Below, a young Massachusetts corporal writes of the “justness and greatness of their cause” as he and his regiment invade a formerly peaceful North Carolina, and wage war against old men, women and children, in what the North falsely believed to be the “heroic spirit of the fathers of the Revolution.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Unleashed Brutes in North Carolina
“In The Country of the Enemy” (A Diary)
Dec. 22, 1862:
At one point the column was confronted by a spunky secesh female, who, with the heavy wooden rake, stood guard over her winter’s store of sweet potatoes. Her eyes flashed defiance, but so long as she stood upon the defensive no molestation was offered her. When . . . she changed her tactics and slapped a cavalry officer in the face, gone were her sweet potatoes and other stores in the twinkling of an eye. (page 102)
Feb 8th, 1863:
On our way back to New Bern, when in my last, I gave currency to the rumor that the object of our expedition to Plymouth was accomplished. But yesterday noon an order from headquarters addressed to our right wing, directing us to put ourselves in light marching order, with 24 hours rations of hard tack in our haversacks . . . told us something was (a) foot. We noted suspiciously the twinkle in the eye of the quartermaster, but fell in at the word of command, and were soon marching out of Plymouth on the “Long Acre Road.”
Leaving the Washington road on our right . . . we found ourselves repeating the old familiar tramp, tramp through the mud and sand and water of North Carolina, past weather-stained but comfortable looking homesteads; past small plantations, through pine woods, through creeks and over bridges.
We were not long in ascertaining the fact that we were on a foraging expedition, and if history should call it a reconnaissance, the misnomer will never restock the stables and storehouses, the bee-hives and hen-roosts, that night depleted along the road of Long Acre. We received an early hint that we were going to capture a lot of bacon twelve miles out of Plymouth, but if the residents along the road this side that point managed to save their own bacon and things, they certainly had reason to bless their stars.
If it would not be considered unsoldierly and sentimental, your correspondent might feel inclined to deprecate this business of foraging, as it is carried on. It is pitiful to see homes once, perhaps, famed for their hospitality, entered and robbed; even if the robbers respect the code of war. It is not less hard for women and children to be deprived of the means of subsistence because their husbands and sons and brothers are shooting at us from the bush. But war is a great, a terrible, an undiscriminating monster, and no earthly power may stay the ravages of the unleashed brute.
At last (about half-past ten o’clock) we halted, and were happy to be informed that the object of the expedition was accomplished. The column was near a house. After making somewhat particular inquiries we were informed that we had captured a dozen barrels of pork, and that the chaplain, as a temperance measure, had resolutely knocked in the head of a barrel of sweet cider, but not, however, until a few enterprising fellows had filled their canteens with the delicious beverage.
We were now ready to countermarch, and five o’clock this morning found us again at Plymouth, after a night march of twenty-five miles.
New Bern, Feb. 17, 1863:
We are visited occasionally at New Bern by friends from Boston. [Rev. Dr. Lothrop, who] . . . preached to the regiment on the 15th. He favored us with an admirable discourse from the words, “keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” We need frequent reminders of the justness and greatness of our cause to keep our hearts warmly engaged in a service so full of sacrifice as this. I fear we have too little of the martyr-spirit which saves a people, and that the North must make up in numbers and treasure what it lacks in the heroic spirit of the fathers of the Revolution.”
“In The Country of the Enemy,” Diary of a Massachusetts Corporal, University Press of Florida, 1999, pp. 129-131