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Doc. 42.-General Foster's expedition through eastern North-Carolina.

General Foster's official report.

headquarters Department of North-Carolina, Carolina, Newbern, Nov. 12, 1862.
Major-Gen. Halleck, General-in-Chief, U. S.A.:
General: I have the honor to report that, agreeable to my letter of the thirtieth ultimo, informing you of my intention to make an expedition through the eastern counties of this State, and stating the object of the move, I left this post on the thirty-first ultimo, and have just arrived here on my return.

I am happy to inform you that although the original plan for the capture of the three regiments foraging in that section was, owing to the condition of the roads, frustrated, the expedition will be of great service to our cause in this department.

The First brigade, under command of Colonel T. J. C. Amory, together with the artillery, cavalry and wagon-train, were marched from this point across the country to Washington; the balance of my forces, including the Second brigade, Colonel Stevenson, and the Third brigade, Colonel Lee, were embarked on transports, and landed at Washington, where they were joined by Colonel Amory's command on Saturday evening, the second instant.

On Sunday, the third, all the forces, including artillery, left Washington, under my command, for Williamston. On the evening of the same day we encountered the enemy, posted in a strong position at a small creek called Little Creek. I immediately ordered Col. Stevenson, commanding the Second brigade, who was then in the advance, to make all haste in driving them from the opposite side of the creek, and push on at once. The engagement lasted one hour, when the enemy being driven from their rifle-pits by the effective fire of Belger's Rhode Island battery, retired to Rawls's Mills, one mile further on, where they made another stand in a recently constructed field-work. Belger's battery and two batteries of the Third New-York artillery, were immediately ordered into position, and after a spirited engagement of half an hour, succeeded in driving the enemy from their works, and across a bridge, which they burned. That night, while the pioneers built the burnt bridge, the forces bivouacked on the field, and proceeded next morning to Williamson, where we arrived about noon. We started from there after a short rest, in pursuit of the enemy, bivouacking about five miles from that place. On the following day we reached and occupied the fortifications at Rainbow Banks, three miles below Hamilton, and then pushed on to Hamilton. There we expected to find some iron-clad boats said to be in the process of construction at Hamilton, but discovered nothing of the kind. On the sixth, we left Hamilton, in pursuit of the enemy toward Tarboro, and encamped on the same night within ten miles of that place. It was my intention to pursue the enemy toward Tarboro, but the exhausted condition of my men, most of whom had been sick during the last two months and had not yet recovered their strength, and the provisions being entirely exhausted, so that I had to subsist the command by foraging, as well as the fact that the enemy were being largely reenforced by rail, changed my plans, and on the following morning, the seventh instant, I countermarched the column, making Hamilton the same night, where we remained till the next morning, when we marched for Williamston in the midst of a severe snow-storm. At Williamston we remained a day, in order to give the men an opportunity to rest. At daylight the next day, the tenth instant, we started for Plymouth, where we arrived that night. The following day the troops were all reembarked at Newbern.

During the engagement at Rawls's Mills and at Hamilton, we captured five prisoners, who were paroled at Williamston. The loss on our side consisted in six killed and eight wounded.

The expedition was instrumental in saving the town and forces at Plymouth from destruction and capture, as I found upon my arrival at the place that the enemy's forces, while lying in the vicinity, besides being engaged in foraging, had [192] reconstructed a bridge over the creek, three miles outside the town, for the transportation of their artillery to the opposite bank. I also learned, from information gathered on the spot, that an immediate attack was to have been made on the place; but upon hearing of my advance from Washington, and seeing the danger of their capture, they beat a precipitate and hasty retreat.

The navy under command of Com. Davenport, senior officer, cooperated heartily with me during the whole time, by sending five gunboats to Hamilton, and their placing four boat-howitzers, with their crews, at my disposal.

I desire to mention particularly the efficient conduct of Colonel Stevenson, commanding the Second brigade, and Colonel Potter, of the First North-Carolina Union volunteers.

I recommend that Colonel Stevenson, for his efficient services on this march, and in the affair at Little Creek and Rawls's Mills, as well as previous services at the battles of Roanoke and Newbern, be promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General, to date from November third, 1862. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant.

J. G. Foster, Major-General Commanding.

Boston Transcript account.

camp of the Fifth Massachusetts regiment, Newbern, N. C., Nov. 13, 1862.
The Fifth Massachusetts regiment, since it left Boston on the twenty second of October, has endured a greater share of the hardships of war than usually falls to the lot of new regiments. During the brief time which it has been absent from Massachusetts, it has sailed over one thousand miles in crowded transports, marched one hundred and seven miles over wretched roads and in all varieties of weather, from burning heat to extreme cold and snow, camping without tents for more than a week; has five times taken three days rations in their haversacks, and has smelt the smoke of battle, though not brought immediately under the enemy's fire.

The regiment had been but two days in camp here, and was still subsisting on the rations served out on board the steamer Mississippi, when orders were received from Major-General Foster to prepare to depart immediately upon an important expedition. Many of the necessary equipments had not yet been distributed to the men, nor had the arrangements for cooking been perfected; but within twelve hours from the time of receiving the order, guns, ammunition, and three days rations had been supplied to the troops, and they were ready to leave camp at four o'clock on the morning of Thursday, October thirtieth. Twenty-five men of each company were detailed to remain at Newbern as a campguard.

On reaching the wharf where we were to embark, it became evident that the expedition was one of considerable magnitude, and that about six thousand troops of all arms were to take part in it, the greater part of whom were of Massachusetts regiments. The Forty-fourth and Seventeenth Massachusetts regiments, the Third New-York cavalry and twenty-three pieces of artillery, had already left by land for Washington, N. C. and two gunboats and seven transports were waiting to take the balance of the expedition to the same place. The troops taken by the fleet were the Fifth Massachusetts, five companies of the Twenty-third Massachusetts, eight of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts, six of the Twenty-fifth Massachusetts, eight of the Twenty-seventh Massachusetts, Fifth Rhode Island, eight companies of the Twenty-fifth New-Jersey, and the Tenth Connecticut.

The fleet sailed at nine o'clock on the morning of the thirtieth October, and passing down the river Neuse into Pamlico Sound, arrived at Washington, at the entrance of Tar River, on the afternoon of the thirty-first, after a pleasant passage. Here a marine battery of four pieces were added to the artillery force.

The departure of the army from Washington was delayed twenty-four hours by the non-arrival of the force marching overland, and it was not until the morning of November second that the whole expedition set out for the interior, in three brigades, under Colonels Amory, Stevenson and Lee. The Fifth Massachusetts was in Col. Lee's brigade, the Forty-fourth was in that of Colonel Stevenson. The Twenty-third Massachusetts was commanded by Major Chambers. Major-General Foster commanded the expedition in person.

The column took up the march toward Williamtston, twenty-five miles distant, Gen. Stevenson's brigade at the head, and the New-York cavalry thrown out in advance. Skirmishers were sent out to the right and left, as the army proceeded. When nine miles from Washington a small rebel camp was found, from which the enemy had hastily fled, after burning such of their equipments as they could not conveniently take with them.

Our route lay through a level country, the soil sandy, intermixed with a light loam, extremely difficult to march on. An unbroken forest of pines, seeming almost interminable, lay on either side. In some places the road was covered with water a foot deep, for a great distance. The day was extremely warm, and our progress was necessarily slow, many of the troops, both of the old and new regiments, falling out of the ranks from exhaustion.

At four P. M., when within six miles of Williamston, cannonading and musket-firing was heard in the advance, and it was soon ascertained that a body of seven hundred rebels, with two artillery pieces, had made a stand in a very commanding position on the opposite bank of a small creek, at a place called Old Ford. The marine battery and the New-York battery opened upon them, and the Forty-fourth Massachusetts, supported by the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts, charged across the stream, and the rebel position was speedily carried, the marine battery losing one man killed, James King, of Chicago; and the Forty-fourth Massachusetts two men, Charles Morse and----Rollins. The rebel loss could [193] not be ascertained, as they removed all the bodies of their dead except one.

The rebels retreated to rifle-pits at Rawls's Mills, one mile distant, from which they were speedily driven out — our troops losing but one man, Thomas Peterson, of the Twenty-fourth--when the main body of our army crossed the stream on a foot-bridge, constructed for the purpose, and encamped for the night in a corn-field, near the deserted rifle-pits, without tents (having brought none with them) at two o'clock on the morning of the third, after a march of twenty miles and a tedious service of twenty-two hours.

The army resumed its march after five hours rest, the weather being extremely hot and trying to the troops. The country through which we passed was more undulating and diversified than on the first day, and large fields of cotton, corn, and sweet potatoes were seen along the route. Our brigade, composed of the Fifth and Twenty-seventh Massachusetts and the Ninth New-Jersey, led the advance. A fight was expected at Williamston, but when the army approached the town it was found to be evacuated by the rebel forces and deserted by most of its inhabitants. Five Federal gunboats were lying in front of the town, ready to cooperate with the army in the reduction of a strong rebel fort at Rainbow Bluff, oh the Roanoke River, near Hamilton, twelve miles farther on. Guards were stationed at the tenanted houses, and our troops were quartered in the deserted dwellings for rest and refreshment.

Resuming its march in the afternoon, our army encamped for the night in a field five miles beyond Williamston, and on moving again on the morning of the fourth, proceeded without opposition to within two miles of Hamilton, when it was obliged to halt two hours to repair a bridge destroyed by the retreating foe. This being done, the army entered Hamilton, finding the town almost entirely deserted, the rebels having evacuated it and removed their cannon from the fort at Rainbow Bluff. Our army camped in the rear of the town, and foragers were sent into the place to procure supplies. Some of the troops, in violation of the orders of General Foster, wantonly destroyed property which they could not use or carry away, and many of the deserted houses were set on fire and destroyed, presenting a sad spectacle of the ravages of war, as our army marched out of the town during the evening, its way lighted by the glare of the conflagration. This destruction of property would not have occurred had the inhabitants remained, for no occupied houses were damaged; but the fears of the citizens were aroused by the retreating rebels, who, as they passed through the town, reported that our army would shell it, and thus induced the unfortunate people to leave it, taking their valuable movable goods, and leaving their dwellings exposed to the torches of soldiers who treat as rebels all those who will not remain in their homes and accept Federal protection.

Three miles beyond Hamilton our army encamped on a large plantation owned by a rebel, where an abundance of pigs, poultry, corn and sweet potatoes was found for the subsistence of the troops and horses. Here the whole encampment could be taken in at one view, and the scene at night, when more than one hundred camp-fires were lighted, over an area of several hundred acres, was brilliantly grand.

The next day, November fifth, our advanced guard came up with the enemy's cavalry, when within seven miles of Tarboro, and a small force of cavalry and infantry were stationed for the purpose of deceiving the enemy, while the main body of our troops, taking another and more circuitous route, marched within four miles of Tarboro, with the view of capturing three rebel regiments known to have been stationed there, and of cutting the important railroad connections, at that place. But our delay at Washington had given the enemy time to concentrate his troops, and the whistles of reenforcing rebel trains were heard through the night, while our scouts came in on the morning of the sixth and reported the confederates fifteen thousand to twenty thousand strong at Tarboro. They had skirmished with the enemy's advanced guard during the night, and lost one man of the New-York cavalry.

Under these circumstances, and in view of the effect of an impending rain-storm on the roads, our army commenced retiring toward Hamilton, which we reached at five P. M. on the sixth, after a laborious march of fifteen miles, through almost constant rain, and over roads in a condition utterly inconceivable to those unacquainted with the wretchedness of Southern thoroughfares in rainy weather. For a great part of the distance the road had the appearance of an immense mortar-bed, through which our troops waded, sometimes knee-deep, and the artillery and cavalry horses wallowed and floundered as in a sea. Sometimes the mud had the adhesiveness of wax, and acted on our boots with the effect of a bootjack.

After a night's rest and abundant meals from the supplies brought in by our foragers, we resumed our march on the morning of the seventh, amid snow and sleet, over roads yet unsettled, toward Williamston, thirteen miles distant, which we reached at four P. M., quartering as before in the deserted houses, and remaining till the morning of the ninth for much needed rest. While remaining at Williamston our troops cut down the whipping-post, and burned the jail, in which over thirty Union prisoners had been confined until the arrival of our troops, when they were tied to the rear of baggage-wagons, and compelled to follow the retreating rebels.

On the ninth we marched eighteen miles from Williamston to within four miles of Plymouth, on the Roanoke River, at the head of Albemarle Sound. On the tenth our camp was moved to within one mile of Plymouth, and on the eleventh the troops commenced embarking for Newbern, via Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds and the river Neuse, arriving at this place late last evening.

The results of the expedition are the opening of the Roanoke River for gunboats beyond Hamilton; an important diversion in favor of other Federal projects, by compelling the enemy to [194] concentrate troops at Tarboro; the capture of several prisoners, a large number of horses and supplies; and the release from bondage of several hundred slaves, whose masters ran away from them at our approach, leaving the dusky contrabands to welcome us with fervent gratitude, and to join us at our departure.

Too much praise cannot be given to the new troops who courageously endured the tedious marches of the expedition, through sultry heats as well as cold and sleet, camping under inclement skies without shelter, and bravely undergoing all the hardships of forced marches and short rations. Old troops, who have served through this and former wars, declare that they have never before had so rough and tedious a campaign, and you will not be surprised to learn that the army reached Plymouth on its return with greatly diminished numbers. As a specimen of the whole, (for new and old regiments suffered nearly alike,) I will cite the Fifth Massachusetts regiment, which left Newbern with seven hundred and sixty-eight men, and after leaving fifty in garrison at Washington, returned to Plymouth with less than four hundred and seventy-five men.

The Forty-fourth Massachusetts was called to endure even more than the Fifth, they having marched from Newbern to Washington while our regiment was proceeding to the same destination by water. Two companies of the Forty-fourth were also engaged in the night scouting and skirmishing near Tarboro. The regiment acquitted itself creditably in the actions at Old Ford and Rawls's Mills.

The troops who fell out on the march were left on board the gunboats at Williamston and Hamilton. Two deaths from exhaustion occurred on board the boats, but I have not been able to learn the names of the deceased. Surgeon Ingalls and Assistant-Surgeon Hoyt, of the Fifth, were untiring in their exertions to promote the comfort of the troops, and have won the grateful esteem of the men by their kind attentions during the long march.

The expedition was a bold movement on the part of Gen. Foster, and will convince the enemy that they have a foe in this quarter who is not disposed to remain inactive while they are carrying out their plans, and that it will not be safe for them to send their forces north if they desire to retain their hold on North-Carolina.

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