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RETREATING MANASSAS, March 14, 1862

 Dear Mother:

            We are all well as can be expected from the situation that we are now in.  We have retreated from Manassas on account of not being able to hold our position.  We are now 25 miles from Manassas, across the Rappahannock, and camped upon a high hill that commands a splendid view of that part of the river, which the enemy is compelled to cross.

            We left Manassas on Sunday night and traveled until about 1 o’clock.  When we camped for the night, everything that we could not carry on our backs was burned up, and I can tell you that you cannot imagine how much we suffered on the march, which consisted of three days’ traveling, loaded down with our baggage and equipment, sleeping on the hard, cold ground, feet sore, half fed on hard dry crackers and meat.  Our lot was not to be envied and it is amazing how we bore up under the circumstances.  We have been at this place for a day or two, for what purpose I know not, unless it be for us to recruit up for another march.  We have no tents here to sleep in, but we have made ourselves shelters out of cedar bushes.  We all seem to flourish, nevertheless.

            The night we left Manassas it was burnt down and I expect there was a million of goods consumed on that night, all the soldiers’ clothes they could not carry with them and everything that could have been expected to be at such a place where everything was sent to this division of the army, all was burnt.

            I do not know where to tell you to send your letters, for I do not know how long we will stay here, so I reckon you had better not write at all.  When I get to a place where it is likely we will stay, I will write again at a better opportunity.

            Give my love to all.  Goodbye.

            Your loving son,

            GEORGE.

 Source: Laura Elizabeth Lee, Forget-Me-Nots of the Civil War: A Romance Containing Reminiscences and Original Letters of Two Confederate Soldiers (St. Louis, Missouri: A.R. Fleming Printing Co, 1909).  See also Joel Craig and Sharlene Baker, eds., As You May Never See Us Again: The Civil War Letters of George and Walter Battle, 4th North Carolina Infantry  (Wake Forest, NC: The Scuppernong Press, 2010).

 

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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

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March 16, 1862

Sunday—All day in great anxiety & suspense.  Mama allowed Isham to go to Halifax & I believe her anxiety lest he should abuse the liberty and come home drunk is almost as great as that about New Berne!

            At night when Hope had worn itself out came Mr Edmondston, to our great delight & relief.  He brought news of the disgraceful retreat from Newberne, but as he charges us not to believe all he tells us he has heard, for that the rumours are too many & too contradictory to be trusted, I will tonight say nothing more than that we are beaten!  Our troops have made a most inglorious retreat to Kinston.  The enemy have possession of the town.  Our loss small, but we burnt the bridge & the naval stores.  Gen. Gatlin was not there & the command devolved on Branch—a political General.

 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

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