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Xxiii. The War along the Atlantic coast in 1864.

the XXXVIIIth Congress having assembled,1 and the House been organized by the friends of the Administration and the WarSchuyler Colfax, of Indiana, Speaker,2 and Edward McPherson, of Pennsylvania, Clerk--President Lincoln transmitted next day his Annual Message, to which he appended a Proclamation of Amnesty, which he therewith issued, offering a free pardon, on condition of taking an oath to support the Federal Constitution and Union, and also
abide by and faithfully support all acts of Congress passed during the existing Rebellion having reference to slaves, so long and so far as not modified by decision of the Supreme Court.

Exceptions to this proffer of amnesty were made in case of all who had thrown up seats in Congress, Federal judgeships, or commissions in the army or navy of the United States, in order to embark in the [529] Rebellion; all civil or diplomatic officers or agents of the Rebel Government; all officers in the Confederate army, above the rank of Colonel; and of all who had been engaged in treating our colored soldiers or their officers “otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war.” This proffer was accepted by very few, and seemed to be regarded with even more contempt than indignation by the Rebel oracles. Where all who are prominently, responsibly engaged in a rebellion are excepted from a proffer of amnesty, those not thus exempted are apt to resent the discrimination as implying an inadequate appreciation of their consequence.

Operations against Charleston having been but languidly prosecuted since the complete conquest of Morris island, the failure of Dahlgren's boat attack on Sumter, and his refusal to attempt to pass its ruins with his iron-clads and fight his way up to the city, Gen. Gillmore decided to employ a part of his force in a fresh expedition to Florida. The President, apprised of this design, commissioned John Hay, one of his private secretaries, as major, and sent3 him down to Hilton Head to accompany the proposed expedition, under expectations, founded on the assurances of refugees, that Florida was ripe for amnesty and restoration to the Union.

Gillmore's force, under the immediate command of Gen. Truman Seymour, embarked4 on 20 steamers and 8 schooners, and was off the northern mouth of the St. John's next forenoon; occupying Jacksonville unresisted at 5 P. M. The few Rebel soldiers fired and ran as our troops debarked, to find the place in ruins, and very few residents remaining. A railroad train from Tallahassee had arrived and departed that day; but the rails were to have been taken up that week for use elsewhere.

At 3 P. M. next day,5 our troops moved westward parallel with the railroad--Col. Guy V. Henry, with the cavalry, leading: the intent being to surprise the Rebel Gen. Finnegan at Camp Finnegan, 8 miles west. The advance was skillfully and bravely made; but only 150 men were at the camp — Finnegan, with the residue, having hurriedly fallen back. Henry evaded a Rebel cavalry force covering the front, and dashed into the camp unannounced; capturing 4 guns, with a large amount of camp equipage and commissary stores, and a few prisoners — but not till the telegraph had had time to give the alarm to Baldwin, beyond. Henry pushed on at 4 A. M., and was in Baldwin at 7; capturing another gun, three cars, and $500,000 worth of provisions and munitions. He had a skirmish at the south fork of St. Mary's, 5 miles farther on, and drove the enemy, but lost 17 men. At (P. M., he was in Sanderson, 40 miles from Jacksonville; where he captured and destroyed much property; pushing on, at 2 A. M., very nearly to Lake City, almost half way from the coast to Tallahassee; but here, at 11 A. M., he found Finnegan in position, very stubborn, and too strong to be moved: so he fell back 5 miles, bivouacked in a drenching rain, and telegraphed to Seymour, now at Sanderson with part of his infantry, for orders and food. It was reported that Finnegan, [530] though he had 3,000 men, fell back from Lake City that night. Whether he did so or not, the belief that he did probably misled Seymour into his great blunder thereafter.

Gillmore had followed his lieutenant down to Jacksonville and out so far as Baldwin;6 returning directly to Jacksonville, and thence7 to Hilton Head; without a shadow of suspicion that Seymour contemplated, or (without orders) would attempt, a farther advance. In fact, he had telegraphed to Gillmore from Sanderson on the 12th that

I last night ordered Col. Henry to fall back to this point. I am destroying all public property here, and shall go back to the south fork of St. Mary's as soon as Henry returns. I hope he will be in this morning.

Gillmore at once responded:

I want your command at and beyond Baldwin concentrated at Baldwin without delay.

Seymour replied, insisting that

To leave the south fork of the St. Mary's will make it impossible for us to advance again ;

but intimated no purpose to make such advance without orders. Gillmore thereupon returned to Hilton Head; and was very soon thunderstruck by receiving8 a letter from Seymour, saying that he had been compelled to remain where his men could be fed; but adding
Not enough supplies could be accumulated to permit me to execute my intention of moving to the Suwanee river. But I now propose to go without supplies;

and asking that an iron-clad demonstration be made up the Savannah, to prevent the dispatch of Rebel forces from Georgia to Finnegan!

Gillmore at once wrote him a strong remonstrance against the madness of his project — which was, in effect, to pit his (at most) 6,000 disposable men against whatever force the Rebels, with all Georgia and Alabama to draw from, and railroads at command, might see fit to concentrate upon him. Gen. Turner was sent post-haste with this letter; but it was too late. When he reached Jacksonville, he met there tidings that Seymour was already fighting at Olustee.

Seymour had left Barber's (the south fork aforesaid) that morning,9 with a few short of 5,000 men; advancing westward along the highway which runs generally parallel with the railroad, frequently crossing it, till about 2 P. M., when the head of his column ran square into the dead-fall which Finnegan had set for him. Our men were faint with hunger and a hard march of 16 miles over miry or sandy ground, until, two or three miles east of Olustee station, our van reached a point where the railroad is carried straight through a long cypress swamp, while the wagon-road makes a square turn to the right, crossing the railroad, in order to avoid and flank the swamp. Here Finnegan had disposed his men, under cover of the swamp and adjacent pine forest, with his flanks thoroughly protected by the former and by a lakelet known as Ocean Pond; while our men, rushing heedlessly, headlong on, were at close quarters before they suspected that they were to be seriously resisted.

Our strength lay in artillery, whereof we had 16 pieces to 4--Finnegan having lost most of his in his hasty retreat from Camp Finnegan — but our guns were rushed up to the [531] very edge of the woods which concealed and sheltered the foe, so that their sharp-shooters picked off the artillerists and shot down the horses as though enjoying a sportsman's bat-tue; while our infantry, half formed, and not well armed, were pushed into the slaughter-pen with equal stupidity. Had our line been formed half a mile back from the enemy's, and there simply held while our gunners shelled the woods, we might not have achieved a brilliant success, but we could not have been beaten; but Hamilton's battery went into action, under a heavy fire of musketry, barely 150 yards from the Rebel front, and in 20 minutes had lost 40 out of 50 horses and 45 out of 82 men — when what was left of it recoiled; leaving 2 of its 4 guns where its life-blood had been blunderingly squandered. And this was a fair specimen of the generalship displayed on our side throughout.

Col. Henry's cavalry (40th Mass.), with Maj. Stevens's battalion, and the 7th Conn. (infantry), Col. J. R. Hawley, were in the advance, and drew the first fire of the mainly concealed enemy. Hawley, finding his regiment falling under a concentric fire, ordered up the 7th New Hampshire, shire, Col. Abbott, to its support; Hamilton's, Elder's, and Langdon's batteries also coming into action. The 7th N. H. was a tried and trusty regiment; but it had been lately deprived of its beloved Spencer repeating rifles, and armed instead with Springfield muskets which it pronounced in bad order and unfit for service; so it was not in good condition for maintaining a position in which it was rapidly losing at least ten men for every one of the enemy it had even a chance to hit. It was soon demoralized; when Hawley ordered up the 8th U. S. colored, Col. Chas. W. Fribley--a regiment never before under fire. It held its position in front for an hour and a half, losing 350 killed or wounded (its Colonel mortally); when Col. Barton led his brigade, consisting of the 48th (his own), 49th, and 115th New York, hitherto on the right, into the hottest forefront of the battle. Col. Sammons, of the 115th, was among the first of his regiment disabled; 7 of its captains or lieutenants were killed or wounded; one of its companies lost 32 out of 59 men. The 47th had its Col. (Moore) wounded, and 6 captains or lieutenants killed or disabled.

Our left column, Col. Montgomery, came last into the fight, just in time to stop a Rebel charge. The 54th Mass. went in first, followed by the 1st N. C. (both Black). They were of course overpowered; but the latter left its Col., Lt.-Col., Major, and Adjutant, dead on the field. It was admitted that these two regiments had saved our little army from being routed. For Seymour — who had fought with reckless gallantry throughout, rushing from point to point, wherever Rebel bullets flew thickest — profited by their charge to reestablish what remained of his batteries farther to the rear; and now, giving four parting volleys of grape and canister, he ordered a retreat; which was covered by the 7th Connecticut, and executed deliberately, and without effective pursuit.10 We brought off 1,000 of our wounded, and probably left 250 more, beside [532] quite as many, dead or dying, to the mercy of the Rebels and the vultures.11 The enemy admitted a loss of but 80 killed and 650 wounded. Seymour retreated nearly or quite to Jacksonville, burning provisions, &c., worth at least $1,000,000. And that virtually ended all hope of the recovery of Florida to the Union before the entire collapse of the Rebellion.

Few disasters were encountered during the War so utterly inexcusable. It was Braddock's defeat repeated, after the lapse of a century. Our soldiers fought as well as ever men ought to fight; they were abundantly able to have routed the enemy; they were simply sacrificed by a leader brave to rashness, and possessing every soldierly quality but the ability to plan and direct the movements of an independent force. Left to himself, he was fit only to afford fresh verification of the old axiom, that, against stupidity, even the gods are impotent. And now, President Lincoln--who had never dreamed of such a folly — was assailed and held up to execration as having fooled away 2,000 men in a sordid attempt to manufacture for himself three additional votes in the approaching Presidential election.

During this Winter, extensive salt-works in West Bay, near St. Andrew's sound, belonging to the Confederate Government, and making, 400 bushels per day, were destroyed by order of Rear-Admiral Bailey, with certain private salt-works in that vicinity; also, salt-works on Lake Ocola: the whole being valued at $3,000,000.

Next Summer,12 Gen. Birney, under orders from Gen. Foster, moved out from Jacksonville to Callahan station, on the Fernandina railroad, burning bridges, two cars, &c.; and a number of petty raids were made from Jacksonville to Whitesville, and to the south fork of the St. Mary's; while, ultimately, Baldwin and Camp Milton were occupied for a season by detachments of our forces; and several skirmishes took place, but with no decided advantage to either party. A meeting at Jacksonville, May 20th, had assumed the style and title of a State Convention of the Unionists of Florida, and deputed six delegates to represent her in the Union National Convention at Baltimore — which some of them did, to their own undoubted satisfaction. But, to all practical intents, the battle of Olustee was the first and last event of consequence that happened in Florida during the year 1864, and thence to the close of the war.

In South Carolina, while the long-range range firing at Charleston from Morris island and the surrounding forts was lazily and irregularly kept up through most of the year, eliciting fitful responses from Rebel forts and batteries, there was no movement of importance; save that, in July, four brigades (Birney's, Saxton's, Hatch's, and Schimmelfennig's) were quietly assembled from the sea islands held by us and from Florida, pushed 13 over to Seabrook island, and thence, attended by two gunboats on the North Edisto, to John's island, and so to a place called Deckerville,14 two miles west of Legareville. The weather wounded, of course;) with 5 guns and 2,000 [533] was intensely hot; the dusty roads lined by thick brush, which excluded air, yet afforded little or no shade; so that marches of barely 5 or 6 miles per day were accomplished with great fatigue and peril. Our men had no cannon. A Rebel battery, well supported, was found ill position three miles north-west of Legareville; which the 26th U. S. Colored was finally sent15 forward to take, and made five spirited charges upon, losing 97 killed and wounded. But they were 600 without cannon, against an equal force strongly posted, with 4 guns; so they were worsted, and their Col. (Silliman) falling from sunstroke, they were called off; and the expedition returned,16 after parading about the islands for another week. What it meant, if it meant any thing, or why force enough was not sent up to take the Rebel battery, if that was deemed desirable, remains among the mysteries of strategy. The foolish, wasteful fight was called by our men “The battle of bloody bridge.”

In North Carolina-our forces here having been slender since Foster's 12,000 veterans were made over to the South Carolina department in 1863--the initiative was taken this year by Gen. Pickett, commanding the Rebel department, who suddenly struck17 our outpost at Bachelor's creek, 8 miles above Newbern, held by the 132d New York, carrying it by assault, and making 100 prisoners. Following up his success, he threatened Newbern; and a force under Capt. Wood actually carried, by boarding from boats, the fine gunboat boat Underwriter, lying close to the wharf, and under the fire of three batteries scarcely 100 yards distant. Those batteries opening upon her, while she had no steam up, the captors could do no better than fire and destroy her. Pickett now drew off, without trying his strength against the defenses of Newbern; claiming to have killed and wounded 100 of our men, captured 280, with two guns, 300 small arms, &c., and destroyed a gunboat of 800 horse-power, mounting 4 heavy guns — all at a cost of 35 killed and wounded.

The next blow was struck at Plymouth, near the mouth of the Roanoke, which was held for the Union by Gen. Wessells, with the 85th New York, 101st and 103d Penn., 16th Conn., and 6 companies from other regiments — in all 2,400 men. It was a fairly fortified position; while the gunboats Southfield, Miami, and Bombshell, were anchored in the river opposite. Gen. R. F. Hoke, with three infantry brigades, a regiment of cavalry, and 7 batteries — in all, at least 7,000 men — advanced against it so stealthily that he was within two miles18 before Wessells was apprised of his danger. The mailed ram Albemarle, coming down the Roanoke, took part in the attack.

Fort Warren, our up-river outpost, was first assailed; and our gunboat Bombshell, going to its assistance, was disabled by the fire of the Rebel artillery. While the fight here was still in progress, Hoke opened on Fort Wessells, a mile farther down, which was repeatedly charged in immense force; but every assault was repulsed with great slaughter. At length, however, this fort was so completely and closely surrounded by [534] the enemy's infantry, with their guns but 200 yards distant, that it was forced to surrender.

Hoke vigorously pressed the siege. Soon, the Albemarle, Capt. Cooke, ran down by Fort Warren and engaged our two remaining gunboats, of 8 guns each, striking the Southfield, Lt. French, so heavily as to sink her; then, turning on the Miami, killed Lt.-Com'r Flusser, and disabled many of her crew; when she fled down the river. The Albemarle then shelled the town with her rifled 32s, doing considerable execution.

Next morning,19 Hoke pushed forward all his batteries, and opened on the town and our remaining forts at 1,100 yards: Ransom, with one brigade, assaulting on the right, and Hoke, with two, going in on the left. By a desperate effort, in the face of a murderous fire, the two outer forts, mounting 8 guns, were carried at a heavy cost, and their garrisons made prisoners. A rush was then made on the town; which was likewise carried; and at length Fort Williams--which was still mowing down the assailants with grape and case-shot — was so enveloped and enfiladed that nothing remained for Wessells but to surrender. The fruits of the victory were 1,600 effective prisoners, 25 guns, at least 2,000 small arms, and some valuable stores. The Rebels admitted a loss here of only 300. Our combatants estimated it at fully 1,000, and say we had but 100 killed and wounded.

As a consequence of this disaster, Washington, at the head of Pamlico sound, was soon evacuated by Gen. Palmer ;20 some of our departing soldiers disgracing themselves and their flag by arson and pillage ere they left.

Capt. Cooke, of the Albemarle, being naturally somewhat inflated by his easy triumph ever two unmailed gunboats, our remaining gunboats in those waters, under Capt. Melancthon Smith, were disposed to tempt him to a fresh encounter, on more equal terms. They had not long to wait for it. The Mattabesett, Sassacus, and Wyalusing, were lying 20 miles off the mouth of the Roanoke, when our picket-boats, which had been sent up the river to decoy the ram from under the protecting batteries of Plymouth, reported her coming;21 and soon she was descried bearing down, accompanied by the river steamboat Cotton Plant, and what was lately our gunboat Bombshell. The former — being too frail for such an encounter — put back, with her 200 sharp-shooters and boarders, to Plymouth; and the contest began. The Albemarle was heavily iron-clad and armed with very large Whitworth guns; and our vessels of course played around her, seeking to inject their iron into her weakest quarter: the Sassacus taking occasion to pour one broadside at close range into the Bombshell, which compelled her to strike her flag and fall out of the range of fire. After a spirited cannonade at short range, the Sassacus struck the Albemarle at full speed, crowding her hull under water, but not sinking her. And now these life-and-death wrestlers exchanged 100-pound shots at five or six paces; the gunners of the Sassacus watching for the opening of a port by the Albemarle, and trying — sometimes with success — to fire a shell or shot into it before it could be closed again; as, from the ram's mailed sides or deck, [535] the largest bolts, fired at this distance, rebounded like dry peas. At length, the ram put a shot through one of of her adversary's boilers, killing 3 and wounding 6 of her men, and filling her with scalding steam, from out which the shrieks of the scalded were piercingly heard. And now the chief engineer of the Sassacus was compelled to call his men to follow him into the fire-room, and there to drag the fires from beneath the uninjured boiler, which was on the brink of explosion; while the engine had become entirely unmanageable.

Out of the thick, white cloud which enveloped the two combatants, frequently irradiated by the flashes of guns, the Albemarle soon emerged, limping off toward her sheltering fort; still keeping up her fire; the Sassacus moving slowly in pursuit, working on a vacuum alone. We had the Bombshell, with her 4 rifled guns, as a trophy; while the siege of Newbern — which the Albemarle had set forth to form the naval part of, while that post had already been summoned by Hoke, on the assumption that “the river and sound were blockaded below” --was indefinitely postponed.

The Albemarle made good her retreat, and never cared to renew the encounter. Months afterward, she was still 8 miles up the Roanoke, lying at a dock, behind a barricade of logs, when Lt. Wm. B. Cushing slipped22 up the river in a steam-launch and, under a fierce fire from the monster, lowered a torpedo-boat, rowed it to and under the overhang of the Albemarle and fired it, at the same instant that one of the enemy's shots crashed through the torpedo-boat, utterly destroying it. The launch likewise was instantly disabled; but Cushing, spurning every call to surrender, ordered his men to save themselves as they best could; himself dropping into the water and swimming down stream half a mile, when he crawled out at daybreak, and hid in an adjacent swamp; through which he slowly, cautiously worked his way until he found a skiff in a creek, and, at 11 P. M., was on board one of our vessels in the offing. The Albemarle sunk like a stone, and was never more trouble — some to friend or foe.

PlymouthHoke being busy on the James — was now easily retaken23 by our fleet under Com'r Macomb, who captured a few prisoners, some guns and warlike stores.

Of Burnside's extensive conquests in North Carolina, but little more than Newbern and Roanoke island remained to us, after the loss of Plymouth and the abandonment of Washington; and Hoke was intent on reducing our possessions still further, when the pressure of our advance in Virginia summoned the greater part of his force to the defense of Richmond.

Two or three unimportant raiding expeditions were sent out from Newbern during the Summer; and one from Roanoke island, led by Gen. Wild and composed of colored troops, penetrated far into Camden county; bringing off 2,500 slaves, many horses and cattle, and destroying much grain; at a total cost of 13 men.

1 Dec. 7, 1863.

2 Vote: Colfax, 101; all others, 81.

3 Jan. 13. 1864.

4 Feb. 6.

5 Feb. 8.

6 Feb. 9.

7 Feb. 15.

8 Feb. 18--dated Feb. 17.

9 Feb. 20.

10 Pollard says, “Just then [4 P. M.], our [Rebel] ammunition became exhausted.”

11 Pollard says we left 350 dead on the field, and that they took 500 prisoners--(including wounded, of course;) with 5 guns and 2,000 small arms.

12 July 20.

13 July 2.

14 July 4.

15 July 7.

16 July 14.

17 Feb. 1.

18 April 17.

19 April 20.

20 April 23.

21 May 5, 3 P. M.

22 Oct. 27.

23 Oct. 31.

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