April 20, 1864
---Battle of Plymouth, N.C. In conjunction with the sortie of the Albemarle in the Roanoke River, Gen. Robert Hoke, with a division of Confederate troops, moves against the defenses of Plymouth, N.C., and finds the Federal garrison there more than willing to cooperate. Having driven the bluecoats out of Fort Comfort, the Rebels accept the surrender of Brig. Gen. Henry Wessells and most of the Union garrison, over 2,000 troops, consisting of Pennsylvania and New York detachments, as well as U.S. Colored Troops and North Carolina Unionist battalions. However, Gen. Wessells reveals in his report that nearly all of the North Carolina troops (many of them being former Confederates) escaped before the surrender by floating downstream in canoes. A large number of the black troops also escaped, but not all. Sergeant Samuel Johnson, of the 2nd U.S. Colored Cavalry, writes of his experience:
When I found out that the city was being surrendered, I pulled off my uniform and found a suit of citizen’s clothes, which I put on, and when captured I was supposed and believed by the rebels to be a citizen. After being captured I was kept at Plymouth for some two weeks and was employed in endeavoring to raise the sunken vessels of the Union fleet.
Upon the capture of Plymouth by the rebel forces all the negroes found in blue uniform, or with any outward marks of a Union soldier upon him, was killed. I saw some taken into the woods and hung. Others I saw stripped of all their clothing and stood upon the bank of the river with their faces riverward and there they were shot. Still others were killed by having their brains beaten out by the butt end of the muskets in the hands of the rebels. All were not killed the day of the capture. Those that were not were placed in a room with their officers, they (the officers) having previously been dragged through the town with ropes around their necks, where they were kept confined until the following morning, when the remainder of the black soldiers were killed.”
However, a later report from Gen. Hoke’s aide indicates that the Confederates did not kill very many of the black prisoners: “The prisoners will number about 2,500, 300 or 400 negroes, 30 pieces of ordnance, complete garrison outfit, 100,000 pounds of meat, 1,000 barrels of flour, and other provisions. [...] Where will the prisoners go? Our loss about 300 in all.” President Davis directs that the captured negroes all be returned to their owners, and the rest sold. Confederate Victory.
(Source: Civil War Daily Gazette, http://civilwardailygazette.com/ )
---Leonidas L. Polk, an officer in the 43rd North Carolina Infantry, writes home to his wife upon the occasion of the Confederate victory at Plymouth, N.C., detailing for her the immensely useful plunder gained from the Yankees:
Bivouack 43d. N.C.T.
Near Plymouth, N.C.
April 20th 1864
My dear wife,
Through the mercy of God I am permitted on this the proudest day for our good old State, since the beginning of this War, to write you. After a severe engagement of 2 1/2 days we had the honor & the joy to behold the flag of our enemies lowered to day, which we all hope & believe is the beginning of a better time for N.C. I am seated in an old field, surrounded by men flushed with hope & success & dividing out their captured spoils. I write to you on Yankee paper with a gold pen, & Yankee envelope with Yankee ink, smoking Yankee cigar, full of Yankee sugar coffee &c. with a Yankee sword, navy repeater, & other “fixins” buckled about me. We had an awful time. Got here on Sunday surprised the Yankees commenced on them, Monday night stormed a fort, very formidable, impossible to get into it, but surrounded it & forced it to surrender. Last night stormed the other 2 forts, took one at daylight this morning surrounded the other & forced it to yield at 10 o’clock – took about 2000 prisoners & did not lose in all more than 200 killed & wounded, almost miraculous. To God be all the praise. In our Regt. 5 killed, 13 wounded & 3 missing, all from Anson safe but Wm. Mosely slightly wounded. Twenty thousand Yankees cannot retake the place. Well I did not get anything myself. The boys gave me what I got, except a few things I bought. They have me 3 prs. kid gloves for you slightly damaged. For the children a round comb a piece. I bought a pair of shoes for Lila. Cannot get any for you as yet will try to get some nice things for you. I will send my tricks to you the first chance. We didn’t have time to get much to day. The boys gave me a fine spy glass, a very fine pipe, & the pen with which I write just like the one at home. We got almost anything that can be thought of. If I only had any way to carry the things I could get hundreds of things for you. I intend to do my best. . . . We don’t know where we will go from here will write you as often as possible. Have not had the chance to write before, no mail since we left Kinston. I forgot to tell you that our Gun Boat came down safely, & is a complete success so far. We got any quantity of all & everything.
I would like to go more into detail but have not the time. I will do so as soon as possible. O I would like to see you so much. Kiss my dear babies for me & I know they will be so proud of their nice combs. I tried to get one for [?] but could not. Give her a pair of gloves if she wants them & will do for her. I hear there are thousands of cotton cards in town & I hope we will get some or all of them. Some of our boys got some of them. I am in fine health but can assure you had as hard a time as ever in my life, charged through the worst swamp I ever saw, got wet all over nearly lay still under fire of guns all night & came near freezing but I am now all right & am myself again.
The storming of the Forts was the most awful work I have ever seen done & I tell you it was anything but pleasant, but as I have seen so often before. I tried it again. I was at the head of the Co. in the charge nearly a mile through a level field & swamp & the thickest of the fire. . . . Well my dear Sallie I am stopped by one of my boys to go & drink some good old Rie with him, & he says you must excuse me. May God be your friend & Protector. Write to me at Tarboro. Kiss the children for me your devoted husband.
(Source: Wilson Library Special Collections, U North Carolina, http://blogs.lib.unc.edu/civilwar/ )
---George Michael Neese of Virginia, and artilleryman in the Army of Northern Virginia, nears the end of his furlough, and expresses regrets at having to return to the field:
April 20 — I wish this cruel war were over, for my furlough is out and I will have to strike out once more for the tented field and be off for the war again. I left home this evening and came to New Market. These beautiful, bright, peaceful spring days of citizen life glided swiftly by like golden bubbles on the stream of time; they glowed and flashed and lo! they are gone.
(Source: Daily Observations from the Civil War: http://dotcw.com/)