The Burning of Elizabeth City
Arrested as an “incendiary”:
Sgt. William R. Scruggs of the Wise Legion was arrested after the battle and charged with being an incendiary by Commander Stephen Rowan. Scruggs was detached to aid citizens in burning their property by Colonel C. F. Henningsen of the Wise Legion.
Col. Henningsen’s report:
“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.”
Commander Rowan’s report:
“Passing up the river to the city with three or four of the vessels, we ran them alongside the wharves. A battery of field artillery was seen making a hasty retreat down the street. A party of our people passing through the streets came suddenly on a mounted artillery officer of the Wise Legion, who, in obedience to orders from General Henningsen, was compelling the defenseless people to set fire to the houses. Several houses were set on fire before he was arrested and brought to me. I immediately ordered all our people aboard their respective ships, and that no visiting between shore and ships should be permitted. Some of the defenseless inhabitants, men and women, came to the wharf to implore me to save their houses and property from destruction; but I refused to allow a man to move, knowing that if I acceded to their requests we would be charged with vandalism as incendiaries. No houses were destroyed besides those set on fire under the direction of Lieutenant Scruggs, of the Wise Legion.”