- Historic Sites
In Search Of My Son
In 1865 a father went from New York to North Carolina to reclaim the body of his boy, killed in action. Here is his account of how the task was done
February 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 2
Fort Monroe is a very strong fortification, and may be regarded as almost impregnable. There I was unavoidably detained, for want of a transport, until Tuesday following; during which time, it was very cold, and stormed almost incessantly. Having learned unexpectedly that there was a Capt Warren of Albany, belonging to the 3d Regiment N.Yk. Volunteers, who was then at the Chesapeake Hospital at Hampton, I lost no time in procuring a pass from the Provost Marshall, and walked a distance of about three miles on Sunday, in the face of a rain and a strong wind, to the Hospital, where, after some difficulty, I found him confined to his bed by sickness. I also saw Lieut Behan, belonging to the same Regiment, who had been wounded in the neck at the battle of Fort Fisher, and was under treatment in the same room with Capt Warren. They gave me the first reliable information I had been able to obtain respecting Edward.
“I regret to inform you,” said the Captain to me, “that your son Edward was killed, being in the front ranks that commenced the attack in the storming of Fort Fisher. I had known him well for a long time. Edward was not rash, but was a bold man, and never flinched from danger. He was very correct and circumspect in all his habits and deportment. I never saw him drink any spirits. He was strictly temperate, and never used profane language. He was very social, kind and affable, and was held in great esteem by the men of the Regiment. Whenever engaged in battle, he was firm, cool and collected, and understanding his duty, he never failed to discharge it with promptitude and bravery. Perhaps,” said the Captain, “the best description I can give of him, is, that I considered him a model soldier.”
Lieut. Behan was present and attested to the truth of what the Capt had said to me.
“Edward and myself,” he remarked, “were at the head of the Regiment, and among the first to attack the Fort at the commencement of the battle. I,” said he, “had got upon the parapet, and Edward was mounting the slope in front, and just upon the point of reaching the same parapet, near me, not far from the north west end of the Fort, when he was shot, as I think, in the left breast by a minie ball from a rifle, and fell while shouting to the Regiment to press bravely on to the charge. Some friend ran immediately and brought a cup of water and placed it to his lips; but his eyes were closed, and he never opened them afterwards.”
The sad reality now came over me, that Edward was no more a living man in this World; and I left the Hospital with a heavy heart, and returned to the Fortress. My aim then was to speed my journey as rapidly as possible; and I spent Monday in unceasing, but fruitless efforts, to accomplish my purpose. Besides, I was obliged to stay nights at a miserable dining saloon, sleeping a short and broken rest on a sofa, taking irregular meals, and being very uncomfortable from exposure to the storm and want of suitable fires …
At length on Tuesday morning I learned that the Transport Ellen S. Terry had arrived from New York the previous night, bound for Newbern, N.C., and was lying nearby at anchor in Hampton Roads; and as I knew her Captain, I resolved I would take passage on board of her. After much trouble, I finally found her master, Capt Chapin; and having procured a pass from the Provost Marshall, and paid for my transportation, I was taken on board of the vessel.
I found she had several horses and sixty head of cattle on her second, or under deck, that were to be taken to Newbern. Two of the cattle had died in the passage from New York, and had been thrown overboard, and another had just died in the harbor; and the stench that came through the hatches was at times almost suffocating. Nevertheless my courage was not abated, but I resolved to continue on board and share my chances with the passengers and crew. About eleven o’clock in the forenoon of Tuesday, the 24th January, the storm cleared away, and the Transport steamed out of the harbor, past the Rip Raps; and by meridian, we were ploughing old ocean with a stiff breeze and a heavy roll of the boat. The Capt threw overboard another dead ox, and then we went to dinner. The whole Transport was infected with the stench from dead animals; which affected my appetite for food as long as I continued on board the vessel. In my judgment she was far from being a good sea boat, as she rolled terribly, and her progress was slow, not more than seven or eight knots per hour.
At length we saw Cape Hatteras on our starboard, and the light house standing upon the Point; and having sailed Tuesday and Tuesday night, we entered Hatteras Inlet about ten o’clock Wednesday forenoon, the 25th Jany. There the vessel had the ill luck to get aground upon a bar, and remained aground until six o’clock in the evening, when, by the assistance of a steamship, she was got off and proceeded immediately on her way through Pamlico Sound and up Neuse River to Newbern, N.C., where we arrived about nine o’clock in the morning of Thursday the 26th Jany, just one half an hour too late for me to take the cars there that day for Morehead City opposite Beaufort, N.C.