Friday, March 16, 2007

A Sad, Dark Chapter. . .

This past Tuesday, March 13, was the 145th anniversary of one of the saddest and darkest chapters, or pages, in the history of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. It was not a battlefield defeat, nor did it involve the capture of the regiment's flag or a large number of its soldiers. It was instead a very ugly incident, the type of incident that is seldom remembered in Civil War historiography. In remembering the Civil War, we sometimes have a tendency to gloss over such events, but they must be told and remembered. Seldom do the regimental histories, written by veterans, include such events, but in The 48th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers in the War, published some three decades after the war, Oliver Bosbyshell made it a point to include this story, regrettable though it was to the history of the regiment.

On March 11, 1862, Colonel James Nagle was ordered to send a detachment of six companies to reinforce Ambrose Burnside's force in its planned attack against New Bern, North Carolina. He selected Companies A, B, C, D, H & I, and the following day, these six companies left camp and proceeded to the wharf at Hatteras Inlet where they were to board the steamer George Peabody. When they reached the wharf, however, they discovered the Peabody had run aground and were thus unable to board. Ordered to establish a bivouac on the beach, the men of the 48th soon found themselves inundated with whiskey dealers who were "abounding on the water craft crowding the inlet." Throughout that day and night, "many small boats containing the vendors made frequent trips to the shore and a brisk business was opened along the coast." Many soldiers got drunk and soon fighting broke out among some in the regiment. Officers had a difficult time controlling their men. Captain James Wren of Company B recorded: "The men by some means or other got Liquor and Consequently got drunk & they got fighting amongst themselves. . . .fighting was the order of the day. Daniel Root of my Company got in a fight and I put him in the guard house until night."
Things got much worse from here. Around midnight, some of the men from Company C broke into the so-called "Hotel de Afrique" and savagely attacked the escaped slaves who were there seeking shelter and protection. On the morning of March 13, James Wren wrote in his diary: "Slept Very little last night on account of the men who ware drunk bawling around the shelter like a lot of mad men. About 12 o'clock, Midnight, a lot of drunken men, mostly of Compny C, got into a building occupied by Conterbands [contrabands] and abused them most shamefully, using bayonets and Knives, Cutting severel very severely. Old Gallaway, [Colonel Nagle's] Coulered servent, having bin in for the night, received a Cut in the stomach which will undoubtedly prove fatal. A Contarband had a finger Cut off, the sinew of his left hand Cut."

The Hotel de Afrique on Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina. Escaped slaves sought refuge here but on the night of March 12-13, some soldiers of the 48th broke in and attacked the defenseless occupants. {From Harper's Weekly, February 15, 1862, and Courtesy of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill}

Galloway did, indeed, die of his wounds. Nagle was infuriated with his regiment and deeply saddened. Before departing Hatteras early on the morning of the 13th, he assembled the regiment and reprimanded the soldiers for their actions and his officers for failing to control their men. He scolded them, saying, in effect, that the only way the men could get back in his good graces was if they were to remain sober. It is unclear and probably unlikely, however, that the murderer or murderers were identified. With the Peabody now ready to transport the 48th to Newbern, the soldiers boarded the vessel and sailed up the coast, leaving behind this terrible and ugly event.

In 1895, Bosbyshell wrote that "The horrible scenes enacted in the 'Hotel d'Afrique,' in the midst of which poor, inoffensive old Galloway. . .lost his life, is a sad page of the regiment's history."

{Note: James Wren diary entries from John Priest, ed., From New Bern to Fredericksburg: Captain James Wren's Civil War Diary, Berkeley Books, 1990, pg. 9}

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