Lieut. David Leroy Way, 5th USCI

Clinton Republican, Wilmington, Ohio
January 22, 1864

Army Correspondence.

Expedition of Colored Troops from Norfolk to Elizabeth City.

The following diary kept by an officer, Lieut. D.L.WAY, during an excursion of the Colored Brigade, from Norfolk, in Virginia, to Elizabeth City, in North Carolina, will be read with interest.

The expedition started on the 5th of December, and returned on the 23d of the same month:

‘We received orders on the evening of the 4th, to be in readiness next morning, with sixty rounds of ammunition and four days rations, without knapsacks and blankets.

Started early December 5th, and marched all day, slowly gathering contraband as we went. The advance guard visits the plantations along the route, collecting contraband families and confiscating a cart for each family. By the time the rear of the column reaches the plantation, every thing is ready and no delay is made.

6th. – Meat for the men is foraged from the wealthy secesh families every night. This evening eleven fine, fat hogs were slaughtered, dressed and issued to the men.

7th. – Marched ten miles and camped at the stream North-west, 26 miles from Norfolk and border of the Great Dismal Swamp. The 81st N.Y. is stationed here, guarding the bridge across the North-west. Killed three beeves for supper.

8th. – Marched West to-day only 5 miles. Skirmishers and flankers ahead all day, looking for guerillas and bushwhackers.

9th. – Reached Blackwater Canal at 12 o’clock M. Marched South on it five miles and encamped on the plantation of a rebel Colonel. Our train now consists of 96 carts, a family of ‘essence of Old Virginia’ in every cart.

10th. – Company E is divided to-day, half as advance guard, half as rear guard. Capt. Oren and Lieut. Stamats are in advance; I command the rear. The train is near a mile in length. As the rear passed the house of a man whose slaves had just been taken, he came out to me and said, most piteously, ‘For God’s sake, leave me enough men to keep me from starving. Look at my hands! I have been compelled to work, myself, for the last two weeks!’ Says I to him, ‘you are no better than I am. Look at my hands, you old Secesh reprobate. I have had to work for the last twenty years; now you and your comrades have made more work for me; so close your fly-trap and go in the house, or I’ll just wink at my men here, and they’ll hang you on that tree with the greatest of pleasure.’ He looked at the boys and went in the house, Joined Brig. Gen. Wild to day at South Mills. Our force now consists of three Colored Regiments, (Infantry,) a section of Artillery, (two pieces,) and one company of Cavalry. Sent the contrabands all back to Norfolk; issued four days rations to the men, and again started South. Repaired bridge over Pasquotank, barnt by rebels, and camped seven miles from Elizabeth City. Pickets gave an alarm at 2 o’clock in the morning, and Brigade was formed in line of battle. False alarm.

11th. – Arrived at Elizabeth City at 10 A.M., sixty miles from Norfolk. Guerillas had left the City as we entered. City almost deserted. Quartered the men in the finest residences in town. Steamer arrived with fifteen days’ rations from Fortress Monroe.

12th. – The three Colored Regiments left town after guerillas. Marched seven miles to Woodville. Destroyed a guerilla camp, captured one guerilla, two rebel soldiers home on furlough, and lost one of our men, captured. Took the wife of the guerilla Captain, and left word that if our man was hanged, we would hang her.

13th. – Two boat expeditions went down to Pasquotauk Sound, in search of guerillas along the coast. Captured two smuggling crafts loaded with butter, fish and honey. Burnt another guerilla camp.

14th. – Another boat expedition went down the coast – captured five political prisoners and three rebel soldiers at home on furlough. A detachment also went to Woodville and burned the house of the aforementioned guerilla Captain.

15th. – A boat expedition captured another smuggler, and was fired on by guerillas in ambush.

16th. – ‘All quiet on the Rappahannock.’

17th. – Left Elizabeth City at 6 o’clock A. M. One regiment went on the boats, toward Roanoke Island. One regiment with the artillery and cavalry, and five companies of our regiment, the 5th U.S., started North towards Norfolk. The balance of the 5th struck North-east, under command of Col. Draper. One of our men, poisoned last night in Elizabeth City, has just died. Shortly after, the column was halted, and the guerilla captured on the 12th, was taken by a guard of six men, to the front. In an open shed by the roadside were Gen. Wild, Col. Conine and Lieut. Colonel Shurtleff, and several other officers. The guerilla was placed on a barrel, a rope around his neck and over a beam, and then told to pray. He smiled, thinking a joke; but when Lieut. Col. Shurtleff commenced a prayer in his behalf, he became alarmed, and commenced supplicating. At a signal from Gen. Wild, one of the guards kicked the barrel from under him, the rope tightened around his neck, his breath was stopped, and he soon assumed the appearance of a dead guerilla, hanging by the neck. He was left hanging. A paper was pinned on him: ‘Guerilla – hung by order of Brig. General Wild.’

As we marched by, some of our own men desired to stick their bayonets into him, just for fun. I could not blame them. None of us felt any sympathy for the miserable assassin, for such are all guerillas.

Rained hard during the day and all the night.

18th. – The artillery, cavalry and 2d N.C. left us at South Mills, and went on to Norfolk. We went East toward Indian Town, to join the balance of our Regiment, General Wild accompanying us. At dusk burnt the house of Sanderian, guerilla Captain, our men appropriating his poultry. When we left, every man had either a chicken, goose, duck or turkey, slung over his shoulder. Joined the other Battalion at Indian Town, at 7 P.M. They had a fight that day with ambushed guerillas, losing 3 men killed and 8 wounded. Col. Draper ordered a charge into the woods where the murderers were concealed, and not a man faltered. The guerillas had escaped; not one was seen by our men. This is their style of fighting.

19th. – Started in force after them, General Wild commanding; all officers, field and line, on foot. Skirmishers, under Capt. Fahrion, shot one guerilla, who left a horse and tried to escape into the woods. Found their camp on a knoll in the swamp; reached it by walking a mile, single file, on trunks of felled trees. Camp just deserted. Captured one hundred good guns, with fixed ammunition, English manufacture, and a large quantity of clothing; also the muster rool of the company and the Captain’s commission. The guerillas claim to be State troops, commissioned by Governor Vance. They are a set of robbers and murderers, and their commissions will not save them when we get them unless they adopt a different mode of warfare. We then divided into sections, and commenced burning all the guerilla houses we could find. Poultry, honey, &c., fell a sacrifice to the appetites of the soldiers. Many a fair guerilla damsel showered maledictions upon our heads as she beheld the home of her childhood consigned to ashes. It was rough, I must confess, but it was the only way in which we can fight the guerrills. The Regiment re united that night at Currituck Court House, sixteen miles distant, at 12 o’clock P.M.

20th. – A detachment of 200 went out today and destroyed a guerilla camp, captured one prisoner, and burned several guerilla houses and two distilleries.

21st. – Left Carrituck at 4 o’clock P.M. and marched to North-west same night, 16 miles.

22d. – The train of contraband families now amounted to eighty-nine. Company E was selected to take them on to Norfolk, while the Regiment remained with the 81st N. Y. at North-west, to assist in repelling an expected attack from several thousand rebel infantry. We reached Norfolk that evening, having marched forty miles in twenty four hours. The regiment came in next night.

28th. – We are again located at the intrenched Camp, two miles East of Norfolk, the men busy on their winter quarters.

Yesterday, Prof. Peck, of Oberlin, Ohio, delivered a short address to the boys. He was accompanied to Camp by about a dozen Northern ladies, who are engaged in teaching the contrabands that we are collecting. The aged and infirm are located on Government farms and fed by the Government until they can raise their own food. The farm of Ex-Governor Wise, of Virginia, is now divided up and peopled by about five hundred free negroes. What a change for the better! Roanoke Island is being used for the same purpose, and other places in this vicinity.

Return to Their White Officers for more letters written by the men who led Black soldiers in the United States Colored Troops