How the 4th Brigade Got Lost


Soldiers greatly exaggerated the distances they marched to and from the battle of South Mills. One went so far as to boast that his regiment, mislead by a traitorous guide, marched 50 miles to get there. They started from Chantilly between 2 and 3 a.m. and arrived at the battlefield about 2 p.m. - that's 12 hours maximum. The average marching rate for soldiers was 2 miles per hour, 4 at double quick. His regiment would have had to march the entire 50 miles at double quick, a truly amazing feat!


Captain J. Merrill Linn of the 51st Pennsylvania wrote a series of articles about the battle for the National Defender in the late 1800s. His account has Hawkins taking the wrong road where Gumberry Road bears off to the right heading north on NC Highway 343. That route, going through Belcross and turning left on Lamb's Road, would make it almost 13 miles from Chantilly to Lamb's Corner versus 7 by way of 343, the most direct route. This extra 6 mile distance is more in line with General Reno's estimate of how far Hawkins marched out of his way. Reno estimated Hawkins went 10 miles out of his way.


There are three fixed points along Hawkins' line of march: Chantilly, Belcross, and Lamb's Corner. They landed at Chantilly and began their march between 2 and 3 a.m., stopped to eat at Belcross at 8 a.m., and arrived at Lamb's Corner between 10 and 11 a.m., where they ran into the 2nd Brigade.


At 8:00 a.m., the 9th New York stopped in Belcross at the home of Lt. Alonzo Bell to eat their breakfast. Hawkins had a conversation with Bell and remembered him from when Bell was captured at Hatteras the previous year. Bell had been released from Fort Warren on parole and was waiting to be exchanged. Hawkins would have taken about 6 hours to march 6.5 miles to Belcross using Linn's route. Either they marched at a rate of 1.1 miles per hour or they took another route. The 1.1 rate is reasonable if you take into account that they were marching while feeling their way through the darkness 4 of the 6 hours.


The 2nd Brigade left Chantilly about sunrise and took the most direct route down current NC Highway 343 North. While taking a rest at Lamb’s Corner, clouds of dust and flying colors were seen to the east down Lamb’s Road. The 2nd Brigade came to a battle front, thinking Hawkins was already in South Mills holding the River Bridge and that this must be the Confederates marching towards them. It was Hawkins’ brigade. Hawkins’ exhausted troops fell in behind the fresher 2nd Brigade and continued on northward towards the battlefield.


In Early Coast Operations in North Carolina, Hawkins states, "A light mulatto man for a guide came to me from one of the gun-boats and by a circuitous route took us far out of the way, so that we marched 30 miles to get to the rebel position, instead of 16 by the direct road." Hawkins claimed to have taken the guide into the woods and shot him dead.


The "mulatto" guide mentioned by Hawkins was really a white man captured 2 weeks earlier in a raid that netted 72 members of a militia company mustering north of Elizabeth City. One of these captured militia men, Stephen Williams, an overseer for Bayside Plantation, claimed to have been forced to act as a guide for the expedition. Williams reported to General Benjamin Huger on April 26th in Norfolk. He stated that he escaped shortly after the landing at Chantilly.