanking God for their deliverance; others, in their wild delight, were dancing and singing, while others, with an eye to the main chance, were pillaging the stores and dwellings. But in the midst of all this appalling tumult and confusion, the boys, true to the natural instincts of the soldier, were looking around to see what could be found in the line of trophies and fresh rations. They soon began to come in with their plunder, which the major told them to carry back, as he should allow no pillaging while he was in command. Presently Stokes comes along bringing a little package. The major asked, “What have you there?” “Sausages, sir!” “Go, carry them back where you got them from.” “I reckon not,” replied Stokes, “a lady out here gave them to me.” The major was incredulous, but Stokes offered to show him the lady and let her tell it, whereupon the former subsides, and Stokes, with a roguish twinkle of his eye, jams the package into my haversack, saying, “Sausage for breakfast.” I was proud of the boy, to see how well he was observing instructions, as I have told him from the start that to stand any sort of a chance as a soldier, he must learn to do a right smart job of stealing, and be able to lie the hair right off a man’s head. He has certainly shown some smartness, and I doubt if a commissioned officer could have done any better.
The regiment landed at the north side of the city, and about night rejoined us. Our hard day’s work was at last finished, the regiment was dismissed and the companies quartered in any unoccupied buildings they might find. Generals Burnside and Foster, with soldiers, citizens and negroes, were putting out the fires and bringing order out of confusion. Company B was quartered in a small house on Craven street, and the boys, although hungry, tired and worn down by the fatigues of the day, made frolic of the evening and celebrated their victory.