The Battle of Port Royal Ferry
Through the eyes of Private Emmett Cole of the 8th Michigan Infantry Regiment, Company H:
Port Royal, Jan 2d, 1862
Having a little time to myself tonight and it being the commencement of a new year I guess I will write few lines and tell you how I spent my New Year day but perhaps you will hear all about the news I shall write long before this will reach you but I would rather have a dozen lines direct from the pen of a friend then a dozen News papers in the first place I am well an perfectly contented for I am now where I have a chance once in a while to make the cussed Rebels “lick the dust” yesterday was New Year down here in Dixie and one I shall never forget. for three days and nights I have hardly had an Hours rest, but I am not used up yet but some of the Boys are about used up. We have finally got possession of the ferry. Been on the Main & unfolded the Banner of the free, and seen it wave in honor over another corner of the old Secession Garden. I will give you a short description of our short campaign as short a space as possible. Last Monday night at Midnight, 24 of us were hustled out of bed, got a guide an started for a Headland two miles above the ferry , to meet some Flat Boats that were comeing from Beaufort and take charge of them, also to watch the niggers that rowed them, for they will make themselves almighty scarce. If they think there is to be any fighting to be done, for they are afraid their Masters will get hold of them and they well know what will be their doom if they do. They shoot a great many of them as they are trying to cross the River, but By Hoky that game is played out now. well we lost our path and did not find the place but struck the River, too high up and stayed on the bank until the boats came down. all we could hear of them was the splash of the Oar for the oars were muffled to keep from disturbing the Rebel Pickets as soon as they come along. We kept along the shore until we came to the Headland. which took till about daylight, but by the time the fog was off the river we had the Boats, 20 in No. all under cover and the Niggers in the bushes. General Stephens came down about eight in the morning with some men to relieve us and we went back to camp. we spent the rest of the day fussing with our guns & c. orders were read on dress Parade to be ready to march at a moments warning. about Midnight the Bugle Parade sounded, and in less than ten minutes we were all ready to march. The night was quite dark and when they would pile around a bend all you could see was a long black line. we soon reached the flat Boats and commenced to embark as fast as possible as fast as the Boars were loaded and fell in line, each Reg. by itself. the N.Y. 79 first and then the Mich 8th the P.A. round Heads and last the P.A. 50th Numbering in all about 2, 800 men. as soon as we were all in the Boats. we commenced pulling for Ladies Island which is opposite the ferry, but protected from its Batteries by another Headland. everything was done in perfect silence. we got down to the shore and waited for the Gun Boats. it was the sunrise. It was not long before we saw one of the Boats come slowly down the River. every sail fueled ready for fight. it was not long before he was followed by another and then another and then another untill there were five in sight. as soon as there were between us and the Batteries we started round to Headland in their Rear as soon as they came opposite to Batteries. they commenced to shell them and they got them started they doubled the dose. at the same time about a mile above at a place called Sea Brook, some more of our Boats were giveing them Hail Columbia without missing a note they had a battery there larger than at the ferry. as soon as they got them started we, pulled for shore in three or four places and about this time we saw two transports comeing down from Beaufort loaded with troops from Hilton Head. they were the N.Y. 47 & 48 & the N.H. 4th which increased our force to about 4, 500. as soon as we were on shore we marched for the fort in hopes that we might flank them. as they retreated before they could reach the woods, but their legs were too long for us. they got into the woods and there made a stand. they managed to take two or three field pieces with them and as we were marching between the wood and the river through a large cotton Plantation. they opened up us. General Stephens was in advance with his brag up 79th Highlanders but instead of putting them in, he orderd the 8th Mich. to skirmish the wood and if possible take the battery. the Col. at once orded Co. A, F & D to deploy as skirmishers. we deployed at once and marched down toward the wood. Co. A was in front of the Battery, F on the right flanked & D on the left. The Ball and shell whistled and passed around our ears, but we didnt care any for them. we got used to them on the Flat Boats. I had to laugh once, I was carrying my gun at what they call trail arms when all at once the Lieut. Col. ran against the butt of my gun and like to have tripped me up. I supposed it was one of our boys and said, why in the Devil dont you get in your place what you out here for, but on looking around I saws it was the Lieut. Col. he took it all in good part. I must stop writing for I have got something else to do. (all we have to do is to sleep on our arms and be ready to march at a moments warning. they say there is 15, 000 rebels in sight on the other side the Ferry but we will see before I get through that, that is just what we wanted them to do.) I will now finish the description of the battle. we marched straight up toward the wood. the cotton and weeds covered us partly from view when we got up within a few rods of the wood. they opened upon us. by gracious, the air was perfectly lousy with rifle balls. we returned the fire and retreated back reloaded and up again we exchanged two or three volleys. the Bugle sounded retreat as rally on the reserve. they discovered that the force was too heavy for us, and having the advance of the wood, and we in the open field. they could mow us down like grass. we started for the reserve and tried to carry of the wounded as we went but we lost two or three that we did not get, then, but they have found some of them since dead among the cotton. I found a poor fellow short through the leg. I had to let him rest every once in a while to keep him from fainting. we soon ralied on the Batalion Closed in mass. the General ordered us to move up a little farther toward the fort & he would fix them, and in less than five minutes the shells from the Boats were firing in among them like hail. when the Bomb commenced to fly they scattered like Black Birds, but not with out a considerable loss for at sundown when the firing had ceased they came over with a flag of Truce with a request to take away their dead and the General gave them just one hour and they did not begin to get them all in that time. our loss in the skirmish was three killed and 7 wounded. I dont know how many were killed in the other regiments. we threw our Pickets as far as possible, and built our camp fires for the night. they put me on guard that night and that is the way I spent my New Year. Celestia how did you spend it all night I could plainly see the Rebel camp fires. making plainly the place of their encampment. the next morning the Pickets all came in right away after sunrise. the whole army was at once drawn up in line of battle and the Boats commenced to thunder again and for two hours they poured them Iron hail over our heads and I’ll bet there was not a half acre for three miles back but what catched a Bomb, and at the end of that time we were all safely back across the Ferry the Mich 8th was next to the last to cross & was the only Reg that had a hand to hand fight. you may think strange that we should all leave after once getting over there, but there is policy in war the object was to draw their forces from Savanna and Charlston. So that they cold give them Abe & Becks there and we came down were crossing the Ferry the Gun Boats were all at work and the Buildings all on fire. made a grand picture. and now I have done. If I ever live to get home, I can tell you more than I can write. I have no envelope to put this in now I have got it written, but I will try and get one some where. my respects to my friends & accept this from
Your affectionate Brother,
More about the Battle of Port Royal Ferry:
Folder 2 of the Emmett Cole Letters #5002-z, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.