March 18, 1862
Authentic details of the New Berne fight take some away from the bitterness of the disgrace, but it is bad at best. The Cavalry did not run as at first reported, they having been dismounted & placed in the trenches, but the militia in their panic seized the horses of the Cavalry & never stopped until they reached Kinston, thereby riding forty of the horses to death. Sinclair’s regiment, which was placed in the post of honour, I suppose on account of the Laurels he won as chaplin at Manassas, took a panic & ran, even consulted about surrendering, the Col at the head! They gave up the most important landing place with scarcely a blow in its defence. Vance’s regt behaved well, Avery’s nobly. The Yankees themselves say that if we had fought ten minutes longer they would have been forced to retire. But our men, as Tom Jones of Martin says, can’t stand “Bumbing” (he was describing the Roanoke Island disaster) “they just stand off and ‘Bumb’ our men & they cannot stand it.” But treachery too was at work. Imbecility & bad management is not enough for us but there must be traitors in our midst who avail themselves of it. The River obstructions were not complete, a passage having been left open for our own boats. This passage on the approach of the enemy was to have been closed, but it was not and the Yankee boats sailed or rather steamed in as easily and safely as our own have done—piloted by a traitorous negro who ought never to have been trusted with the knowledge. Then the entrenchments at the R R had never been completed. The cannon lay on the ground & have lain there for weeks—that were intended to defend it. Through this opening swarmed the Yankee soldiers out flanking our men & attacking the trenches in the rear. Here was the most desparate fighting. Would that we could have sustained it, but the Militia took panic first & fled & the solders were not long after them. The Bridge was burned before all our men had passed & two Regts & some companies were compelled to make a large detour, which led to the impression that they had been cut off.
Our loss in killed, wounded & prisoners is not as great as the enemy’s killed & wounded, ,however, but we took but one prisoner, who calls himself a Lieut. he says he has been in the camp in disguise & what he says is upheld by the fact that when taken he was mounted on a Col’s horse & seemed to be piloting the others and he knew Sloan, Vance, Avery & some other of our Cols by name & sight & mentioned how they stood with their commands. He says Burnside paid $5000 for the attempt (frustrated) to burn the Bridge a few nights since & 5000 for the same thing in Washington Co. The loss of the New Berne bridge would have caused the destruction or capture of our whole command unless they had fought better than they did.
Beverhout Thompson the Engineer is blamed for purposely constructing the defences so that they were useless against a water attack, but I cannot believe it. I think the fault must have been in the defenders. Political generals have a hard time should disaster overtake them & poor Gen Branch is the object of universal animadversion. He is the best abused man in N C just now. Gen Gatlin too has his full share. “Incompetent” & “inefficent” are the mildest terms he gets, but we must have a “Scape Goat.” It is the want of human nature—Adam’s sin—“the woman Thou gavest me.” “The Government” is too impersonal to meet every requisition; we demand a human victim! The town was fired by the retreating troops, as were the naval stores, but unfortunately the advancing Yankees extinguished the one & rescued much of the other. Thoams Jones Regt was not engaged. He remained behind until the last to fire a cannon and blow up the Regimental ammunition. So we go! “Fall back” to Kinston. The rears of our two armies may yet meet if they fall back far enough!
Source: Edmondston, Catherine Ann Devereux, 1823-1875, Journal of a Secesh Lady: The Diary of Catherine Ann Devereux Edmondston 1860-1866. Crabtree, Beth G and Patton, James W., (Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1979). http://nc-historical-publications.stores.yahoo.net/478.html