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- Notes by the Way to Wilmington N. C.: January 7, 1865
Christian Recorder: January 7, 1865
Turner writes in preparation of the battle of Fort Fisher.
Thursday, December 8, 1864
After marching hither and thither for several [days] and passing through the ordeal of the reorganization of the 10th and 18th Corps in the 24th and 25th Corps, we received, on yesterday evening, orders to prepare to move at a moment’s notice. Tents were instantly struck, and everything movable packed up for the contemplated journey. Shortly afterwards we were informed that nothing besides one suit of clothing and five days’ rations could be carried.
About 8 o’clock we broke camp and moved off in light marching order, amid a thousand speculations as to our destination. Thus marching for about three miles, we halted near Gen. Butler’s signal station, or Point of Rocks. Here we bivouacked for the night, but were occasionally interrupted (very pleasurable so) by the arrival of different regiments, which continued to cluster around us until nearly day this morning.
During the night the weather changed cooler, the water froze, the winds blew, and we shivered and clustered around small campfires. Once in a while the smoke got disagreeable, by rushing up our olfactories and making our eyes smart, which caused considerable sneezing and moving from one side of the fire to the other, and cracking jokes over the smoke following the one who was the prettiest.
At the dawn of day, the drums beat and off we started. But instead of one regiment, there was a whole division on the move. Troops for miles in length were seen performing the war tramp, and moving in majestic procession. Whilst generals, colonels, and their respective staff were dashing in different directions to regulate their various commands, onward, however, the serried line proceeded until we halted at Bermuda Hundred, where the James River teemed with transports of every size, dimension, and description. Our division stopped for some hours in an old field fronting the wharf, 1st Division, 25th Corps, but formerly 3d Division, 18th Corps) to give time for the embarkation of a white division which arrived before us. There we remained till late in the afternoon when our turn for embarking on the transports arrived. The 4th U.S.C.T. then moved up to the wharf and commenced to go aboard, and other colored regiments in turn, and thus they continued to embark until our whole division were stored away on the boats, to completely effect which required a very late hour. My regiment and the 37th U.S.C.T. having taken quarters on the Hermon Livingston, Gen. Payne’s [Brigadier General Charles J. Paine] headquarters boat, we moved out in the centre of the James River to rest for the night. Every one being tired, we took our blankets and laid down anywhere to rest. Soon silence prevailed and all were asleep. But about 1 0’clock at night this recuperating slumber was terribly broken by the cold bracing winds of the north, and such shivering and rattling teeth I never heard. Fire was sought for in vain. Blankets sufficient to repel the cold were also sought in vain. But the night had to be disposed of in the best manner possible, which I assure you was very badly to all above either of the decks. The troops in the steerage fared much better in consequence of the great number which tended to keep each other warm.
Friday, Dec. 9th
This morning we left Bermuda Hundred, came down the James River, and anchored off Fortress Monroe, in the Hampton Roads. The weather is exceeding cold. The ship has no heating facilities. Everybody complains. Some of the soldiers are frost-bitten. We have all suffered severely today. I thought strongly of my comfortable home; but I am willing to suffer with my regiment, knowing that they have no more at stake than myself.
Saturday, Dec. 10th
This morning found us still at anchor. Gen. Payne goes ashore. The weather is still very cold. The transport is disagreeably crowded, and we can hardly find room to turn around.
The only thing I have truly enjoyed since I came aboard this boat is the sumptuous meals which are cooked and served up finely. The provision is only made for the officers, and none bears off more table incumbents than this dear brother. The soldiers have to prepare their own grub.
I must be careful and not let Rev. James Lynch know I am writing about grub, or he will send a gale of objurgatory eloquence over here, and sweep ship and me all away. Bro. Lynch cannot bear anyone to write about good victuals. I know it is annoying to read about such things, when we are hungry and cannot get any, and I suspect it is rather dry times about Hilton Head, S.C.
This afternoon I asked permission and went ashore and saw Chaplain Asher of the 5th U.S.C. T. He says they have comfortable quarters on his boat, and I also learn from others on shore that all have better quarters than we. I returned to my ship late at night on a steam tug in company with Gen. Payne and several other officers. I had to hunt several hours to find it in consequence of the dense fog. It is still cold, and the soldiers talk more about home than I ever heard them before.
Sunday, Dec. 11th
Still at anchor, large fleet collected in Hampton Roads; boats of all sizes moving in every direction; weather still cold; wind very high; several soldiers complain of frost bites; I never felt more like resigning.
The curiosity to know of our destination has given rise to many speculations. Some say we are going to Charleston, Hilton Head, Mobile, &c.; others say to the Shenandoah Valley, East Tennessee, Harper’s Ferry, &c. But no one knows, therefore we solace ourselves by the old adage, that “Soldiers have no right to think, much less to know.”
I went ashore again, and there saw Samuel Nichols, of Washington, D.C. by whom I sent a message to my wife.
Also, by permission of General Payne, I proceeded to visit Norfolk, where I arrived about dark and spent the night with Rev. J. M. Brown. I found him enjoying good health and in fine spirits.
Monday, Dec. 12th
This morning I returned from Norfolk to Fortress Monroe. The wind being very severe, and the waves rolling very high, and our steamboat being very light, she was tossed about so recklessly that considerable apprehension was felt in behalf of our safety. The captain informed me that the boat was perfectly safe and immediately turned to one of his crew and ordered him to prepare the lifeboats, which was a contradiction of the statement just made to me. We arrived at Fortress Monroe and saw Gen. Butler moving around in some haste, preparing the expedition for what may be a perilous adventure. Here I spent the day in chatting with different persons about the Fort until near night, when I went aboard my boat in a yawl. Our boat is still lying at anchor at this place.
Tuesday, Dec. 13th
This morning when I awoke, I found our boat was in motion, and the whole fleet moving. But, to our great surprise, instead of going South we were running up the bay towards Washington. All day we continued to run the Bay and Potomac River, so late in the afternoon that the boys of the gallant 1st U.S.C.T. began to look cheerful and smile at each other as they seemed to get in sight of Washington, D.C. Indeed, we came so near to the city that I know of no stopping place that high up except Alexandria or Washington. I was so confident that I was to be home in an hour or so that I commenced to fit up and prepare for it. Just as the regiment had got on the heel of excitement and began to sing, “We are Going Home,” the steamer Baltic, which was leading the fleet, turned square around in the middle of the Potomac and started right back from where she came; and the whole fleet followed her and back we went.
This threw the privates and several officers into a hubbub. We were all disappointed except the generals who understood the programme, for such boat-whirling is seldom seen. As a revenge for not carrying us to Washington, officers and men all rushed to their respective quarters determined, if possible, to dream into reality the pleasure which we expected on our arrival in the city.
The design of carrying the fleet up the Potomac River was, I suppose, a strategical feint. Next time they take me near my wife and children, I hope they will take me a little further.
Wednesday, Dec. 14th
This morning we halted and anchored somewhere in the mouth of Chesapeake Bay; all in great suspense yet; no one knows our destination; twenty transports loaded with troops stand huddled together far away from bottom or shore; bands are played; drums are beaten; songs are sung; cheers are given. About two hours before sun-down, signals were given and off we started, bound round Cape Hatteras, the place so many dread. The winds were calm, and we promised a safe trip.
Thursday Dec. 15th
Those who were asleep, awoke this morning and found our fleet about midway Cape Hatteras. Our boat was rocking delightfully. The sun rose in unclouded grandeur, and darted his luminous rays over the agitated Hatteras, while a host of ships, each looking like sea monsters walking in fabulous strength, ploughing their way through the trackless waters, while thousands of protruding heads were visible in the bosom of each.
About 2 o’clock to-day, a suspicious looking vessel was seen, at a great distance, moving along with her sails flying to the winds. The captain said it looked like the rebel pirate Tallahassee. Every spy glass was brought in requisition and some considerable excitement prevailed. After some time, she disappeared to the joy of every one; for if she would had got among our fleet, with our naval fleet ahead, she would have made terrible havoc with us.
Friday, December 16th
Last night the fleet all stopped off Wilmington, some twenty miles from land. We have had fine weather for two days. The ocean is perfectly smooth. Not being able to find anchorage, the vessels were compelled to float about.
The weather is very warm here. We have to pull off our surplus clothes. Water is getting scarce, and our fine tables are getting more common. There, I am writing about victuals again. Brother Lynch will not find me out. If he does, I am gone.
Saturday December 17th
This morning found us in the same place. A large naval force appears near us, and stops. The weather is fine, but everybody wants to land. We kill time by fishing, laughing, talking, &c.
Sunday, December 18th
We still float in the same place. Every body wonders why we lie here; but no one, with the exception of General Butler and Admiral Porter knows.
I counted more than thirty ships lying around us. Today being Sabbath, I propose to preach for my regiment; but the officers request me to preach to them first. At the time appointed, I proceeded to do so; but disliking some misconduct exhibited by men whose character should be exemplary, I stopped immediately without pronouncing the benediction, and left the place to hold service with my regiment. We had a glorious meeting. The cause of my stopping the services which I was conducting with the officers was not that I felt myself to be personally insulted, but because I considered their conduct very ungrateful to God.
I was amused this morning at a colored boy who came to wait on the table. He was so much surprised at seeing me, a colored man, eating with white officers, that he did nothing but stand back and look at me. I suppose that he never saw a sight before.
At night the wind blew very hard. It was so warm, that we were unable to sleep. We sat on the deck, and killed time by telling long yarns.
Monday, December 19th
This morning we were still at the old place some twenty miles off Wilmington. The weather was smooth and calm. About ten o’clock the wind commenced to blow, and increased in violence until late at night. The waters rolled in great torrents and the ship was tossed as a mere bubble over the seemingly frightened billows of the great deep.
Last night, being Sabbath evening, the officers of our regiment set a noble example to the others by spurning to indulge in an exercise upon which God would frown in terrible vengeance.
I am proud of our officers in two respects—they will reverence the Sabbath, and honor Divine service. Every body wanted to disembark. We were all tired of the ship, and wanted to see land once more.
I counted forty-two ships today, lying around us. Our numbers seemed to increase. I fear for the monitors tonight. The waters are very rough.
Tuesday, December 20th
Still lying off Wilmington. Last night a heavy gale blew nearly all night. This morning the wind was quite moderate, but the waters were rough. A great many were sea-sick. The universal cry all day was, “We want to land.” About ten o’clock today, I counted sixty –three vessels, some of which were monitors. Today I raised some excitement about my horse. I declare, he is ruined forever. The officers laughed at me, and one reproved me from the Bible and told me that I should be more composed, even if I had lost my life, much less my horse.
This afternoon a heavy northerly wind set in. About five o’clock we received orders to put into Beaufort, N. C., for the purpose of getting coal and water. We are now, while I am writing, on our way there. The gale is terrible, and the ship seems to ride mountain high. I can only say, “Save, Lord, or we perish!”
Wednesday, December 21st
This morning we came up to Beaufort, having had a considerable gale all night. Before the pilot-boat could convey us over the bar and bring us into the harbor, the wind began to blow more terribly, until the waters became too rough for us to attempt to cross the bar, and so we were compelled to make for the sea, with our water and coal nearly exhausted, and not knowing how long the storm would last. We all felt very solemn and anxious in regard to our safety, besides the dreadful thought that if the vessel did not founder, perhaps we would have to endure the pangs of hunger and be left with steam-fuel far out on the ocean’s bosom. However, we then had only time to think of the ship, which was new, and had never before been in such a gale.
About twelve o’clock, the ocean was covered with white foam and rolling waves; but still the wind increased, and higher did the billows roll, until great mountains, towering, apparently up to heaven, came dashing along, in sublime vengeance.
Many, for a while, tried to laugh and shake off their fears; but about eight o’clock we all ceased laughing. I had been praying all the time, and I believe many others were. Now all began to feel serious and solemn. Even the crew looked and spoke apprehensively. Finally, an awful sea came and broke in our wheel-house. Still the raging waters and howling winds grew worse.
At last many of us gave up all hope. I lay down and bade my mother, wife, and children farewell, and after asking God to protect them and bring us together in heaven to be separated no more, I begged the Lord to put me to sleep, and that if it was His will that the ship should be dashed to pieces, I should remain asleep and be spared the heart-rending spectacle of nearly fifteen hundred men launched into eternity in one moment.
God answered my prayer. I went quietly to sleep; and when I awoke, I found that the storm had subsided, and the ship was again on her way to Beaufort, where we are this morning.
The whole fleet was in that storm. We have not yet heard of the casualties.