December 1862 - Fort Macon

Fort Macon - Christmas Day 1862
drawing by James Wells Champney
NC Archives and History

Below are excerpts of Fort Macon and Beaufort history written in 1862 by Sergeant Ephraim Stearns, of Co. G, 45th Reg. Mass. Vols. Hopefully his writing and the attached images will allow you to imagine what Christmas might have been like in this area at that time.

“…our company was drawn up in heavy marching order, camp equipage packed, and marched to Newbern where we took train for Morehead City, thence by boat across the bay, to Fort Macon. We landed at the wharf, marched up the narrow railroad track leading to the fort, through the entrance and on to the parade ground where we were dismissed.
Fort Macon is situated at the extreme end of a peninsula commanding the entrance to Beaufort Harbor, with the ocean on one side and the sound on the other. The upper end of the peninsular was not occupied by our troops, but was neutral territory. The Fort had been captured with all its armament some months before from the Confederates.
After being dismissed on the parade ground, the men were assigned to quarters in the fort. Each non-commissioned officer with a detail of privates had a casemate which was to be their abiding place for the winter. After living in barracks we found the casemates very comfortable and homelike with large open fire places where we burned logs of wood. At night, when the candles were extinguished at taps, we piled the fire places high with wood and by that light made merry with story and joke.

We soon settled down into garrison life, and formed many pleasant acquaintances with the men of the regular artillery who were with us in the fort. We were drilled as heavy artillery, our men serving at the guns side by side with the regulars, so that we speedily became fairly proficient in handling the heavy ordnance. The drill at the guns was interesting, and had the charm of novelty. Target practice with the heavy columbiads and thirty-two pounders, firing solid shot, gave us an opportunity to show how proficient we were in handling the heavy guns and how well we had learned our lesson from the regulars. Our infantry drill was not neglected as we had regular drills in a field outside the fort.

The soldiers from the camp across the bay used to visit us at the fort. One day a party rowed over and had to stay over night as the wind and waves were so strong they could not return. We took them in and made them comfortable for the night. During the evening a man in our company who was always ready to talk on any subject, had monopolized the conversation until some of our visitors showed by their expression that they thought him a little out of his head. We were used to him and paid little attention. At last one of our men lost patience and said: "For God's sake write it, if you keep your mouth shut they will never know you are a fool." Needless to add he subsided and kept quiet for the rest of the night.

There was a picket post some two miles up the island which was a favorite post for the guard. It was an independent command of a corporal and three privates, so the duties were not onerous. The tour of duty was for twenty-four hours. The guard quarters were an old wooden building with a bunk for the guard not on post, to lie on. I distinctly remember an old frying pan which we used in cooking salt pork and hard tack, quite an appetizing meal to us. Time used to hang heavily on our hands. We could not play cards as one of the four soldiers had to be on guard.

Beyond this picket post, the land was covered with stunted trees and bushes, and sparsely inhabited. A few of our men one day strolled beyond the picket lines and came to an old house occupied by white people. As usual, in North Carolina, there were many black pigs running wild. Naturally one of those pigs suggested fresh roast pork, and one was speedily captured without attracting attention. The transition of that pig to the table through the agency of the cook was soon accomplished. All went merrily until the owner of the pig appeared at the fort and demanded payment. The lieutenant called upon the company to pool in money enough to pay for the pig. All parties were satisfied.
…After going off guard we had the next day in which to clean up and rest, being excused from all regular duty. On these occasions we always had an opportunity to go over to Beaufort.  

Beaufort before the war was quite a summer resort. It had an old seaside hotel which was used by the Federals as a hospital. There was an old darkey by the name of "Cuff," a name familiar to those of you who read this and belonged to the company, a good happy old fellow who came across the bay every morning to take over any of the soldiers who wanted to go to Beaufort. 

There wasn't a great deal to do there, a few houses and stores, and an old hotel [Atlantic], where we used to get those famous dinners for fifty cents. I hardly think the landlord made much on us as we had unbounded appetites, and came away from his tables well satisfied. There was a piano in the parlor, and some of us would go in there, and the writer played accompaniments to the old army songs, and what a good time we did have singing them.

The expedition against Charleston was fitted out in the harbor of Beaufort. The war vessels and the transports for the troops rendezvoused there for about a month before sailing. We had an interesting time watching the preparations. The fleet consisted of monitors, gunboats, and transports. The troops were drawn largely from our department, and boarded the ships there. When they sailed from Beaufort Harbor, it was one of the sights never to be forgotten, the gunboats leading, followed by the monitors and transports. The start was made late in the afternoon, and as they sailed away south, they made a beautiful marine picture."