of his sable braves to recross our lines in safety when his work should be accomplished. Collecting his available forces — about one thousand eight hundred men — at two points, the intrenched camp four miles from Norfolk, and a point conveniently distant from Portsmouth, the columns marched at daylight on the fifth ult., leaving so secretly that your correspondent was the only representative of the press aware of the movement, and a week later the public first learned, through the Times, that the main object of the raid had been accomplished. The column, commanded by General Wild in person, consisting of the Second North-Carolina and the Fifth United States, encamped the first night at Deep Creek, nine miles from Portsmouth. Following the tow-path of the Dismal Swamp Canal, which commences here, a march of eighteen miles was accomplished the next day, the men encamping at night on Ferrebee's farm. A halt was made here until the middle of the following day, boats with rations and forage being expected to arrive. These not appearing, General Wild determined to advance, trusting to Providence and the country for the subsistence of his men. Encamping that night at South-Mills, the column was started the next morning in the direction of Camden Court-House. The region abounded in agricultural wealth, was thickly settled, and contained many slaves. All visible contrabands were invited to “fall in,” and parties were detailed to search the houses of the planters. In many instances the slaves were found locked up, when the doors were broken open, the teams of their masters impressed, and they were taken along with their household property. In this way the train was hourly extended, until by night it was half a mile in length. The inhabitants being almost exclusively “secesh,” the colored boys were allowed to forage at will along the road. Returning to South-Mills, General Wild sent his train of contrabands, numbering seventy-five wagons, under guard to Portsmouth. A battery of artillery and two companies of cavalry, from General Getty's division, reinforced him here. Arriving at River Bridge the next day, it was found to have been destroyed by the guerrillas, nothing of it remaining visible but the charred tops of the piles. Learning that a house and barn near by belonged to one of the guerrilla band, General Wild adopted a novel means to restore the bridge and punish the bushwhacker at the same time. In ten minutes, a thousand men were engaged in demolishing the house and barn; suitable portions of the timber were selected and drawn to the creek, and in six hours the whole force was across and pushing on to Elizabeth City. Intelligence having reached me that Elizabeth City had been occupied by General Wild, without opposition, a few hours after forwarding my despatch to that effect to the Times, in company with Colonel Draper, of the Second North-Carolina, who had been detained in Norfolk by the trial of the guerrilla chief, whom he had lately captured, I was in the saddle and on my way thither — a dismal, lonely ride before me of nearly fifty miles. We left the camp near Portsmouth about nine o'clock in the evening, and, dashing into the darkness, arrived in an hour at Deep Creek, where a regiment of General Getty's brigade is now stationed. A brief delay here, caused by the countersign differing from the one in our possession, and we entered the tow-path of the Dismal Swamp Canal, which commences at this point. Passing several picket-fires, at each of which a cavalryman cried, “Dismount one; advance, and give the countersign!” we came at length to the reserve. This consisted of some twenty men, belonging to the Fifth Pennsylvania cavalry, who were seated around a blazing fire of fence-rails, near a deserted house, with several prisoners that had been brought in. This we learned was the last of our picket-posts, that it was twenty-five miles to Elizabeth City, and that there were plenty of guerrillas ahead. It was about midnight when we bade our friends good-by, and entered the enemy's country. We were now in the dreariest and wildest part of the Dismal Swamp; the darkness was dense, the air damp, and the ghastly silence was broken only by the hooting of owls and the crying of wildcats. For two hours we rode through the Stygian blackness of the forest, when we arrived at South-Mills — a collection of about twenty houses — where we stopped to rest our horses. Here we left the canal and descended into another swamp of Hades. The narrow, crooked road was flooded with water, and crossed innumerable little rickety bridges, over which our horses picked their steps with great caution and reluctance. A mile of this road to Jordan, a suspicion I had expressed that we had missed the way, strengthened every minute. Turning a bend, a picket-fire, with four men standing by it, appeared ahead, while further on a large camp-fire lighted up the forest. What could this mean? We knew General Wild to be in Elizabeth City. Were our friends the guerrillas on the war-path? or had a rebel force come down from the Blackwater? Turning our horses aside, after a brief consultation, we decided to advance, come what might. In a moment we were challenged. Colonel Draper dismounted, and led his horse toward the picket. Presently we heard exclamations of welcome, and then a call of “All right-come on!” Riding up, we found that the picket was from Colonel Draper's own regiment, and learned that General Wild had left a considerable force behind to guard the bridge he had built. I need not say that this was an agreeable surprise. In a few moments we reached the camp, which presented a scene of singular picturesqueness. All about were strewn timbers, boards, joists, shingles, and the miscellaneous debris of the buildings torn down, among which, under shelter of every imaginable device, the sable soldiers were stretched upon beds of corn-stalks, while a hundred blazing fires threw their glare upon the sleeping figures, and lighted up the green cedar swamp around.
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
Doc . 3 .-attack on the defences of Mobile .
Surrender of Fort Powell .
Battle of Olustee .
Battle of Pleasant Hill .
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.