Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers
Company A, Inc.
The Battles for New Berne
New Berne, NC.
1100 Washington Post Rd,
New Bern, N.C.
Three hearty souls took the cars south to the seat of war early in March. Our travels took us south along the coasts of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. We took the high bridge over the Chesapeake to the Portsmouth side of the Roads. From there the night weather closed in on the cars, and as soon as we were south of the Dismal Swamp, and indeed the area is dismal, we headed inland to Elizabeth City to find lodging for the night. In the morning, the weather was less sleet, but more gale force winds as we made for the outer banks. We got to Kitty Hawk and the Kill Devil hills, walked the grounds there, and were glad to be back on the road south. We made the turn inland again, and arrived at Roanoke Island. Our first stop was at Ashby's Landing where the Burnside Expedition landed, and the Eighth held the beachhead and laid in reserve during the Battle of Roanoke Island. We proceeded on to visit the battlefield proper where the land necked down and funneled into the enemy lines through swamp and mire. We toured to the north of the island where the forts and the Rebels were captured, and the hospitals were set. The town of Mateo is quite small, and nothing of interest.
We again headed west inland to skirt from this peninsula to the next, where New Bern is located. Heading east through mile after mile of mangrove, swamp, and mire, it was amazing to see how anyone could live here, or want to fight for this land of water moccasins. We made the acquaintance of a very hospitable North Carolina trooper in this region, who picked us out of the crowd quite easily for closer review. Heading towards New Bern, we arrived and found one of ours that had taken the cars north to meet us.
We all together took the cars to the south through Havelock Station, Carolina City, and Morehead City out to Bogue's Bank. There we walked on the Atlantic beach where Captain Flagler set his siege guns, the Eighth manned the rifle pits in support, and looked to the north to see Fort Macon. We then went to the fort, and toured the place. It is a fine brick fort, and in very good repair. The wind gusts were so strong that they were not flying the national colors from the flag pole, or so they said. The views of the beach, sound, and ocean from the walls of the fort showed the reason for its strategic location. It was an experience of a lifetime to walk where the Eighth dug, laid siege, and fought for the fort, and then walk on the parade ground where they took the surrender, lowered the Rebel flag, and hoisted the flag of our Nation.
We then headed to the outskirts of New Bern and found our way to the Bellaire Plantation. We arrived to find that it is maybe a mile square of dead flat land that had just been rained on heavily. The water has nowhere to go, and it seems that a rain here is as disruptive as a foot of snow back home. It takes some time for the water to sink in or seep off. We elected not to pitch camp in the dark, wet, and mud, so went back to town to find lodgings at the inn. In the morning, we returned early to find a better ground and many friendly soldiers to help.
March 14, 1862
In camp near New Bern, N.C.
We were put in with the Ninth New Jersey, a fine lot of men, along with Colonel Kurt Coles, a true kind man, but with the devil's evil eyes. The first formation was for a morning dress parade. This was a combined parade, north and south. Curious. It was then followed by a company drills, and next by a combined battalion drill, all done without officers. That is to say, that the NCOs were in charge of the experiment, with mixed results. The four of us Nutmeggers were assigned to the 9th New Jersey color guard, and thus took the privilege of standing by and doing a lot of observations during the drilling, before the whole lot was dismissed and returned to camp for dinner.
We soon were called into formation once more. We were a battalion of four companies as the Ninth. We were marched down the lane of the plantation, lined with shade trees. We were halted and line up in the shade along the lane. The Colonel warned us that the house and grounds were under a safe guard issued by Gen. Burnside himself. It turns out that the owner and Burnside are both Masons. We were put at rest. After a time, the Colonel came forward, and we were to conduct a ceremony. It was the blessing of the newly minted colors of the Ninth New Jersey. This was the first time they were being flown since they were made by Lynn Bull, interestingly once from Connecticut and the Rockville GAR. Everyone was asked to gather around the colors, and each one of us touch the cloth and make the connection. Prayers were said, and the bond was done. This is why we are in this. As the day wore on, it was uncanny how many people came and shook our hands with some story of living in Connecticut, or other Nutmeg connection. We also saw many recognizable friends from events all across the eastern seaboard, and were glad that they too had traveled to make this inaugural event a success. Looks like leaving the state has a good destination in this North Carolina tidewater area.
We formed in line, and advanced to a large snag in the middle of an open square mile. From there, we launched our advance on the Thompson line, defending New Bern south of the town, from Fort Thompson on the Trent river to the east, to the murky swamps to the west. We steadily advanced and drove in their pickets. We then attacked the line of earthworks, and the Rebels opened upon us all along that line. We crossed a bridge near the brickyard and continued to press along the railroad tracks running to the north. It was soon apparent that the enemy was not in strength to match our numbers. As we poured through the lines at the railroad, they began withdrawing towards the city and to the west into their redoubts along the skirts of the swamps. That did not stop our advance, and soon enough they had all retired. We were victorious, and our little band was with the Ninth New Jersey colors posted high on the works, to show the world that the works were securely in the hands of the Union. This was a thrill beyond belief, although it was procured at quite a butchers bill on both sides. Cheers could be heard up and down the line. We were assembled, rolls taken, and marched back to camp. Supper was provided of a Brunswick stew, sweet tea, cakes, pies, and all sorts of sweets. This hospitality cannot be beat. The night was passed around the fires, discussion of every subject, and sharing every bounty that could be found in our haversacks and knapsacks.
The night was passed in comfort and sound sleep, thanks to plenty of good bed rolls. The temperatures were guessed to be just above freezing, so an improvement from the night before. The morning brought a repeat of the daily orders from the day before. The joint dress parade, company drills, and then battalion drill were all observed this time by the combined Union and Confederate color guards who met, stacked arms, shook hands, and talked of soldiers stories for some time until the drills were over. We again returned to camp, had our dinners, and enjoyed some time to talk with the citizens of the area. We made the acquaintance Skip Riddle of the New Bern Historical Society for almost an hour, and made fast friends.
February 1, 1864
near New Bern, N.C.
The next formation found the colors of the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers flying over the battalion. It was an honor accorded to us for our long distance commitment and dedication to the story unfolding here in New Bern. This time around it was the the Union posted in the earthworks, and behind the earth. We could look out across Batchelder’s Creek, and the plains beyond. We could make out a cavalry skirmish out there, and then some Rebel infantry advancing on the outer picket posts. The pickets were instantly routed, and abandoned the post. The Rebels fired the tents there to destroy the post. This scene was repeated at the second line of picket posts, although they did take a stand, fight some to delay the advance, and signal the attack to the main body at the works. Their tents were also burned and could be seen in flames easily from our vantage point. So the pickets cam streaming back towards the works, and crossed the bridge across the creek. Some of the guards held the bridge until the last men crossed, then tore up the planks, tossed them into the creek, and retired to the works. The Rebel advance came on and on, and reached the bridge, crossed on the timbers with many being picked off at the bottle neck. But they were able to reform in line, and attack the lines and the works. It was about this time that the Colonel gave us in the color guard the orders to take the colors to the rear, which we did in fine order, in fact, the national flag outdistanced the sprint of the state colors by at least fifty yards. It was a good thing to protect the colors, as the Union soldiers were forced into retreat from the works and the Rebels once again held them for a time.
We marched back to camp once more, were dismissed, and said all our good-byes to many a new friend. It was a risk to think that a local event so deep in Dixie would be worth the trip, but we were handsomely rewarded with a great event with special attention to details and a cast of soldiers that all marched and fought like veterans. Yes, we will be glad to return to fight for New Bern again, and even accept invitations extended to fight at Fort Macon as well.
The expedition would not be complete until we all headed for the New Bern Battlefield. The location was acquired by the Civil War Trust, is owned by the New Bern Historical Society, and has extensive walking trails and placards describing the actions and activities of the event. The site is well maintained, and we will support their work in the future. We turned our sites north once more, and headed for home with a great memory, and several vials of soil from the key locations. We made a quick stop in Goldsboro to see the replica of the ironclad gunboat CSS Neuse. It was built in the Neuse River here in Goldboro, never saw a fight, and was burned and sunk to avoid capture. It was an amazing sight to behold. Such is the journal from our road trip into the past, and into the tidewater war of the Old Eighth.
Bully for all our new Tarheel Friends !
Kim, Hal, Darryl, & Dan
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Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, Co.A, Inc.