Anna Moffett's Civil War - 14
Since we read about the extraordinary efforts of the ladies of Liverpool on our behalf, the ladies of Charleston decided to do the same. I wish we could have been there. But Mrs, Chesnut has sent us information about how it went. This is what she says about it.
The ladies planned and held a bazaar at the old State House, thereby to raise means for aiding the soldiers. Garrets & cellars, closets & trunks were ransacked & products of the needle & culinary
department were brought forth, which astonished those who made & those who bought. There was an abundance of tempting food & delicacies.
Our state made $17,000. It was very small in value, owing to the great depreciation of Confederate currency. In our sales, we forgot all else but to make money for our soldiers & we received sometimes withering glances & angry words. An old man wanted to buy a piece of cake for his
wife. "Now, give me," he said, "a good sizable slice." The cake represented to me, not butter & eggs, sugar & flour, but something delicious, almost unattainable & when I cut the good man a slice from the center out & half-inch thick, I thought it was indeed "a good sizable slice," & was stunned
when he said, " 'Tain't worth my money."
“Someone had given a jar of sliced peaches, beautiful, yellow peaches, the like of which had almost faded from the memory of Confederates. For each slice, we asked & got readily, $5. An old couple came to the table, looked around & the old lady's eyes lighted on the bright, yellow slices. 'I will take a saucer of peaches,' she said. "The price is $5." She took it & asked her husband to pay for it. 'No, I won't,' he said; 'it is robbery' &, taking her by the arm, led her out, looking back at me, muttering & I imagined they were very bad words he was saying.”
We had a small wedding service today uniting my daughter Mary with Francis Clement. They are both mature in age & didn't want a big fuss made. Francis is nine years older than Mary.
We knew Sherman was coming to Charleston, but it didn't make it any easier to bear when
it finally happened. It was a desolate smoking ruin when the Union army marched in on the morning of February 18th. Buildings were wrecked by the shellfire, a huge swath of destruction had already
been cut by the fire of 61 & abandoned wharves, rotted along the once thriving waterfront. Miles upon miles of streets were pocked with shell craters, choked with weeds & overrun by vermin & grazing cattle.
I am copying bits out of the paper. The night of February 17-18 was one of horror & chaos, undoubtedly the worst ever experienced in the history of the city. There were more women in the city than usual, as those from the outlying plantations were sent in to get them out of the way of Sherman’s marauders. As darkness approached, conditions became worse. No one dared to go to bed. Fires were breaking out all over the city & since the white firemen, who acted in a dual capacity
of militiamen, were gone, only Negro companies were left to fight them. An explosion was caused by the blowing up of the ironclad Palmetto State at her wharf. This was the gunboat that the women of the State had financed by selling their jewelry.
On February 15, General Beauregard ordered the evacuation of remaining Confederate forces. On February 18, the mayor surrendered the city to Union general Alexander Schimmelfennig & Union troops finally moved into the city, taking control of Fort Sumter & the Arsenal.
On February 21, with the Confederate forces finally evacuated from Charleston, the black
54th Massachusetts Regiment marched through the city. At a ceremony at which the U.S. flag was once again raised over Fort Sumter, former Commander Robert Anderson was joined on the platform by our slave turned hero, Robert Smalls.
It was rumored that unoccupied houses would be taken over by the Union troops, at which news women & children rushed back & barricaded themselves in their homes. (I am very worried about the fate of my house.) The soldiers of the 21st US Colored Troops, who were in possession of the
city, started on a tour of liberation – anything that was not nailed down was taken. They went everywhere breaking into homes & helping themselves to whatever they wanted, cursing & raving at
the inhabitants all the while.
I am now going to tell a very sad story, as it is the last battle in this war for my George & Elizabeth's brother, Charles. But the story needs to be told. I have gleaned most of it from newspaper accounts.
First for a bit of background. After capturing Fort Fisher the Federals at once commenced making preparations to march on Wilmington, North Carolina & the remainder of Hagood's Brigade (which included Charles & George) was ordered to Fort Anderson, located on the Cape Fear River below Wilmington, to meet them. Charles had been on detached service as commandant of Fort Caswell, North Carolina, for some time, but now returned & assumed command of the Twenty-fifth Regiment.
The Confederate force was too weak to give battle to the large army in front of them, fell back from Fort Anderson to Town Creek. The enemy soon formed lines of battle & with skirmishers thrown out well in front, commenced the advance movement towards our position. A courier was sent back to Charles in the rear & gave him all the information. These instructions were to fall back slowly as the enemy advanced, keeping Hagood posted & make the best resistance possible with the force. Near sunset, the enemy charged the very small force under Charles, which was drawn up in line of battle, & supported by a section of artillery. The firing ceased so suddenly & it was concluded that the Confederates had all been captured. On later inspection of the area, many unburied dead & also a great many with only a few shovels of dirt thrown on them - evidence of hasty withdrawal was on all sides.
Here is a bit of detail I remembered that George told me about before. While occupying the trenches at Cold Harbor, some months previously, Sam Inabinet, of Captain Sellers's company, was sitting on the breastworks with his back towards the enemy cleaning his gun; Captain James F. Izlar & George were standing in a rifle pit, about twenty-five feet in rear & immediately in front of Inabinet & facing towards him, when suddenly the Yankees fired a piece of artillery, which they trained on the group, the shell decapitating Inabinet & passing between those in the rifle pit, exploded a short distance in our rear. Their faces & uniforms were spattered with the poor fellow's blood & brains. These rifle pits are usually five or six feet long & therefore, a shell passing between two of the occupants must have missed them by a very narrow margin.
By sunrise on February 19th, the Confederates were in full retreat toward Wilmington. Having abandoned Fort Anderson, Johnson Hagood's command crossed lower Town Creek bridge just before 10 a.m. & took a defensive position on the north bank. Hagood held the bulk of his force with his own brigade still under the command of Charles, near a small clapboard church a half mile north of the bridge. A mounted party of 20 men, commanded by Lieutenant Jeffords patrolled the road south of the creek to watch for the approaching Federals.
After reaching Telegraph Road, General Cox learned from some blacks who lived nearby
that Hagood's main body of troops was on the Public Road, further to the west. Armed with that information, Cox ordered Colonel Moore to rush his brigade through the swamp between the two roads & cut off Hagood's retreat. As Moore moved out, both brigades were sent forward against Charles's contingent, standing firm between Cox & Town Creek.
As Charles gallantly stood his ground, Gen Hagood ordered the remainder of his troops at
the lower bridge to retire. A hurried flight from the trenches followed under a storm of shells & minnie balls. The enemy opened on then with infantry & artillery & made the woods pretty hot. But no one was killed or wounded. Hagood's forces managed to escape in a hasty retreat up the Public Road.
The Southerners were forced to halt two miles from the creek in order to form a line of battle to cover Charles's unit's withdrawal. Hagood had already abandoned his position north of the bridge at the church when a courier arrived there with a report for him from Charles. The Feds were extending around Charles's left & moving to attack. Charles added that he could not hold his position on the Telegraph Road much longer. The courier, however could not find Hagood & was forced to return to Charles with the distressing news.
Hagood soon had his troops in line to support the rear guard's retreat. The General dispatched Capt Stoney who had earlier been with Charles on the skirmish line to tell Charles to immediately fall back. Stoney galloped off & gave the message. As soon as he received it, Charles ordered Lt Rankin to limber up his artillery which had been vigorously responding to the Feds.
Private William Reese of the 16th Kentucky Infantry of Stoney's brigade was wounded but not by Confederate projective. He injured himself with his own rifle musket. He plummeted into a rifle pit he did not see. As he fell, the butt of his gun smashed into his lower abdomen, causing a hernia & severely bruised his testicles. Writhing in pain, he missed the battle. Meanwhile he comrades quickly overwhelmed the Confederates who were outnumbered about 8 to 1.
Just as Charles issued the command, however the Federals struck. They cane on so suddenly that Charles had little choice but to stand & fight. Too heavy engaged to withdraw, he sent Stoney back to alert Hagood of the desperate situation.
With fixed bayonet, Casement & Searl's brigades attached Charles's men impetuously & with the widest enthusiasm. The 3000 troops cheered as they advance, although it was a long & fatiguing charge across a field dotted with pine trees & scrub oaks. The firing continued to increase
until it was a perfect rout.
Charles's men stood their ground until overpowered in hand to hand combat with Cox's
veteran troops. There was no running in these rebels, one Union soldier marvelled, they held their ragged works until the guns were snatched out to their hands. It was difficult to determine with any
precision the exact casualties in this engagement, Perhaps 20 Soldiers were killed & wounded in Charles's stout defensive action. Among the casualties was a soldier named Prince of Company B
11th SC who was shot in the face at point blank range while fighting .The Union soldier who shot him was so close when he discharged his weapon that the cartridge paper from the round protruded for the wound near Prince's mouth. Most of the Confederates survived the battle & were taken prisoner. In all Cox's troops capture 375 officers & men, including Charles & of course, George, who personally surrended his command to Gen Cox.
Sgt Izlar of Company G Edisto Rifles 25th SC attempted to escape the Federal tidal wave. When the battle ended, Izlar was on the far right of Charles' line. He realise the game was up & fled, hoping to make their way back to Hagood's main force. They struggled through the darkness & dense swamp to reach the public road west of the Telegraph Road. As soon as the SC stepped onto the thoroughfare, they found themselves in the midst of Feds from Henderson's brigade. “Hello Johnnie,” a Union soldier greeted Izlar, “How deep have you been in?” Disgusted with his back luck, Izlar merely replied, "Just so deep," while holding his hand at the height of his waist.”
An undetermined number of Confederates escaped their would be captors. One was Capt
William Stoney. After Stoney had returned with the message that Charles was too heavily engaged to withdraw, Hagood had sent the staff officer back into the fray with direct orders for Charles.
"He must come," Hagood insisted. Charles was to throw away his artillery & make a run for it. Despite thrashing his mount at breakneck speed, Stoney arrived only in time to see the overwhelming lines of the enemy sweep over Charles - the artillery firing till the enemy got within a few feet of it & the infantry standing by the gun & resisting till overpowered hand to hand. The staffer never reached him as he got sucked into the swirling & confused fighting, Stoney horse was shot from under him & fell to the ground. Unhurt he managed to scramble away hour he was unable to
rejoin his command for several days.
Johnson Hagood feared the worst. The fighting has long since ended & yet neither Charles nor Stoney had reported to him. What news he received & all of it was bad, reached his ears from the few stragglers from Charles's rout able to stumble their way through the boggy terrain & rejoin their commands. Hagood ordered a general retreat to Wilmington. He rode ahead of his men & reached the city about half past 8, February 20th, decimated & dejected.
Gen. Hagood reported that Col Simonton reported 330 SC artillery men were also taken prisoner. Hagood figured that Charles lost twenty soldiers killed & 100 escaped, but coming out of the rout & not finding the brigade that night, straggled off to South Carolina & were no more, with very few exceptions, heard of in the war. Charles noted that the whole capture from Hagood's brigade consisted of 27 officers 90 soldiers of the 11, 45 of 25th (including George), & 150 of the 27th SC infantry.
And now my poor son is in prison. I cannot bear it.