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“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
Just as the regiment had got on the heel of excitement and began to sing, “We are Going Home,” the steamer Baltic, which was leading the fleet, turned square around in the middle of the Potomac and started right back from where she came; and the whole fleet followed her and back we went.
This threw the privates and several officers into a hubub. We were all disappointed except the generals who understood the programme, for such boat-whirling is seldom seen. As a revenge for not carrying us to Washington, officers and men all rushed to their respective quarters determined, if possible, to dream into reality the pleasure which we expected on our arrival in the city.
The design of carrying the fleet up the Potomac River was, I suppose, a strategical feint. Next time they take me so near my wife and children, I hope they will take me a little further.
Wednesday, Dec. 14th This morning we halted and anchored somewhere in the mouth of Chesapeake Bay; all in great suspense yet; no one knows our destination; twenty transports loaded with troops stand huddled together far away from bottom or shore; bands are played; drums are beaten; songs are sung; cheers are given. About two hours before sun-down, signals were given and off we started, bound round Cape Hatteras, the place so many dread. The winds were calm, and we promised a safe trip.…
Friday, December 16th Last night the fleet all stopped off [New Inlet, North Carolina], some twenty miles from land. We have had fine weather for two days. The ocean is perfectly smooth. Not being able to find anchorage, the vessels were compelled to float about.
The weather is very warm here. We have to pull off our surplus clothes. Water is getting scarce, and our fine tables are getting more common.…
Sunday, December 18th We still float in the same place. Every body wonders why we lie here; but no one, with the exception of General Butler and Admiral Porter knows.
I counted more than thirty ships lying around us. Today being Sabbath, I propose to preach for my regiment; but the officers request me to preach to them first. At the time appointed, I proceeded to do so; but disliking some misconduct exhibited by men whose character should be exemplary, I stopped immediately without pronouncing the benediction, and left the place to hold service with my regiment. We had a glorious meeting. The cause of my stopping the services which I was conducting with the officers was not that I felt myself to be personally insulted, but because I considered their conduct very ungrateful to God.
I was amused this morning at a colored boy who came to wait on the table. He was so much surprised at seeing me, a colored man, eating with white officers, that he did nothing but stand back and look at me. I suppose that he never saw such a sight before.…
Monday, December 19th This morning we were still at the old place.… The weather was smooth and calm. About ten o’clock the wind commenced to blow, and increased in violence until late at night. The waters rolled in great torrents and the ship was tossed as a mere bubble over the seemingly frightened billows of the great deep.
Last night, being Sabbath evening, the officers of our regiment set a noble example to the others by spurning to indulge in an exercise upon which God would frown in terrible vengeance.
I am proud of our officers in two respects—they will reverence the Sabbath, and honor Divine service. Every body wanted to disembark. We were all tired of the ship, and wanted to see land once more.
I counted forty-two ships today, lying around us. Our numbers seemed to increase. I fear for the monitors tonight. The waters are very rough.
Tuesday, December 20th Still lying off [New Inlet]. Last night a heavy gale blew nearly all night. This morning the wind was quite moderate, but the waters were rough. A great many were sea-sick. The universal cry all day was, “We want to land.” About ten o’clock today, I counted sixty-three vessels, some of which were monitors. Today I raised some excitement about my horse. I declare, he is ruined forever. The officers laughed at me, and one reproved me from the Bible and told me that I should be more composed, even if I had lost my life, much less my horse.
This afternoon a heavy northerly wind set in. About five o’clock we received orders to put into Beaufor, N.C., for the purpose of getting coal and water. We are now, while I am writing, on our way there. The gale is terrible, and the ship seems to ride mountain high. I can only say, “Save, Lord, or we perish!”
Wednesday, December 21st This morning we came up to Beaufort, having had a considerable gale all night. Before the pilot-boat could convey us over the bar and bring us into the harbor, the wind began to blow more terribly, until the waters became too rough for us to attempt to cross the bar, and so we were compelled to make for the sea, with our water and coal nearly exhausted, and not knowing how long the storm would last. We all felt very solemn and anxious in regard to our safety, besides the dreadful thought that if the vessel did not founder, perhaps we would have to endure the pangs of hunger and be left without steam-fuel far out on the ocean’s bosom. However, we then had only time to think of the ship, which was new, and had never before been in such a gale.