Union County Star and Lewisburg Chronicle

Lewisburg, Union County, Pennsylvania

Friday afternoon, May 9, 1862


Battle at South Mills, or Camden, N.C.


The 51st Penn’a in advance – their 3d Engagement and Victory – 2 killed from Union county – the Wounded.


The action at this place, which the Rebels claimed as a victory for them, proves to have been a successful demonstration of the Unionists, under Gen. Reno, towards Norfolk, to distract the enemy.


Camden, or South Mills, is about 18 miles north of Elizabeth City, and was advanced upon by two brigades. The first, comprising the 6th New Hampshire, and the 89th New York, and 9th New York, or Hawkins’ Zouaves, under acting Brigadier Hawkins, started from Roanoke. The second, comprising the 51st Penn. and 21st Mass. was under acting Brigadier Bell, and started from Newbern. The 51st Penn. numbered 700 men, the others were smaller. The rebels assailed were supposed to be more numerous.Our vessels reached the Pasquotank river about the same time, Friday, 18th April. The first Brigade was led (by treachery or incompetency) 8 or 10 miles out of the way, and the second brigade was then put in advance, and did the first fighting, although the 1st (coming up afterwards) suffered the most. Capt. Linn describes what came within his knowledge, as follows:


                                                                                                                                                Newbern, April 25, 1862


We have this afternoon returned after a week’s absence – a week filled with labor and anxiety, danger and death. * * *


At five o’clock on a bright summer morning – Saturday, April 19 – we landed in a cornfield just below Elizabeth City, on the left bank. We had no breakfast, and what we ate that day was snatched at intervals from the haversacks. We passed the Court House, then through a beautiful, highly cultivated country. The clay road was fine marching, and we congratulated ourselves that for once we had good weather. The first Brigade missing their way, we passed them and got in advance. Between 12 and 1 o’clock, we were moving pretty fast, our Regiment ahead, and had been going steady for an hour. Just in front of us, was a dense smoke, across the road, which we supposed to be the bridge burning. Lieut. Morris rode by, I stopped him, and told him we were nearly dead with fatigue. He said he would tell the General, and I encouraged the boys to stick to it, we would rest when we got to where the smoke was. Just then, “Bang!” goes a cannon, and a six pound round ball struck about fifty yards to the left of the road we were on, and went bounding and rolling fast. We halted. Then came another, which struck in the midst of us, in the road, but hit no one. We were ordered to get over into the field to the right, which we did, and the Regiment entered a wood. Meantime, one of our pieces was unlimbered and answered. The Rebels kept our range, and followed us with round shot, shell and canister. We turned to the left to get on their flank. We were ready to drop with exhaustion, and many laid down as if they were dead. The shot was crashing in among us, and one unfortunate discharge fell among Co. E (Capt. Hassenburg’s,) killing William R. Hoffman, (whose stomach was hit by a piece of shell) and wounded some others. Still, the Regiment kept moving on, the Rebels lost sight of us, and we passed down towards their right flank. The cannon ceased playing on us, and turned their attention to the front. The rebels had taken up their position on a road that ran perpendicular to the one we approached by skirting a wood having cleared land in front. All the roads in this country have deep ditches along the side, and this, with a rail fence in front, gave them an admirable rifle pit and breast work. We got in along by a rail fence running perpendicular to their position, about 200 or 250 yards from them. A few skirmishers opened on them and they gave us a regimental volley. Our wishes and prayers have come at last. We had met the 3d Georgia, but as they wore blue overcoats (captured on the Fanny) some one cried out we were firing on our own men. The colors were ordered to be raised, and such a storm of bullets it has never been my luck to bear. It sounded to me like hail on a window glass. The colors were lowered, and we went to work. It was hot work, and bloody. Three of our own Company were wounded – they were dropping all around. The 9th New York attempted a charge, came out in good order on a double quick, but a discharge of canister confused them, and they came in over us pell mell. If we hadn’t been phlegmatic Dutchmen, we might have run too, as it was well calculated to get up a panic. We kept behind the fence, lying down to load and taking the best opportunity to fire. Every one appeared very deliberate, and I am proud to say that Co’s H, E, and Capt. Blair’s company, G and C, worked like heroes. I do not speak of them in disparagement of others, but because they came more under my observation. We moved by the flank down the fence – “Charge!” said somebody – down went the fence, with a crash – over we went, and across the field, in time to see the Rebels leave. Brouse , Co. C, fell here, shot through the head. We can’t tell how much they suffered, but we could see them drive up with a four-horse wagon and carry off the wounded. They left six dead on the field. We took some prisoners, and had whipped the 3d Georgia and an Alabama Regiment.


It commenced to rain. We were too tired to pursue. We stacked arms, and marched to the position we occupied when we charged, to bivouac for the night. The other Regiments were dispersed all around, each throwing out pickets. After visiting our wounded at the Hospital, Beaver got a gate, we made a fire and coffee, and after discussing the day a little while, turned in to sleep, with the hope the rebels would leave us alone until the morning.


About nine o’clock, evening, Lt. Col. Bell called us up, and gave us orders to waken up the men quickly and get ready to march. The enemy had reinforcements, and our pickets heard them stack arms…[missing words] to attack us in the morning. We did so, and taking the caps off the pieces, filed out and formed in the field. It was very dark, and you could just distinguish the black form of the man before you. The first brigade moved first, then our regiment, then the 21 Mass., two pieces of cannon, the pioneers and axemen, who destroyed the bridges after us. The we made a march of 28 miles, such as has not been equaled. In almost perfect silence – it had rained and the roads were horrible – (they get bad, very quick, here,) – you could hear nothing but the slomp of the mud. We reached our landing about four o’clock in the morning. We have never experienced anything like it – marched 36 miles and fought a battle, in twenty-four hours.


The Rebels fired on our hospital; the bullets flew all around, while they were carrying in the wounded. – So now – on the anniversary of the day some of us left Lewisburg to enter the three months’ service – we have another name for our flag – “Camden” – with Gen. Burnside’s permission.


The position of the Rebels was admirably chosen, and they burned two houses and the fences in order that the smoke might conceal their position. It is the first time I have noticed that expedient. We could hear the cannon and see the ball where it struck, but we could not see the flash of their gun – so we had to root them right out – hunt them up, and were on them almost before we knew it. Gen. Reno was around among us all of the time, and they cannonaded him very heavily once as he crossed a field. I don’t pretend to give a full account of the battle. I saw the correspondent of the New York Tribune on the field, and he will no doubt give an accurate description, (bating their New York bias.)                                                                                                                                                       L.