Burnside's Fleet Arrives From Fortress Monroe
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"On or about the 12th of January, 1862," said regimental historian Joseph Gould, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania, stationed at Camp Winfield, Hatteras Island, North Carolina, "were surprised, on answering the Reveille Call, to see, far out upon the broad Atlantic, first one ship, then another and another, until the ocean seemed full of ships."
What the men of the 48th were seeing was the vast fleet carrying troops assembled by Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside to invade North Carolina by sea, and secure its coastline for the Union. Federal troops had already been stationed at Hatteras since August 1861, including the 48th Pennsylvania, which had helped secure the island since November. In late 1861, General-in-Chief George McClellan persuaded Lincoln to launch an amphibious effort to capture key Confederate forts on Roanoke Island and venture inland toward New Bern and he selected to lead the operation his good friend Ambrose Everett Burnside, who immediately began recruiting regiments for the undertaking. He focused on regiments from New England, and on men familiar with life at sea. In all, Burnside pieced together a force consisting of three brigades, led by Generals John Foster, Jesse Reno, and John Parke. This force was the genesis of what would in the summer of 1862 become the Ninth Army Corps, to which the 48th Pennsylvania would also be attached.
Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside
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In January 1862, the vast fleet carrying Burnside's force set sail from Fortress Monroe, heading south toward the Carolina coastline, where they were to land at Hatteras Inlet. Joseph Gould describe the fleet as it arrived:
"The coast of Hatteras at the best is stormy, dangerous and treacherous, even in fair weather; but, when this fleet arrived, the ocean was unusually stormy and anchorage was difficult, hence the individual ships were tossed about like toys, frequently dragging their cables, and, for safety, 'running before the gale.' With what interest, from our safety on shore, did we, from the roof of the barracks, watch the appearing and disappearing vessels and feel for the safety of the troops we knew to be on board. With the abatement of the storm, with what joy and pleasure did we watch their reassembling in something like naval order. At night, this large aggregation of ships, lit 'from stern to stern' with varied colored lights, resembled a large city in the midst of the ocean, the lights dancing with the rise and fall of the ships, reminding the beholder of so many 'Jack-O-Lanterns' or 'Will-O-The-Wisps.' Between the ocean and the Pamlico Sound a strong, shallow, and constantly shifting sand-bar exists, making it difficult and exceedingly dangerous for vessels to attempt to enter the sound, even at full tide, but impossible for ships of large draft at low tide.
"Many of the vessels grounded on the bar during the attempt. Thus, this beautiful sight lasted for nearly a week, gradually diminishing as ship after ship essayed the passage. At last, all had disappeared and the 48th saw the fleet pass up the sound to Roanoke Island, some of the regiments that had, with the 48th, garrisoned Hatters, accompanying the expedition. In a few days, the roar of the heavy guns was heard, as the gunboats bombarded the rebel forts, and soon the glad news reached us that 'Roanoke Island was captured.' The 48th had no individual share in this glory, except that the capture was effected by troops with whom our future lot was cast for four strenuous years."