Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Post image for Diary of David L. Day.

Diary of David L. Day.

May 25, 2013

David L Day–My diary of rambles with the 25th Mass

The Boys’ Story.

May 25. For the past day or two I have been a good deal amused and interested in hearing the boys relate their adventures at Dover and Gum swamps. Their stories conflict a little, but as near as I can make it out I fix up a little story. To prepare it a. little, we hold an outpost and signal station some twelve miles up the railroad, at Bachellor’s creek towards Kinston. This is garrisoned by the 58th Pennsylvania, Col. Jones. He is one of those stirring, active, restless sort of men, always finding out everything and getting interested in it. Well, he had discovered an outpost of the enemy some ten or twelve miles in his front and some six miles this side of Kinston, at a place called Gum swamp,, and garrisoned by a considerable force. Now it occurred to him that it would be a capital joke to capture that post. So he comes down and shows his plans to the general, asking permission and troops to carry them out. He knew just who was there and how many; he had been around that swamp half a dozen times and knew all about it. That suited the general; he patted Jones on the back, called him a good fellow and told him to sail in, and he should have all the troops he wanted.

On the afternoon of the 21st, the 25th, with two or three other regiments, went aboard the ears for Bachellor’s creek. Not feeling very well, I was excused from going. Arriving at the creek, Col. Jones with his regiment heads the column, and leads off into the woods. This was a night march, and just here I will explain that always on the march, whether day or night, all the officers that are mounted (and any of them can be who will take the trouble to steal an old horse or mule), have a disagreeable habit of riding up and down the column, opening it to the right and left, and those that have the least business do the most riding. The boys have become so accustomed to jumping out each side of the road on hearing Right, and Left, that this is about the first thing they do on hearing almost any order.

They See a Ghost or Something.

Sometime towards midnight the boys heard the cry, “Right and Left, double quick!” They made a jump, and just then what .appeared to them like a streak of greased lightning went down the line. They say it wasn’t a horse or man or anything they ever saw, and they are so filled with the marvelous and supernatural that some of them actually think they saw some sort of phantom or ghost. What they saw was probably a frightened deer or fox, but in the lone, dark woods, and near the witching hour of midnight, with their nerves and imaginations strained to .their utmost tension, expecting that any moment, almost anything might happen, it is not surprising that they could see ghosts, phantoms and witches. But it is laughable to hear them tell it.

A Council of War.

Soon after midnight they reached Core creek. Here they halted to rest and concert their plans. It was agreed that Jones, with his regiment and the 27th Massachusetts should make a detour around and gain the rear of the enemy, while the others were engaging their attention in front. When they heard him thundering in the rear, they were to charge in, and bag the whole swag. The plan was successfully carried out, so far as the charging in was concerned, but as they charged in most of the enemy charged out on either flank and escaped. They met with partial success, however, as they captured 165 prisoners, one 12-pounder sun, fifty horses and mules, and destroyed their camp and earthworks. The conflict was not very severe, as they had only five or six men slightly wounded. After having accomplished their object and sending off their trophies, instead of immediately starting on their return march, they lingered amid the scenes of their triumphs until late in the afternoon, when the enemy in force,, swooped down upon them, cutting them off from the railroad and with shot and shell greatly accelerated their retreat.

The Retreat.

Late in the evening they reached Core creek, and being a little beyond pursuit, halted to rest. But instead of forcing the march and reaching our lines the same night, they crouched down and remained till morning. Then they discovered the enemy on three sides of them, with an almost impenetrable swamp on the other. This was Dover swamp, and as near as I can judge was similar to the one we went through on Roanoke island, only of greater extent. There was only one choice, and that must be quickly accepted. Into the swamp they plunged, with mud and water to their knees, and thick tangle brush and briars higher than their heads. They could go only in single file, and their progress was slow and tedious. Towards noon they were met by another enemy; the water in their canteens had given out and they began to experience an intolerable thirst. With a burning sun above them and scarcely a breath of air, with all manner of insects, reptiles and creeping things around them, their condition’ was indeed pitiable. Still they pressed forward, some of them filtering the slimy, muddy water through their caps or handkerchiefs and drinking it, but it served better as an emetic than for quenching thirst. About 2 p. m., they emerged from the swamp, and nearly dying from exhaustion, reached our lines at Baehellor’s creek. Here they had rest and refreshment, after which they boarded the cars and arrived back to camp about night, tired, ragged, covered with mud and completely played out. This was their Gum swamp excursion as they tell it. After the boys had left for home, the enemy still hovered around the vicinity of Col. Jones’ camp, and in his impulsive way he went out to meet them, and while skirmishing with them was shot dead. The enemy soon afterwards retired. Col. Jones was a brave man but of rather rash judgement.

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