Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Cape Hatteras Civil War

Below is an excerpt that I thought some of you might find interesting. I was researching New Hampshire's 6th Regiment from the Civil War and stumbled across this passage about a storm rounding Cape Hatteras.

This comes from "History of the Sixth New Hampshire Regiment in the war for the Union." The excerpt picks up after telling the reader of the 6th boarding vessels to take them to an unknown location of the war. They are leaving Annapolis and heading south in Jan. 1862.

That part of the Sixth which came down on the Martha Green-wood was transferred to the steamer Louisiana, which became so crowded that it was almost impossible for one to move about. It seems strange that the commanding officers of the fleet should have allowed so many men to be crowded upon such a slim craft.

Towards evening, the flag-ships, with other vessels, got up steam, and started out to sea. Soon a dispatch boat came alongside, and gave orders for ours to follow. During the day we had a good chance to see General Burnside, as he steamed around the bay on his little propeller,1 giving orders to this boat and that, and we all liked his looks very much. We followed the other .boats, as ordered, and by 9 P. M. were well out from the bay, and, looking back, could just see the lights at Fortress Monroe. As the darkness came on, hundreds of lights shone out from the vessels, as far as the eye could reach, in front and rear, and on the left toward the sea. The writer sat upon the hurricane deck till a late hojur, thinking of home and speculating on our destination, while the soft south breezes swept over the water. It was late when the men lay down to sleepr though many did not sleep at all, the noise of the machinery and the novelty of the situation keeping them awake all night.

At the first streak of dawn the writer was again on deck, to get the earliest glimpse of the sun as it came up out of the briny deep. That sunrise was a grand sight, as was also the ocean, dotted as far as the eye could reach with all kinds of sailing craft. The waves, however, began to show their white caps, and some of the boys who had been reared on the coast said it looked as if we were going to have a stiff breeze before night. A few of "Mother Carey's chickens," together with seagulls, passed us, giving indication of a storm. The signs did not fail, for by noon the storm was stiffening, and we could see that many of the smaller boats—some of which were only pilot-boats from New York harbor, —were laboring hard through the big waves. About 2 P. M. (January 12), while we were off Hatteras Light, the storm struck us in all its fury, and the landlubbers began to look white. In a few minutes one half of the men seemed vying with one another to see who would empty his stomach the quickest of the pies and things he had taken in from Annapolis down. They were sick fellows indeed ! The boat was pitching and ploughing through the waves as fast as she could. The captain and pilot were alarmed, and said that if we did not reach Hatteras Inlet before dark, they feared we should never get in ; so they put on all the steam they could, and made for the inlet.

1 The propeller Picket, the smallest vessel in the fleet.—Editor.

As we went down into those awful troughs and our bow struck the incoming wave, the boat was flooded even to the hurricane deck. Lieutenant-Colonel Griffin was in the wheel-house with the captain and pilot, who had all they could do to keep the boat on her course and prevent the waves from striking her on the broadside, and thus swamping her in a moment. The strain on the big braces that passed from stem to stern of the boat, up past the wheel-house, was fearful. The braces, with joints open half an inch or more, creaked and groaned as the boat rode the huge waves, and it was the opinion of the officers that if we had been out half an hour longer we should all have gone to the bottom together in the old river craft not intended for use out of smooth water. The boys were so sick that they kept quiet, and the captain said it was a fortunate thing, for if, being so many, they had been up and running around, it would have been hard to manage the boat at all.

We entered Hatteras Inlet, and dropped anchor at 5 p. M. It was quite dark, and if any men ever felt thankful to get into harbor, it was those on the old Louisiana that night. The vessels kept coming in until a late hour, that is, those that were not outside, or did not run upon the bar. We could hear guns and see signal lights thrown up outside, in the direction whence we had come, and knew that some had not been so fortunate as we. Several vessels were wrecked, four in sight of us. One of these was the fine large store-ship City of New Tbrk, which, laden with ammunition and other stores, ran upon the bar; another was the steamer Pocahontas, carrying horses, hay, and grain, which went ashore at Cape Hatteras, becoming a total wreck within twenty-four hours, with lading all lost save a few horses that swam to land.

The next morning was clear, and the inlet was full of all kinds of floating de'bris, showing how fearful the storm had been. The sea was yet so rough that it was not practicable to land, and the wind began to blow again. As the tide went out, we found our boat tipping over as it rested on the sandy bottom. One of the boys remarked that he " felt safe so long as the old boat rested on the sand." When the tide came in, the boat would float again, bumping on sand fortunately, not rocks, since in the latter case we should soon have been compelled to swim ashore.

The night after our arrival the storm was still so severe that there was great danger of collision with other vessels, and of the wrecking of the weaker ones by the violence of the waves. It was feared that the Louisiana, in particular, being only a river boat, would not be able to outride the storm. Accordingly Colonel Converse sent Lieutenant-Colonel Griffin to General Burnside's head-quarters to ask that some strong vessel might be ordered to lie near the Louisiana during the night, to render aid, if possible, in case of disaster. LieutenantColonel Griffin, having been given a boat with two sailors and a coxswain, made the trip, delivered the message, and returned safely ; but it was a hazardous undertaking. Two officers of the Ninth New Jersey Regiment, in attempting to perform a similar duty, lost their lives by the swamping of the boat.1

1 These two men were the only ones lost from the whole military force during the " entire voyage and entrance into the inlet," though the storm was one of the worst ever known on that perilous coast.—En.

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