Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 29, 1862: Charles Hinton of the NJ 9th at New Bern, NC

On March 14, 1862, the 9th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry Regiment had fought its second battle in New Bern, North Carolina.  On April 1, 1862, Private Charles Hinton, of Belvidere, serving in Company K of the Jersey Ninth wrote in a letter to The Belvidere Intelligencer of his visit to New Bern after it was occupied by Federal troops.

Hinton wrote, "On the 29th (March), I went over to Newbern [sic] for the first time.  We walked around the city and found it to be a very nice place, but we could not see many of the citizens, for there were none there - they had all left with the rebel army before we reached here.  You can see soldiers, plenty of them - guards in all of the streets, and it is almost impossible to travel around Newbern without a pass.  We went up to the depot and looked around there awhile.  We could see plenty of shells lying around, which were prepared for us, and by the looks of things, I thought they intended to play a pretty good game of ball with us, but they must have forgotten to take their shells with them, or else they  were in a big hurry.  According to the stories of the contrabands, they were making tracks for Goldsborough as fast as possible, at which place they halted, and, I suppose, are getting ready for another brush; but General [Ambrose]  Burnside intends going up to see them in a few days, and the sight of General Burnside is enough to start them on a double-quick at any time.  They will soon have to leave North Carolina for, before another month, the Stars and Stripes will be waving in every town in the State.  There will be no harbor for them here, for soon we will have the First New Jersey Brigade here. 

"The Belvidere boys, I believe, are all doing well.  I seen Father Matthews, Jacob Myers, John Van Norman, and Edward Clayton yesterday, and they were all in fine spirits.  Nelson Cramer is now in Newbern helping to bake bread for our Regiment."

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards

Monday, March 12, 2012

March 14, 1862: 9th NJ Regiment at New Bern, North Carolina

In March 1862, the men of the "Jersey 9th", now nicknamed "The Muskrats," attacked New Bern,  NC. As in the Roanoke Island, NC battle in February, the 9th NJ Regiment made an amphibious landing and again had to fight the Confederate fortifications from a swamp.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Heckman's troops repelled a counter attack.  The men of the Ninth kept a constant enfilade on the Confederate fortifications while the 21st Massachusetts Regiment charged a redoubt.  The Massachusetts troops were repelled by a brigade of Georgians. Heckman, of Phillipsburg, when his regiment had only ten rounds of ammunition left, convinced his Brigade commander to allow his men to mount a bayonet charge.

The Ninth led the charge on the fortifications, followed by the 51st New York Regiment.  The soldiers ran forward, jumping into and climbing out of ditches, and wading through knee-deep mud and swamp water, while Confederates fired volley after volley at them.  As they neared the line of fortifications, the soldiers  had to hack their way through a thick abattis [an obstacle made of cut down trees with branches sharpened].  Company H, with its Belvidere contingent, came under gunfire.  Warren County's Captain James Stewart, Jr. seized a rifle to do some sniping at the enemy artillerymen.  When a Confederate officer stood up to direct his gunners, Stewart shot him in the head.   

The Ninth reached the fortifications in the center, capturing two redans [v-shaped fortifications].  Stewart and the boys of Company H rushed into the redan and found the body of the dead Confederate officer.  The Ninth captured 69 field guns in the center fortifications.  The New Yorkers captured the fortifications on the right.  Two days later Heckman received his commission as Colonel of the regiment.

Later, Stewart would recall the incident in a letter to the State of New Jersey: "At the battle of Newberne, N.C., March 14, 1862, the Ninth New Jersey Regiment was on the left of the line and Company H (which I commanded) on the left of the regiment.  We had driven the Confederates behind their breastworks and our line was within 100 yards of their line of works.  Our firing was so well directed that the enemy were not only unable to use their      mounted guns, but their infantry were compelled to keep under close cover.  In consequence of this the firing from the 9th was desultory.  It was then that I noticed a man (a short distance to our right) spring upon the Confederate works, run along them for, say, 15 or 20 feet, and then jump down behind them.  It was a most reckless piece of daring.  He was fired at by many, but escaped being hit.  Shortly after this exhibition of bravado, I had my men lying down and I was leaning against the side of a young tree and was looking into the muzzle of one of the siege guns and wondering to myself in which county I should land if that gun was discharged, when I noticed a man's arm reaching over and near the breech of the gun. I seized the rifle of Private Lott of H Company, and as I brought the gun to my shoulder, the man raised himself, exposing his head and shoulders and evidently trying to prime the heavy gun.  The moment I fired, he sprang straight up and fell back.  Immediately following this shot, "Charge, Ninth New Jersey!" sounded along the line, and our men sprang forward. 

"As we sprang into the works here lay the man gasping his last, the wound he received plainly showing as he lay on his back.  The ball had entered under the right ear and came out near the left temple.  He had in his bosom, or under his coat, a flag upon which was inscribed the 'Beaufort Plow Boys,' I think.  I saw all this, but it was early in the war, and I would not have removed that flag for anything.  Captain Castner, of Company B, then came up and he recognized the man as Captain W. P. Martin of Company 4, Twenty-Sixth North Carolina Volunteers, who had formerly lived in Washington, a small village new New Brunswick, which was Captain Castner's home.  Captain Castner secured the flag and also the belt and sabre, which were afterwards sent to Trenton, N.J.  It was generally accepted as a fact that the shot I fired was the shot which killed Captain Martin, but no one can say that it was, and I have no desire to contend that it was.  I simply neither affirm nor deny. It was performed in the line of duty and my conscience has never rebuked me."

There is some controversy over the New Jersey citizenship of Captain William Pinckney Martin, commander of Company H, 26th North Carolina Infantry Regiment.  Former Warren County resident Skip Riddle, a Revolutionary War and Civil War re-enactor, now living in New Bern, and other historians believe there were two William Martins, based on the 1850 Census.  The 1850 Census for New Jersey lists a William Martin, age 31 while the 1850 North Carolina Census lists a William P. Martin, age 32,  in Moore County, North Carolina.  The 1850 Moore County, NC Slave Schedule lists Martin as the owner of 21 slaves.  The Moore County, NC William P. Martin enlisted in the infantry at age 43 in Moore County on May 13, 1861 and was elected Captain of Company H, 26th North Carolina Infantry Regiment, known as the "Moore Independents," on June 3, 1861.  After he was killed, Captain Martin was replaced by 1st Lieutenant Clement Dowd as commander of Company H. 

After the war, the State of New Jersey eventually returned Captain Martin's "Beaufort Plow Boys" flag to the State of North Carolina. 

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards

Thursday, March 8, 2012

March 8-9, 1862: CSS Virginia vs. USS Monitor; Death of Rev. John Lenhart

In March 1862, Private Eugene A. Goodwin, former Belvidere School teacher, was a member of the 99th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, assigned to the Naval Brigade, at Camp Hamilton, Fortress Monroe, Virginia.  Goodwin enlisted in Company F, 99th NYV in New York City in 1861.  He became a war correspondent for The Belvidere Intelligencer. 

On March 8, 1862, the ironclad CSS VIRGINIA (formerly the USS MERRIMAC) had attacked and/or sunk three Federal wooden ships of the line at Hampton roads, near Newport News Point, Virginia.  The Federal ironclad USS MONITOR was steaming toward Virginia to take on the VIRGINIA in battle.  Goodwin's unit was ordered to march to Newport News to hold off Confederate land forces that were reported to be only three miles away.

Goodwin wrote to Franklin Pierce Sellers, publisher/editor of The Belvidere Intelligencer, "From here [Fortress Monroe] to Newport News, the distance by land is ten miles. We march up in two-and-a-half hours.  We left the camp in such a hurray that very few of the men took anything with them, not even a canteen of water, consequently they suffered many inconveniences for several days, until their blankets and coats could be sent up.  However, it is a good lesson for us, teaching us to have our things always packed and ready to move at a moment's notice.

"When we arrived within a mile of Newport News, we met quite a number of sailors who had escaped from the CUMBERLAND and CONGRESS, with quite a number of colored people hastily making their way to Fortress Monroe.  Their reports were very discouraging; however, we pushed on determined to know the worst and do our best. I certainly expected to have some severe fighting to do, and indeed, it would have fared ill with us if the Rebs had come upon us that night as they could easily have done."

The VIRGINIA had sunk the USS CUMBERLAND and the USS CONGRESS.  Reverend John L. Lenhart, of Independence Township, Warren County, NJ was the chaplain aboard the CUMBERLAND.  Rev.  Lenhart was the Chaplain of the US Senate before the war. He enlisted in the US Navy in 1861.  He was killed in action when the CUMBERLAND was sunk on March 8, 1862 because he went down with his ship while comforting the wounded and dying sailors.

The VIRGINIA had broken off its attack on the USS MINNESOTA, which was stuck on a sand bar, for fear of running aground on the bar.  On the night of March 8, the MONITOR arrived and took up a position to defend the wooden ship.  On March 9, the VIRGINIA returned, and the first battle between ironclads took place.  The VIRGINIA was slow and difficult to maneuver because of its deep draft and undersized old steam engine. [The engine was left over from the wooden USS MERRIMAC.] The MONITOR was more maneuverable , but its officers ordered 15 pounds of gunpowder per cannon shot instead of 30 pounds so it could not penetrate VIRGINIA's armor.  Both ships steamed away with each crew thinking they were the victors.

On shore, Goodwin and members of three New York regiments watched and waited for Confederate troops.  Goodwin wrote,"If the MERRIMAC had continued the attack, and the land force marched upon us, we would have been cut up and taken prisoner. But they play it a little too strong, for on Sunday that neat little contrivance, the MONITOR, just cleared the harbor of the rebel craft, and the land force dared not come on, altho' there were ten thousand only three miles off, which we marched out to meet together with the New York 20th and 7th Regiments.  We lay by our arms all that night (Sunday) expecting to be routed up early in the morning for a little exercise, but we heard no more of rebels; yet our regiment remained there until last Sunday, when we marched back to Camp Hamilton - glad enough to get our old quarters.  We had no tents till the last two days we were in Newport News, so the men made little bowers of sticks and boughs, making a very picturesque scene, more like a picnic party than an encampment of troops.  I cannot cease admiring and wondering at the special Providence that so signally interposed in our behalf on the 9th instant, although our naval force was allowed to be somewhat crippled, and  a number of brave men to find sudden death.  I trust that the Government will need no more incentives to urge them to a speedy construction of a good number of ironclad steamers and fighting batteries.  

"A great deal of praise and honor are awarded to the officers and crew of the MONITOR, on account of their great bravery.  It is  true they did well, yet they well knew, or soon found out, that they were securely protected, and how could they help doing well.  I think the officers and the crew of the CUMBERLAND deserve the highest praise; when they knew they could not successfully resist, they spurned the idea of surrendering, but on the contrary, flung the red flag from their fore peak, which means no surrender.  Thus the noble ship went down, the men bravely fighting, and the glorious  old flag waving on high.  And now only the upper part of her masts are seen, yet the flags are there.  All honor to the noble officers and crew.  By all appearances, the rebels are clearing out of this vicinity.  I think Sewell's Point and Pig Point are evacuated.  Indeed, I think it is quite time for them to leave.

"Occasionally, I spend a short time very pleasantly in the camp of Harlan's Pennsylvania Cavalry, among my old friends, Lieutenant Butts, G. C. Angle, and some of the boys who used to go to school to me while I taught in Belvidere.  Then I had not the least idea that I was educating those who would take up arms in defense of their country.  I am highly pleased to meet them here, and I know they will act their part well.  May God preserve them and return them safely to their friends is my sincerest wish.  All troops here are under marching orders - knapsacks all packed, ready to start at the shortest notice.  Now our army is in motion.  I hope we'll be able to make short work of this affair.  I think I have scribbled about enough so I will close by sending my best respects to all my friends. I am, as ever, yours respectfully, E. A. G."

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

February/March 1862: Mystery Belvidere Man Tests Torpedo

In early March 1862, an article appeared in The Trenton Republican, and was reprinted in the March 7, 1862 edition of The Belvidere Intelligencer, which told of the invention of a "submarine battery" by an unnamed Belvidere man. 

The newspaper article stated: "A professional gentleman of Belvidere, N.J. has invented a submarine battery of singular efficiency.  It resembles a large conical shell, is furnished with a simple mechanical power, which forces it through the water beneath the surface in any direction desired by the operator, and when running against a vessel is forced by contact to dive and explode with terrific force only when passing the keel.  The whole battery rotates in the water while in progression, and traveling entirely under water, is not affected by wind or waves.  The powder used is almost perfectly white, and develops four times the bulk of gas that common gunpowder gives out in ignition.  Some further experiments are to be made on the Delaware River."

The identity of this Belvidere professional gentleman is still a mystery.  In 1996-97, when this writer was researching for Bugles, Battles & Belvidere: The History of Warren County, NJ in the Civil War, 1861-1865, I mistakenly thought that the man inventing a "submarine battery" might have been New Jersey inventor Edwin A. Stevens, the inventor of "The Stevens Battery" - a semi-submersible ironclad gunboat.  However, thanks to Internet resources, Stevens has been ruled out as the man testing a torpedo-like device on the Delaware River.  If anyone knows the identity of the Belvidere inventor and what happened to his invention, please let us know.

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards