Friday, March 14, 2008

Letters Home: The 48th PA at Hatteras: Part 1

Stu Richards, a good buddy of mine from Orwigsburg and the owner of, recently sent me photocopies of 48th PA related material that appeared in the Miner's Journal, Schuylkill County's leading newpaper during the Civil War. The articles are a treasure trove of information, especially regarding the 48th's assignment to the sandy beaches of North Carolina, where they stayed from November 1861 until July 1862. I am posting three letters sent home from soldiers in the regiment upon the 48th's arrival at Hatteras. The first, penned by Oliver C. Bosbyshell, presents a narrative of the regiment's trip from Fortress Monroe to North Carolina, and, when compared to the other two, paints a rather rosy portrait of life on Hatteras. The others are more honest about their situation. . .
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[Captain Oliver C. Bosbyshell, center, with Lieutenants C.C. Pollock and H.C. Jackson]

Fort Clark, Near Hatteras Inlet, N.C.
18th November 1861
Messers. Editors:--Well, here we are—the 48th, I mean—at the famous Ft. Clark, made famous by the gallant manner in which it was captured from the secessionists. It is a rude structure, but very substantial, as it would take a ball a long time to pierce the breastworks, they being made of matted sod, and some twelve feet thick. In the centre is a large mound, made of some material, which is used for a magazine. But I am anticipating—I [?] we were here; now it’s a question of how we got here, and I will proceed therefore to state how.—Last Sunday, the 10th inst., Col. Nagle received orders from headquarters to march his command to Fort Hatteras, N.C. On Monday afternoon, about five o’clock, we broke camp near Fortress Monroe, and succeeded in getting ourselves stowed snugly away on the steamer “S.R. Spaulding,” and at seven o’clock we bade adieu to Fortress Monroe, and steamed pleasantly out of the Chesapeake Bay into the broad Atlantic. We had a most delightful trip down the ocean, which was remarkably smooth—not a case of sea sickness occurred on board.

[The Steamer S.R. Spaulding]

—At 8 o’clock Tuesday morning, we dropped anchor off Ft. Hatteras, and successed, after considerable difficulty, in getting a plank attached to the bulk of an old wreck.—Down this plank, which had an elevation of at least 45 degrees, our Regiment landed—one man at a time. Having, at last, reached shore, we formed on the beach and took up our line of march for Fort Clark, about three quarters of a mile further up the beach. When we accomplished over half the distance, the Regiment halted to make preparations to wade a narrow inlet, separating us from Fort H. In ten minutes we were moving again, and such a looking set of men—some without breeches in their drawers—others sans drawers, breeches, or anything else. It was a laughable scene and the men enjoyed it hugely. We halted on the other side to rearrange our disordered clothing, after which we marched on, and stacked arms on the beach between the Fort and the ocean. We were obliged to make several trips back to the boat, before we got all our things here. Immediately after we arrived, three companies of the New York 92nd Regiment vacated this post, and joined their regiment, encamped at Camp “Wool” two miles further up. Col. Nagle is now the commander of Fort Clark, his being a separate command from that of Fort Hatteras. This military department is under Brigadier General Williams, U.S.A.

[Union troops landing at Hatteras, N.C.]

The two Forts are built of the same material. Fort Clark mounts some four 32-pounders and one Dahlgren gun; these have been placed in charge of Co. B, Capt. Jas. Wren, and every evening at sunset a gun is fired.—Outside of the Fort, in different places, earthworks have been thrown up, behind which the companies are drilled every morning, after reveille, at simulating a defence—practiced in firing, standing and kneeling, from behind these fortifications. The field pieces, of which there are a number here, Co. H., Capt. Jos. Gilmour, has been detailed to take charge of. They are placed behind breastworks, and, in case of an attack, would prove most effective. This morning a grand review of the New York 92nd came off on the beach. The New York 92nd occupied the right of the line, and the 48th the left. We were reviewed by Brigadier General Williams and staff, and it was almost impossible not to notice with what pleasure the General surveyed the brilliant display before him. Indeed, who could help being pleased; each company filing by looking their best and doing their best, and you may be assured, the 48th made a most creditable appearance.

[Fort Hatteras, N.C.]

Last Thursday a rebel steamer made its appearance away off in Pamlico Sound, and approached this way with an evident intention of making observations, but one of the Federal steamers stationed here gave chase to it, exchanging several shots, and it is said three took effect—anyhow, the rebel vessel made tracks and had not been seen since. Yesterday our first mail on this lonely isle arrived, brining many letters to many anxious recipients. But few Journals were received—those that did reach here were eagerly sought after, and here and there could be seen large crowds of men gathered around some one who was fortunate enough to procure one, and who was obliged to read the news aloud.

[New York Soldiers at Camp Wool]

We also had a very interesting religious service yesterday afternoon. Our Chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Holman, delivered a very good and appropriate sermon, and the men listened to it with marked attention. The general health of the men is good—very little sickness, and none of a serious nature prevails. Of course, we have some hardships to encounter, and have no delicacies in the shape of food, being obliged to go it on army fare alone. Some are quartered in wooden shanties, while the greater majority prefer the tents, which are floored nicely.
We are getting along very well, considering the nature of our abiding place, of which a better description can not be given than by citing an extract from one of the men’s letters home, as follows: “A great deal of sand and a great deal of water, and if I have anything more to add, it is a little more sand and a little more water.”
Very Respectfully,

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