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