Army Correspondence: February 25, 1865

Capture of Wilmington. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Christian Recorder: February 25, 1865

Mr. Editor: -Having, by the assignment of Maj. Gen. Terry, at the request of Brig. Gen. Payne, come to this place to assist 1st Lieut. Holmes to recruit men for our army, it was my privilege to pack up early on the morning of the 30th ultimo, and start for a new sphere of labor for awhile.

Smithville, I judge is about ten miles from Fort Fisher, nearly at the mouth of a sound that runs to the right of Cape Fear River, and forms one of the inlets—leading into said river. It formerly was the residence, I should judge, of seven thousand inhabitants, and had become quite famous, of late, for blockade running. The entrance to this town from sea, was protected by Fort Caswell, and Fort Johnson was designed to protect it from any invading force that might attempt to cross over the island, directly in its front. Fort Johnson built on the wharf, in the centre of the town, was an exhibition of one of the most ingenious blunders, ever displayed by the Southern chivalrists. 

Having arrived here late in the evening, I failed to be an observer till the following day, when, after taking quarters in a splendid rebel mansion, I commenced a street perambulation, to see and be seen. I found several magazines had been blown up, several boats fired and burned, and considerable destruction otherwise, for after we took Fort Fisher, the rebels at this place became dispirited, destroyed a great deal, and retreated. Consequently, we had the pleasure of taking this place without firing a gun. Our forces had been here about two weeks prior to my arrival. Many of the inhabitants were still here, though the most wealthy had generally left, carrying off many of their slaves. Notwithstanding there were enough left to show quite a population. The white people, nearly without an exception, showed a bitter and chagrined countenance, while the blacks appeared timid and doubtful. Small squads of rebels could be seen standing on the corners, conversing, I presumed, over the dubious records of blighted prospects, while the women would bend over and poke some of the ugliest faces out of the windows, I ever saw. When some would see you coming, they would look up the street until you get parallel to them, then they would whirl their noddles around, and look down street.

In one instance I made quite a narrow escape. As it happened, I turned off just in time to let a woman whirl her long nose around, which, if it had struck me, I don’t know where I would have been now. Whether she hangs her nose out in the street to blockade its passage, or to knock people over with it, or to smell the sense out of folks, or to snuff the dirt from her pavement instead of sweeping it off, I have not yet learned.

The second morning of my stay here, I was sent for by an old lady, to breakfast with her, to which I willingly complied and went; having determined to see that no distinction was made in the serving up of it, and taking a few of my soldiers as a guard, in case of necessity. All things went off in a nice style. The old lady expressed much joy at our being here, though she had always been free. By request, I went back again about dark, and walking in, sat down. In a few moments several white women came into the yard, and commenced a jabber about some wood, which the colored lady was appropriating to her use. She told them it was Yankee wood, and not theirs, and the tongue battle raged most furiously for some minutes, when one of the white women called her a liar, with another expression too vulgar to mention. To this the colored woman responded, “I am no more a liar than you are.” This expression, from a negro wench, as they called her, was so intolerable, that the white women grabbed up several clubs, and leaped in the door, using the most filthy language in the vocabulary of indecency. 

They had not yet observed me as being on the premises. But at this juncture, I rose up, met them at the door, and cried out, “Halt!”. Said they, “Who are you?” “A United States Officer,” was my reply. “Well are you going to allow that negro woman to give us impudence.” “You gave her impudence first,” was my reply. “What we give a negro impudence! We want you to know we are white, and are your superiors. You are our inferior, much less she.” “Well,” said I, “All of you put together would not make the equal of my wife, and I have yet to hear her claim superiority over me.” After that, I don’t know what was said, for that remark was received as such an aggravated insult, that I can only compare the noise that followed, to a gang of fice dogs, holding at bay a large cur dog with a bow-wow-wow-wow. Finally, becoming tired of their annoying muscle, I told them to leave or I would imprison the whole party. They then went off, and dispatched one of their party to Head Quarters, to Colonel Barney, to induce him to send a file of men, and have me arrested. But the Colonel, I believe, drove her off, and that was the end of it. I afterwards learned that they were some of the Southern aristocracy.

Next day, however, two of the same party met me on the street, and when they saw I was going to take the inside of the pavement, they gazed at me with structured frowns, and rubbed the very palings to compel me to go into the street, and give them the entire side-walk; but I returned the gazing compliment and kept on, till we had effected a collision, when we both stopped and looked at each other until they gave me the pavement. I don’t think my eyes suffered more, than when I compelled them to keep sight on those frightful faces. I shall never impose upon my eyes so again.

The second evening after my arrival, I told three young men to inform the colored people that I wanted to preach to them at night and for that purpose, I selected a large room in the house which I occupy. I expected to see eighteen or twenty come out, but to my surprise over a hundred came out. With these I had quite an interesting meeting, to describe it would be impossible. I was in a very good talking humor, and therefore, treated upon several points and about the time I commenced referring to the dark retrocession of Slavery’s night, and the luminous progress of Freedom’s dawn, and its complete consummation in the bright day of eternal liberty and disenthrallment, I tried to borrow eloquent terms from the lyric strains of the celestial hosts, and poor as was my success, yet my decantation upon freedom, liberty, and justice to all men, irrespective of color produced the wildest excitement I ever witnessed. 

In order to form an idea of the scene, imagine yourself in a house where a collection of all colors, sorts, and sizes of people were gathered; some crying, some laughing, some dancing, some crazy, some drunk, some having a fit, some fighting, some kissing, some clapping hands, some dying, &c and you glean a faint conception of the rhapsodical paroxysms, and the heaving genuflections exhibited on the occasion. At the conclusion of our meeting, I announce service on the following night, in the Court House. This made many open their eyes much wider than usual, for colored people were never admitted into the Court House heretofore. However, the following night the Court House was filled to it utmost capacity with these children of infant Freedom. When I told them that hereafter they would hold their services there, and on Sabbath I would preach at 11 o’clock, A.M., and also at night, and would organize an A.M.E. Church there, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and that, hereafter, the Court House was to be their church, the announcement was received in ecstasies of joy. What will be my success, I shall not surmise. I find that the principles of morality are at a very low ebb here, growing out of the uncultured masses, upon whom hinged the prevailing sentiments of social decorum. Those extraordinary characteristics, which tended to the people’s popularity and constituted the elite and embellished few, were based upon the number of negro boys and negro wenches possessed by the owners, and their probable procreation.

The colored people are anxious to have schools established here. They seem to have a high appreciation of the beneficial advantages of education. Notwithstanding many of the whites cannot read, there is a recognized power in an educational idea, exceedingly marvelous for the limited capacity hitherto allowed to their intellectual development. Several have asked me if my wife would not come and teach them, if I sent for her, but I told them it was nearly three months since I had heard from my wife, and if she would be detained as long as my letters and papers have been on the way, it would require six months to get here.

This place is destined to become famous, in consequence of its suitability as a rendezvous for slaves….The coast guards have been removed, leaves unobstructed every road, except those leading to Wilmington. It is of easy access to the escaping fugitives from several large farms. Thus they are coming in by droves, sometimes fifteen or twenty in a gang, some of whom are pitiful-looking creatures. Oh, how the foul curse of slavery has blighted the natural greatness of my race! It has not only depressed and horror-streaked the should-be glowing countenances of thousands, but it has almost transformed many into inhuman appearance. There were two men came in night before last, and had I met either by myself, I should have run for my life—supposing him to be the devil. But what capped all was, when I commenced to converse with them, one seemed to be intelligent, and I could not imagine where he kept his intelligence, for I could see no place in his head to keep it; but it was there, and could not be counteracted.

We have enlisted several men, whom I think will make splendid soldiers, and the work goes on finely. I intended to have sent you our address since the reorganization of our corps, but we are so divided, by temporary detachments, that I hardly know how we so stand. My regiment, I think, belongs to the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Army Corps, but being now detached and so twisted up, our old address had better be continued, until we are properly arranged.

Yours very truly,

H. M. T.