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- Army Correspondence: May 6, 1865
April 5, 1865
Christian Recorder: May 6, 1865
Mr. Editor: At the close of my last letter, I had just commenced treating on the attack we sustained from the rebels on the 24th ultimo. As I was saying, having fortified ourselves north of the Neuse River so as to protect the pontoon bridges from any rebel interruption, we sent out foraging parties daily, who acted as scouts and also helped to keep our men and animals supplied.
The first day a few white soldiers went out in a rather straggling manner and were captured by the rebels on the road leading to Smithfield. On the following day, the Division Battalion of sharpshooters encountered the enemy on the same road, in larger force. But the next day, (the 24th) the rebels prepared to meet this party of Yankees, who walked so recklessly about upon their sacred soil. About ten o’clock, a company or two went out again but had not proceeded far before the rebels halted them, and soon the roar of the cannon, in deafening reverberations, told us they meant to fight. After exchanging several musket shots our men came back within our works, yet no one seemed in the least alarmed, as our men had made them fall back before leaving. Our camps were still full of life, and everything went on as usual. About three o’clock, the rebels, expecting our return came down the road, concealing a large force under cover of the woods, and began to annoy our pickets. Consequently, a few detachments were sent out to support them. They had not gone further than three hundred yards from our works before they met the rebel force. Our pickets by this time, however, had considerably aroused our attention, by an increased musket fire, and, joining the detachments sent to their support, resolved to question the rebel’s authority for visiting our quarters, which they seemed to have in contemplation.
A few volleys from our men, which were promptly responded to by the rebels, prepared everybody in our lines for the war gauntlet. Our works teemed with smoked Yankees, (as the rebels call us.) while before them stood our pickets and detachment, contending with the rebel advance. I am sorry to say, a few volleys soon made the men of a certain regiment, leave our detachment in front, and fall behind their works, which only left one of our companies, and a few men of the 6th United States Colored Troops, to skirmish with a force quadrupling their number. However, the brave boys of the 1st Regiment, who have never given way in any skirmish, nor in nine battles, nor have ever failed to take any works they charged, and who have the confidence of every General in our corps, were there, and they stood firm, while the rebels poured the most galling fire into them, that I ever saw poured into so few men in my life, and it is well known, I have seen war wonders. And there they continued to stand until the rebels began to fire grape into their ranks, when orders were sent them to come in, so as get out of the way of our artillery, and allow us the same chance, to fire grape at them.
The conduct of our boys on that occasion elicited the praise of thousands. But the bravery of my regiment has long since ceased to be a question, therefore, it is needless to rehearse it. And while the boys would rather die than lose their reputation, they are well aware that their good name has cost them severely. For they will be picked out of 20,000 colored troops to assume a risk when others will lie around in camp.
Returning to the subject, our detachment, as I stated above, only came in, to give room to our artillery. By this time the rebel artillery was in such position, as to shell our camps very easily, and awful was the whizzing bombs which they for a while hurled into our midst. They cut men in half, and pieces from exploded shells killed and wounded several. My tent happened to be in direct range of their artillery, and three or four bombs passed through and over my quarters. In a terrible state of excitement, I raised up to ascertain if they were really in earnest. At that moment, here came another. I then bargained with my feet and legs to carry my body away from that place, which they did in a hurry. The soldiers saw me running through the field in search of safer quarters, and, instead of looking for the bursting shells, all began to laugh at the chaplain. But the chaplain, preferring a good run to a bad stand, charged out of range as bravely as his soldiers generally charge in, which enabled him to bury the killed with divine service, instead of being buried with it himself. The rebels, however, dared not approach our works though they had many invitations, for our men were constantly saying, “Come on!” “Come on!” But the rebels thought the colored Yankees were too willing, so they stayed away for spite and well they did. Had they attempted to enter our lines, such a slaughter would have never been witnessed. Even as it was, we would have killed three to their one, had it not been for their shelling us, not because the rebels exhibited signs of cowardice at all, but because they overshot our men. The rebels numbered twelve hundred at least, while our detachment numbered less than one hundred. However, our artillery soon silenced theirs, and thus ended the engagement.
Shortly after, orders came to pack up, and march, which we did, camping a few miles south of the Neane river, which place we also left next morning, and marched for Faison Station, on the Wilmington and Goldsboro Rail Road, en route to this point. We had to march again through a portion of country trodden a week before by Sherman’s army. Here everything wore the garb of desolation, portraying evidences of adversity’s most awful sweep, raging in exterminating fury, and shrouding everything in the habiliments of utter waste.
Finally, reaching Faison Station, we went into camp with the understanding that we were to rest for several weeks. Upon this information we all commenced to prepare quarters for a long rest, but by the time we got our quarters done, and all things arranged for a few weeks’ respite, our regiment was ordered to break camp, and proceed to Warsaw, to guard that post, which we did with great glee, as we all thought it indicated some local duty. Arriving here about two o’clock at night, we made our beds on the ground, and went to sleep. Next morning opened up to our vision a little village. The news of black Yankees being here soon spread through the adjacent country, which has been ever since bringing in hundreds of contrabands to this place.
On Sabbath, I had the large Baptist church opened, which holds about eight hundred persons, and preached at 11 o’clock, and my inestimable armor bearer, Rev. John Hames at three, and myself again at night. A description of the day’s proceedings would consume more time than I have now to spare. At all our services, however, the church has been far too small to hold the people. But owing to my heavy responsibilities, and incessant labors, I am compelled to transfer the most of the preaching to Brother Hames and Rev. Edgar Stephenson, both of whom are known as non-commissioned chaplains, by virtue of their being, (by my own appointment,) my assistants. Brother Hames is a member of the A.M.E. Church, lives in Washington city, is a splendid preacher, mighty in prayer, excellent at singing, obedient to orders, always at work, and wields a moral influence throughout the regiment, that will tell for good in years to come. Besides, wherever he goes he establishes prayer meeting and preaching places as rapidly and successfully, that I am often surprised. Had Brother Hames a better education, he would be one of earth’s great men. Brother Stephenson lives in Alexandria, Va., is a member of the A.M.E. Church, a good man, good character, ordinary, preacher, charming in prayer, sings well, but not very feelingly, reads well, writes some, obedient to orders, thinks nothing impossible for the people of God, and is an assiduous laborer in and out of the regiment. No one can imagine the pleasure it often gives me, while engaged in my labors, to have Hames on one side and Stephenson on the other, for each one knows his side.
Everything has gone off finely, except a little misunderstanding, which created some excitement yesterday among our soldiers, growing out of some adjustment of contraband affairs, by some of our officers. But as these people have been placed in my charge, everything is smooth as ever.
Will not some of the friends of humanity collect at least 1,000 copies of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and forward to my address. Send also any Congressional enactments bearing upon the freedom of the slaves. I want no abolition speeches, but legal documents. I only wish I had 5,000 copies. If some of our Tract Societies would circulate that Proclamation through the South, it would accomplish far more good than some of their tracks, which are too often looked at and thrown aside.
I know it has become quite popular for soldiers and young ladies to correspond on the subject of marriage, yet strangers to each other. But those three young ladies who have been writing to me, complimenting my letters to the Recorder, and desiring to correspond on the subject of matrimony, will allow me to inform them, that I am a married man; besides, if they could see me, they would not want me, for I am as ugly as Old Harry, have a wooly head, face scarred with smallpox, big feet, bold shanks, and I can’t walk, but have to hobble, (my horse threw me the other day.) And if I were not married, and ever so attractive, I have no time to waste upon such trashy matters now. I am not able to answer one-third of the letters received relating to important business. Before me now lies nineteen letters, which ought to be replied to. I have six sheets of paper, four envelopes, and two postage stamps, and those I begged from my soldiers. The news has just arrived that five of our soldiers, who were on guard at Faison’s Mill, had been killed by the rebel cavalry, who dashed in and took them by surprise.
Ten Minutes Later
I have just been out to see Penny, of Co.K., whose left fingers are shot off, and has a ball in his head. He is covered with blood, and reports all killed but himself, and he was left for dead by the rebels, after having his pockets searched. I think his case is beyond recovery. There is great excitement among our men. One company has left to look for the rebels, and woe be unto the wretches if found.