Mercury, January 6, 1864 [OAF]
Morris Island, Dec. 19, 1863
Charleston Harbor Supposed To Be Clear Of Obstructions
—Since my last letter, we have been on tiptoe, expecting to see or hear the iron fleet making an effort to get into Charleston harbor; but still the Philadelphia haunts the waters of Lighthouse Inlet, and the “invulnerables” preserve a masterly inactivity. For forty-eight hours, commencing on the 11th, a heavy easterly gale prevailed on the coast, causing a higher tide in and around the harbor than has been known since this army has occupied the Island, and on Sunday afternoon could be seen huge rafts and buoys floating about in the harbor and in the roadstead opposite the Island. After some of these rafts and timbers had drifted ashore, it was apparent these formed the formidable obstructions in Charleston harbor; the timbers are, the most of them, six or seven feet in circumference and are covered with a coating of barnacles and shells, owing to being submerged so long. So far as the rafts indicate by their supposed position, the fleet could never have forced them sufficiently to pass without seriously damaging the motive power of the vessels, as it is very reasonably conjectured that the huge links of chain found attached to the rafts were cables to anchors or old guns, sunk to hold the raft in position directly across the channel, but short and heavy enough to keep the whole structure submerged, so that a hostile vessel could not be piloted clear of it. The rafts were apparently placed in sections, but each section was linked to the other by two bars of railway track, by means of car couplings bolted to the ends of each section. It may be that the naval authorities had a hand in loosening the grand network of obstructions in their nightly work upon them, fully expecting nature to assist them in the work, as it has done. But if they don’t take advantage of what nature has accomplished for them pretty soon, the wily rebels will place a more complicated trap in their way. But they may be justified in supposing that the harbor is not clear; or, they probably know such to be the fact, but no one here has seen the navy endeavoring to ascertain whether the harbor was clear or not; they may prepare to reconnoitre by next spring.
How The Weehawken Has Sunk
I have just found out how the Weehawken was sunk. It is gravely asserted that the Admiral, in his afternoon siesta, saw the ghost of Sumter coming towards the fleet and telegraphed the Weehawken to run out of the way, and her speed, under the circumstances of fright and a bottom clear of barnacles, was so great that she ran under.
Shooting Of A Deserter
Thursday Afternoon, Dec. 18. — A special order made it the duty of all the troops on this island to witness a melancholy and impressive scene. Kimball, of Co. G, 3d N.H. regiment, a conscript recently brought out from Boston, deserted from his regiment and had got as far as our picket lines on the left. It is asserted that when he was discovered, he was signalizing to the enemy across the river to come with a boat and take him across; and after being taken, he represented himself as a rebel deserter, and the object of his signalizing was to direct a brother deserter, who had agreed to desert with him from the enemy. He was brought in to the guard on Black Island, to be sent over to the post headquarters in the morning, as no one doubted his story. He was disguised in citizen’s dress at the time, and would have been paroled as a rebel deserter had not one of the men in his own company, who had been put into the provost guard house for some misdemeanor, recognized him. The delinquent soldier, seeing a rebel deserter, of course took a good look at him, just perhaps to see what a rebel looked like, when he suddenly exclaimed, “Hallo, Kimball, what the deuce are you doing here?” This familiarity excited curiosity, and when the guard saw the supposed deserter motion the soldier to keep mum, it created suspicion. An officer was called in and informed that something was wrong, whereupon there was an investigation, and the foregoing facts evolved. Several men from the same regiment were called and proved him to be a member of the regiment, whereupon he was court martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to suffer death.
As before stated, on Thursday, at 4 p.m., the sentence of the Court was carried out to the bitter end. The troops were formed in two columns of four ranks each, so the space occupied would be convenient for all the troops to witness the scene. Between the columns there was a space of eight paces for the funeral cortege to pass in review before the troops. An army hearse was driven through, containing the victim seated upon his coffin, preceded by a Martial Band playing a funeral march; the prisoner lounged upon his coffin, calm, and unmoved, except you might see a slight moisture of the eye; but his face was pale and careworn, like one who seemed to have hoped against fate, and now at the last was struggling to be resigned. He seemed to look each man in that vast assembly in the eye with a vague and melancholy appeal for sympathy, as the hearse drove down the line, which must have touched the hearts of many, although they knew he was guilty. After the cortege had arrived at the place of execution, he nimbly jumped from the hearse to the ground, and began to prepare himself for the final act in his drama of life. His head was shaved, and then the Chaplain offered a prayer; after that the Provost Marshall tied the fatal kerchief over his eyes, the officer of the guard put his men in position to fire, the Chaplain, Marshal and pall bearers shook hands with him, stepped aside suddenly; the officer shook his glove and the victim fell across his coffin; his feet trembled a moment and he was a corpse.
No sooner had the man fallen, a lifeless mass of earth, than a sea gull flitted over him, ready to pounce upon the first vestige of torn flesh that it might discover. This painful scene would have been totally devoid of incident, but for what the last mentioned occurrence gave to it. The appearance of the bird was so sudden, not one being in sight before, that it imparted to the scene a touch of the supernatural. It was only by repeated efforts that the guard was able to keep the voracious bird away. The lesson taught by the scene will no doubt be a lasting one to all who witnessed it.
The rebels opened pretty heavily on Tuesday last, but their fire did no extra damage. Last night about 11 o’clock, for the first time in a week, we opened on the city, which occasioned some savage firing on the part of the enemy, showing that firing on the city occasions more annoyance than they have admitted. The members of the regiment represented by their noncommissioned officers are making efforts to celebrate the 1st of January in a becoming manner, the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. An informal meeting was held last evening by the uncommish, and, of course, there was some rubbing of ideas. The only little incident that occurred worthy of notice was the wish expressed by some of the radicals to couch the language of the petition to the Commanding General for leave to make a celebration in such a manner as to convey the idea that the petition emanated from the soldiers of the department irrespective of class. The question was very warmly contested till tattoo, and it was unanimously agreed that the meeting was very harmonious!
December 19, 1863
This is Gooding’s 42nd letter to the Mercury
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