Report of Col. C. F. Henningsen
Fifty-ninth Virginia Infantry
WINTON, N c.
February 12, 1862.
General: Finding at Currituck Court-House that provision and forage could not be obtained to proceed to Powell’s Point, or even to remain at the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal any nearer that Elizabeth City, [we] marched there on the 3d with artillery of Wise’s Legion and remained there until the 7th, breaking horses to fire and harness while waiting orders from General Wise. Received on February one order from General Wise to leave guns and wagons at Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal and proceed with horses and men to Powell’s Point. Sent quartermaster and made arrangements. Same evening received second dispatch from Brigadier-General H. A. Wise, dated from Nag’s Head, informing me that the Federal squadron in great force was advancing up the sound, and ordering me to remain and do the best I could for the defence of Elizabeth City.
I found a battery (about 2 miles by water and about 3 by land) with four 32-pounders and 28 rounds of ammunition; battery defective (magazine dangerous, if there had been any ammunition to put in it). General Mann promised to call out the militia, and Colonel Starke endeavored to do so, but it seems they would not come. I tried to obtain 150 negroes to throw up traverse (three of the guns being enfiladed) and otherwise improve [the] battery, but could only, by 2 a.m. on the 9th, obtain 30 hands, whom I impressed.
Early on the morning of the 8th Commodore Lynch, with six steamers, arrived; had fought the day before, exhausting all his ammunition. Proposed to man the battery with the crew of the lost steamer Curlew; to place therein additional guns, and moor schooner with two guns alongside battery. Colonel Martin received 200 pounds powder from Norfolk, and 100 pounds blasting powder was found and made up into cartridges. On the morning [of the] 9th Commodore Lynch, having found a few rounds, steamed out with two steamers to reconnoiter enemy. Returned, chased by enemy’s steamers, and determined to land crews and fight battery, expecting Captain Hunter with ammunition. It appeared that the militia would not come out without requisition from seven magistrates. This was obtained on the 9th. The naval officers were of the opinion that the enemy would not attempt to pass battery until silenced. I undertook, with promise of a regiment of militia and expectation of a few companies, to prevent it being turned for some time.
On the evening of the 9th I moved out four pieces to rear of battery for that purpose, leaving two pieces and wagons in Elizabeth City ready to move.
Early on the morning of the 10th the enemy’s squadron hove in sight and opened fire on battery, schooner, and steamers, and, as if aware of the helpless condition of all, steamed, after a few minutes, past the battery right up to the city.
Commodore Lynch told me in the battery that he was informed that the enemy had landed below, and a naval officer, galloping up, reported, after I left the battery, that the enemy in large force had landed and formed about a mile below. There were no militia – no one whatsoever to support the artillery – who have neither firelocks of any kind nor side arms. Two pieces were placed to keep the enemy as long as possible at bay, but in a few minutes the Federal steamers were perceived rapidly advancing past the battery toward the city, which they reached before the artillery (now ordered back) had got halfway.
As the enemy, after reaching the wharf, had the town at their mercy, I detached Sergeant Scruggs, of Captain McComas’s company, with a detail, to aid the citizens in destroying the place by fire, as I had been requested to do by some of the most prominent of them. They only partially succeeded, two blocks only having been burned and a few isolated houses in the suburbs. I retreated with the artillery by the old Edenton Road, and halted on the night of the 10th at Newby’s Bridge, 2 miles from Hertford, accompanied and guarded by General Mann, of the militia. I opened communication with Edenton and Hertford, and sent for some of the transportation of the Fifty-ninth Virginia Volunteers, which was unprotected at the former place. The militia had not been embodied at either place, though the next day I received a dispatch from Colonel Moore, of Edenton, stating that on the requisition of any Confederate general he was ordered to call out his regiment, and could assemble 200 men, armed with muskets and shot [guns], and with ten rounds of ammunition each. In this region the militia will not assemble until the enemy is dangerously near. The it is impossible to assemble them until they have attended to the moving of family and property. After that they show a disposition to come out if there is any force to support them.
Generally the population appear to be very true. There are, of course, some traitors, but far less disloyalty than in western Virginia. A painful instance of the later occurred a few miles from Elizabeth City on our march to Newby’s Bridge. A man by the name of Lester deliberately shot a private who rode into his yard, and then barricaded himself in the upper rooms of his house, refusing to surrender. Captain Webb, quartermaster of artillery, went up to him unarmed and pledged himself to protect him from violence if he came out. After appearing to consent, he suddenly and treacherously attempted to fire at the captain, and did fire afterward several times at the men. I ordered the house to be fired. He was driven by the smoke to the window and shot by one of the artillery. The man shot, Private Bransford, is in very critical condition. Lester, it seems, was a very violent Union man, and had been waited on a month previous by a vigilance committee.
On the morning of the 11th I received a communication from Colonel Wright, of the Third Georgia Regiment, stating he was 5 miles from Elizabeth City with 400 of his regiment, at South Mills; that 500 more were expected, and that he would wait to hear from me.
I marched on the 11th by what is called the Desert road to this place with the artillery and a company of the Seventeenth North Carolina Volunteers, which (40 strong), under Lieutenant Lyons, reported to me the preceeding night, being part of the force that escaped from the naval battery opposite Roanoke Island.
On reaching Winton I found that Colonel Wright had left for Norfolk. This day I remained here, taking up position and opening communication with Elizabeth City.
The remainder of Colonel Wright’s regiment arrived last night, and this afternoon a battery of artillery. I had ordered four companies of Colonel Wright’s regiment, with one gun, and was about to make a night reconnaissance of Elizabeth City, when I received the order from Brigadier-General H. A. Wise to join him at the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, whither I proceeded with the artillery in the morning.
At 10 p.m. I received a note from Colonel Wright, informing me that he had arrived at South Mills, and desiring that his companies should not proceed to-night. In consequence of not knowing whether he ranked me or had any special orders from you, I have abandoned the reconnaissance, but send a small party of artillery soldiers, with teams, to bring off, if possible, a wagon and caisson which had stalled in Elizabeth City, but had been dragged off and concealed about a mile on this side.
I would beg, respectfully, to call your attention to the case of Sergeant Scroggs. According to the report of the citizens, Scroggs was double-ironed on board a Federal vessel in the river, and the Federal officers talked of trying and hanging him as an incendiary. Sergeant Scruggs, son of a Virginia senator, is a gentleman and a soldier, and was acting in obedience to orders from me, of which I am willing to assume the responsibility. I should have sent a flag of truce to-morrow to the enemy but for the fact of having to march. I leave his case, general, in your hands.
C. F. Henningsen
February 13, 1862 – 6 a.m.
P.S. – The artillery detail has returned, bringing back the wagon, with baggage. They report only six Federal steamers in the river. The guns in the battery spiked and carriages burned
[C. F. H.}
Series I, Volume 6