Letter about soldiers stealing supplies and horses from farms and mistreating slave "wenches"


Date Written

Nov. 5, 1862

Laban H. Shank was 23 years old when this was written.
The recipient, Henry Silas Shank, was 31 when it was received.

Laban H. Shank died 1 year, 6 months, 9 days after writing this.
It was written 160 years, 10 months, 18 days ago.
It was a Wednesday.

Newport, N.C., Nov 5th 1862

Brother Silas,

I take this opportunity to send you and mother a few lines to let you know that I am well at present and that the Boys except Orange and Charley are as well as usual. Orange is sick but what ails him most is he is homesick. Henis so as to be around and wash our dishes. Charley is not sick but he has got the worst toe that I have seen in many a day he does not know what ails it. It seems to be cracking up close to his foot it is the next to his little toe he is to go to Newbern to night to the Hospital. I had a letter from Franklin a day or to since and he says you were all well. I had a letter from Jane and Anna the same day and Shal answer it in a few days. I start this letter to day but shal not finnish it perhaps in a week and perhaps not til I hear from you. I right this to let you know that I am safe for you will most likely hear that there has bin a large scout from this place.

I had a fine tromp yesterday for the first time since I have been in the State. There is a saw mill about three or four miles outside our line and Lieutenant Cady took half a dozen men and went out there and tried to saw with it but could not make it work. So yesterday Will Hoyt Armstrong, Ed Eastwood, and myself took each one of us one of Colts 8 inch revolvers an ax and hatchit and some provissions and started for the saw mill. We passed our pickets and took to road. It led through the swamp and brush all the way and you can think how we walked the bushes to see if there were not some rebble lerking there to get a shy shot at us we came by a plantation and got some sweet potatoes and bought one doz eggs for twenty-five cents and went to the mill. It was the most ancient specimen of a mill that I ever saw there is a grist mill close to it with two run of stone in it and a bolt that runs by hand and there is a big n___r that tends it. Wee worked all day and got the mill in good repair and Will and myself sawed, and Ed and Hank fished and they caught fifteen or twenty rock bass about the shape and sise of your hand and two to four fish that would weigh 1 1/2 lbs apiece and one that weighed 4 lbs and then wee went into a cotton field close by and got some cotton and started for camp where we arrived just dark and found the boys all in a sweat for they were to start off on a scout at four O’clock the next morning and they were feeling like colts let loose. For they were anxious for the fun so High and me got up at 2 o’clock and got their Breakfast and they put Eight horses on the guns and Eight on Caisons and four on the baggage Waggon and started and left me in camp to cook for the men that were left and took High to cook for the scout and started for Pelchers Mills. There was 2 guns of our battery 30 Calvary, 80 Massichusets infantry and 40 of the 9th New Jersey. The Massichusets men were nine months men and had not had any experience in camp life and they could not stand it to march. The road was strung full of them all the way and our baggage waggon was full of their boots which were worth from 5 to 6 dollars and they wanted to trade for our boys shoes not worth one fourth as mutch.

Our boys met a man on the road with a horse and buggy and they made a break for him and stripped the harness off his horse and put a saddle and bridle on him and stole his cushions out of his seat and took his whip and tore the trunk rack off the back end of his buggy and rode off his horse before he had time to get out of the buggy. They killed lots of hogs and chickens by the roosts ful and tore down the roosts to find more they stole 25 or 30 swarms of bees and went into the house and made the folks give them tin pans enough to put the spare honey into and they stole the rest of the plunder that was in the house. They took one old wenches drawers that she had on the line drying and she hunted them all through the camp and the Boys had lots of fun with her when it came night. The men took a large farm house to sleep in and not finding room they went to the n___rs quarters and drove the wenches out of their beds and got into them themselves, and they took the farmers horses in the morning and started for home. It rained so hard that they was afraid that they could not get back if they stayed. The bridges were so poor and it rained all night and til they got home. On the road home the infantry met an old man with a pony and a cart going to mill and they took his cart and horse and put him out and got in themselves and left him in the road to hunt for himself. It was the only thing that they had to repent of on the march. They got within 6 or 8 miles of Wards cavalry but could not get across the River to get at them.

There is good prospect of our staying here winter and not doing a thing The third Artillery is at Newbern and I suppose that James Shank is there but do not know for certain but shal send a line up there and see if I can hear from him and if I can I shal go and see him. Tell Dan Scoville that Mark has gon off on Gene Fosters Expedition you will see by the papers where where his expedidition is better than I can tell you. There is no doubt but that he is going to Richmond he left Newbern with 6 thousand troops and some of the Boys that have returned say that troops swarmed to reinforce them like bees swarming into a hive till the army was a perfect host. I have not heard from home since one week ago last Sabbath and there has not been a letter nor a paper in our camp since there had been a hard storm at sea and the ships could not get into Hatrass inlet. They had to stop at Fortress Monroe.

I shal not send home mutch money this time for I shal buy me a revolver and a large dagger and that will take most of my wages for this time the goverment does not furnish but four revolvers to each gun and I am in the cook house and shal get me one that I can bring home with me when I come. I did not get me any in New York for I did not have the money to spare at that time.

I wish that you could be here and see the contrabands that are around our camp. It would do you good they are all sizes and colors and the most ignorant set of animals that I ever saw. They do not know as mutch as your dog Billy. I expect to get lots of mail tomorrow for there is a steamer in with sixteen bags of mail on her. Then I will finish this letter and answer one that I had from Aunt Jane and Anna. The night that the scout started some boddy sheared Cap Lees horses tail most splendidly and Lieut. Cadys and Lieut. Hasting they got a most splendid trim on them worse than they got on Steve Wisners that time but there was not a word sayed about it for it would do no good. Thus endeth the first chapter.

Nov 16, 1862

We were routed the night of the 12 at four o’clock. There was a train of cars sent for us from Newbern for they thought that they were to be atacted for the Rebbles shot one of our pickets dead and wounded two others bad and I can assure you that the Citty was all in arms in no time and there was but few troops in the place and what there were were scared to death and the citizens were worse than Soldiers were. Wee got started just sunrise and I do not think there was a man in the whole train that expected to get into the Citty that day. Wee thought that the road had been torn up and that the rebbles held the road if not by this time the town but we were not disturbed and got safe into the Citty and found how things stood and that they were not atacted and were yet alive and Gen Foster and his expedition were in the Gun Boats off the Citty and that the Cavalry 3 or 4 hundred strong had landed so they sent the cavalry and infantry that went with us back to Newport and by this time the troops were landing from the boats and going out on the lines so we stayed in the Citty and stole pies and cake from the wenches but they got so that they did not dare to come to our Battery to sell their plunder the Boys stole them blind. Wee laid in the Citty 2 days and 2 nights and then came back to Camp Newport.

I saw 3 Rebble soldiers that came into our lines or were taken. They had no uniforms except one black over coat. They report 5 thousand rebbles 13 miles from Newbern but there is more troops in Newbern than they can drive out with 50 thousand men and there has bin three Masichusets Regiments passing through there for the past 3 days from Branford to Newbern Wee are to give the Guns that wee have got to the 23 N.Y. Battery and have six new ones and Gen Foster told us that when wee got our Guns that he would move us in-to the Citty.

The weather is warm enough that the flies and moskitoes are thick. There has bin two cold nights here so cold that it froze ice in some barrel heads to the thicknes of one eighth of an inch but it has bin warm since wee live good. Our dinner to day was beef steak and sweet potatoes which wee buy for 30 and 40 cents per bushel but wee do not buy them for wee can get them cheaper. There was three or four rebble soldiers came into our camp last night and gave themselves up. They were hard looking customers. I have not heard from home since the 15 of last month and I suppose you want me to wright once a week but I do not think I ought to when I do not get a letter once in a month. I had a letter from father yesterday and he is well I am afraid that all the mail that you have sent me since the 15, if any, is lost in the United States. A steamer that has bin due here for the last 2 weeks. Let me know when you intend to go west and how is Franklin and Adilades baby for Ed Eastwood told me they had one. Wright soon if you want to hear from me again, in haste.

L H. Shank