- Historic Sites
“rocked In The Cradle Of Consternation”
A black chaplain in the Union Army reports on the struggle to take Fort Fisher, North Carolina, in the winter of 1864–65
October/november 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 6
At the dawn of day, the drums beat and off we started. But instead of one regiment, there was a whole division on the move. Troops for miles in length were seen performing the war tramp, and moving in majestic procession. Whilst generals, colonels, and their respective staff were dashing in different directions to regulate their various commands, onward, however, the seried line proceeded until we halted at Bermuda Hundred, where the James River teemed with transports of every size, dimension, and description. Our division stopped for some hours in an old field fronting the wharf… to give time for the embarcation of a white division which arrived before us. There we remained till late in the afternoon when our turn for embarking on the transports arrived. The 4th U.S.C.T. then moved up to the wharf and commenced to go aboard, and other colored regiments in turn, and thus they continued to embark until our whole division were stored away on the boats, to completely effect which required a very late hour. My regiment and the 37th U.S.C.T. having taken quarters on the Hermon Livingston , Gen. Payne’s [Brigadier General Charles J. Paine] headquarters boat, we moved out in the centre of the James River to rest for the night. Every one being very tired, we took our blankets and laid down anywhere to rest. Soon silence prevailed and all were asleep. But about 1 o’clock at night this recuperating slumber was terribly broken by the cold bracing winds of the north, and such shivering and rattling of teeth I never heard. Fire was sought for in vain. Blankets sufficient to repel the cold were also sought in vain. But the night had to be disposed of in the best manner possible, which I assure you was very badly to all above either of the decks. The troops in the steerage fared much better in consequence of the great number which tended to keep each other warm.
Friday, Dec. 9th This morning we left Bermuda Hundred, came down the James River, and anchored off Fortress Monroe, in the Hampton Roads. The weather is exceedingly cold. The ship has no heating facilities. Everybody complains. Some of the soldiers are frost-bitten. We have all suffered severely today. I thought strongly of my comfortable home; but I am willing to suffer with my regiment, knowing that they have no more at stake than myself.
Saturday, Dec. 10th This morning found us still at anchor. Gen. Payne goes ashore. The weather is still very cold. The transport is disagreeably crowded, and we can hardly find room to turn around.
The only thing I have truly enjoyed since I came aboard this boat is the sumptuous meals which are cooked and served up so finely. This provision is only made for the officers, and none bears off more table incumbents than this dear brother. The soldiers have to prepare their own grub.…
This afternoon I asked permission and went ashore and saw Chaplain Asher of the 6th U.S.C.T. He says they have comfortable quarters on his boat, and I also learn from others on shore that all have better quarters than we. I returned to my ship late at night on a steam tug in company with Gen. Payne and several other officers. I had to hunt several hours to find it in consequence of the dense fog. It is still cold, and the soldiers talk more about home than I ever heard them before.
Sunday, Dec. llth Still at anchor; large fleet collected in Hampton Roads; boats of all sizes moving in every direction; weather still cold; wind very high; several soldiers complain of frost bites; I never felt more like resigning.
The curiosity to know of our destination has given rise to many speculations. Some say we are going to Savannah, Charleston, Hilton Head, Mobile, &c.; others say to the Shenandoah Valley, East Tennessee, Harper’s Ferry, &c. But no one knows, therefore we solace ourselves by the old adage, that “Soldiers have no right to think, much less to know.”…
Monday, Dec. 12th This morning I returned from Norfolk to Fortress Monroe. The wind being very severe, and the waves rolling very high, and our steamboat being very light, she was tossed about so recklessly that considerable apprehension was felt in behalf of our safety. The captain informed me that the boat was perfectly safe and immediately turned to one of his crew and ordered him to prepare the lifeboats, which was a contradiction of the statement just made to me. We arrived safe at Fortress Monroe and saw Gen. Butler moving around in some haste, preparing the expedition for what may be a perilous adventure. Here I spent the day in chatting with different persons about the Fort until near night, when I went aboard my boat in a yawl. Our boat is still lying at anchor at this place.
Tuesday, Dec. 13th This morning when I awoke, I found our boat was in motion, and the whole fleet moving. But, to our great surprise, instead of going South we were running up the bay towards Washington. All day we continued to run up the Bay and Potomac River, so late in the afternoon that the boys of the gallant 1st U. S. C. T. began to look cheerful and smile at each other as they seemed to get in sight of Washington, D. C. Indeed, we came so near to the city that I knew of no stopping place that high up except Alexandria or Washington. I was so confident that I was to be home in an hour or so that I commenced to fit up and prepare for it.