Doc. 69.-attack on Newbern, N. C.
General Palmer's despatch.
Newbern, N. C., February 1, 8 o'clock P. M.early this morning our outposts at Bachelor's Creek were attacked by the enemy, represented to be in force about fifteen thousand strong, consisting of Hope's brigade and Pickett's entire division. It being impracticable to make adequate defence, our force fell back in good order, after destroying their camps and abandoning but few stores, with a loss of fifty to one hundred men and one section of light artillery. Our forces are now so arranged that we are confident of a successful resistance. Almost simultaneously with this attack, the enemy advanced on the south side of the Trent River, with what force it is difficult to estimate, but they were handsomely repulsed. Communication continues with More-head City, but the enemy are near the railroad, with the evident intention of cutting it. The commander at Beaufort is aware of the situation, and will use every effort to prevent the destruction of the road.
J. W. Palmer, Brigadier-General.
A national account.
Newbern, N. C., Wednesday, February 3, 1864.My note of yesterday contained a promise of something in addition to the simple statement of the fact that we had been attacked by the enemy in force, and I will now give a brief account of what has been, for the last few days, so absorbing to us. There had been, for some time past, intimations of a design on the part of the rebels to attack us; but we had felt such a sense of security, that the civilians, at least, gave them little heed. The heavy firing, however, on Monday morning, in the direction of Bachelor's Creek, taught us that the enemy did not take precisely the same views of our safety. This post is about eight miles west of us on the railroad, near a small creek emptying into the Neuse River. In this vicinity two block-houses had been built, one on the Neuse road, running nearly parallel with the river, and the other on the Mill road, running diagonally to the parallels; some slight defences besides had been thrown up for the protection of the garrison. The One Hundred and Thirty-second New-York volunteers, Colonel Claasen commanding, were occupying this post at the time of attack. The first point to be gained by the enemy was the bridge on the Neuse road, over what is called Bachelor's Creek. The fire upon our cavalry pickets was opened about three o'clock, driving them in, and soon a vigorous attempt was made to get possession of the bridge, which companies D, and E, and G, of the One Hundred and Thirty-second, had been detailed to hold. The enemy charged three successive times, and as often were handsomely  repulsed by the brave boys left in its defence. The rebels, finding this point so hotly contested, had already commenced a flank movement up the stream, which company A was appointed to intercept, while companies I and K were to keep communication open between the block-houses. This flank movement could not be prevented. It was already too far advanced, and besides the enemy were too numerous, the force consisting of three brigades. Thus, after about four hours of hard fighting, the little garrison was forced to retire from its defences. The firing was distinctly heard in the city, and at day light a part of five companies of the Seventeenth Massachusetts, under Lieutenant-Colonel Fellows, and two pieces of artillery, Captain Angels' battery K, Third New-York, were sent out as a reenforcement. They arrived at about eight o'clock. Coming up to the One Hundred and Thirty-second, in an open space, the whole force was immediately formed in line of battle. The enemy also drew up in line at the same time, resting his wings on either side so as to flank our forces, thus compelling another retreat, which was made in good order, firing as they retired through the woods. It was evidently useless to undertake longer to check the advance of so large a force, and about ten o'clock they commenced to return to the fortifications about the city, leaving behind many brave comrades, with most of the camp equipage, extra clothing, etc. Most of the Quartermaster's stores were destroyed. I have not been able to procure a complete list of casualties. Adjutant Henry C. Cheever was mortally wounded. The last that was seen of Lieutenant-Colonel J. F. Fellows and Dr. J. F. Galloupe, they were assisting the Adjutant into an ambulance. The party, ambulance and all, was taken by the rebels. First Lieutenant J. W. Day, company E; Captain J. K. Floyd and First Lieutenant J. R. Hill, company H; First Lieutenant L. B. Cabins, company I; First Lieutenant B. N. Manas, company K, are also missing, with about fifty privates. The most of the fighting was done by the One Hundred and Thirty-second, losing in all about eighty. Lieutenant and Acting Quartermaster of company A, Arnold Zenetti, killed. Company A.--Sergeant Richter, Corporal John Dennman, Corporal Christian Wullen, Lewis Strab, Edward Thaller. Company B.--Corporal James Folley, Sergeant James Dekeb, B. Schmidt, Thomas Clinton, Luther Cook, Arthur Corcoran, William Edwards, William Elmer, John Hargan, Michael Kane, James Smith. Company C.--First Lieutenant Joseph Grasing. Company G.--Second Lieutenant W. A. C. Whyan. There are among the missing other names I was not able to secure. From the strength with which the enemy attacked Bachelor's Creek, it was evident they were taking steps looking toward the capture of the place. Deserters stated their force to be fifteen thousand to twenty thousand. Should this be their purpose, they have no small task before them. Our gunboats can be used in both rivers, and we are very strongly fortified on all sides, perhaps with one exception. Of all our defences, Fort Totten is the most formidable. It is a heavy earthwork, situated about half a mile from Evans, midway between the Neuse and Trent Rivers. It fronts the west, where stretches out before you an extensive plain, in former days a vast cotton plantation. To the right, on the bank of the Neuse, is Fort Stephenson, while to the left, on the opposite bank of the Trent, stands Fort Gaston. A strong breast-work runs in either direction to the rivers, thus linking all their forts together. Fort Totten is in a central commanding position. While it renders all approach from the west impossible, it commands the city and both rivers. From the tavern, every point about Newbern is visible. Brigadier-General Palmer, who commands in the absence of General Peck, his staff, a few other officers, and, by special favor, the writer, (your correspondent,) were inside the fort, carefully watching the movements of the enemy. They could be seen with a glass, and sometimes with the naked eye, passing back and forth in the edge of the woods skirting the plain on the west. The Twelfth New-York cavalry, under Colonel Savage, were out as scouts. The most gratifying feature of their service was to bring in the companies of the Eighty-ninth New-York volunteers, whom, in the fore part of the day, we feared had fallen into the hands of the enemy, from an outpost called Red House Tower, three miles distant. As the rebels ventured out of the thickets here and there, it was exceedingly gratifying to see Major S. C. Oliver, commanding the post, send his shells bursting into their midst, soon scattering them into the woods for safety. Prisoners state that a Colonel Shay was killed by one of these shells. Every thing had gone well thus far. All the outposts had succeeded in getting in, except one at Bucker Grove. to the north-west about ten miles. It was held by one company. Every preparation was made to receive an expected attack in the morning. The freedmen shouldered the guns and relieved the guards in the city. Some of the negroes came forward and offered their services; others had a polite invitation to do so by soldiers detached for the purpose. As soon as the service required was understood, more offered themselves than could be armed. Thus we received about a thousand accession of strength, to be used in case of an emergency. I cannot close this day's record without noting one incident. A negro family were making their way to the fortification. The father had the children, while the wife came up as a rear-guard. A rebel fired at the woman three times, without hitting his mark, and then came out in person to seize and bear her back to bondage. Thus stepping between the mother and her children,  he did not understand the task he had proposed to himself. With an unfaltering courage she met him, wrested his gun from him, knocked him down, and came into the city with the musket as a trophy, and a dislocated forefinger as an evidence of the contest.
Washington, N. C., Feb. 10, 1864.In one of my letters written last summer, I made the remark that this department “was in a shaky condition.” Strictly speaking, I cannot say that it is otherwise to-day, and it is somewhat surprising that the few troops in possession of the “old North State” department have not been long ago “gobbled up,” and confined in the prisons of Dixie. Here we are to-day, with a strong force of the enemy operating in front of Newbern for the last ten days, and no reenforcements up to yesterday. Already you are aware of the attack made upon Newbern early last week, and the subsequent details of the affair must, ere this, have been read by the people of the North; but allow me to say that, if it had not been for the great valor displayed by a handful of Union troops, the affair would have been a very unpleasant thing. Well and nobly fought the One Hundred and Thirty-second New-York infantry, assisted by their cavalry comrades from the same State, keeping in check for several long hours an overwhelming force that came rushing upon them on all sides, like a storm. Three times did the bold, and I must say, courageous confederates charge to cross a bridge in front of the One Hundred and Thirty-second, and as often were they repulsed by the defenders of the old flag, leaving their ranks somewhat thinned in every fresh attempt. The Twelfth cavalry--or rather eight companies of it — under Colonel Savage, maintained their post for a considerable time, being compelled at last to burn their camp and forage, and retire toward Newbern. Within two miles of the city, and exactly where the regiment was quartered last fall, a brigade of rebels formed a line of battle between them and Fort Totten. The brigade did but little to prevent the cavalry charging at them and through them, finally getting under cover of the guns of the fort. The enemy remained but a short time in this position, for the guns of Fort Totten and the howitzers of the Twelfth sent terror all around them. The bravery, coolness, and courage displayed by Colonel Savage on the occasion, is the subject of much praise among the men. The Seventeenth Massachusetts infantry and the Second North-Carolina volunteers also took part in the skirmishing, and lost a good many men in prisoners; but the Green Mountain boys from Vermont--the Ninth--are on their way the second time to Richmond. This regiment has been in the State but a few weeks, having been just released from Dixie, and were doing duty on the military railway between Newbern and Beaufort. I cannot explain the cause of so much evil to the Vermonters, and therefore will not venture to assert that the material composing said regiment is not of the soundest metal. Two companies of Mix's cavalry doing duty with the Vermont regiment, were also made prisoners of war. A few of the latter have since made their escape. It is rumored that the gunboat captured by the rebels, and subsequently burned, was captured solely on account of the captain's high esteem and regard for secessionism. The name of the boat was the Underwriter, that of her captain, Westerfelt, or something like it. It is no matter, for if all is true about his conduct, his name will be without fame in the annals of the war. He is in prison now, I believe. By the arrival of the Patuxent at this port last night, the information is obtained that the rebels are concentrated about nine miles west of Newbern. Up to the hour when the Patuxent left Newbern, no reenforcements had arrived in the department, notwithstanding that a despatch was sent to Fortress Monroe ten days ago. Where is General Butler? I saw it in the papers a short time since that he was in Washington, D. C., at Willard's, I presume, taking a “brandy smash,” with the political wire-pullers of the White House. The good he has done since he took command of affairs here, is so insignificant, that few see it. He has done one thing, namely, prevented the poor soldier from taking his accustomed government ration of liquor. He cannot have luck for doing so, at least he will not secure the soldiers' suffrage, should some broken-down party be foolish enough to nominate him for next President. But, seriously speaking, it is a shame that no reenforcements are sent to the relief of just enough troops to do the provost duty in the department. This is an important point in the State, and how many troops do you think are stationed here?--about one thousand five hundred. With the towns of Greenville and Tarboro a day's march from us, strongly occupied by rebels, and all along our front the enemy raiding in strong force, it does seem strange that nothing more has been done on the part of our generals in the way of being ready for any emergency. I have been long of the opinion, based on personal observation, that this State might long ago have been redeemed from the misery into which its people have been thrown by the lack of energy on the part of the military authorities. The famine that has long stared the citizens in the face, long since bade them seek for mercy, and that mercy can only be obtained through the victorious advances of our army in the State. Fifteen or twenty thousand men thrown into this department could open the State from the Atlantic to Raleigh, thus strengthening the hopes of the people and cementing their confidence in the stability of the Union. The mass of the people are heartily sick of secessionism, and are hoping against hope for the day of peace. But the question arises: Does the Federal Government wish the day of peace to come too suddenly? I leave this question to be answered. The loss on our side during last week's operations  before Newbern, is about one thousand five hundred prisoners; but few were killed or wounded. The rebels suffered severely in killed. The figures stated in my last, are near the mark. We took a number of prisoners, but not sufficient to cover our loss in this respect. I have been unable to learn the intentions of the enemy for the past few days. It is likely that reeforcements from Longstreet will be sent to the vicinity of Newbern, and then another attempt will be made to enter that or this town. We are ready here; but what can fifteen hundred men do against four times that number? In the last extremity we may look for reenforcernents, and no sooner, from present appearances. In the mean time, however, the enemy may retreat toward Kingston or Raleigh, foraging the country as they move along. The roads are in the best order; the weather delightful; the spirits of the Union troops excellent and buoyant; they are more willing to fight at any time than to think of surrendering. You will hear from me soon again.
W. C. H.
A rebel account.
Richmond, February 6, 1864.Advices received yesterday from North-Carolina were very sanguine of the capture of Newbern, and represented that it had been completely invested by our forces. The report yesterday was that our troops had obtained possession of the outer line of fortifications. Newbern is the key to a large and productive country, in which, even now, vast amounts of provisions are contained. It is also reported to be the rendezvous of a large number of fugitive slaves, and the most important depot of supplies which the enemy has in eastern North-Carolina. We are sorry to dash the reports which were so freely circulated yesterday of a success at Newbern. There is no doubt that a despatch was received yesterday by the Government that General Pickett had found it necessary to fall back to Kinston, and was then performing that movement. Whatever may have been the result of the affair, we are left to conclude that General Pickett found the enemy's works at Newbern too strong to carry by assault, and has retired; his six brigades of infantry, with artillery and cavalry to match, have turned out to be a successful foraging expedition. The defences of Newbern are certainly of the most formidable description, and, from what we can learn, are well calculated to withstand the perils of any assault. The town is situated between two rivers, and the strip of land, not more than a mile wide, is said to be traversed by a deep ditch, twenty feet wide, with a gunboat stationed at each of its extremities.
Official despatch from General Pickett.
Newbern, with Hoke's brigade and a part of Corse's and Clingman's, and some artillery; met the enemy in force at Bachelor's Creek; killed and wounded about one hundred in all; captured thirteen officers and two hundred and eighty prisoners, fourteen negroes, two rifled pieces and caissons, three hundred stand of small-arms, four ambulances, three wagons, fifty-five animals, a quantity of clothing, camp and garrison equipage, and two flags. Commander Wood, confederate States Navy, captured and destroyed the United States gunboat Underwriter. Our loss thirty-five killed and wounded.
G. E. Pickett, Major-General Commanding.