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[481] refreshments and cold water to our troops as they passed by their houses. Some would collect together hastily what victuals they had cooked, run to the doors and windows, and hand out a lunch to the soldiers, with cheerful words of encouragement, as the troops passed on singing patriotic songs.

The day was unusually warm, which caused the men to drink a great deal of water, and, before the first ten miles had been travelled, our troops were much exhausted, many of them showing signs of fatigue of a definite character; having been on the go all night without food or rest, followed by this rapid march, which, under a burning sun, was quite enough to test the endurance of strong men.

Everything was progressing finely, however, and the prospect of securing our game was as good as could be desired, up to eleven o'clock, when one of Gen. Reno's Aids came up and informed him of the mortifying fact that Col. Hawkins's force had taken the wrong road, and had gone some ten miles out of their way, which would enable the enemy to reach the bridge in advance of our troops, make their escape from us complete, and form a junction with the remainder of the rebel force which left Elizabeth City the day before. These were not far from the bridge, in the vicinity of which were rebel intrenchments and batteries to protect the canal at this point, from whence supplies had been carried to Norfolk in considerable quantities.

All hopes of overhauling the enemy and having an engagement vanished on learning that Colonel Hawkins's force was in the rear of General Reno. However, General Reno decided to push on and make the reconnoissance, which was the chief object of the expedition. He could thus return to Elizabeth City on the following morning in order to connect with the boats for Roanoke Island and Newbern, which points he was to reach by a given time, Gen. Burnside having given positive orders in regard to the length of time he was to be absent.

Our course was in a northerly direction from Elizabeth City, on the direct road to Norfolk. As I said before, we had given up all hopes of overhauling the enemy, after learning that he had succeeded in getting ahead of us; but this mishap, however, did not cause Gen. Reno to slacken his speed in the least; on the contrary, he rushed on all the faster, that he might be able to complete his mission and return the sooner. By ten o'clock the heat was very oppressive, and the men began to show signs of fatigue, the effects of their sleepless night and rapid march on empty stomachs. Gen. Reno would order frequent halts for a few moments in order to give the troops a breathing spell as well as an opportunity to refresh themselves with a new supply of cold water.

At eleven o'clock A. M., to our surprise, we were upon the heels of the flying foe; of this fact we were made aware by a movement of the rebel cavalry, which fell back a short distance in the rear of their force and fired a few shots at our advanced pickets. On went General Reno's forces, however, with increased speed, pursuing the enemy until about one o'clock P. M., when it was evident that he had reached their batteries, and formed a junction with the rebel force that left Elizabeth City the day before. Along the roadside were woods and groves, and frequent clearings. The country was low, and under a very poor state of cultivation, and not very well cleared up, abounding more in swamps and woods than anything else.

About one o'clock we came to a clearing on each side of the road, which was the shape of a half-circle, some two miles through, the square side of which was in front, we having entered the curved side. All around this circle were dense woods, the road leading direct through the centre of the circle, in a northerly direction, which at this point was an air-line, for some three or four miles. As Gen. Reno's forces reached the centre of this half-circle, and before we had any idea that the enemy intended to make a stand, boom went their batteries and down this straight road came their shells, at a furious rate — a sudden invitation for us to halt and prepare for action.

Your correspondent was on the front wagon, seated by the side of Wagon-Master Plummer, engaged in a pleasant conversation, when the first shell came within a few inches of our heads. Down the road it went, just over the heads of the whole line, giving us all the benefit of its hissing notes.

In an instant all was commotion and activity. The first movement was to get the wagons — which were loaded with ammunition, etc.--out of the road, and bring up the howitzers, two of which were hitched on behind the wagons; the other two were with Col. Hawkins, who was at this time some four miles in our rear, with his force.

Gen. Reno at once ordered his two regiments, the Twenty-first Massachusetts and Fifty-first Pennsylvania, to take shelter in the woods to the right, and gradually to work their way up on to the right wing of the enemy, and get ready to charge upon him when Col. Hawkins should arrive with his force, he having been sent for by Gen. Reno to come forward with all possible despatch.

Col. Howard immediately advanced with his two howitzers, which were with Gen. Reno's command. Lieut. Herbert of the Ninth New-York was captain of one, and Lieut. Morris of the same regiment captain of the other. These pieces were run forward in the face of a raking fire from the enemy's batteries until they arrived within a few hundred feet of their guns, when Col. Howard and his brave men opened a brisk fire with telling effect, refusing to give an inch.

The enemy had selected a very desirable position, which enabled them to command the approaches from the road, as well as from the field. They were in a grove on the square side of this half-circle, sheltered by the trees, and in front of their position was a road running east and west, by the edge of the grove. We were approaching

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J. L. Reno (10)
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