1861: David R. Cottrell to Nancy D. Cottrell

This letter was written by David R. Cottrell (1842-19xx) of Co. H, 20th Indiana Volunteers. Cottrell was a private at the time he wrote the letter but was later (1863) promoted to corporal and still later to sergeant. He enlisted at Lafayette but was a resident of Marion county, Indiana. He was discharged as a veteran on 12 July 1865 from Camp Bullock, Virginia.

David wrote his letter from Fort Clark, one of two forts constructed by Confederates on the north side of—and to guard—Hatteras Inlet, a major shipping inlet and considered the key to Albemarle Sound. The construction of Fort Clark (originally designated as Fort Ellis) was not initiated until at least mid-July 1861. It was located approximately 1200 yards from Fort Hatteras. Its parapet walls were built with double rows of peat blocks that were infilled with sand. When the Union forces captured Fort Clark in 1861, it was described as an irregular redoubt located one mile from the inlet and midway between the sound and the ocean. The parapets facing the ocean were said to be 18 feet thick. A barracks complex was erected outside the fort which was of plank on frame construction and, at least by 1862, were set on pilings.

David’s letters describes a storm at Cape Hatteras that we now know was a Category I hurricane with peak winds of at least 80 mph. Soldiers like David who were occupying the two forts at the Hatteras Inlet reported that in the early morning hours of November 2, high seas began to overwash Hatteras Island, “completely covering all dry land except the position of the fort itself.” Water did not subside for nearly fourteen hours.

Fort Clark after Union Occupation, 1862


Fort Clark, North Carolina
November 7th 1861

Dear Sister,

I take the present method of writing you a few lines to inform you I am not well at present. I have been sick for the last 3 or 4 days but feel a little better now. But I hope I shall be well in a few days.

Col. William L. Brown “said for every man to take care of himself.” — DRC

Last Friday [1 November 1861] evening there came an awful storm and the sea from the Atlantic side overflowed the Island completely. Our new clothes had just come and about one third of them were washed away. ¹ The waves run 4 feet high in our quarters. We all expected to be drowned. The Colonel [William L. Brown] said for every man to take care of himself as he expected the fort would soon go. All the breastworks we had put up around the fort were washed away. The Steamer J. R. Spaulding—our mail boat—started for Fortress Monroe as soon as the storm subsided to see General Wool about taking us away and since I have been writing they say she is coming back and we will soon know all about it. I expect we will go further south if we leave here.

I had forgotten to say I received your kind letters last mail. Give yourself no uneasiness about me not being well. I am not dangerous at all. Write soon and often.

James A. Ford sends his best respects to you and also to Mrs. Palmer. He is well. Excuse me for writing this on a sheet of paper that is so mussed up but I got it wet the other day. Excuse pencil writing &c.

Your affectionate brother, — D. R. Cottrell

To Miss Nancy D. Cottrell

¹ When the regiment was formed, their standard issue uniforms consisted of “a jeans suit, gray in color, and the coat or jacket was of Zouave shape with rounded corners and a braided edge.” [Diary of Erasmus Gilbreath] Were the men of the 20th Indiana being issued new regulation blue uniforms?


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