This incredible letter was written by Adam Cyrus Reinoehl (1840-1900) to the Lancaster Daily Evening Express while serving with the 76th Pennsylvania Infantry. Adam was born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. After his parents moved to Lancaster, he entered Franklin and Marshall College at Lancaster and graduated in 1861 at the top of his class.
Adam enlisted as a private in Co. D, 76th Pennsylvania Infantry—the Keystone Zouaves—and was with the regiment when they were ordered to Fort Royal, South Carolina in the fall of 1861. In April 1862, the regiment was ordered to Tybee Island, and they were present at the siege and capture of Fort Pulaski, where Reinoehl watched the bombardment ”from a high sand ridge which was crowded with soldiers anxious to see the battle.” In his diary, Reinoehl wrote that, “Near us stood one of the New York Engineer Corps, who excitedly followed the effect of shot with exclamations of joy. ‘Now we will see fun,” he said, catching my shoulders, as the mark curled above the batteries on Goat Point, and the deep thunder of the heavy Columbiad struck on the ear a moment after, and the dust and bricks flew from the corner of the fort…Wild cheers were heard on the beach and the news spread that the flag had come down! …It had, however, been cut down by a piece of shell. It was again hoisted on the parapet and the struggle continued.” The next day after the firing ceased, “from battery to battery the glad shout went, and out in the swamps where the members of Company D kept anxious vigil in lofty tree tops, the glad news spread….Pulaski had surrendered unconditionally. One more victory had been added to the brilliant list of Union triumphs.” [Reinoehl Diary, pages 58-62]
Reinoehl remained a private until December 1862 when he was promoted to regimental quartermaster-sergeant. The following month, he was promoted to sergeant-major. He was with the regiment when the regiment charged on Fort Wagner where he was wounded—shot through the left arm with a minié ball, which permanently disabled him. Undeterred, Reinoehl returned to the war as a first lieutenant in Co. B and was wounded again at Cold Harbor and again in the outer defenses of Richmond.
This letter was one of as many as 29 letters that Reinoehl is said to have penned to the Daily Evening Express for publication during the war—generally about once a month—writing under the pen name “Demas.” This may have been the actual letter sent to the Express which was returned to Reiboehl, or, most likely. it was a copy that he kept for himself; either way, it is in his own hand writing and signed with his distinctive pseudonym. It was found among Reinoehl’s papers that were sold at auction not long ago. [Readers are referred to Adam C. Renoehl’s Civil War, appearing in Lancaster at War on 21 January 2012]
Hilton Head, South Carolina
April 23rd 1862
For the Express
It was the day after the Bombardment of Fort Pulaski. I was strolling along the beach and examining the batteries which had made such fearful havoc with the walls and defenses of the rebel stronghold. The sand works were not injured in the least by rebel shot, but all around them were signs of the struggle. He lay huge balls almost buried in the sands soil, while fragments of shells were scattered all around. On the beach could be seen large furrows in the end of which could be found the shot, like shell fish whose tracks can be seen in the shallow water. I was sauntering along when the Lieutenant hailed me, and we resolved ourselves into a committee of two to devise ways and means to effect an entrance to what had so long been an object of interest to us—Fort Pulaski.
Proceeding down the beach, we fortunately met a boat from the schooner anchored near the fort, about returning, and prevailed on the mate—a good-hearted tar—to take us to the fort. The sea was rough, the waves dashing wildly against the bow of the boat as it plunged forward, impelled by the strong arms of the sailors, and after a row of nearly a mile, the battered walls of Pulaski were before us. The boat draws near the pier that leads across the swampy flats of Cockspur Island to the Fort. Soon it grates against the huge logs and congratulating ourselves on our safe passage, we are about to step up on the platform when suddenly a bayonet gleams before our eyes, and we are peremptorily ordered to “Halt!”
Looking up from the rocking boat, we behold a rather seedy volunteer of the 7th Connecticut but with a very determined expression on his countenance. “What does this mean?” we anxiously demand of the corporal who approached puffing at his briarwood pipe. “I am sorry, gentlemen, but I have positive orders to allow no one to land without a pass from Col. [Alfred] Terry, commanding at the fort. Must obey orders you know.” Here was a pretty fix! The mate was impatient to leave for his schooner and declared he could not go back to Tybee [Island] for any price. At last the corporal relented and allowed us to land on some Secesh scows that lay alongside of the pier while he carried a note to the Colonel explaining our situation. He soon returned with permission for us to report at the Colonel’s quarters in the fort.
Passing up the platform we saw a sand battery in which a mortar was mounted, but judging by the appearance of the ground nearby, we presume it was not long held. The fort is reached, the drawbridge over the ditch passed, and then we pass under the heady portal and stand in Pulaski! We report to Col. Terry of the Connecticut 7th—a tall, fine-looking and gentlemanly man—who hears our case and at once gives us permission to pass all through the fort. We were at once impressed with the complete state of defense adopted by the garrison. Immense fire logs had been placed side by side in an oblique direction against the walls on the interior. These were sufficient to resist a ball and the shelter afforded by them was sufficient for the men. In the center of the open space large trenches were dug and filled with water which were intended to break the force of the shells and keep them from scattering.
The fort presented evidences of the fiery ordeal to which it was subjected on ever side. While strolling around, we met a secession Lieutenant who seemed quite affable and communicative and he volunteered to accompany us and show us the effects of the bombardment. One must see to comprehend the force of rifled balls and shell. Our iron missiles, fired at the distance of nearly two miles, entered the heavy banks thrown up on the parapet to protect the guns, and tore them open for four or five feet in depth, making cavities large enough for several men to enter! The tops of the walls were torn to pieces and the platform was strewn with brick and cement. In fact, the Lieutenant told us that the brick was as dangerous as anything for they could avoid the balls by running to their “ratholes” while the flying of the rubbish was hardly to be avoided. A number of the guns (all of which were named after some rebel celebrity) showed signs of severe handling. “Tatnall” and “Zellicoffer” were permanently disabled. “Zollicoffer” stood directly over the two breaches in the south west corner of the fort. A large piece had been cut completely out of the mouth. How remarkable the coincidence with the death of its illustrious namesake. “Davis” and “Bearegard” had narrow escapes but still had not much opportunity to do much, being kept under close fire all the time. Standing at one of these guns listening to the interesting explanations of the Rebel Lieutenant, he related an incident of one of the gunners. He was a young lad of only seventeen and had his leg taken off near the body. While lying on his rude bed undergoing surgical operations, his brother stood near him weeping. Turning to him, the young hen exclaimed in calm tones, “Brother, do not stand here weeping for me. Return to your gun!” How sad the thought that such heroes are enlisted in so miserable a cause.
Moving around to a gun—the “Tatnall”—near the magazine, we sat down on the carriage and held an interesting conversation. Looking at the magazine, the Rebel remarked, “Another hour’s firing, gentlemen, and you would have reached the magazine, and the fort would have been blown up and not a soul escaped; so we deemed it best to surrender.” Gradually coming nearer, we at length broached the “question agitating the public mind.” The Lieutenant acknowledged that “he believed the South could be overcome, but it would take hard fighting and the country would be ruined for the people mislead by their leaders, and inflamed by the infernal secesh press were firmly imbued with the idea that the North intended to subjugate them. The South, he said, was ruined already and he hoped that the leaders and the press would suffer for inflaming the minds of the people and misleading them, but he feared that they who should suffer most would escape in the end.”
Hearing the flutter of canvas, I looked up and beheld our good old flag streaming towards Savannah at least thirty feet above the battlements. “Lieutenant,” said I, turning to our Rebel friend, “don’t you think that the glorious piece of bunting up there looks much more appropriate than the rebel rag we shot away for you yesterday?” He turned his gaze upward and then as if the memories of olden times were stealing over him, and thoughts of the Old Union were arising, he looked musingly at the flag of his fathers, and when he turned to reply, his voice faltered. “Yes, sir, I must say it does, and I never felt greater grief than when I saw the old flag come down in Savannah for the last time. I held out for the Union as long as it was safe, but we were forced to yield. My family and my property is in Savannah and I had to go with the tide or lose my life. And these very men, ” he continued with a time of contempt, “who claim to be the chivalry, and who talk of welcoming you with bloody hands to a hospitable grace, and drawing back the Northern vandals are the first to run in a fight. I could mention several Captains in the fort who always swore that the fort could not be taken in two months by all the foce the North could bring against us, and when the bombardment began, they stuck in their quarters behind the log defenses, and did not attempt to relieve us who were at the guns for twelve hours. Those that brag the loudest always run the fastest.” The time drawing near to leave, we bade our acquaintance “good evening,” expressing the hope of meeting him again under more favorable circumstances.
Passing down from the parapet, we took a look at the prisoners. There were some fine looking men among them who should have known better, but the most were sorry specimens of a Don Quixote chivalry. Some paced moodily to and fro as if bitterly regretting their fortune [while] others lounged on the log palisades and whistled dolefully. Many—mostly Irish—were sociably conversing with their guards of the Connecticut regiment. It was difficult to tell Connecticut boys from Secesh for they looked about as hard in their dirty grey coats and seedy caps. It was only on a closer scouting and by listening that we could distinguish the Secesh invariably indulging in brag. The uniforms were of the most unique description. They were generally of grey homespun, though many had half military, half civil. There was no regulation hat, everyone having his own, and the “shocking bad hat” generally predominates. We noticed quite a number in shad bellied coats of scanty pattern, adorned with numerous buttons and waffle patterns of black tape on their coat-tails. The officers were uniformed in grey, with black stripes on the pants edged with gold lace. The sleeves and breasts of their coats were profusely adorned with gold lace in labyrinth patterns. They generally wore grey hats and overcoats of the style of two or three winters back. We could not make out which were privates, corporals or sergeants, for all we saw were profusely decorated with stripes and chevrons. I will give the language of John, our Colonel’s intelligent contraband cook. He had been over at the fort and on his return I was questioning him. “What are the privates like?” “Privates!” saud he, throwing up his hands deprecatingly, his eye in a fine phrenology rolling, “I see no privates! Dey all Corpral or Sargent, or dat way, wid broad stopples of green and red on dere legs and dere arms all full of cross lines and cross bars on dem coat tails. Lord, bress you masir, de secesh don’t have privates.”
Obtaining a number of interesting relics, we left the fort and proceeded down the pier in search of transportation to the camp. We were looking at the “Ben De Ford” ¹ which was to take the prisoners off in the morning to Hilton Head for transportation north when a sound that awakened old memories struck on our ears. It was woman’s laugh! Looking in the direction of the sound, we saw a boat approach from the “Boston” and veritable white ladies on board. We looked like one entranced at the unexpected apparition in this far off region. The boat drew near and six live Union women stepped on the pier, while we gazed at them with much the same feelings of rapture, with which the Indians must have regarded Columbus when he stepped on the soil of the New World. The sight was like water in a desert, for it was the first time we had seen so many white women since leaving the North. We do not know where they came from, or wether they have returned, but they afforded a pleasing episode in a soldier’s life and hence it is writ.”
We were soon rocking on the rough waters and after a dangerous ride in the gathering gloom, and narrowly escaping being swamped several times, we reached the shore. Three miles were yet to be traveled to camp. Luckily we met a team and we were soon dashing through the beautiful forests of Tybee, jolting over large roots, splashing through dark pools and under the mossy festoons of the pine. The last battery on the road is passed and just as the shining moon rises slowly over the white light house, we reach camp and are soon surrounded by anxious zouaves to whom we recount our visit to Pulaski and the Rebel prisoners.
¹ The transport steamer Ben De Ford took a number of Confederate prisoners from Fort Pulaski to Fort Columbus in New York Harbor.