Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Burnside Expedition --- The Actual Facts

To the Editor of the New York Times

Upon my arrival at Fortress Monroe, I gave without any compensation, the facts relating to the Burnside Expedition to the Associated Press.  In that report I nothing extenuated, nor set down aught in malice.  I stated the facts without commentary.  The official dispatch distinctly states that only one vessel was lost and that Gen. Burnside says so.  I know that he did not.  I know that Gen. Burnside freely and openly spoke to the Correspondents of his position, of his misfortunes, and his responsibilities, and that when he was advised to place an espionage over the Press, he said, “I am in the hands of the public.  I have been deceived but I will bear the blame.”  Freely, and with generosity, in the face of counsel opposed to him he allowed the correspondents to send their dispatches.

The facts stated and published by these gentlemen have verified my original statement, but now that some official parties have seen fit to contravene the primary statements which the public received, perhaps it would be well to reiterate and state the facts.

An expedition called the Burnside Expedition which had long been in preparations, and which consisted of one hundred and twenty five vessels of all descriptions sailed on the 4th of January from Fortress Monroe.  Slight storms and head winds retarded us on our progress, but we arrived, either outside or inside the bar, on the 13th or 15th of this month.  Gen. Wool advised the departure, the pilots agreed with him, and thus we saved meeting a storm which would have buried one half of the worthless hulks on the sandy bottom of the sea.  The vessels comprising the expedition were bought under the understanding that they should draw a certain depth of water.  The correspondent of the Evening Post states in one case: At least one steamer was sworn to draw but six feet six inches when laden and actually draws when lightened as near as possible, eight feet.  From the World’s correspondent: ‘I shudder when I look back to a week ago yesterday, and recount the train of casualties which has followed us and were I to present them in the order they occurred your readers would certainly presume this an ill starred expedition.’

All the daily papers add testimony to these statements.  I will not enter into particulars already published.  The terrible storms almost unparalleled, the rapid current sweeping with resistless force from Pamlico sound to the wild ocean at the rate of five miles an hour and returning.  The high tides washing over the sandy beach of Hatteras and preventing the landing of soldiers or the serene quiescent gouty state of the Commodore who lounged on his divan while the whirlwind and the rough ocean tore and shattered the City of New York’s elegant proportions into driftwood and an unseemly object when a hauser from a tug boat might have saved her.

I will sate facts.  The City of New York with 400 kegs of gunpowder, 1,700 Enfield rifles, with bombs &c., was lost through neglect, and her Captain and crew in full sight of the fleet remained in the rigging forty hours exposed to the mercy of the elements.  The Zouave gunboat, armed with one 32 pound Parrott gun, two Wiard guns, rifled, dragged her anchors, stove a hole in her stern and sunk.  The troops were saved and so were the guns.  The vessel is lost.

The Grapeshot bomb-vessel went down at sea.

The Pocahontas, an old steamer, was charted for horses.  The pilot stated to the General on board the Spaulding that her owner was utterly opposed to her going on the expedition. – The pilot also stated that the boilers leaked and they drove wooden plugs in the boiler, that the iron grates fell out (See Times correspondent) and she went ashore because they and no sail!  The Pocahontas lost 80 Rhode Island Battery horses and 15 staff officers’ horses.

The bark Volligeur, with a portion of the Eleventh Connecticut is hard ashore with 500 troops.

The Admiral who carried Gen. Burnside and the Massachusetts Twenty-fourth and which were sent ashore, stuck in the Swash three days but is now over.

The steamer Northerner, the headquarters of Gen. Reno, broke her anchor and was ashore three days.

The Eastern Queen went hard ashore.

The Louisiana, a large paddle-wheel steamer, (Herald correspondent says,) broke her back.

A schooner went ashore near the light-house, with oats for horses, and went to pieces.

Another schooner went ashore with coal, and lost six men, four of whom were buried by Col. Stevenson of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts, and two by the Eleventh Connecticut.

The ships purchased for the Expedition never could have stood a storm at sea.  Old freight boats from Poughkeepsie and Albany were fitted up as gunboats, painted black to look formidable, two of them, the Lancer and Pioneer, carried 500 troops each.  When in the trough of the sea they rolled fearfully and a Captain in the navy who was on board the Lancer, stated that in case of a storm, nothing could prevent her from bilging and going down.

The contractor who furnished the water casks for the expedition has committed an outrage on our soldiers which should only entitle him to John Brown’s fate.  The casks used to put water in were old whisky, kerosene oil and camphene barrels furnished by the Union city of Baltimore.  The sufferings endured from this source was terrible, men could not drink it, it was too nauseous.

Another contrast.  Ice would have been a luxury to the soldiers – it was only $5 a ton. – Water we were short of.  Coal we were short – it was only $4.50 a ton.  Stone was worth 25 cents.  All of these most excellent ballast.  Yet would it be believed that we took on board pig iron at $20 a ton as ballast, knowing when we started we should have to cast it overboard. – Yes such is the fact.  The gunboat Lancer arrived at Hatteras Inlet short of coal and water, and yet she threw over 75 tons of iron - $1,750 worth.  In all $3,600 worth of iron was cast overboard, yet we were short of water.

The pilots, we are all told, were all Union, Hatteras Inlet was Union, and New York subscribed $8,000 for the inhabitants because they were all Union.  Yet one of the pilots hired by us one went over to the enemy and informed them of everything, and as for the inhabitants of Hatteras Inlet, they are too ignorant to know the difference between Union and Secession.  It is all nonsense, experience teaches us that, there are no Union men there, and that the 3,000 rifles asked for, if they had been granted, would now be on Roanoke Island, and that the $8,000 sent to North Carolina for the benefit of the Union men, was all lost to us.  The south are in earnest and we are at play.  We had to pay $800 in secret service money to those self-same Union men, to know whether Roanoke Island was occupied or not.

Briefly reiterating the facts contained in my first dispatch, and calling attention to the rascalities of the first steamboat contractors, and other contractors, and asking the public to pause in the contemplation of a set of scoundrels who have allowed the lives and health of 15,000 men to be periled by their life boats and their water casks, I will conclude by stating the position of affairs.

The naval gunboats have crossed the “swash.”  One half of Gen. Burnside’s vessels have done likewise.  Seven thousand troops are safely over.  Those vessels which cannot cross will be relieved of their troops, and will cross on other vessels.  Vessels may be injured.  Water was scarce for a time.  The rations were rather slight.  But the whole army of 15,000 men have confidence in their General.  He is ever ready to relieve the wants of a shipwrecked crew or the privations of the soldier.  In the storm in his top boots, his old gray flannel shirt and Kossuth hat, the American Garibaldi is loved by all.  They have faith in his bravery – they have confidence in his judgment – and their experience teaches them that Gen. Burnside will never bring back the star on his shoulder dimmed by defeat, but rather that it will shine resplendent in victory.

W. R.
FIFTH AVENUE HOTEL, Tuesday, January 30th, 1862.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, February 8, 1862, p. 2

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