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George Washington Whitman to Mary Elizabeth Whitman, 19 March 1862

Dear Sister

Hearing that a mail leaves here today I have only time to write a few lines to let you know that I am well and hearty. Tell Han we have given the rebels another licking and won a splendid victory. I went through the fight and did not get a scratch although the balls rained around me for over two hours, and several of our boys were struck down close to my side. We left Roanoke Island March 11th and landed about sixteen miles below Newbern (which is, or was a city of some 6,000 inhabitants) on the 13th and took up the line of march. After marching 8 or 10 miles through the woods, a halt was ordered as it was getting dark and we passed rather an uncomfortable night as it rained pretty hard and our blankets soon got soaked through. We got up at daylight on the morning of the 14th, marched 4 or 5 miles, when we came upon the enemy in strong forces behind breastworks as usual. We marched up under a terrible fire, formed line of battle, and at it we went. The enemy were posted in an almost impregnable position, but after 3 hours hard fighting (during which time our boys had crept nearer and nearer to the enemy's works) the rebels ran and the day was ours. Our regiment suffered pretty bad, we had only about 651 men when we went into the fight, and lost about 100 in killed and wounded, among whom was some of my intimate friends. One young fellow (named Bob Smith, Orderly Sergeant Co. 13) was shot through the heart, he lived in Portland Ave. near Mother. Among the badly wounded is our Lieutenant Colonel R. B. Potter, shot through the side. I asked him at the time if he was hurt, he said nothing to speak of (and did not give up for an hour after that). After the fight I found our Major LeGendre lying in the mud, a ball had struck him in the back of the neck and passed out through his cheek. I took off the blanket that I had strapped to my back, laid him on it, got some help and carried him about a quarter of a mile to a tent where he now lies in a very critical condition. We had one captain, one lieutenant, 3 orderly sergeants, our Chaplain, and 16 or 18 privates killed. Lieutenant Carrington had a leg taken off. He was by my side when he was struck and was an intimate friend of mine. Two other lieutenants were shot through the leg. I don't know what our total loss is but should think about 450 killed and wounded.1 I think the enemy lost about the same number. The battle was on each side of a railroad leading into the city and we knew they carried off a good many of their killed and wounded in cars. Immediately after the fight a front of our force started in pursuit, but the rebels had set fire to a bridge which crosses a river about .9 of a mile wide. Our troops finally crossed in a boat and found the city nearly deserted and fired in 3 or 4 places. The fires did not do much damage however and most of our troops are now quartered there. Our regiment marched slowly up to the river and as our boys were about lived out we spread our blankets on the ground and passed the night there. We are now encamped on the banks of the river about 2 miles from the city and we have things very comfortable. We will probably stay here for some time. The enemy had tremendous advantages over us and as they had more men engaged than we had, they ought to have cut us to pieces as they have spent months and months fortifying and getting ready for us. After we were landed from the ships, our gunboats went up and drove the rebels out of 4 or 5 splendid short batteries so that our victory is complete. We have taken quite a number of canon, and to day a part of our force leaves here to take another small city lying on the coast. The last letter I received from home was dated February 19th and I have had none from you since I left Annapolis. I wrote you soon after our fight at Roanoke. Did you get the letter? Write immediately please.

G. W. Whitman  
 Direct 2nd Brigade Burnside Expedition Newbern N.C.


  • 1. According to the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, there were ninety-eight Union soldiers killed, wounded, or missing in the Battles of Roanoke and New Berne, North Carolina, combined. [back]
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