|From: New York Public Library|
Army Correspondence by Chaplain Turner
Headquarters First U.S.C.T
Fort Raison Depot
March 28, 65
Christian Recorder: April 15, 1865
MR. EDITOR:-I would have written a few days sooner, but for the fact that a thieving scoundrel, under the clandestine cover of night, came and, with roguish hands, stole one of my horses, valued at $200. But as this dirty wretch has been overtaken, and my mind relieved by the return of my servant’s horse, I trust I can now frame myself into writing humor sufficiently to throw a few facts together for benefit of the many friends who are ever anxious to know our whereabouts.
On the morning of the 16th of March, at the command to march, we broke camp; and all portable comforts were girded on by the soldiers, and lashed to horses, or packed in wagons by the officers. Everything being in readiness, we marched out of camp, and halted for a few hours, at no great distance, in the woods, and near the pontoon bridge which was laid across the North-east River.
Shortly afterward, General TERRY and Staff rode past, making a splendid appearance. Then followed the Second Division of the24th Corps, (white,) after which our Division, (First Division 26th Corps, colored,) followed in pursuit. I might say that the whole of General Terry’s command left. It will be understood that Gen. Terry commands the brave troops who first came to attack Fort Fisher, with a view to its speedy reduction.
These forces were made up of the First Div. of the 25th Army Corps, (white.) the colored troops were commanded by Brevet Major-General Payne and the white troops by Brevet Major-General Ames. The chief command is vested in the intrepid Major-General Terry.
Since the capture of Wilmington, Gen, Terry’s command has been lying at North-east Station, about ten’ miles above Wilmington. However, the white troops having passed, my regiment led the advance of our division. Soon after crossing the river, we passed an extensive line of rebel works, which they had hastily evacuated upon hearing that Sherman was about to cut off their retreat.
Shortly after taking up our line of march, we were informed that our destination was Goldsboro. Consequently, our march was continued for several days. Many incidents took place on the march of an amusing character, and also some which were quite saddening. But whatever was disagreeable was borne with usual liveliness of our men. Passing through an extensive rebel country was a new thing to our soldiers: therefore, for the first few days, the inhabitants fared quite well. But afterwards, the white soldiers commenced to the ransacking policy, which the colored troops had been rather reluctant to engage in; but as we were now considered a part of Sherman’s army, and as they were accustomed to relieving the rebels of whatever they desired, our soldiers thought they would follow their example. So everyone who had any desire for the foraging fun, (we call it foraging,) went at it in earnest.
The advance was led each day by a different Division- one day the white, and the next day the colored. And I must say for the colored soldiers that they manifested more feeling for the rebels than did the white soldiers. When the white soldiers were in the advance, they would leave comparatively nothing- taking the last bit of meat, and every chicken, hog, sheep, cow or horse upon the premises, and hurling the most bitter maledictions upon them if they dared to utter a word. But the colored soldiers, in several instances, to my own knowledge, would leave some, and tell the rebel women to hide it if they could, or the white soldiers would take it all when they came along. Sometimes they would shout-
“Stop, Boys! You have got enough now. Leave the poor creatures something to eat!” and like expressions.
But the white soldiers would excuse themselves by telling the rebel women and me, (when the men were there.) “If we don’t take all, the colored boys will, so we might just as well take it now.”
There was one infamous old rebel who lived at Greenville, named Heron, who, however, fared very badly with the colored troops. He was a mean old wretch. He owned three hundred slaves and treated them like brutes-yes, worse than brutes. It was on Sabbath, the 19th instant when we arrived there, and, as Providence would have it, we halted to rest and eat dinner.
Seeing his splendid mansion standing near the road, our boys made for it, and learned that he had just released a colored woman form irons, which had been kept on her for several days. Upon hearing of this and sundry other overt acts of cruelty committed by him on his slaves, the boys grew intense, and they utterly destroyed everything in the place. They gutted his mansion of some the finest furniture in the world. With an axe they shattered his piano, bureaus, side-boards, tore his fine carpet to pieces, and gave what they did not destroy to his slaves- and on his speaking rather saucily to one of the boys, he was sent headlong to the floor by a blow across the mouth, his downward tendency being materially accelerated by an application of boot-leather to his “latter end.” I heard afterward that the white soldiers burned his houses to the ground; but whether they did so or not, I cannot say. But this much I do know- that I have seen numbers of the finest houses turned into ashes.
Oh, that I could have been a Hercules, that I might have carried off some of the fine mansions, with all their gaudy furniture. How rich I would be now! But I was not. When the rich owners would use insulting language, we let fire do its work of destruction. A few hours only are necessary to turn what cost years of toil into smoke and ashes.
During our entire march from Wilmington, until we met Sherman, there was only one Union flag displayed by a citizen to our forces. His house was well protected. Neither soldiers nor officers would touch a cob. It was remarkable; too, hear how impudently some of the rebel women would talk. Yet their loose- hung tongues in almost every instance brought them into trouble. One very fine-looking lady, residing in a small village which we passed through, ran out of her house-door, and blasted very loudly to a certain officer-
“Keep your negroes out my yard!”
The officer said nothing, but passed on- but such a shower of “blessings” as the Negroes heaped upon her devoted head would have well nigh aroused the dead from their graves. Such a string of expletives, I presume, never before greeted the ears of such a haughty Southern goddess.
I must now stop, for here come marching orders.
Having left Harrison Depot, and marched about fifteen miles, I now resume my correspondence with you.
As I was writing about the contemptibleness of several white women, I regard it needless to use their vulgar parlance, but simply to state that their repeated insults were almost in every instance visited with their just reward. I am sorry to state, however, that some of Sherman’s men took their revenge in quite a disgraceful manner.
Among the amusing scenes which transpired was when our army came to fordable streams, which was often the case. Some streams through which we were obliged to wade would take the men up to their arms. Each brigade would generally halt for a short time prior to crossing, so as to be prepared for it. Some would simply hang their cartridge boxes on their bayonets, and plunge in with a cheerful but vociferous yell- while others would dismember pantaloons and drawers, and others still strip entirely naked, and swing their clothes over their heads- and, amid all kinds of expression and laughable utterances ever conceived by the genius of mirth, like some monstrous brood of liberated ducks, our brave boys would take to the water as naturally as a beaver- wading through water, mud, and slop. This was indeed but an everyday occurrence.
So far as provisions are concerned, we found them in the greatest abundance. I even rode up to a fodder stack, and commented pulling out some for my horses, when hams, sides, and shoulders of bacon fell out in such rapid succession that I thought I was mistaken in the place. Suffice it to say that our whole army, fifteen thousand strong, found enough and to throw away while passing through the enemy’s territory. Honey itself was plentiful; for on passing several houses we found bee hives in any quantity- and these little fellows, with all theirs stings, were not proof against the voracity of our soldiers. One fellow would pick up a bee gum on his shoulder, and run like fury, while a dozen more would charge on the honey –comb with their bayonets, and the bees would pour out and blacken the air with numbers.
By this time the fellow carrying the gum would dash it down, and run his bayonet or hand in, take out a pretty good piece of comb,. And then leave like a streak of greased lightning, with apparently ten thousand enraged bees darting around his head. And by the time one brigade would pass, all the bee gums on the place would be robbed, and something less than twenty millions of bees intent on vengeance flying in every direction, stinging or trying to sting every thing they saw. And while in this pleasant mood, the remainder of our army would have to run the gauntlet pass them- and you may be sure that men, horses, dogs, or whatever passed by, were politely and smartly accosted by these gentlemen. But those who were stunned by the maddened bees seemed to enjoy the joke quite as well as the more fortunate ones who laughed at them.
The colored people too were peculiarly interesting, and sometimes gave went to expressions and acts which were quite amusing. Some would clap their hands and say, “The Yankees have come! The Yankees have come!” Others would say, “Are you the Yankees!” Upon our replying in the affirmative, they would roll their white eyeballs up to heaven, and, in the most pathetic strain, would say, “Oh, Jesus, you have answered my prayer at last! Thankee, Thankee, Jesus.”
Others would cry out “I have been looking for you many years, and God told me you were coming to possess the land, and now here you are.”
Others again would commence resting their revengeful desires by telling of their hardships and the cruelty of their owners and wanting us to revenge them immediately.
But I must pass on. It was on the 20th inst., when we first came within hearing of General Sherman. His big guns sounding some eighteen miles distant told us we were nearing the great champion. Our army was much fatigued, and everyone felt quite exhausted until the sound of his artillery gave us new life. We all longed to be there. The consequence was that we now marched more swiftly, and took longer strides. At ten o’ clock on the following day we came to where a part of Sherman’s army had passed and saw for the first time a portion of his brave cavalry. And here we just began to learn what destruction was. We thought our men had been doing outrageously, but now we were convicted that we were all good fellows. Houses were burnt, and the fences for miles on both sides of the road demolished. Corn-cribs, smoke-houses and desires were emptied of their contents, and if, perchance, a house was left standing at all, on entering it, one might find an aged white man, some white women, and a few children, (formerly very rich,) standing in the door, with watery eyes and haggard faces, and everything either carried off or broken into pieces. Even the garments of women and children were destroyed, except what they had on their backs when the Yankees came to the house. The condition of the roads beggars description. Added to this was the woods on fire as far around as the eye could reach.
Besides the children, turkeys, hogs, sheep, goats, cows, mules, horses, and all such things, for fifteen miles on either side, had disappeared. But that distance I do not think is sufficient, although I was so informed; for I saw some of Sherman’s raiders come in, who told me they had been thirty miles off. However, to resume my story. We continued to follow the road so badly desolated by Sherman’s army until we arrived at the edge of the Noose River. There General Terry halted his army, and we all commenced to prepare such quarters as we could rest awhile in. But it was not long before big guns began to tell us that Sherman and Johnson were only five miles away, and were measuring each other’s strength.
All the afternoon and part of the night, amid a heavy falling rain, did the terrific roar of cannon and musketry keep an unbroken clamor, while deadly missiles flew thick and terrible, regardless of whom they might injure. Never did I hear such musketry before, except at Petersburg, on the night of the 18th of June, 1864, when Grant and Lee, with more than fifty thousand men on each side, were kicking up a dust over that doomed city. During the night, however, Sherman drove the rebels’ across the river, but did not cross at the same place. So General Terry, with Sherman’s Pontoon Corps, succeeded in laying two pontoon bridges over the Noose River, up near where our troops were encamped. After the bridges were prepared, two brigades (First and Second) of our division were sent to hold them against any possible attack from the rebel side.
Having crossed the river, we soon had ourselves well fortified within a circle ranging about three hundred yards from the pontoon bridges. Here we lay quite secure from any rebel disturbance, except what opposition was offered to foraging parties, who were swarming on the road leading to Smithfield. Several times were our venturesome foragers driven within our undaunted lines.
During this time two corps of Sherman’s great army passed over the bridges, and came through our works, en route to Goldsboro. This was a sight equally novel to both. We all desired to see Sherman’s men, and they were anxious to see colored soldiers, particularly the colored heroes of Petersburg, as they called us. Therefore you may be sure they were not passing long before our boys thronged each side of the road. There they had full view of Sherman’s celebrated army. Soldiers without shoes, rugged and dirty, came by thousands. Bronzed faces and tangled hair were so common, that it was hard to tell if some were white. Their guns instead of being clean and bright like ours, were rusty and dirty. They wore all sorts of hats, many of them looking like nests of confusion. Some of the officers were dress the same as privates, many having no shoulder straps. Some of their generals looked worse than our second lieutenants. Sometimes a soldier would pass with his shirt tail out, walking as large as a prince. About this time, here comes the rear of the corps. Now, look out for the rubbish—wagons in great numbers, pack mules, buggies, carriages, ambulances, and droves of colored men, women, and children.
I must say, and I say with no prejudice whatever, that luck (if the word be admissible) has had much to do with the popularity of Sherman’s celebrated army. I believe I estimate the value of its services, as highly as anyone, but I do not regard it as the army of America. That is all I will now say, wait and see for yourself. So much for Sherman’s army. After it passed and gone to Goldsboro, our men went out foraging every day, each day contending to the rebels. I can’t refer to any of our fights now, as the mail is about to leave.