- 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
On Monday morning the 30th January, I again went ashore at the Point, and saw Capt Lamb, the Quartermaster, and gained his sympathies in my behalf, with his promise to aid me all in his power. The wind blew severe from the north or north-east, and was accompanied with some rain, and it was uncomfortably stormy and cold. But I drew my overclothing around me, and started again on a pilgrimage to headquarters, not forgetting to stop at Edward’s grave on my way.
Having arrived at General Terry’s headquarters, I obtained an interview with Doctor Barnes, a physician, and inquired if he knew where I might obtain salt or rosin. General Terry remarked that he could furnish me with plenty of salt; and Doctor Barnes said there was no rosin to be found there, but he expected to go to Smithville, across Cape Fear River, the next day, and if he could find any rosin he would bring some over on his return. With these assurances, I found myself obliged to be content for the day. I saw that the business must take time for its accomplishment; and too much haste might defeat my purpose. So I spent the rest of the day in roaming through the camps, among the soldiers, and in examining critically the rifle pits and breast works, and Fort Fisher, and Forts Lamb and Buchanan, and in holding sundry conversations with officers and soldiers.
During the day I found an officer who told me that he had three bodies taken up last June at Newbern, N.C., that had been buried three months. That he procured tent-cloths, and covered the cloths with hot pitch, and wound them around the bodies, and put hot pitch on the inside of the coffins, and deposited the bodies in the coffins, and sent them to Brooklyn, New York, where they were buried in Greenwood Cemetery; and no fault was found, or complaints made; and he kindly offered me his assistance if I should need it. I then went to General Ames’ headquarters, and saw Surgeon Washburn, and reported the facts to him; and he thought the plan a better one than he had suggested the day before.
Finally, after a day of anxious care, I returned to the Point, and went on board the Montauk. At supper we had at the table Capt Ainsworth, the harbor master, and also the Capt of the small steamer Howard, which was accustomed to run from the Point up the River to a wharf abreast of General Terry’s headquarters, and was engaged in other harbor service. I inquired of them, as I did of many others, for information where I might obtain pitch, or rosin, or tent-cloth. No one could tell me where I could obtain either of the articles. The soldiers needed all their tent-cloths; and, as for pitch, or rosin, they did not know where they could be found.
The next morning, Tuesday the 31st January, I went ashore again at the Point, and waded through sand and salt marsh until I reached Fort Lamb; and from there to the north easterly extremity of Fort Fisher I made thorough search, throughout the whole rear of the Fort, for pitch, and rosin, inquiring of every person I saw, if they knew of any such articles; to which, I received the uniform answer, that they had no knowledge respecting it. Finally, observing a rising knoll of sand lying in the rear near the tide water of the River, I repaired thither, and with the fragment of a pick-axe I went to work, picking at a slight mound of sand; when, to my astonishment, I found a whole barrel of rosin there, buried in the sand! I was affected, even to tears, and thanked the Lord and took courage.
I then sought for and found a large sand-bag, and emptying out the sand, I commenced filling it with large lumps of rosin; and having obtained from 25 to 30 pounds, and seeing a large four-wheel wagon, drawn by a team of six mules, just passing me, I begged the privilege of depositing the bag of rosin in the wagon- which was freely granted, and the rosin was thus carried to a point within half a mile of headquarters. There I took the load upon my back, and carried it through deep sand, to the headquarters of General Ames, and left it in charge of a soldier for the ensuing night.
The same day I had the coffin sent ashore, and saw Capt Lamb, and by his orders the coffin was forwarded and left in charge of another soldier near the same headquarters. I got a permit and obtained a sufficient quantity of boards to make a box to inclose the coffin, and had coffin and boards left in front of Capt Gordon’s tent, who promised, the next morning, to detail a carpenter, and have the box made, and in the meantime to have the coffin and boards properly guarded and not taken away. It was now near nightfall, and I was greatly fatigued.
I could find only two men belonging to the 3d Regiment N.Y. Volunteers, and they did not know where Edward was buried. The rest of the Regiment had been sent to a place in or near Smithville, on the western shore of the sea, near the mouth of Cape Fear River, 10 or 12 miles distant; and I could not see them without getting a pass and spending two days, which I did not feel at liberty to undertake to do, in view of the delay that must ensue; for, I found nothing would be done unless I was constantly present, attending to the business myself, and the body was, every day, becoming undoubtedly more and more decomposed and unfit for transportation.