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The heroine of Confederate Point. An interesting contemporaneous account of the heroic Defence of Fort Fisher, December 24th and 25th, 1864.

By the Wife of the Commandant, Colonel William Lamb.
[The patriotism and fortitude which animated and sustained the young matron, whose touching letter is here given, was, as is universally admitted, a typical exemplification of the Southern woman in the late war between the States.—Ed.]

In the fall of 1857, a lovely Puritan maiden, still in her teens, was married in Grace church, Providence, Rhode Island, to a Virginia youth, just passed his majority, who brought her to his home in Norfolk, a typical ancestral homestead, where beside the ‘white folks’ there was quite a colony of family servants from the pickaninny just able to crawl to the old grey headed mammy who had nursed ‘ole massa.’ She soon became enamoured of her surroundings and charmed with the devotion of her colored maid, whose sole duty it was to wait upon her young missis. When the John Brown raid burst upon the South and her husband was ordered to Harper's Ferry, there was not a more indignant matron in all Virginia, and when at last secession came, the South did not contain a more enthusiastic little rebel.

On the 15th of May, 1862, a few days after the surrender of Norfolk to the Federals, by her father-in-law, then mayor, amid the excitement attending a captured city, her son Willie was born. Cut off from her husband and subjected to the privations and annoyances incident to a subjugated community, her father insisted upon her coming with her children to his home in Providence; but, notwithstanding she was in a luxurious home, with all that parental love could do for her, she preferred to leave all these comforts to share [302] with her husband the dangers and privations of the South. She vainly tried to persuade Stanton, Secretary of War, to let her and her three children with a nurse return to the South; finally he consented to let her go by flag of truce from Washington to City Point, but without a nurse, and as she was unable to manage three little ones, she left the youngest with his grandparents, and with two others bravely set out for Dixie. The generous outfit of every description which was prepared for the journey and which was carried to the place of embarkation was ruthlessly cast aside by the inspectors on the wharf, and no tears or entreaties or offers of reward by the parents availed to pass anything save a scanty supply of clothing and other necessaries. Arriving in the South, the brave young mother refused the proffer of a beautiful home in Wilmington, the occupancy of the grand old mansion at ‘Orton,’ on the Cape Fear river, but insisted upon taking up her abode with her children and their colored nurse in the upper room of a pilot's house, where they lived until the soldiers of the garrison built her a cottage one mile north of Fort Fisher on the Atlantic beach. In both these homes she was occasionally exposed to the shot and shell fired from blockaders at belated blockade runners.

It was a quaint abode, constructed in most primitive style with three rooms around one big chimney, in which North Carolina pine knots supplied heat and light on winter nights. This cottage became historic and was famed for the frugal but tempting meals, which its charming hostess would prepare for her distinguished guests. Besides the many illustrious Confederate Army and Navy officers who were delighted to find this bit of sunshinny civilization on the wild sandy beach, ensconced among the sand dunes and straggling pines and black-jack, many celebrated English naval officers enjoyed its hospitality under assumed names; Roberts, afterwards the renowned Hobart Pasha, who commanded the Turkish navy, Murray, now Admiral Aynsley, long since retired, after having been rapidly promoted for gallantry and meritorious services in the British navy; the brave but unfortunate Burgoyne, who went down in the British iron-clad Captain in the Bay of Biscay, and the chivalrous Hewitt, who won the Victoria Cross in the Crimea and was knighted for his services as ambassador to King John of Abyssinia, and who, after commanding the Queen's yacht, died lamented as Admiral Hewitt. Besides these there were many genial and gallant merchant [303] captains, among them Halpin, who afterwards commanded the ‘Great Eastern’ while laying ocean cables, and famous war correspondents, Hon. Francis C. Lawley, M. P., correspondent of the London Times and Frank Vizitelli of the London Illustrated News, afterwards murdered in the Soudan. Nor must the handsome and plucky Tom Taylor be forgotten, purser of the ‘Banshee’ and the ‘Night Hawk,’ who, by his coolness and daring, escaped with a boat's crew from the hands of the Federals after capture off the fort, and was endeared to the children as the ‘Santa Claus’ of the war.

At first the little Confederate was satisfied with pork and potatoes, corn-bread and rye coffee, with sorgham sweetening, but after the blockade runners made her acquaintance, the impoverished storeroom was soon filled to overflowing, notwithstanding her heavy requisitions on it for the post hospital, the sick and wounded soldiers and sailors always being a subject of her tenderest solicitude and often the hard worked and poorly fed colored hands blessed the little lady of the cottage for a tempting treat.

Full of stirring events were the two years passed in the cottage on Confederate Point. The drowning of Mrs. Rose Greenough, the famous Confederate spy, off Fort Fisher, and the finding of her body, which was tenderly cared for, and the rescue from the waves, half dead, of Professor Holcombe and his restoration, were incidents never to be forgotten. Her fox hunting with horse and hounds, the narrow escapes of friendly vessels, the fights over blockade runners driven ashore, the execution of deserters, and the loss of an infant son, whose little spirit went out with the tide one sad summer night, all contributed to the reality of this romantic life.

When Porter's fleet appeared off Fort Fisher, December, 1864, it was storm bound for several days, and the little family with their household goods were sent across the river to ‘Orton,’ before Butler's powder-ship blew up. After the Christmas victory over Porter and Butler, the little heroine insisted upon coming back to her cottage, although her husband had procured a home of refuge in Cumberland county. General Whiting protested against her running the risk, for on dark nights her husband could not leave the fort, but she said, ‘if the firing became too hot she would run behind the sand hills as she had done before, and come she would.’

The fleet reappeared unexpectedly on the night of the 12th of January, 1865. It was a dark night, and when the lights of the fleet [304] were reported her husband sent a courier to the cottage to instruct her to pack up quickly and be prepared to leave with children and nurse as soon as he could come to bid them good bye. The garrison barge with a trusted crew was stationed at Craig's Landing, near the cottage. After midnight, when all necessary orders were given for the coming attack, the colonel mounted his horse and rode to the cottage, but all was dark and silent. He found the message had been delivered, but his brave wife had been so undisturbed by the news, that she had fallen asleep and no preparations for a retreat had been made. Precious hours had been lost, and as the fleet would soon be shelling the beach, and her husband have to return to the fort, he hurried them into the boat as soon as dressed, with only what could be gathered up hastily, leaving dresses, toys and household articles, to fall into the hands of the foe. Among the articles left was a writing desk, with the following unfinished letter, which after many years had been returned. It is such a touching picture of those old Confederate days that consent has been given to its publication:

the cottage, January 9th, 1865.
my own dear parents:
I know you have been anxious enough about us all, knowing what a terrible bombardment we have had, but I am glad that I can relieve your mind on our behalf and tell you we are all safe and well, through a most merciful and kind providence. God was with us from the first, and our trust was so firm in him that I can truly say that both Will and I ‘feared no evil.’

I stayed in my comfortable little home until the fleet appeared, when I packed up and went across the river to a large but empty house, of which I took possession; a terrible gale came on which delayed the attack for several days, but Saturday it came at last in all its fury; I could see it plainly from where I was, I had very powerful glasses, and sat on a stile out doors all day watching it—an awful but magnificent sight.

I kept up very bravely (for you know I am brave, and would, if I thought I could, whip Porter and Butler myself), until the last gun had ceased and it began to get dark and still. I was overcome at [305] last and laid my head on the fence and cried for the first and last time during it all. I then got my carriage and rode to a fort near by to learn the news, but my heart failed as I approached it, and I returned to the house and waited a dispatch, which I received about 11 o'clock, saying all was well. I was quite touched with a little incident which occurred during the day; the little ones looked very grave and thoughtful, at last Dick came to me in the midst of the roaring and awful thundering and said: ‘Mamma, I want to pray to God for my papa.’ He knelt down and said his little earnest prayer; then jumped up, exclaiming and dancing about: ‘Oh, sister, I'm so glad! I'm so glad! now God will keep care of my papa!’

The shelling was even more terrific on Sunday, and I, not knowing how long it might continue concluded to go to Fayetteville, and started Sunday noon in a small steamer, with the sick and wounded, to Wilmington, where I was obliged to stay for several days in great suspense, not able to get away and not able to hear directly from Will, as the enemy had cut the wires—and then a martyr to all kinds of rumors—one day heard that Will had lost a leg, &c., &c., but I steadfastly made up my mind to give no credit to anything bad. At last, I heard again, that we had driven our persecutors off, and I returned again to the place I went first, and the next day Will came over for me and took me to the fort, which I rode all over on horseback, but we did not move over for nearly a week. The fort was strewn with missiles of all kinds, it seemed a perfect miracle how any escaped, the immense works were literally skinned of their turf, but not injured in the slightest; not a bomb-proof or a magazine—and there are more than one—touched; the magazine the enemy thought they had destroyed was only a caisson; the men had very comfortable quarters in the fort—pretty little whitewashed houses—but the shells soon set fire to them, making a large fire and dense smoke, but the works are good for dozens of sieges—plenty of everything; particularly plenty of the greatest essential—brave hearts. Our beloved General Whiting was present, but gave up the whole command to Will, to whom he now gives, as is due, the whole credit of building and defending his post, and has urged his promotion to brigadier-general, which will doubtless be received soon, though neither of us really care for it.

We expect the Armada again, and will give him a warmer reception [306] next time. The fort, expecting a longer time of it, was reserving their heaviest fire for nearer quarters. Butler's ‘gallant troops’ came right under one side of the fort, but our grape and canister soon drove them off, and not Porter's shell, which did not happen to be falling that way at that time; they left their traces sufficiently next morning.

The ‘gallant fellow’ who stole the horse from the inside the fort, was doubtless so scared he didn't know much where he was. The true statement of the thing is, that an officer, unauthorized by Will or the general, sent a courier outside the fort with a message to some troops outside, and soon after he left the fort, was attacked and killed by a Yankee sharpshooter hidden under a bridge. The poor body fell and the horse was taken, and the flag spoken of, in the same way, was shot from the parapet and blew outside, when it was taken. When any of them see the inside of the fort they'll never live to tell the tale.

Ah, mother! you all, at home peacefully, do not know the misery of being driven from home by a miserable, cruel enemy! 'Tis a sad sight to see the sick and aged turned out in the cold to seek a shelter. I cannot speak feelingly because of any experience myself, as God is so good to us, and has so favored us with life, health and means, and my dear, good husband has provided me a comfortable home in the interior, where I can be safe.

Will has worried so much about you, dear mother, thinking you would be so anxious about us. He often exclaims, when reading some of the lying accounts: ‘How that will worry Ma!’

How is my darling Willie? We do so want to see our boy. I think Will will have to send for him in the spring. Kiss the dear one dozen of times for his father and mother.

Though it was a very unpleasant Christmas to me, still the little ones enjoyed theirs. Will had imported a crowd of toys for them and they are as happy as possible with them.

I have not heard from my dear home since last August, and you can imagine how very anxious I am to hear, particularly of dear sister Ria. Is she with George? Do write me of all the dear ones I love so much. How I would love to see you all, so much, and home!

I forgot to tell you of the casualties in the fight. Ours were only three killed; about sixty wounded; they were all.

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