Battle of Gillet

    These pages are dedicated to the memory of all the men from North Carolina that fought in the Civil War.

    Fayetteville Observer, February, 1862
    We have received from an officer engaged in the skirmish of a portion of Spruill’s 
    Cavalry a detailed account, not written for publication, of that affair. The companies 
    engaged were the larger part of four, viz.:  Strange’s, Turner’s, Bryan’s and Thomas’, 
    with a few from Hayes’, Andrew’s and Cole’s, in all about 200, under Lt. Col. 
    Robinson.  They were scouting, when they heard from a Negro that about an equal 
    number of the enemy were at Gillett’s house, 13 miles from Newbern, and 
    proceeded to attack them there, about midnight of the 13th inst.  Bryan’s company 
    was arranged to charge the house in front, and Strange’s and Turner’s on the left and 
    right.  Owing to misinformation as to distance, the effect of Captain Bryan’s charge in 
    front was lost before the others could pull down fences and get up to their positions.  
    The enemy were not unprepared, as was expected, for their fire was almost 
    simultaneous with that of our men.  The fight was kept up for some time with spirit and 
    some of the men in all the companies distinguished themselves for coolness and 
    bravery.  Captain Strange and Captain Bryan each made two distinct charges in front, 
    side, and rear. Bryan had one man wounded through the breast.  Of Captain Strange’s 
    company, Love Melvin was badly wounded in the left cheek, his jaw bone being broken.  
    Alex McDougald had a flesh wound in the right side; John A. Brady is missing, supposed 
    to be killed.  Col. Robinson was not killed but received a flesh wound and was taken 
    prisoner.  Capt. Turner was wounded at the commencement of the fight.  Several of the 
    other companies had men wounded. Six horses were killed and two wounded in Strange’s 
    The writer attributes the failure of the attack to the want of space in the yard to operate so 
    many horses, over fences and ditches, too, and thinks that the original design of dismounting 
    two of the companies would have been better.  
    Since the above was in type we find the following in the Hillsborough Recorder, doubtless 
    furnished by Captain Josiah Turner, Jr., of that place---
    19th Regiment, 2nd Cavalry
    The Skirmish at Gillett’s, below Trenton
    This regiment, known lately as Spruill’s, and so long treated as the stepchild of the state, in 
    being detained in camp of moved from place to place, Kittrell’s, Hertford, Edenton, Newbern, 
    unarmed, unhorsed, and neglected in such a manner as was well calculated to mortify their 
    pride, the men especially, when they saw another regiment of the same arm of the service 
    petted and supplied at an early day with every appointment desired, seems to be singularly 
    unfortunate in the rumors put in circulation respecting their operations against the enemy 
    and the adoption of these rumors as truth by the public press.  
    One company of this regiment is the Orange Cavalry, in which a natural interest is felt in 
    this community.  After the battle below Newbern, it was widely reported that this regiment 
    had fled ingloriously and created a panic among the other troops.  It turned out upon the 
    publication in this paper of the letter of Lt. Graham, then commanding the Orange Cavalry, 
    that though not under the fire of the enemy, this company and that of Captain Hayes of the 
    same regiment, remained in position, dismounted on the field of battle, until all the other 
    troops except the regiments of Vance and Avery, and all the high officers, had not only 
    retreated across the Trent River but burned the two bridges behind them, leaving them to 
    make their way as best they could up the right bank of the river and across Brice’s Creek.  
    And to add to their difficulties, their horses had mysteriously disappeared from the rear 
    where they had been tied, but were found with the rallied army on their arrival at Kinston, 
    two days after.
    We should not indulge in reflection upon this regiment without discrimination in relation to 
    the recent skirmish at the plantation of Mr. Gillett, where Lt. Col. Robinson was wounded, 
    in which they seem to revive the old story as to the affair at Newbern, and conceive its truth 
    to be put beyond cavil by the behavior of the regiment in the encounter at Gillett’s, advising 
    the lieutenant colonel to unhorse those who behaved so ingloriously when they next go into 
    battle.  Before such language as this is applied to men who are daily periling their lives for 
    their country, the facts to warrant it should be well established.  The frequency of falsehoods 
    respecting the events of the war, is sufficient to put all on their guard against disparaging 
    rumors as to the courage of our troops.  Soldiers in the field have little opportunity for defense 
    against street jesters, railroad travelers, or the statements of the press, and the articles and 
    war present great impediments to freedom of discussion by them if they had more.
    The statement made as the foundation for these reflections is in substance this:  that 
    Lieutenant Colonel Robinson with this regiment made an attack in the evening at the house 
    of Gillett—that the enemy had determined to surrender, and the officer in command was in 
    the act of delivering up his sword, when all our troops except fifty men became panic stricken 
    and fled, upon which the enemy renewed the fight, wounded and captured Colonel Robinson, 
    and killed others of his party.
    As we learn the facts they are in effect as follows:  Lt. Col. Robinson, on the evening of 
    Sunday the 13th inst., was on a scouting expedition, with the companies of Captains Strange, 
    Bryan, Thomas and Turner; being informed by a Negro of Mr. Thomas Gillett that a party of the
    enemy were at the house of Mr. Gillett, on the road from Trenton to Morehead City, and had
    tied him, the Negro escaping.  The situation of the house was  described—the number of the 
    party supposed to be 180 and it was determined to attack them.
    The assault was made at midnight.  The house was about fifty yards from the great road, 
    from which led a land with a ditch on either side between it and the fence, to palings 
    surrounding the yard.  The Yankee sentinel was shot down at the mouth of the lane.  Our 
    whole force advanced on horseback by way of the land.  Capt. Bryan’s company, who were 
    in front, charged up near the palings and fired until their ammunition was used up.  Captain 
    Strange’s company, next in order, who had orders to throw down the fence of the land and 
    enter the field to the left, after some confusion and delay, from the number of horses pressing 
    in the narrow space, executed the order, and proceeded to the rear of the house.  Captain 
    Thomas’ company, which was under the charge of a sergeant, next followed, but seemed to 
    have no distinct orders, filling up the land and preventing the access of Captain Turner’s 
    company, who were to throw down the fence and enter the field on the right of the lane.  The 
    first and second lieutenants of this company and a few others, pressed through that before 
    them, cleared the ditch and fence on this side and entered the field.  Captain Turner, as was 
    afterwards ascertained, had been wounded by a shot near the mouth of the land and disabled.
    About thirty men followed Captain Strange, with them was Lt. Col. Robinson.  Captain 
    Strange afterwards returned to our forces from the right side of the house, but without the 
    lieutenant colonel.  From the time of the first advance of our troops, the enemy had kept 
    up a severe fire from all the windows of the house, and from behind the palings of the yard.  
    Our men bore this fire with steadiness; but after the ammunition of those in front had been 
    exhausted, it seeming impossible to beat the enemy from their position by men on 
    horseback, an order was given by one of the superior officers to retreat, and the column 
    Lt. Col. Robinson did not return to his command, and it is believed he was wounded and 
    captured behind the house.  Our loss besides Col. Robinson was one man killed and ten 
    wounded, and eleven horses lost.  Seven of the enemy were seen to be shot down, and 
    more are believed to have been struck with our shot.  
    The men of Orange who got a chance for a shot at the enemy all behaved well—Sgt. Harris, 
    Corp. Holmes, Privates H. Bolden, J. Bolden, A. Cole, Butler Lockhart.  S. Walker had the 
    side of his head skinned by a ball.  Strayhorn had the stock of his gun shot off and several 
    were thrown from their horses.  
    This statement justifies no imputation upon any of our forces such as has been freely 
    indulged in by railroad travelers and others for several days past. The miscarriage of the 
    enterprise, if it could have been successful at all, was obviously a mistake in the plan of 
    attack, in not dismounting the whole command or a large part of it, which was armed with 
    guns, and advancing on foot in separate detachments, under cover of the out buildings and 
    Captain Turner has returned home in consequence of the injury from his wound and the fall 
    from his horse which it occasioned but we are glad to learn that he is improving.

    Transcribed by Christine Spencer February 2008

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