Excerpts - James Rumley Diary: March 1862 - August 1865

Scene in Beaufort during the bombardment of Fort Macon
April 25, 1862 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper

Rumley's diary was kept from March 13, 1862 to August 1865
James Rumley was not only a Beaufort resident at that time, but also Clerk of Court for Carteret County. Whitelaw Reid, in After the War, described Rumley as “a functionary of near thirty years service.”

The diary begins:

“On the morning of Thursday the 13th of March 1862, the inhabitants of Beaufort were aroused by the sound of heavy cannonading in the direction of New Bern, which continued, with slight interruptions, for several hours. This, together with the non-arriving of the cars due from that place the previous night, induced the belief that the Federal fleet, known to be in the waters of North Carolina, had ascended Neuse River and attacked the defensive work below New Bern.

“On the evening of Friday the 14th intelligence reached us that on the previous day the Federal fleet, after thoroughly bomb-shelling the wood, landed a considerable force on the south shore of the Neuse, below the river batteries, and on Friday attached the woods. After a sharp conflict the guard retreated.

“On Friday and Saturday the 21st and 22nd of March 1862, Gen. John G. Parke, U.S.A. with troops from New Bern occupied Carolina City, Carteret County. On Sunday the 23rd he sent a flag of truce to Fort Macon with a proposition to the Commandant to surrender the fort.

“On Monday 24th, several Federal officers, under a flag of truce from Gen. Parke, came to Beaufort to invite some of the citizens to a conference with Gen. Parke at Carolina City. On the same day Col. Taylor, Benjamin L. Perry and James Rumley, proceeded to Morehead City, where they received from Gen. Parke a message to the citizens of Beaufort requiring an answer.

“Tuesday, 25th of March, James Rumley and Robert W. Chadwick by request of the committee of safety, proceeded to the headquarters of Gen. Parke at Carolina City, to bear an answer to his message of the day previous; and had an interview with him touching the situation of Beaufort during the contemplated investment of the fort.

“During the night of the 25th of March, two companies of U.S. Troops, under command of Major John A. Allen of the 4th Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers, occupied the town and vicinity. A few days after this, another company was added to the garrison. All persons leaving town are now requested to have written papers. To obtain these, an oath of allegiance has to be taken by each applicant. Very few citizens do this willingly. Some are compelled by their situation to do so.

“All communication between Beaufort and Fort Macon is cut off.

“The first act of the professed Union savers, upon their entrance into the town, was the seizure of a vacant private dwelling house belonging to a widow residing in the town, a barrack for their soldiers. Without ascertaining from the owner whether they could get the keys or not, they broke open the door, took possession of the premises, and hoisted the United States flag over the roof of the house. At any other point on the harbor within range of the guns of Fort Macon, this act would have provoked a fire from the fort. Their next act, worthy of notice, was to press into their service, chiefly as boatmen, fifteen or twenty slaves, without consulting their owners, who were then residing in the town. These slaves aver that the Federal officers promised to pay them and not their owners, for their services. We judge this is true, and that other secret influences are aiding to corrupt the slaves, from the fearful signs we see of a growing excitement among them. They evidently think a jubilee is coming.

“The next act of outrage upon private rights, was the seizure of the Atlantic Hotel in Beaufort, the property of Capt. Pender. In this building was a great deal of valuable furniture. Capt. Pender was absent on private business. Mrs. Pender had lately died. The building was occupied by a lady who remained there in charge of three of Mrs. Pender’s children, infants of tender years. The building was entered by officers, soldiers and negroes and robbed of all its most valuable furniture, which was carried off. As there was no act of the Federal Congress, authorizing a seizure of property in this way, it will no doubt, be appropriated to the private use of officers, soldiers and negroes.

“Premises of Dr. King have been entered and searched under an order from the Military Commandant of the town. Ostensible object was to look for powder, supposed to be in the Doctor’s possession. The real object, doubtless, was to annoy the family for their well known hatred of Yankees. Not satisfied with a fruitless search for powder and the plunder of 15 barrels of corn from the private stores of the family, this Military commandant, or Military Governor as he is styled, has posted two armed sentinels in the gentleman’s private yard, to intercept communication between his family and the citizens of the place.

“Wednesday, 23rd of April 1862. Attention was directed today to a Federal steamer which appeared in the eastern channel of the harbor and sent a flag of truce in the direction of Fort Macon, bearing to the Commandant of the fort, it is supposed, notification of an intended attack, and a proposition for a surrender of the fort. The flag of truce was met by a boat from the fort. After having apparently a short parley, the latter returned to the fort. Late in the evening they met again.

“Thursday the 24th. The flags of truce were out again this morning, attracting all eyes on the harbor. Gen. Burnside, the Federal Commander, and Col. White, the Commandant of the fort, had an interview in person on Shackelford’s Banks. Col. White declined to surrender the fort. Order has been given to the Federal batteries on Bogue Banks to commence firing on the fort.

“Friday, 25th of April. At an early hour this morning the Federal batteries on Bogue Banks, comprising one battery of four 8inch siege mortars, one of five 10inch siege mortars, and one of three rifled siege guns, opened fire on the fort; the farthest battery  being 1300 yards distant. The garrison at the fort vigorously returned the fire. About 10 o’clock A.M. three Federal steamers at sea drew up within good range of the fort and opened a heavy fire of bombshells…one of them received a shot from the fort, which went through her, and they all backed out of the fight. This naval exploit hurt nobody. But the shots from the batteries made the dust rise in clouds from the embankments and walls of the fort, while now and then the smoke of bursting bombshells within the fort could be seen rising above the walls. The bombs were thrown with little precision from batteries or ships and sometimes burst high in the air and scattered their fragments over land and sea. Their explosions were like peals of thunder. Discharges from the heavy cannon and mortars jarred the earth beneath us and shook every tenement around. The day seemed suited for holier work. The sun was shining brightly, and the wind was blowing softly from the sea, while the fight was going on. But the scene was one of painful interest to the inhabitants of Beaufort, many of whom had husbands, brothers or sons in the doomed fortification. About 5 o’clock P.M. the firing ceased at the fort. Soon after the batteries ceased to fire. A parley ensued.

“Saturday, 26th of April. This morning the garrison surrendered and were released on parole. Fort Macon is now occupied by a Federal garrison. The loss in the garrison was eight killed and fourteen wounded. The Federal loss was one killed and a few wounded. So say the Federal officers.

“The long expected contest for the possession of Beaufort Harbor is over. The flag of the United States now waves over its shores and its waters. But that flag, once the cherished symbol of our national glory, excites no enthusiasm in us now. Borne and polluted by the hands of fanatics and tyrants it has become the most loathed and hated ensign that ever waved over any people.

“Gen. Burnside visited Beaufort today. Some of the citizens presented him with a petition setting forth the spirit of insubordination daily manifesting itself, and the desertions occurring among the slaves, arising from an undue excitement produced among them by the presence of this army, which is threatening our country with ruin. The petition reminded him of his offers of protection in his proclamation to the people of this state, and requested him to make an order prohibiting slaves hereafter from entering the lines of his army, at their several stations on this harbor, and thus avoid the difficulty created by a late act of the Federal Congress prohibiting the surrender of fugitive slaves after they have entered the lines of the army. He received the petition very courteously and promised to grant the request.

“May 1862. Within a few days after the fall of Fort Macon the town of Beaufort was occupied by six companies of the 4th Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers. A Military Governor, Col. Rodman and a Provost Marshall, Major Allen, have been appointed for the town. Civil liberty has now fled. The presence of armed sentinels within and without the town, indicate the reign of military despotism. The darkness of night, starless and rayless, enshrouds. Between us and our southern friends the curtain is drawn, through which no ray of light n or even of sympathy can reach us. Our minds are groping in a wilderness of gloomy thought. The past, bright with the memories of a once glorious country, rises before us at times in mournful contrast with our present state of political darkness and run, which o’er the dark abyss of the future hope scarcely throws a beam of light.

“Slaves are now deserting in scores from all parts of the country, and our worst fears on this subject are likely to be realized. The order, which General Burnside promised to make to prevent them from entering his lines, has not been made. His lying proclamation was a Yankee trick. These runaway negroes are allowed to pass the sentinels at any time, even in the night. Often white citizens are required to retire to their homes. They are welcomed at the different quarters by officers and soldiers, while they lying scoundrels who receive them declare they do not encourage them to come among them and do not want such nuisances. An infamous law of the Federal Congress, prohibiting the surrender of fugitive slaves, enables these fanatics to make their quarters perfect harbours of runaway negroes. Officers employ them in various capacities and pay them for their services, ignoring the rights of the owners and violating the law of the state. They get information from them as to the political opinions and conduct of the owners and in some instances arrests of citizens have been made and property been seized upon negro testimony.

“The soldiers go, without hesitation, into the kitchens among the negroes and encourage them to leave their owners. Some of them have been promenading the streets with negro wenches. The inhabitants are filled with loathing and disgust by the presence of this pestilent army. The disastrous effects of their conduct towards the slave population have been represented to Gen. Parke, who has taken up his quarters here for the present. He has promised to correct the evil, but does not do it.

“June 7th 1862. The Hon. Edward Stanley, Military Governor of North Carolina, arrived here today. He deeply laments the bad effects of the war upon our slave population. He is clothed with power to restore fugitive slaves to their owners, but deems it prudent to avoid the exercise of such power to any great extent at present on account of the presence of an abolitionized army, and will direct his efforts mainly to the establishment of such regulation at the different posts as will prevent the escape of slaves from the state until peace is restored, when he thinks they will be returned to their owners. He will establish a Custom House and Post Office.

“Most of the vacant dwelling houses in town have been taken by the Federal officers for barracks for their soldiers or quarters for themselves. Among others, the house of Mr. E.H. Norcom, who is absent with his family, has been occupied by ten or twelve officers, the Provost Marshall among them, who has his office there. Nearly all the house furniture of the family had been left there, even Mrs. Norcom’s wardrobe. The kitchen and backyard have become a perfect den of thieving runaway negroes. These have had free access to every part of the dwelling. They have appropriated to themselves such articles as they wanted and especially bed furniture and table furniture. They have taken the whole of the lady’s wardrobe, and even her bridal dress has been worn by negroes. A big buck negro was lately seen seated in the parlor, thumming on Mrs. Norcom’s piano.

“At the house owned by Mr. Benjamin Lecroft, which was also occupied by officers, negroes have been allowed to take furniture and even the dresses of Mr. Lecroft’s deceased wife and child, which had been left there by him. These have been worn by negroes.

“The mask, which concealed at first the hideous features of fanaticism, is now thrown off and the conduct of the troops in reference to slaves has become alarming to the inhabitants. Those fanatics feel a bitter hatred toward slaveholders, and the lying stories the slaves have told them of the cruelty of their owners has made their hatred stronger. If any citizen were to chastise a disobedient slave, he would run the hazard of being mobbed by ruffianly soldiers. If an owner attempts to recover a runaway slave, he runs the same risk. Owners have permission to take their slaves wherever they find them, if they can do so without forcible means. If the slave is willing to go the owner can take him along with him. If not, the soldiers will interfere and protect the slave. The consequence is very few runaways are recovered.

“Citizens in search of their slaves have been threatened with violence and compelled to desist. A few days ago, while some of the troops were embarking on board a steamer at King’s wharf, (supposing they were taking their final leave of Beaufort) they attempted to take off with them a number of slaves belonging to citizens of this county. Some of the owners, who were present, discovered their slaves and seized them. The ruffians who were engaged in this attempt to kidnap them immediately attempted to rescue them, and would have done so but for the  timely efforts of an officer, Capt. King, (the only one out of a number present) who manfully exercised his authority, and prevented the outrage. Then troops for some unknown cause were ordered back to town. When they returned, two of them went forcibly into a private dwelling in town where on of the negroes referred to was tied, seized the negro, a boy, and carried him off to their quarters. The other negroes who had been wrested from the soldiers succeeded in getting back to them.

“These thieving soldiers, on attempting a second time to embark, contrived a new mode of kidnapping. They boxed up the negroes and carted them to the wharf with their baggage, unobserved. In this way four negroes were conveyed on board the steamer, Empire City, lying in the harbor. They were discovered however, by the master of the vessel and were sent back to Beaufort…………”

The diary continued until August 1865, when James Rumley wrote,
“All our exiles are home. No military force is now stationed in our midst and our place begins to look natural. The dark night which settled upon us in March 1862 is passing away. And though the day upon which we are entering is not clear, and shadows rest upon the horizon, yet we hope, as the day advances, the clouds may roll away, and the skies may grow brighter than the early dawn assures. And over the day, we trust, that no night of starless gloom like that we have passed through, may ever come.

“And here we close.”

This is only a portion of the diary - transcribed from an old copy:
Diary of James Rumley
March 13, 1862-August 1865
Beaufort, North Carolina