- 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
It seemed to me I could not walk back to the Point in season to get on board the Montauk; and so, after a moment’s reflection, I moved slowly toward an officer standing near General Ames’ headquarters. I had conversed with him the day before, and he had known Edward, and felt an interest in my success. Addressing myself to him, in a half mournful, half jovial tone, I said, “Pity the sorrows of a poor old man, whose trembling limbs have borne him to your door! I am quite fatigued,” said I, “and yet I must be at Federal Point by sunset, or perhaps lose my night’s rest on board the Montauk.”
Turning round to an orderly he said, “Orderly, take your horse and another, and go with this gentleman to the Point.” And in less than five minutes, I was on horseback, with the orderly by my side, and away we galloped to the Point, where the orderly took my horse and returned, and I went aboard the Montauk for the night.
I went ashore at the Point early on Wednesday morning the 1st February, and again waded, as usual, through sand and salt marsh, in the face of a keen, cold wind, until I arrived at the spot where I had before found the barrel of rosin; and now commenced making search for pitch. I critically examined every place where I thought there was any probability of success. Finally, I betook myself to the edge of the tide from Cape Fear River, which was beginning to ebb; and there, after a short search, I discovered what I judged to be a barrel of pitch, embedded in the sand under the water. This unexpected good fortune enlivened my hopes, and gave me a fresh impulse, and encouraged me to persevere.
I then proceeded immediately to General Ames’ headquarters, and told him of my labors the day before, and that it was necessary for me to procure assistance in endeavoring to obtain the pitch, and more rosin than I had been able to carry through the deep sand on my back. He very kindly reproved me for not asking for assistance, instead of carrying the rosin myself; and ordered a detail of men and a team forthwith, to be at my disposal. In a few minutes I was provided with a heavy four-wheel wagon, drawn by six mules, with a driver, and three men; and on we moved to the places where were the rosin and pitch. We gathered a further quantity of rosin, and then went for the pitch.
The tide had receded, and in digging around what I supposed was a barrel, we found it was only three barrel staves, which, however, had pitch on the inside about two inches thick. This, we concluded, would not be sufficient, so, while one of the men was severing the pitch from the staves, we strolled over southard, beyond the barrel of rosin, into the central part of the rear of the Fort, and there found a barrelhead, covered with pitch from 4 to 6 inches thick, embedded in the sand; which was all and more than I needed. I felt extremely elevated in this sudden and unexpected discovery. We carried it with the rest of the pitch and the rosin, to the wagon, and went and deposited the whole at General Ames’ headquarters.
I next repaired to Capt Gordon’s tent, to see what progress had been made in finishing the box, and found the lumber had not been touched by a carpenter. The coffin was there, but the boards had been removed some distance to a pile of joists. I sought out Capt Gordon, and respectfully remonstrated. He went with me immediately to the only joiner there was there, and ordered him to leave all other jobs and make me the box. The carpenter obeyed, and I stood by him and helped him, every way I could, for about five hours, when, it being near nightfall, and seeing that the work was about done, I walked from headquarters to the Point, very much fatigued, and again went aboard the Montauk, and slept sweetly through the night.
Thursday morning the ad February I again went ashore at the Point, and walked, as usual, to headquarters. It was cold and the wind blew very hard from the northwest. I called upon General Ames, and told him the progress I had made, and now all I wanted was a tent-cloth. He said I would have to go to General Terry for that. I immediately repaired to General Terry’s headquarters, and told him what I needed; and by his direction I was furnished with an order on the physician at the hospital, a mile above, to deliver to me a tent-cloth to wrap the body in, and a detail of men, and a team, to take up and remove the body. He also ordered me a horse, to be at my disposal during the day.
So I mounted the horse and galloped away, through clouds of dust and sand, to the hospital, and saw the physician, who politely informed me that he could not furnish a team, nor a detail of men; but he would send a tent-cloth to General Ames’ headquarters, where the rest of my materials were deposited. He gave me an order on an officer at General Ames’ headquarters, for a team, and detail of men. Consequently I had to ride back to those quarters; and there the officer gave me an order for a team, and detail of men, on another officer three quarters of a mile above the hospital.
I found the box, and coffin, rosin and pitch, and subsequently the tent-cloth, all deposited together at General Ames’ headquarters. I then galloped off in the eye of the keen wind, with my mouth, eyes and ears filled with dust and sand, to the station above the hospital, and presented my order to the officer. He ordered up a team, and a detail of four men, besides a driver.