Ransom's Brigade. From the Richmond Dispatch, February 25, 1901.Its gallant conduct in the Capture of Plymouth.
By Edwin O. Moore, of Company A, Twenty-fourth North Carolina Regiment.In the winter of 1861-62, by the capture of Hatteras, Roanoke Island, and New Berne, all the tidewater region of North Carolina east of Wilmington lay at the mercy of the Union forces. To render these conquests permanent, and to serve as bases for further inroads into the State, they seized and strongly fortified several strategic points: among these was Plymouth, situated on the south bank of the Roanoke river, a few miles above the Albemarle sound. The region of country thus brought under subjection included the principal waterways of the State, the most valuable fisheries of the South, and many thousand acres of fertile and productive agricultural lands. Indeed, on account of the fall of Roanoke Island, Southeast Virginia, including Norfolk, Portsmouth, and its great navy-yard, was abandoned to the enemy. These disasters naturally produced great depression among the people of North Carolina, and in certain quarters discontent and unmeasured criticism of the Confederate authorities. But there was no wavering in devotion to the cause; the State contributed her treasure, almost to the last dollar, and her sons, to the number of 120,000, before the conflict ended. The Confederate Government made an ineffectual effort to regain New Berne in the winter of 1862-63, but it was not until April, 1864, that any important success to regain the lost ground was accomplished. This was the recapture of Plymouth, by a force under General Robert F. Hoke, consisting of his own division, composed of North Carolinians, Georgians, and Virginians, and the brigade of General M. W. Ransom, composed of the Twenty-fourth, Twenty-fifth, Thirty-fifth, Forty-ninth, and Fifty-sixth North Carolina regiments. The Eighth North  Carolina Regiment was temporarily attached to Ransom's Brigade for this expedition, and it should be mentioned that Branch's Artillery of Virginia formed a part of the brigade. The first step taken for the recapture of Plymouth was the construction of the Albemarle, a small, but powerful, iron-clad steam ram. This boat had been commenced the year previous at Halifax on the Roanoke, and when completed the forces under General Hoke were put in motion and arrived at their destination on the evening of April 17, 1864. The town of Plymouth was directly accessible from two directions, the west and south. By a flank movement it could be approached from the east, but on the north was the river, held by a fleet of gunboats, and beyond was an impassible swamp. The object of the preliminary operations was to enable the Albemarle to pass the river batteries on the western side. The dispositions of the forces for this purpose was as follows: General Hoke's brigade approached the western side of the town and General Ransom's the southern. In the absence of the official reports of this battle the details of the narrative which follows must be confined mainly to the operations of Ransom's brigade, and even these to the limited view of the writer's observations and experience. So, on the evening of the 17th of April, while Ransom's brigade was resting about a mile distant from the southern fortifications, Colonel William J. Clarke, of the Twenty-fourth North Carolina Regiment, called aside the officers of Company A, of which the writer was a member, and instructed them that he wished the company to deploy as skirmishers, and develop what force held a certain point which he indicated, and drive them if possible. The order was immediately obeyed, and the company encountered a spirited resistance in a few moments. The object for which Company A had been sent out had scarcely been accomplished before the entire brigade advanced in fine array, firing as they moved. This demonstration drew forth the concentrated fire of all the enemy's batteries on the south side, including the heavy guns on board their fleet. General Hoke was making a similar show of attack on the western side, and the two demonstrations so engaged the attention of the enemy that the Albemarle, commanded by Captain  J. W. Cook, succeeding in passing the batteries which guarded the river approach and assailed the fleet in front of the town. Swift and thorough was the work of our little boat, in a short time the entire fleet of the enemy were either sent to the bottom or driven out of harbor. The Albemarle succeeded in withdrawing to a place of safety, and the remaining forces withdrew for the evening. But the work of capturing Plymouth was by no means accomplished. All of its lines of defence were still intact. Fort Williams, a powerful earthwork, thrown up to a considerable height, commanded the field directly south and enfiladed the approaches, both east and west. Extending from this fort to the river, and enclosing the town, were lines of breast-works. The roads leading into the enclosure were protected by stockades, or timbers firmly set in the ground. The daytime of April 18th and 19th was occupied in resting by a portion of our forces, and in reconnoitering by others. General Hoke selected the eastern front as the most feasible point of assault along the riverside, since the fleet was not there to interfere. To this work Ransom's brigade was assigned. Late on the evening of the 19th Ransom approached a creek of some depth but little width, which was stoutly defended by an outpost of the enemy. By the aid of Branch's Battery these were forced to move back, and quickly—a pontoon having been laid—a line of skirmishers passed over and took position at the crest of a gentle rise from she creek. As soon as possible the brigade passed over and took position. A detachment of one company from each regiment had been made, Company A, of the Twenty-fourth, being of the number. These were deployed as skirmishers and advanced some distance in front of the principal line. We inferred from these arrangements that an assault upon the enemy's works was contemplated, and that we of the skirmish line were expected to lead. Soon word came along the line of skirmishers that Captain Durham, of the Forty-ninth, would command us. From this we knew that serious work was ahead. I must pause here and pay a passing tribute to the memory of this officer. He had already distinguished himself for skill and courage in the service. However, on account of his superior business qualities he was offered the post of quartermaster  for his regiment. This he would accept only on condition that he should be permitted to participate in all the dangers to which his command might be exposed. Thus it came about that the quartermaster of the Forty-ninth Regiment was frequently placed in command of detachments, both of infantry and cavalry, which required cool courage and skillful leadership. Young, handsome, and lovable, he was popular with the men. A few weeks later he gave his life to the cause near Drewry's Bluff, and rarely has a braver spirit ascended from a battlefield than was that of Captain Durham, of the Forty-ninth. The information that Captain Durham would command inspired us with the faith that we would be well led. But there were long hours of waiting. The disposition of the forces was completed by 9 o'clock. The moon was at her full, and not a cloud obscured her light. We had not more than fairly taken position before the enemy turned its batteries upon us. All night long its shells hurled above and around us, and sometimes exploded in our very midst. But no response did we make; dead silence reigned throughout our lines. Action under such circumstances enhances the courage of men; inaction weakens it. Then it is that thoughtful men engage in introspection and sit in judgment upon their past lives. They realize fully the force of Hamlet's conclusion that
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,But the longest night, no matter what its horrors, must have an end. At the first appearance of light in the East the quiet, but firm, command of Durham, ‘Forward, men!’ was given. Instantly every man of the skirmishers was upon his feet and began to press forward. The ground over which we were to move was a level plane several hundred yards in extent. All obstructions had been removed, and it had been used by the enemy as a parade-ground and a place for target practice.  The pickets gave us a parting shot and retired quickly. We returned the compliment and pushed forward. When within fifty yards of the enemy's works of defence the writer was brought to the ground by an enfilading shot from the left from Fort Williams, which was pouring down a leaden hail upon our advance. But Ransom's main line was up, silent, grim, unbroken, irresistible, firing not a shot. It swept on and over the enemy's works, and then, as if every energy had been pent up for that supreme moment, the men gave forth such a yell as only Confederate victors could give. But the voices of 500 comrades, equally brave, who had started on that perilous march, were not heard in that exultant shout. They lay dead or wounded on the plane. General Hoke had well held the enemy to its defences on the western side, but by the success of Ransom, its lines were untenable, and all of the enemy who had not been captured retired to Fort Williams. This stronghold continued the struggle a few hours longer, and then surrendered, making the Confederate victory complete. It was the fortune of the writer to occupy a place in the line which defended Marye's Hill at Fredericksburg, and to witness the repeated onsets of Burnside's thousands against that strong position. Well does he remember how Meigher's celebrated brigade from New York, selecting a somewhat different point of attack, and advancing in column under cover of some buildings, sought by a rush to penetrate our lines only to recoil wellnigh destroyed by the blow which it received. But not upon the famous field of Fredericksburg did he see anything which surpassed the conduct of Ransom's Brigade at Plymouth. Indeed, the late Colonel Duncan K. McRae, of North Carolina, declared that it was very similar in many respects, and compared favorably in all respects, to the storming of the Malakoff in the Crimean war.
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard, their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.