The above map of the Battle of Newport Barracks was drawn by Josiah O. Livingston of the 9th Vermont. Livingston was one of three members of the 9th Vermont to later win the Medal of Honor for their actions during the February 2, 1864 battle.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Views of Newport during the Civil War

One of the more interesting parts of my research has been the information I have come across in terms of what the town looked like during the war, as well as the accounts from soldiers of the people living in the area. I wanted to share a few of those, but I must say the accounts of the people of Newport by the members of the 9th Vermont are not very flattering. Officially at the time of the war Newport was known as Shepardsville, but most of the Union accounts from the time refer to it as Newport. Southern accounts often refer to Shepardsville though. As best I can gather both names were used almost interchangeably. In 1866, the General Assembly of North Carolina would grant a charter for the town as we know it with the name Newport.

While not an actual account from soldiers stationed in Newport, George Benedict from his 1888 book Vermont in the Civil War describes Newport as follows:

The village of Newport was on the north side of the Newport river, a
deep, unfordable stream emptying into the Neuse. The barracks were on the
opposite side of the river, half a mile from the village, and midway between
the bridge by which the “county Road, Va." or highway between New Berne
and Morehead City crossed the river and the railroad bridge half a mile
farther down. The main defence of the camp was a redoubt armed with a 32-
pound gun and three 12-pounders. On the coast road, leading along the shore
of Bogue Sound, at a point about three miles from the barracks, was a blockhouse,
and the picket line extended from this to a point on Gale's Creek,
seven miles west of the barracks, and thence to the swamps bordering the
river—a circuit of twelve or fifteen miles. The position was guarded by
about a thousand men, comprising besides the Ninth, four companies of
Massachusetts and Rhode Island heavy artillery, four companies of New
York and Wisconsin infantry and three squadrons of New York cavalry. The
nearest hostile force was a Confederate cavalry out-post at Onslow Court
House, twenty-five miles to the west. The country around Newport was a
level stretch of sandy pine land, intersected by numerous country roads and
interspersed with morasses. The moss-hung sycamore trees, the alligators
and moccasin and copperhead snakes, the snuff-dipping natives, and the
hunting of possums, gave new scenes and occupations to the Vermonters.

A member of the 9th Vermont describes the town as a "collection of a dozen buildings and not very impressive."

Lieutenant Colonel Valentine Barney in writing to this wife Maria will say that "This is a great country for a poor man to live in. Wood costs nothing, Houses but little, Clothing but little & game of all kinds is plenty. Oysters & fish in abundance." Barney would clarify though that "I would not after all exchange old Vermont for any place I have seen yet."

One of the areas that the men of the 9th Vermont seemed to spend a lot of time was in describing the people of the area. As I said earlier these views are not very flattering, and one has to wonder if some of it might be a slight exaggeration.

Captain Edwin Kilbourne, soon after arriving in Newport, would give his impressions as the following:

I haven't seen but 2 natives since landing here and they are fine specimens of the genus homo. Fine types of the poorer class of people which live and inhabit this southern clime. They are much below the African in intelligence and native wit and powers. In fact they are not to be put on the level with a good intelligent horse.

An unnamed writer would continue in this vain by saying: "The men are lean, sallow complexioned, stoop-shouldered and indolent. The women are slovenly and grossly addicted to snuff dipping, and all alike, men, women and children are ignorant and contented."

Captain Linus Sherman, in similar sentiments, would write: "Did I tell you all the women around here chew snuff? Well they do and suck a rag on the end of a stick too. They are lax in their style of dress, lax in housekeeping & loose in morals and everything else."

First Lieutenant Alfred Ballard gives an interesting view of Newport in light of the fact that Newport has long been strong connected to agricultural pursuits. Ballard would write:

This is not a good farming country. It is very level and sandy. Not a hill can be seen; nothing but the omnipresent pitch pines, which the people call "Turpentine Orchards," and which are the chief source of revenue. Sweet potatoes will grow here, a little cotton and corn and now and then a few peanuts. There is but little fruit here, not even a blackberry, though the soldiers do raise now and then a few apples, at seven dollars a barrel. Sweet potatoes are quite an item in the domestic economy of this section, as will appear from the following fact. The Captain and myself made an evening call not long since, at the house of one of the "F.F.N.C'S," (First Families of North Carolina) and after roasting some of the potatoes in the fireplace, they peeled them, and passed them round, all hot and smoking and soft and sticky. We took each out potato in our fingers and gnaws them with becoming grace. I am told the common way of waiting on people is to poke them potatoes out of the ashes with the toes of the boot, kick them towards you, and say, "help yourself"; but the Captain and I were evidently more refined people.

While many of the Vermont soldiers were less than complimentary to say the least in their letters, for the most part relations between the occupying troops and the citizens of Newport seems to be fairly civil. Unfortunately we do not have any accounts from the citizens of Newport with their impressions of the Vermont troops, but one may assume what might have been said.

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