Saturday, December 9, 2006

The 48th Pennsylvania Day-By-Day: From Fortress Monroe, Virginia, to Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina: November 11-12, 1861

On November 11, 1861, after spending the past six weeks at Fortress Monroe, the 48th Pennsylvania boarded the steamer S.R. Spaulding and set sail for Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. Their orders were to relieve the 20th Indiana Volunteers, which had been stationed there as the garrison force. Lieutenant Oliver Bosbyshell, in his regimental history, recorded the voyage: “The unexpectedly warm and balmy atmosphere, combined with the bright radiance of the silvery moon, made the journey down the coast delightful in the extreme; few of the members of the regiment sought repose until long after midnight. Many had their first glimpse of a sunrise at sea on the morning of the twelfth and enjoyed its glories to the full, out of a cloudless sky.” (Bosbyshell, 21)

The Steamer S.R. Spaulding

(From Samuel Ward Stanton, American Steam Vessels , New York: Smith & Stanton, 1895, page 154)
(Online at: Maritime History of the Great Lakes:

At 8:00 a.m. on the morning of November 12, 1861, the Spaulding dropped anchor at Hatteras. After some difficulty, a wooden plank was secured from the wreckage of another vessel and down this plank, which was elevated at a 45 degree angle from the Spaulding, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania disembarked, one man at a time. By 10:00 a.m., the last man was ashore. As the Schuylkill County volunteers disembarked, they surveyed the beach, which would be their new homes. "Our first impressions of Hatteras were not very favorable," wrote Sergeant Joseph Gould, while Oliver Bosbyshell remembered that as the soldiers of the 48th made their way down the plank, many of them “missed the lovely wooded hills and grassy valleys of their charming mountain homes. No trees here, no bushes to relieve the dull monotony, not a spear of the sickliest looking shrub even, no green grass to gladden the eye, naught save sand and sea.” (Gould, 42; Bosbyshell, 23). "No one," concluded Bosbyshell, "would choose Hatteras Island at the inlet as a cheerful place to live; not even for a seaside resort." (Bosbyshell, 23).

Once the regiment was ashore, they formed into line and marched toward Forts Hatteras and Clarke, two earthen works that guarded the inlet. Forts Hatteras and Clarke were constructed by Confederate soldiers, or, rather, by slave labor, during the early days of the war to help protect blockade running ships. In late August 1861, these forts were captured by Union forces in a joint land-sea operation under the command of General Benjamin Butler and Commodore Silas Stringham. Fort Hatteras was about a half mile from where the 48th disembarked and no one in the regiment would forget the march they had to endure. "When we accomplished one-half the distance," wrote Gould, "the regiment halted to make preparations to wade an inlet separating us from the fort. In ten minutes we were moving again, and such a looking set of men--some without breeches, in their drawers, and many without either, and it was a laughable, enjoyable sight and furnished much amusement to the men" (Gould, 40).

Finally, the 48th Pennsylvania reached the fort and set up camp. "When we relieved the 20th Indiana Regiment. . .and saw their deplorable condition, [and] heard their tales of woe. . .we certainly felt despondent," wrote Gould (42). While most members of the regiment set up their tents, others occupied the wooden barracks erected by the 20th. Some of the officers took up quarters in the crude huts that dotted the beach where some local inhabitants resided. It was not long before the 48th dubbed their new homes "Camp Louse." “Our first night on this bleak island was dreary indeed. The coffee we cooked for supper was utterly unfit to drink; the water was brackish and salty, and we were obliged to excavate new wells on the following day to procure water which could be used for cooking and drinking.” (Gould 41).

Fort Hatteras, North Carolina, with Fort Clarke in the distance.

(Harper's Weekly, February 15, 1862, p. 101)

While settling into their new quarters and getting acquainted with their new surroundings, some members of the regiment gathered sea shells to send to their loved ones in Schuylkill County. This photograph is of a box of seashells collected by Colonel James Nagle, which he sent home to his children in Pottsville.

Photograph Courtesy of Mr. John R. Nagle, of North Carolina, a direct descendant of James Nagle.

Many members of the regiment also began writing letters home. This letter was written by Corporal Curtis C. Pollock, of Company G, on November 15, 1861. It describes not only the regiment's departure from Fortress Monroe, but also the young soldier's impressions of Hatteras Inlet:

Dear Ma

Here we are away down on the coast of North Carolina in the most dreary place in the world. We received orders to get ready to march for Hatteras Inlet on Sunday evening [November 10] and about two o’clock and on Monday afternoon we got into line ready to march for the boat and after waiting about half an hour, we started for the wharf, as we passed Mansfield’s house each company gave him three cheers. After we got to the boat we had to wait until dark before we started. We got off at last and had quite a pleasant ride, about 9 o’clock I began to feel a little sick so I went and laid down and went to sleep and slept it off and when I got awake I felt as well as ever. We arrived here all safe and sound about 10 o’clock and it took about two hours for us all to get off the boat.
When we all got landed we were formed into line and were marched up to Fort Clark, about half way between the two forts there is a small channel washed by the sea waist deep which we had to wade. After we get up we take off our things and go down and carry up all our baggage which took us until evening and the tide having risen the channel was nearly up to our necks. Some of the men are in small wooden barracks which were built by the rebels and the others are in their tents. I am in one of the houses with ten others and we are fixed very comfortably. We have been eating hard crackers since we have been here but they do very well .
It is awful hard place here nothing but sand though there are some very pretty shells to be found on the beach. I suppose you received that shall I sent you in the letter I gave to Capt. [Philip] Nagle We have but two drills a day and dress parade in the evening. Two of the companies here are drilling on the guns in Fort Clark and they are getting along very well.
Nov. 16th
It is quite cold here this morning. the wind is from the north and the waves are very high. It is quite comfortable in the houses but the men that were in the tents say it was very cold. I do not think much of General Williams he seems to think we ought to be drilling all the time in the sand up to our ankles
The sand here is much like snow at home and you sink quite as deep into either. The water is very bad, some of it so salty that you can hardly drink it though in some places you can get some that is pretty good. The mail is very irregular, only coming when a boat happens to come down from Fortress Monroe so you will not hear from me so often, but I will write you a letter once a week and hope you will do the same.

The 48th Pennsylvania would remain in North Carolina until the summer of 1862. . .

No comments: