Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 28, 1861: The Return of the ALFRED THOMAS

The steamship ALFRED THOMAS was built in Easton, PA in 1860 to travel up the Delaware river from its home port of Belvidere to Port Jervis, NY. However, on March 6, 1860, on its maiden voyage up river from Easton to Belvidere, the boiler exploded near Getter's Island.  Twelve people were killed, including the boat's owners Judge William Sharp, Alfred Thomas, and Richard Holcomb.  The hull was undamaged, and a new Federal gunboat was built on it.

On December 28, 1861, Lieutenant Anthony Heminover, of the Belvidere, the son of William H. Heminover - owner of the Warren Journal from 1853-1856 - wrote to the Warren Journal from the camp of the 7th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment on the lower part of the Potomac River.  Heminover was promoted from Commissary Sergeant to Lieutenant of Company H on November 25, 1861.

Heminover wrote, "Mr. Editor.  It being the holidays and thinking it would interest your readers to hear from some of their dearest friends as a New Year call, in place of a call in person, which no doubt would be very agreeable to both parties, but it is quite out of the question at this time.

"The Warren County soldiers  that are in this regiment enjoy the best of health, all improving in strength and looks, and if they don't cause a great many girls to weep after they get home, it will be strange, or else they will not have much fancy for soldiers.  They will say to their mama's it is too bad you made me marry so soon, I told you my dear Johnny would come back.  I can speak the truth and say that the Warren County men are as fine, healthy, and good looking set of men as there is in the service.

"We are encamped in a lovely clump of pines on the slope of the hill overlooking the muddy old Potomac, and opposite those famous rebel batteries, by the way six schooners ran the blockade this morning  and they fired fifty or sixty shells at them and did not touch one, the distance they shot was a half or three-quarters of a mile - they truth is they can't shoot.  We don't want to hurt them if there is any other way to do, but they do not stop firing over at us, we will get mad and then look out for breakers. 

"I got leave of absence for forty-eight hours to spend the holidays, so I thought I would take a trip to Washington.  I left camp of Christmas Eve in company with three other officers, we wandered through the pines for a boat three miles.  It was darker than a stack of 'Maryland's nigger' - at least we found the boat and got sent on board.  It was so black that he could not see how to row, the surgeon and myself came within a ace of drowning.  At 11 o'clock, we found ourselves on board the transport PHILADELPHIA, got up steam but no go, she was fast in the mud, and was good for the night, and she laid so near the Free Stone Battery that it would be of no use of making any more noise than was necessary.  She is a beautiful boat, her cabin I should think is four feet square, two chairs and an old table is her outfit of furniture, there we were jammed in for the night, almost froze.  Daylight next we were set ashore to get a better start, it was not long before we got the sight of a thing, looked like a toadfish with a fanning mill fast to its tail, we hailed her, was sent on board and soon got under way, passed the Free Stone Battery [rebel], which luckily did not get a shot at us; if one of their shots had struck, it would have mashed her, she was so little, passed the HARRIET LANE and gunboat fleet.  Soon after we took our dinner, the Captain of the boat, a good natured clever fellow, was telling us about his little craft being so unlucky, and the boat turned out to be the ill-fated ALFRED THOMAS, many of your readers will read that name and shudder. 

"We passed the spot where the Father of our Country lays, it looked deserted and forsaken, not one person was to be seen, the trees all stripped of their cover, which gave it a more forlorn appearance.  Fort Washington, a beautiful and well constructed fort, lays nearly opposite, having the whole command of the river.  Farther up we passed the brig PERRY, then the monster ship PENSACOLA; over to our left we could see the Seminary where the First New Jersey Brigade are stationed, and arrived at Washington at 2 o'clock P. M.  Made a Christmas call on Captain [Joseph] Henry, of the 9th Regiment, found them very comfortably camped on our old campground, on Meridian Hill.  The boys all looked hail and hearty, and as if they eat their share of subsistence, and could do some tall fighting.  New Jersey troops will make their mark, for our brigade is getting wild to have a fight; they all enjoy the sound of the long [drum] roll; they will form at mid-night in five minutes in heavy marching order, and the sound of the cannon is music for them; they don't care any more about the enemies shell than you would about a blue pill.  At the sound of the long roll, the hospital is rid of its sick, they will form in line of battle in spite of all; there is no use, we are all fighters here, and lay where there is fighting to be done.

"Second day in Washington took dinner with our old friend H. D. Swayze, and you can rest assured his table was spread with edibles fit for a king.  May his good wife live to cook a dinner for us all after the war is at end.

"I was at the fire of the Government stables in Washington, it was an awful sight to see, those poor beasts tied side by side in rows of fifty or more and burned to death; some would have their eyes burned out, and others the hair is all burned off.  The streets were full of loose horses running wild with fright, some into the river, others in the flames again.

"We have sent a James' projectile to Trenton as a sample of the rebel pills that they send over to us nights.  It weighs sixty-four pounds, and when they burst they don't weigh so much; we have them in all shapes, only about one in six bursts, we take the powder out and make water jugs out of them.  The shell was sent by the commander of Company H.  I will close by wishing you a Happy New Year.  Tony.   P.S. In Jersey we generally get invitations to a ball, but here the rebels send their balls without and invitations."  

Copyright 1999-2011: Jay C. Richards

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