Friday, February 3, 2012

January-February 1862: 9th NJ Infantry Regiment & the Perils of the Sea

Someone once wrote a warning to be careful for what you wish because you might get it.  When Charles Hinton, of Belvidere, wrote to The Belvidere Intelligencer on December 23, 1861 that the men of the 9th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment wanted to move farther south to fight the rebels, he clearly did not know that his and his comrades' wish would soon be granted - with a terrible result.

On January 4th 1862, the "Jersey 9th" was ordered to board a train to Annapolis, Maryland to join an expedition to Roanoke Island, North Carolina.  The 9th was attached to the command of Brigadier General Jesse L. Reno.  On January 10, the regiment steamed to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, and on January 12, the 9th NJ embarked on transports heading toward the Hatteras Inlet. 

While on board the brigantine DRAGON, Hinton, of Company K, wrote,"We left Meridian Hill on the 4th, and got on board the sheep cars, of course, and started for Annapolis.  We arrived there at Midnight, and were taken to the navy yard to quarter for the night.  On Sunday, the 5th, we were put on board the brig to be ready to start on the Burnside Expedition, but we layed in the bay for three days, then started for Fortress Monroe, and arrived there on Friday afternoon.  We layed there for two days without being allowed to go ashore.  On Sunday, the 12th, we spread our sails to the breeze and sailed down along the coast finely.  It was the first time that a good many of the boys had ever been to sea, and they were nearly all seasick.  After sailing a day and a half, we arrived off Hatteras Inlet; we layed three days along the coast.  We did not like the idea of lying out there so long as it was stormy most of the time."

On January 14, the steamer CITY OF NEW YORK, carrying ammunition, foundered at the mouth of the inlet.  The USS CONNECTICUT sunk inside a bar.  The steamer POCAHONTAS, carrying horses for the cavalry and officers, ran ashore in the storm.  Corporal Samuel J. Dilkes, of Company K, swam ashore in the storm with a rope, which he attached to the POCAHONTAS   and to a stake driven into the sand on shore. Because of Dilkes' actions, the crew of the POCAHONTAS was able to hold onto the rope as they headed to shore and safety.  When the POCAHONTAS' cook, an elderly woman of color, was too frightened to escape the sinking ship, Dilkes swam back to the ship, tied the woman to him, jumped into the water, and swam the two of them to shore.  The men on shore and on the other ships cheered a Dilkes saved the woman.  

On January 15, the storm had passed and the water seemed calm enough for the staff officers of the 9th Regiment to meet with General Ambrose Burnside aboard the US Steamer PAWTUCKET.  Colonel Joseph W. Allen, of Bordontown; Lt. Colonel Charles Heckman, of Phillipsburg; Surgeon Frederick Weller, of Paterson; Adjutant Abram Zabriskie; and Quartermaster Samuel Keyes left the steamer ANN E. THOMPSON in the captain's gig and arrived safely at the PAWTUCKET.  After meeting with Burnside, the officers of the 9th Regiment got back into the gig.  As the crew of twelve sailors rowed back toward the ANN E. THOMPSON, a water-spout or large wave hit the bow of the boat. A second, larger wave hit the bottom of the boat and heaved it into the air, capsizing it.  Heckman and Zabriskie made several unsuccessful attempts to save Colonel Allen, Dr. Weller, and one of the sailors.  They watched their colonel and surgeon struggle to keep their heads above water - only to be swallowed up by the sea before Heckman and Zabriskie could reach them.

Heckman realized the capsized boat, on to which the survivors were hanging, was washing out to sea.  He grabbed an oar and tied a sailor's shirt to it to make a flag, which he raised into the air to catch the attention of the crew of the PAWTUCKET.  The steamer quickly came to the rescue.  The survivors received medical attention on board the steamer, and the bodies of Colonel Allen, age 51; Dr. Weller, age 44; and the sailor were retrieved.  Lt. Colonel Heckman, although prostrate from exhaustion, took command of the 9th NJ Regiment. 

On January 16, the DRAGON, carrying Hinton and five companies of the 9th Regiment, struck a sand bar.  First Sergeant Thomas W. Burnett, of Company B, ordered his men to fire signal shots with their muskets to attract one of the steamers.  Hinton recalled, "On the third day, the steamer PAWTUCKET came to tow us in; she started with us, but only took us part way in, and left us on the bar.  By the time she returned, we found out the dangerous position she had left us in.  We did not know what to do at first; the men were all in confusion.  At last Company B was ordered on deck with their rifles and fired volley after volley until we saw him [the PAWTUCKET] coming back, and the steamer PILOT BOY with him."

Belvidere folks would say they would go without rather than eat such food: if they were here, they would not talk so  - they would seize fast a big piece of fat pork and think it was good.  I have not seen any of the Belvidere boys [in Company H] since we left Annapolis, but they were well and in good spirits.  I suppose we shall soon have a brush with the rebels, and if I come out right side up, I will let you know something about it."

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards         

No comments:

Post a Comment