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Doc. 203.-battle at Washington, N. C.


Boston Traveller account.

Newbern, N. C., September 7, 1862.
the usual Sunday morning quiet of our camp was somewhat disturbed to-day by exciting news from Washington. It was announced that the town had been attacked, and all were eager for correct intelligence of the facts. After considerable inquiry of persons who were in Washington at the time of the assault, and a comparison of the several relations, we think the facts are substantially as follows:

There were stationed at Washington one company of the New-York Third artillery, having six pieces, five companies of cavalry, two companies of the First North-Carolina Union regiment, and two companies, B and D, of the Massachusetts Twenty-fourth. Off the town were lying the gunboats Picket and Louisiana.

About a week ago there were very credible rumors of an intended attack upon the place. In fact, a North-Carolinian, from whom correct information had been received several times before, stated that he had seen the order addressed to a rebel officer in the neighborhood, to take Washington at all hazards. This order emanated from Gov. Clark, possibly from a desire to signalize the close of his administration with some brilliant military exploit. Whether the report of the existance of such order was ever credited, and extra means adopted to prevent a surprise, does not appear. Yesterday morning the correctness of the story was fully demonstrated.

An expedition, consisting of three or four companies of cavalry, and as many pieces of artillery, had that morning been ordered out on the Plymouth road. Scarcely had they got fairly out of one end of the town, before in at the other came the rebel cavalry at the top of their speed, chasing our retreating pickets, some of whom they probably captured, as some horses came in riderless.

The were followed as closely as possible by a body of infantry numbering, it is supposed, between three hundred and four hundred. This occurred a little before five o'clock in the morning, before it was fairly light, and while so foggy that objects were discernible at only a few yards' distance. So complete was the surprise that the pickets had little opportunity to give the alarm. Certainly it was not given in time to get our men under arms — hardly in time for the officers to hurry on their clothes and rush to the barracks — before the rebel cavalry came clattering, yelling, and firing promiscuously down the street. Unobstructed they swept full two thirds of the way through the town, when word having been despatched to the expedition which had just left, indications were given of its return. As the rebel cavalry passed down, their infantry made a dash at the barracks of the detachment of the Twenty-fourth, surrounding and firing upon them. A like demonstration was made against the quarters of the Union Carolinians. But their cavalry being driven back, the infantry felt it expedient to retire also. This gave our men, now thoroughly aroused, an opportunity to fall in and sally forth to the contest.

And now ensued a street-fight of nearly three hours. The fog still continued, so that in firing our troops were compelled to rely rather upon the sense of hearing than sight. It was found that the rebels had made a stand two or three blocks back from the river, and near where four pieces of artillery had been left with little or no guard.

Guns were planted in the most convenient positions in the streets, while the infantry were some of them supporting the guns, and some of them endeavoring to smoke out the rebels from their coverts. The gunboat Louisiana, Captain Renshaw, commenced throwing shell over the town where it was supposed the rebels were; while about this time, as if to add terror to the scene, the gunboat Picket blew up with a most fearful explosion, killing and wounding from fifteen to eighteen men. [609]

After a time, our forces having been drawn out o the range, Capt. Renshaw pointed his guns right towards the houses behind which the rebels were supposed to be sheltered. Whether it were owing to this, or to the failure of their ammunition, or to the conviction that they had done enough for glory, their fire after a while slackened, and then wholly ceased. They had retired from the town, though not without taking with them foul pieces of artillery which had been left needlessly exposed. About a couple of hours afterward a body of cavalry followed them several miles out of town, though the rebels had put too great a distance between them and their pursuers to be overtaken. A couple of rebel ambulances, and about a dozen of their wounded were brought in.

The result of the attack, notwithstanding the success of the surprise, was the repulse of the foe. Our loss from the action cannot be more than fifteen men in killed and wounded, while it is probable they have a very few prisoners. They have, it is true, four of our field-pieces, which, on a favorable opportunity, we shall be happy to take off their hands. The explosion of the Picket, disastrous as it was, was in no degree caused by the rebels. It is supposed to have been caused by the carelessness of some one in entering the magazine.

The rebel loss was much severer than our own. Over thirty dead bodies had been discovered when our informants left Washington; and as some of these were found quite out of town, where they had been reached by the shells of the gunboat, it is not improbable that still others may yet be discovered. As many as ten or twelve of their wounded are in our hands, as well as about twenty uninjured prisoners. Had it not been for the loss of those four guns, left so exposed, we could feel quite contented with the result. As it is, we think the attack is not likely to be repeated very soon, and are sure that Gov. Clark's order to take Washington at all hazards has not been obeyed.

To what extent the people of the town, whose property has been respected, and whose liberty has been unrestricted by our forces, aided in the attack, does not yet fully appear. There are abundant reasons for believing that many of them knew of the intended assault, that information was conveyed to the rebels of the exact position of affairs in town, and that some of them aided in the fight, as far as they were able. It is credibly reported that our men were fired upon from the houses, and that some of the women of the town amused themselves by hurling glass bottles and other delicate missiles into our ranks. It is believed that Mr. James Grist, perhaps the wealthiest man in Washington, and the most influential one now remaining there, led the rebels through his own grounds into the town. A favorite pony of his was found wounded in the street, and some of the Union soldiers are ready to swear they saw him on it guiding the secesh forces. He and many others are under arrest. A thorough search has been made for arms, and not a few of the inevitable double-barreled guns found.

Our troops, though surprised, are said to have behaved admirably. The North-Carolina men, of whose usefulness there have been doubts in some minds, conducted themselves with great propriety, while one of their officers, Lieut. C. E. Lyon, formerly a sergeant in the Massachusetts Twenty-fourth, is highly complimented in the official despatches of Col. Potter, the commandant of the post.

One little incident of the fight is worthy of mention. On approaching our hospital the rebels showed fight, but, on being told what the building was, said they would respect it. The nurses, however, were to consider themselves as prisoners, and a guard was placed over them. But when the tide of battle turned, and the rebels were driven back, the nurses rose upon, and captured, and retained their guard!

Immediately on the receipt of the intelligence here, Gen. Foster started for Washington to take such measures as the exigencies of the case demand. We shall be disappointed if a week goes by and the rebels are not more severely chastised than they were yesterday morning.--(See Supplement.)


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Plymouth, N. C. (North Carolina, United States) (1)
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Renshaw (2)
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