- 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
About twelve o’clock the ocean was covered with white foam and rolling waves; but still the wind increased, and higher did the billows roll until great mountains, towering apparently up to heaven, came dashing along in sublime vengeance.…
Many, for a while, tried to laugh and shake off their fears; but about eight o’clock we all ceased laughing. I had been praying all the time, and I believe many others were. Now all began to feel serious and solemn. Even the crew looked and spoke apprehensively. Finally, an awful sea came and broke in our wheel-house. Still the raging waters and howling winds grew worse.
At last many of us gave up all hope. I lay down and bade my mother, wife, and children farewell, and after asking God to protect them and bring us together in heaven to be separated no more, I begged the Lord to put me to sleep, and that if it was His will that the ship should be dashed to pieces, I should remain asleep and be spared the heartrending spectacle of nearly fifteen hundred men launched into eternity in one moment.
God answered my prayer. I went quietly to sleep; and when I awoke, I found that the storm had subsided, and the ship was again on her way to Beaufort, where we are this morning (December 22d.)
The whole fleet was in that storm. We have not yet heard of the casualties.
Thursday, December 22d After passing through one of the most terrific storms, yesterday, ever witnessed by mortals, we this morning came into Beaufort, N. C., after casting anchor in the ship-harbor. I disembarked and went ashore, hoping to find Mr. Galloway, not knowing anyone else, but he being in Newbern, N. C., and it being too late to get back aboard the ship, and it being very cold, I was taken by a gentleman to one Mr. Washington, where I was introduced as a stranger desiring a place to stay all night. And after I was denied upon the ground that they had no accommodations, I asked permission to sit by the fire during the night, as I did not want to lie in the street; but this privilege was denied me, also. The gentleman then conducted me to an old sister’s house, viz., Clara Fisher, who offered me all the comforts of her house, and soon prepared me a fine supper. After learning I was very dirty, and how long I had been deprived of clean clothing, she soon got me a clean suit and washed and ironed mine and next morning turned me out clean, for she had me wash too. God bless Clara Fisher!…
Saturday, December 24th Today, about 2 o’clock, we put to sea, having replenished our coal, water, and eatables. The soldiers seem cheerful and sing, and many hold prayer meetings, and all things move off very pleasantly; they, almost to a man, express quite a desire to do something, as they say they are tired of doing nothing.
Sunday, December 25th This morning (Christmas), we found ourselves off Wilmington, N.C. The light of day made visible a large collection of vessels, both of the navy and transports.… About 8 o’clock Gen. Butler came in the steam-ship Bendeford , by the fleet of transports, and gave orders to follow him. During this time the immense naval fleet, with monitors, whose turrets were barely visible above the water, iron-clads which wore an impregnable aspect to every missile in rebel possession, and a large number of regular man-of-war and gun boats, began moving toward the shore and wind[ing] serpentinely around Fort Fisher, which protects the entrance to Wilmington on the Cape Fear River. About 10 o’clock the firing commenced from a procession of naval boats fully six miles long, including those which were shelling the water-batteries along the sea beach to effect a landing for the infantry, when broadside after broadside was fired, until the reports became so continuous that, in many instances, it was one unbroken roar, which seemed to be awful enough to shake the world. … From that time until night did the lurid flame flash and the grim roar mutter while everything trembled as if it were rocked in the cradle of consternation.
About 2 o’clock the gunboats had effected a landing for the infantry about four miles above the fort, and all the yawl boats were employed to land the troops, as the ships could not get within two hundred yards of the shore. These small boats were therefore sent ashore filled with soldiers, and on landing, salutes were given by broadsides from several ships, while the band played “Hail Columbia.” A few moments after their arrival on shore a white flag was seen waving from a little mound behind which was a rebel water-battery; at this sight, the two divisions raised a shout of triumph which was only excelled by the terrific roar of cannon. Our landed troops, seeing them, went to the place, where some thirty came out and surrendered. At this stage of events our troops raised a more vociferous shout than ever. In about an hour from then, the rebels came in heavy force to stop the landing of our troops, but they were soon driven back. About dusk, Gen. Butler gave orders … to re-embark, for what reason I know not.…