Doc. 137.-the attack on Newbern, N. C.
Providence Journal account.
Newbern, N. C., March 19.Friday afternoon, March thirteenth, just before dark, news came into camp that Belger's battery, the Fifth and Twenty-fifth Massachusetts, and some cavalry, had gone out on the Trent road, which lies along the Trent River, and leads to Kinston. Rebel scouts were seen in various directions. Saturday, 14th.--At dawn a strong force under Gen. Petigru placed sixteen guns in position near a small fort opposite the town on the north, across the Neuse River. Two or three thousand infantry supported the artillery. They came into a clearing about sixty yards from the fort, and from my position I could see every movement both in the fort and among the rebels. As soon as two or three guns were in position, they commenced a rapid fire of shell and canister. After a few rounds, they sent in to Colonel Anderson of the Ninety-second New-York, (four hundred and fifty of whom held the place,) a flag of truce demanding a surrender, saying that a combined attack was to be made that day on Newbern by General Longstreet's whole command, and that resistance was useless. To gain time for the gunboats to get into position, Col. Anderson asked for half an hour to send and consult Gen. Foster. The flag went back and returned granting the half-hour, and when it was up came in again to see the result. The messenger had not returned, and Col. Anderson replied: “My orders are to hold this place, and I shall never surrender it.” During this interval the rebels had put all their guns in position, straightened their lines, and formed their infantry in three lines behind the guns. General Pettigru was mounted on a large white horse, and was constantly riding up and down the line, giving orders, etc. When the flag went back the third time and the result was known, the rebels opened the most rapid and terrific fire, and the fragments of shell, the canister and grape fell in the water this side of the fort, so that the water looked like a pond in a hailstorm. The men in the fort not wishing to show their strength, lay close behind the sand wall and waited for a charge. In their four hours fight only two men were hurt, and three slightly by a shell. The boys got ready for the charge by biting off cartridges and putting them up before them on the logs, so as to be ready to fire fast. The camp in the fort was completely riddled, more than one hundred shots taking effect on a small building occupied as the Colonel's quarters. The trees were cut and splintered. A thirty-pound Parrott threw shells across the river, and one struck within a hundred yards of the camp of the Fifth Rhode Island, just at the fort. It did not burst, and stands at my feet in my tent. You will soon have a chance to inspect this in Rhode Island, which you will do with all the more interest, as it is a British shell and a most splendid thing. The gunboats were late in getting into position, as the Hunchback was aground, and others were on the other side of the town. A schooner with one gun, manned with negroes, lay in good position, and at once entered the fray with great gusto, and sent her neat compliments directly to the spot. I stood thirty or forty yards from the schooner and saw the men work. There was only one white man on board, and when men tell me the negroes will not fight, I shall beg leave to differ with them in opinion. The gunboats were struck a number of times. For nearly four hours the rebels had it nearly all their own way; but time brings changes. I have seen a skedaddle. The gunboats came around from the Trent River, and commenced to pour forth excellent strains of welcome music; and if you had been there, you would have seen a skedaddle too. The batteries in town and the gunboats threw from six to one hundred pound shells, and the rebels went into the bushes faster than they came out. Some fifteen or twenty rebels were said to be killed, and thirty or forty wounded. One thirty-pound siege-gun burst and killed a number of their own men, and is now in the fort. One one hundred pound shell from the Hunchback killed six rebels. They attempted to creep up in the afternoon and plant a battery in the woods below, but were unable to get a foot-hold. Just before dinner a train of platform-cars with a locomotive in the rear, and a twelve pound brass Napoleon on the front car, stopped before our camp, and in twenty minutes from the receipt of the order we were dashing out to the camp of the Fifty-eighth Pennsylvania, Colonel Jones, doing picket-duty some eight miles from Newbern, on the Kinston Railroad. Reports from headquarters came that a force of eight or ten thousand men, with thirty pieces of artillery and some cavalry had reached a point on our flank, nearer Newbern than ourselves, and Col. Jones was ordered, if pressed, to retire on Newbern, fighting his way as he came in. Captain Douglass of the Fifth Rhode Island and one company of the Fifty-eighth Pensylvania went up the railroad, and the enemy in small force retired beyond Coal Creek. At dusk the outer pickets were driven in. Col. Arnold suggested that tattoo be beaten at several points. The cars were kept running and the enemy would suppose our force much larger than in fact it was. The scouts reported a small force within half a mile of a camp at nine o'clock. Major Tew of the Fifth Rhode Island, with the companies of Captains Gregg and Moran, and one piece of artillery, were posted to defend the road leading from the Trent road to our camp, and the other end of which was supposed to be in possession of the enemy. Major Tew spent the night in throwing up a rifle-pit, and every preparation was made by Cols. Jones and Arnold for a desperate defence. Col. Arnold informed me that unless an attack was made before morning, one would not be made. We slept with watchful interest to hear the whistle of the first shell, and heard it not. Early in the morning (Sunday, fifteenth) Cols. Jones and Arnold concluded if the  rebels would not attack, they would go out and feel them. Four companies of the Fifth Rhode Island and a company of cavalry went two miles toward Kinston on the railroad, then four miles to the left to Red House road toward Kinston, some four or five miles to Deep Gully, a small, deep creek in a deep cut. The ashes were warm at the camp-fire, and the trees were splintered from the firing of the previously day. We learned that Belger's battery was planted in the face of the enemy and under fire, supported by two regiments of infantry, and just as affairs were beginning to he lively, an order came to retire on Newbern. Deep Gully bridge was torn up and a large pine tree lay in and across the road just this side. Sixteen volunteers went some two or three miles on and found the campfires burning, but saw no soldiers. Just as we had finished our work and were about to return, two or three companies of cavalry came dashing past from the direction of Newbern. On our return we met General Amory with some two thousand men and some artillery moving out. The force of Gen. Amory encamped about three miles from Deep Gully, and next morning went some four miles toward Kinston, and formed in line of battle, and sent some cavalry on still further, but saw no one, but were informed that the evening before some twenty thousand troops passed in return to Kinston. In our own opinion we had done no great work, but when we saw the force that Gen. Foster thought necessary to make this reconnoissance, and do what we had done some hours before with a few hundred men, we thought that possibly it might have been a respectably brave thing to dash ten miles into the enemy's country, and so move as not to be caught napping. There are thousands in the North who curse the army for inaction, who, if they knew half the brave things done by the men in the field, would be shamed to silence by their deeds of valor. Col. Jones and his heroes of the Fifty-eighth Pennsylvania, have done some splendid work, and by his vigilance has made the bushwhackers cry for quarter. Returning to the camp of the Fifty-eighth, at Bachelor's Creek, in good cheer and safe, we found the train waiting to take us to Camp Anthony. Rousing cheers went up from our boys as we reluctantly left the camp of the Fifty-eighth, and it is but just to say, that from both officers and men we received a soldier's welcome, and we remember them with a soldier's love. In the darkness of the last hours of the holy Sabbath we reached our home in the tents. A strange and eventful Sabbath. No music of the church bell, no voice of prayer, no hymn of praise to God. “Burns's church,” a notable ruin, where stood the only church in all that region, was on our route, and as from the columns of armed men, in the calm, golden sunlight of God's holy day, I looked up at its standing chimney, and charred remains, I remembered that in the commotions of earth ordained institutions seem to give way, but when obstacles have crumbled, new and more lustrous temples arise.
H. S. W.