Friday, March 14, 2008

Letters Home: The 48th PA at Hatteras: Part 2

Lieutenant George H. Gressang, Company I, 48th Pennsylvania, penned this letter to his father in Pottsville upon the regiment's arrival on Hatteras Island, N.C. It was reprinted in the Miners' Journal.

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Hatteras Inlet, N.C., 15th November 1861
Dear Father:--As you no doubt will be very anxious to hear from me and to have a slight description of this place, I will endeavor to give you an outline of it. We left Fortress Monroe on Monday evening, the 12th, and after a sail of some 13 hours in the fine steamer S.S. Spaulding, we arrived here. We had already heard of the place from the Indiana boys and we found that the assertions they made to us were but too true. If Columbus had first landed here when he discovered America, he would have went back in disgust. The heavy storm they had here last week washed away part of the Fort; but I will first describe the place to you. As we arrived here on board the boat, we were wondering how we were to land, as the vessel could not get near the shore and our only way was to wade over in water up to our waist; but we watched the movements of the Colonel, who had to land first, and the way he proceeded was to go part way in a small boat, and the balance of the way, we saw him mounted on the back of a contraband darkey, amid the shouts of the boys. . . . . After we had orders to land from Gen. Williams, we had a kind of bridge made from the boat to the schooner, and from there we waded to land. We then marched past Fort Hatteras to Fort Clark, where, by the way, we had to wade water again almost up to our neck, and we are now in camp. The boys call it Camp Misery, and well they may, for it is a miserable place. When the tide is up, we have about ¼ of a mile of Island, and when it is down we have about 3 miles. We cannot eat anything without there is sand in it; in fact we have sand in our mouths, sand in our teeth, in our eyes and hair, on our floors, and sand, nothing but sand everywhere else. Water is very bad here. We can’t drink it unless we hold our noses shut, for it smells bad enough to knock one down. I would rather give 25 cents for a glass of water out of the Schuylkill than drink this [?], and it had already given the diarrhea to a great many. Fish and Sea Shells are plenty here, and that is about it. We have to live on crackers, bacon and coffee here, and we can’t go to bed at night with the hope of getting up dry in the morning, as the sea rises very high here. Sometimes it is known to be two feet high all over the shore, and we can’t make the tents stand, for there is always a high wind, and the stakes will not hold in the sand. We are, however, quartered in some small wooden sheds which the rebels had erected for their accommodations, but which have got plenty of holes in from the shells of our fleet the time they captured the place. The way pieces of shell lay about here looks as if they came down like hail. Drilling goes very hard here, as we are always up to our knees in sand, and Gen. Williams is not liked at all, as he is entirely too hard on the men. He has them up at 4 o’clock in the morning, and in bed at 8 o’clock P.M., and then has drills every hour in the day. The guard must stand under arms from 6 A.M. to broad daylight, and the strictest observances must be held here, as the enemy are continually annoying us. They send the steamer Fanny which they captured up here in Pamlico Sound, to watch our movements, but she takes care not to come within gun range. I saw the fleet exchange shots with the enemy yesterday afternoon. Two of our gun boats had up the Chickamimico yesterday morning to scout, and in the afternoon the rebel steamer Cerlew came up, no doubt thinking the place was abandoned, and when about three miles off the Fort they fired a shell at us, but it was quickly responded to by a 32 pounder from the Fort. They exchanged shots several times, but they all fell short. The Rebels are in a bad way, as we have them entirely closed up, and the Inlet is entirely is our possession. But for all this I think 4 good gun boats could hold the place, and that the Government ought not to keep two regiments in such a miserable place. Men who are here and have been for the regular service say that this is the worst spot that exists, and if we stay here two months and they send us to the next worse place it will be a perfect Paradise. So if we once get used to this we will be able to stand any hardships whatever. What you read and hear about Hatteras Inlet, you can put down for true, as they can’t make the place worse than it is. Our health so far is pretty good, but I am afraid it will not last long with such water and living. Gen. Wool says he will not keep us here longer than six weeks or two months, and I hope he will keep his word. We don’t know whether we will go back to Fortress Monroe, or further South. The weather here in the daytime is as hot as it is on the 4th of July in Pottsville, but the nights are rather chilly. People that live here are fishermen, and the men and women are a long, lanky, dirty looking set. They say they are all Union, but they do that to keep from starving. We have not received the Journal for last Saturday, the 9th, yet, and a steamer only enters here once in ten days, so when the news comes it will be old. In fact we get no papers of any kind, and we would be very thankful to our friends if they would send them to us even if they were old, if it would be inconvenient.
Geo. H. Gressang

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