Letter written by Sergeant Ira B. Goodrich of Company D, 21st MA Infantry, to his cousin Oscar, from Camp Clark near New Bern, NC. Goodrich writes about the battle of New Bern, and reports that he and his brother Charles survived. His other brother George was left on Roanoke Island with Captain Theodore S. Foster. Goodrich describes how the fleet left Roanoke Island for Hatteras, before starting down the Neuse River. Preparations were made to land near at the mouth of “Slocumb’s Creek” in small boats. He describes the order of advance and how fighting began when skirmishers discovered Confederate troops in strong breastworks. The firing from the Union troops was so intense that the Confederates raised their guns above the ramparts and fired at random. After 4 hours of fighting Goodrich claims that his regiment’s ammunition was running low. The Confederate’s works were finally taken by the 51st New York and another Massachusetts Regiment. Since the battle, he has been guarding a barracks.
Camp Clark (formerly Camp Hill) near Newbern N.C. Mar. 24th/62
I received Saturday your letter dated Mar. 10th, and very welcome it was to me. I had been expecting for a long time to hear from either you or Ormond, and not receiving any letter from sister, I had set out several times to write, but kept putting it off hoping that the next mail would bring me a letter from you. At length I have the great pleasure of hearing from you, and take this early opportunity of replying to your very interesting letter. As the fact of my writing to you in August 1861. would conclusively indicate, I am alive and well, having for the second time passed unscathed through the perils and dangers of a hard fought battle. such I thank God is the case, also with my brother Charley [Pvt. Charles Goodrich, Co. D]. George [another brother serving with Co. D] having been left upon Roanoke Island to take care of Capt. Foster, was not in the engagement.
I have no doubt a short, detailed account of the movements of the expedition since leaving Roanoke would be interesting to you. For though I am aware that you will be informed, and in a much better manner than I can inform you, through the papers. Still I think that a communication direct from one who was a participant in the movements will not be devoid of interest to you and to your family.
The fleet left Roanoke Island at about 8 o’clock A.M. of the 11th instant and came to Hatteras, where we lay at anchor for the night. At 8 the next morning we again got under weigh [way] and started for Neuse River. The day was delightful and we had a splendid trip down the sound. As we entered the mouth of the Neuse River the view upon either shore was grand. The thick heavy pine
forests upon the shore and far away upon the higher land, the plantations presented a sublime view. As we passed up the river, we began to notice large volumes of smoke arising; doubtless from signal fires. Nothing occurred of importance as we advanced. The gunboats to the number of 14 in advance, and the transports with the sailing vessels in tow following. At about 6-1/2 P.M. we advanced about 16 miles from Newbern. Early the following morning preparations were made for landing the troops. The place selected for the landing was at the mouth of “Slocumb’s Creek.” The water being too shallow to admit of the near approach of steamers to the shore, the men were landed in small boats. When the landing commenced there was a great anxiety among the standard bearers of the various regiments to get their flags ashore first. And it was amusing to witness the racing which took place among the small boats containing the standards. There were three or four together who seemed to stand about an equal chance. And as they neared the shore, each color bearer sprang from his boat into the water to his waist and scrambled to the land as fast as possible. The race was won by a strapping fellow belonging to the 51st N.Y., who planted the first regimental color upon the soil.
The regiments formed in line as fast as they were landed, and after the 21st [Massachusetts] landed, it at once took up the line of march in advance. Marching about a mile and a half along the river shore, we halted in a cornfield and waited for another regiment. Very soon we were joined by the 24th [Massachusetts] and again we started, soon entering a path in the woods. We came to a small camp of log houses, which it seems the Rebels had used as a barracks for a company of cavalry. It now began
to rain quite hard, and we had from this time a rough time of it. I had forgotten to say the gunboats were all this time shelling the woods as we advanced along the road (which all along lay near the river). The signal corps, who were with the advance guard, sent up rockets from time to time which informed the gunboats of our whereabouts so that they wouldn’t shell us. We marched on very quiet for two miles further, and came to a long line of breastworks, extending from the railroad to the river, more than two miles. It was deserted. We were very much surprised to see a work of this kind so extensive, and seemingly of such great advantages for defense, deserted. I could not make up my mind what to think of it. “Certainly,” thought I, “If the Rebels have got 2,000 men in a stronger position than this, our 8,000 had better go back. For if they fight they must beat us.” Well, we passed on, and as we marched through these works and the color bearer waved the stars and stripes over the breastworks we gave three hearty cheers for the Union. A mile farther brought us to the railroad, where we were ordered to halt and await reinforcements. And here we ate our dinner of hard bread and salt beef which we carried in our haversacks. Reinforcements arriving in half an hour, we again started, now taking the railroad track. Until now, Co. G, our right flank company, had been acting as advance guard and skirmishers. But now Co. D was ordered to relieve them of the duty. The order of an advance was as follows: A sergeant with two men in advance, the acting captain in command of the first platoon deployed as skirmishers on each side of the track. The 2nd lieutenant with the 2d platoon
500 yards in rear of the first as reserve. And the battalion the same distance in rear of the reserve of the advance guard. The orders were to advance with care as fast as possible, and if fired upon, to fall back, as no engagement was desired until the next morning. The division proceeded cautiously for two miles further, and as it was near night, and from reports of darkies, we were near the Rebels. left the track and halted and prepared to pass the wet night as comfortably as we might. We were better off in one respect than on the first night of our stay on Roanoke – we had our blankets with us this time, which was not the case when we landed at Roanoke. It rained all night and we were quite uncomfortable. No fires must be made, of course. Well, morning came at last, and soon after sunrise our skirmishers discovered the Rebels and the fight soon became general. The Rebels had a breastwork similar to the one we passed the day previous, but much stronger. Our regiment was ordered to the left, by the railroad track, and the fighting here was terrible. The balls flew thick and fast. Our company, by getting behind trees which the Rebels had felled to impede our advance, had a splendid chance at the gallant southerners. The Rebels were in their rifle pits and as soon as any of them showed his head over the embankment our Harper’s Ferry rifles were sure to bring him down. After fighting for a while, they found our fire so hot that they dared not raise their heads over the ramparts. But would elevate their pieces in their hands and without raising their heads, fire over – at random. At other points on the line the fighting was very severe. The Rebels had so tremendous an advantage in position that it seemed almost impossible for us to
beat them. For more than four hours we fought them, but our ammunition was fast giving out. The 60 rounds we had brought with us almost exhausted. The 21st was divided into two parts; the right wing under Lt. Col. [William S.] Clark, and the left under Maj. [Joseph P.] Rice. Thus separated, the regiment had been fighting all day. Seeing the state of affairs, the general ordered the 21st to charge, which Col. Clark, with the right wing of four companies did. The Rebels, when they saw the charge about to be made, poured in their fire but did not check the 21st. They rushed on the breastwork and the Rebels fled. Soon discovering the small force they fled from, however, they rallied. And three regiments came charging down upon our right wing, which being unsupported, could not meet the charge, and retreated, the Rebels with wild cheers again taking possession of their breastworks. The whole 21st was rallied, and supported by the N.Y. 51st and one of the other Mass. Regiments, again rallied drove the Rebels and took the works with all the Rebels’s cannon. The fight was over. Our regiment at once took possession of the Rebel camp near the battery, while the other regiments pushed on towards Newbern. It was a great victory, indeed.
We have taken all the Rebel fortifications in and about Newbern, with all their cannon and field pieces. How many I don’t know, and in short, I think, about split the entire secesh institution in N.C.
Having now given you pretty much all the information I can concerning the fight, I will speak a word of myself, and close. Since the battle I have been with two men guarding a small barracks formerly used by a Rebel artillery company, which artillery and
part of the company were captured at the battle, & scouting. Lt. Barker found it and left me with two privates to guard it. In the barracks were three men belonging to the said artillery company, and we took them prisoners, and we have them to guard too. This camp is 8 miles from the camp of the regiment, and 4 miles from our outside pickets, and [since there is] only three of us, we are liable to be disturbed in our dreams by thoughts of our danger. Though aside from this, we are having good times here. Plenty of fat pigs, sheep, cattle, and poultry are running about. So I assure you we live well. We have flour and the prisoners make bread for us. Plenty of coffee, and in short we are getting along richly. Only it is very lonely. We have no visitors but negroes, but enough of them to satisfy the heart of even a Grisly.
Being so far from camp, I know very little of what is going on, and can tell you nothing of any of the movements now in progress by the expedition.
A letter directed to Geo. From Kiene reached me as I was directed by him to do. I read it. Future letters to him should be directed to Roanoke Island, General Hospital, care of Capt. T. S. Foster. In her letter, Sarah says she would like to hear from me. It would give me much pleasure to write her, and soon I will do so. Please give my sincere love to your parents, brothers, and sisters, and tell Ormond I believe he “owes me a letter.”
With kindest regards, I remain:
P.S. I shall forward Sarah’s letter to Geo. at the earliest possible moment. He will probably go home with the capt. when he is able to go.
Ira Blake Goodrich enrolled in Company D of the 21st MAInfantry as a corporal in August 1861. His brothers Charlie, and George, both served with the regiment. Ira was promoted to orderly sergeant in early 1862, and was captured at Chantilly, VA September 1, 1862. He was later paroled and returned to duty with the 21st MA, being promoted to 2nd lieutenant to date from Sept. 6, 1862. He subsequently became a 1st lieutenant January 15, 1863, and fought in most of the battles of the regiment, including the Siege of Knoxville, TN, and the Wilderness, VA. He was mustered out of the army August 30, 1864.