Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 1862: 9th NJ Regiment in North Carolina

December 1862 was a time of battles for the Jersey Ninth.  On December 8, Colonel Charles Heckman, of Easton/Phillipsburg, was assigned independent command of a group consisting of the 9th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a detachment of the 3rd New York Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, and a battery from the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Artillery.  Heckman's assignment was to capture the railroad junction at Goldsborough, North Carolina.
On December 13, Heckman's force approached Kinston.  The bridge over the Southwest Creek had been destroyed, and a Confederate entrenchment had been set up at the site.  While Heckman;s artillery exchanged fire with the rebel guns, he sent three companies of infantry to cross the river to outflank the rebels.  The remainder of the infantry was to cross the river over a nearby mill dam.  The rebels ran from their fortification as the Jersey Ninth advanced.  It was reported that a Confederate officer had been heard yelling to his men, "There comes that Dutch Heckman! You had better save yourselves  while you have the time!"
Outside of Kinston, Heckman found a heavily fortified Confederate artillery battery, covered by swamp on three sides and the Neuse River on the fourth side, and which was overlooking a bridge leading into the town.  Heckman ordered the Rhode Island battery to set up its guns on a commanding position and fire on the rebel artillery.  With reinforcements from the 17th Massachusetts, the 99th Pennsylvania, the 52nd New York, and 89th New York Infantry Regiments plus another battery of artillery, Heckman ordered the attack on four rebel infantry regiments positioned in the woods outside of town.
When the rebel infantry was sufficiently moved away enough to allow Federal forces to approach the bridge, the rebel artillery abandoned their position and also ran toward the bridge.  After escaping over the bridge, with the 9th NJ and the 17th Massachusetts right behind them, the Confederate rear guard set fire to the bridge.  Unfortunately, the burning bridge took the lives of other Confederates who had tried to cross the burning bridge.  More than 400 southern soldiers were taken prisoner since they could not cross the bridge to Kinston.  Under fire from sharpshooters, Heckman's men extinguished the flames on the bridge before it was completely destroyed. 
Annoyed with the sharpshooters, Captain William Curtis and the 9th NJ Regiment's Color Guard ran across the smoldering bridge and into an earthwork at the end of the bridge and captured 50 rebel soldiers.  The captured flag was sent to the governor of New Jersey. 
Proceeding toward Goldsborough, Heckman's force fought its way through Whitehall on December 16.  The force set up camp eight miles from its destination.  The group had been ordered to destroy the tracks of the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad and the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad as well as a bridge spanning the river, which was 1/8 of mile in length.  After two hours of continuous fighting, Heckman's troops reached the bridge. 
Many of the men of the Jersey 9th volunteered to set fires on the bridge, which was still covered by enemy artillery and muskets.  Corporal James W. Green and Private Elias C. Winans, both of Company K, were selected.  After several attempts, and while under constant musket fire, the two men finally got a fire started with leaves and kindling.   Heckman's aide-de-camp Lieutenant Graham and Private William Lemons, of Company E, ran onto the wooden bridge carrying fusees [magnesium flares] to help get the bridge burning.  Soon the bridge was afire.  The four men ran back to their units.  The troops then destroyed railroad tracks. 
As the infantry began to leave the site, two brigades of Confederate troops advanced to attack Heckman's artillery batteries in the rear of the Federal column.  The infantry rushed to the aid of the artillery. The artillery crews set up their guns and poured grape and canister shot into the southern troops, forcing the rebels to retreat.  Heckman's command returned to Newbern, North Carolina on December 20. 
On December 22, Colonel Heckman finally received his commission promoting him to  Brigadier General.  the commission had been issued in Washington, DC on October 29, 1862 but did not arrive in North Carolina until December.  Heckman was assigned to 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 18th Corps.  His brigade consisted of the 9th NJ, 3rd Massachusetts, 8th Massachusetts, and 23rd Massachusetts Infantry Regiments.  On December 24, a new stand of colors [National & Regimental flags] were presented to the 9th NJ by the New Jersey Legislature.  The flags cost taxpayers $700.
Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards                                            

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