1863: George A. Phillips to Henry Simmons

This letter was written by George A. Phillips (1840-1864) of the 85th New York Infantry. George enlisted as a musician on 26 September 1861 at Bristol, to serve three years in Co. B. He was sent to ranks as a private at some point, however. His military record indicates he was captured in action with many others of his regiment on 20 April 1864 at Plymouth, NC, and that he died of chronic diarrhea on July 1864, while a prisoner at Andersonville, GA.


George’s Birdseye view of Fort Anderson on the Neuse River near Newbern, NC

George’s letter describes the bombardment of Fort Anderson (“a.k.a. “Deep Gully”)—a Union constructed earthwork on the north bank of the Neuse river opposite New Bern. On the afternoon of 13 March 1863, Maj. General D. H. Hill’s men overran a Union outpost at Deep Gully, eight miles southwest of New Bern. The next morning, Brig. Gen. James J. Pettigrew’s cannons opened fire on both Fort Anderson and Union gunboats in the river. But the Confederates could neither significantly damage the fort nor drive off the gunboats, which bombarded them from far out on the river. Accordingly, Pettigrew abandoned the attempt and retired along the same route on which he had advanced. Because Pettigrew’s success was essential to the operation, Hill had no choice but to withdraw.

George wrote the letter to his friend, Henry Pettis Simmons, Jr. (1848-1935), the son of Henry P. Simmons, Sr. (1818-1883) and Julia A. Drake (1818-1906) of Bristol, Ontario county, New York.


Newbern [North Carolina]
March 15, 1863

Friend Simmons!

I received yours of the 18th of last yesterday over in the camp of the 92 New York. We went over there in the A.M. to support them. They were attacked at daylight yesterday morning with 16 or 18 pieces of artillery supported by a brigade of infantry & two squadrons of cavalry. Nothing but the artillery engaged them, however. The 92nd are on the other side of the Neuce [river]. They went over there some 5 or 6 weeks ago & have been building a fort [Fort Anderson] or rather a sort of redoubt of about this form [sketch] enclosing perhaps two or more acres. Their camp is inside. They have about finished it but had no guns mounted. The “rebs” shelled them about 3 or 4 hours, summoning them under a flag of truce to surrender four different times & were politely refused each time by the Colonel commanding. The men sheltered themselves behind their works & let the “rebs” “pelt away” & “pelt away” they did, completely riddling their camp but hurting nobody except two slightly wounded. We are nearly opposite their camp & a few of the “rebs” shot reached us. We could see the river in the rear of their camp in a complete foam from the shower of iron hail poured into it from the rebs batteries.

About the time we started to reinforce the 92nd, the gunboats—three or four of them—had got good range on them & were piling the “dutch ovens” in them so fast that they “dug out” with their usual haste. We went across in two old scows propelled by poles & expected a warm time in landing but were very agreeably disappointed, there being no rebs in sight then except a few scattering ones around a house just in the rear of where the rebs’ lines were. They left one piece of their artillery on the field—or rather the wreck of it—it having burnt & blowed all to pieces.

From a prisoner who gave himself up we learned that our shell from one of our gunboats killed two of them & wounded 16 others. The 92nd didn’t fire a shot—the rebs being just out of range. Gen. ]John G.] Foster came over in the P.M. & had a boat howitzer landed & mounted & in the evening sent over a field howitzer. We stayed overnight expecting another attack but were again disappointed; & this morning went out scouting 3 or 4 miles but saw nothing but one man whom we brought back with us. We came back this afternoon.

There is quite a force on this side of the river & skirmishing has been going on since Friday afternoon but no regular engagement has taken place yet. We have been trying to draw them down within reach of our line of works but as yet they have been to short for that. Various wild rumors are floating through the place to which you know tis not safe to rely on so I shall not give you any of them. And besides, you will get a full account of all our doings as soon & perhaps sooner from the papers than from me—and more correct than I can give them to you. I have no other news to tell you that I think of now. Till yesterday everything has been as dull as could be in the way of outside excitements, but as a Company we have enjoyed ourselves pretty well since we moved into these barracks.

We were paid off the day before we moved here & about the first thing the boys did was to “throw in” & buy a pair of boxing gloves & a fiddle for me to play on. There has not been one half dozen evenings except Mondays but what the boys have had me playing for them to dance.

Yes, I have a little news to tell you. The Capt. [William W. Clark] arrived here last Friday morning & Col. [Jonathan] Belknap the fore part of last week. He is in command of our brigade now as Gen. Hunt has gone north. I tell you, it “sets him up awful.” The Captain’s health is not very good & he was quite sick yesterday but feels a good deal better today. He says Lieut. [Spencer] Martin started for Moshuyton some 10 or 12 days ago to see something about his furlough business which if it was not attended would dismiss him from the service. I did not understand how the matter was so will not undertake to tell you. We feared at first that we were going to lose him. But the officers say he will be reinstated & will come back “all right.”

I am glad you are enjoying yourself so well & I think we are enjoying ourselves nearly as well—all but the females to dance with. Some of Co. F’s boys tried & succeeded very well to obviate that drawback to our enjoyment by dressing in some dresses got from the wenches. The first I saw of them I thought for quite a little while that they were the regimental washerwomen. But on closer inspection, I saw one of them was Frank Wilcox, another Harvey McIntire, & the other two I don’t remember what their names are. I’ll bet t’would have made you laugh as heartily as it did me to see them put on all the airs of ladies & were as virtuous as the most virtuous maidens in the country & would not let their partners put their hands near their bosoms.

Will this answer as a letter, Hank? I guess you will have to call it one or else do without one till I write again. I’m too damn sleepy to feel much like writing but take this opportunity for fear I will not have better before the mail leaves for the month. I expect every moment the order will come to be ready to march at a moment’s notice, but am in hope not till we have had a night’s rest.

Give my love to all who inquire & tell Adelia that tis two months since I heard from her or her folks & that I shall write again soon even if I did write the last letter. The company is unusually healthy. Parm Lewis ¹ is the only one that reports [sick] now I believe. Write as soon as convenient, Henry, & remember me ever as your friend, — George A. P.

Zeph[aniah W. Gooding] ² says tell Henry he will write in a few days. He got one from you with the same mail mine came.

¹ Parmer W. Lewis—Age, 21 years. Enlisted, August 21, 1861, at Canadice, to serve three years; mustered in as private, Co. B, August 30, 1861; re-enlisted as a veteran, January 1, 1864; captured in action, April 20, 1864, at Plymouth, NC; died of disease, August 9, 1864, while prisoner of war at Andersonville, GA.

² Zephaniah W. Gooding —Age, 21 years. Enlisted, October 8, 1861, at Bristol, to serve three years; mustered in as corporal, Co. B, October 16, 1861; promoted sergeant, Sep- tember 1, 1862; returned to ranks, no date; re-enlisted as a veteran, January 1, 1864; captured in action, April 20, 1864, at Pymouth, NC; paroled, March 3, 1865, at Wilmington, NC; mustered out, August 18, 1865, at Rochester, NY.

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