Harper's Weekly 08/17/1861


Onpage 524 we illustrate the great stampede
of negroes from Hampton, which took place when
our troops evacuated that town. A correspondent
of the Herald thus described the scene:

The departure of the main body of our troops in the
vicinity of Hampton was the cause of some of the most ex-
traordinary scenes that it has been my fortune to witness.
It became very evident to all that the absence of a re-
serve force, to prevent a flank and rear movement on the
part of the enemy, would make it necessary, or at least a
wise measure of precaution, to cause an evacuation of the
camp in the village of Hampton, at an early hour, or run
the risk of having two or three regiments cut to pieces in
detail by the enemy, without a chance of escaping that re-
sult, if the enemy appeared in the rear and front, as they
might do, and, by destroying the bridge at Hampton, en-
tirely cut off the retreat of the garrison of the village, as
well as from succor from the fort. Consequently, at an
early hour last night, orders were given to Colonel We-
ber, of the Twentieth New York regiment, and to the
Naval Brigade, to immediately send over their baggage,
camp equipage, etc., to the fort, preparatory to a complete
evacuation of the place, that night or early this morning.
An additional order was also given to the effect that all
negroes and Union men, with such effects as they chose to
carry with them, be removed from the village last night
if possible. When this order was conveyed to those inter-
ested a scene ensued which baffles all description. The
fear of an immediate attack from the rebels, and the
bringing into servitude again of all the negroes, lent wings
to the contrabands, who thickly cluster in the village of
Hampton, and the hasty preparations for instant flight,
and the exodus that followed, were the most laughable
and at the same time pitiable sight I ever witnessed. All
awakened from their sleep, they seized such articles as
they valued the most, and set out in the midnight hours,
over a long and lonely road leading to the fort, for that
haven in which they looked for comfort and safety that
would not be again disturbed. First came the men, some
of them bearing in their arms the little picaninnies, who
cried and sobbed from fear; others toting household furni-
ture upon their heads, hurrying along lest their masters
should finally snatch them from their newly-found free-
dom, and again send them to the fields under the over-
seer's whip. Then came women, also bearing their clothes,
furniture, bedding, and, in short, every thing that made
up their household effects. Children of all ages, sizes,
color, and appearance clung to the skirts of the venerable
old negro women, who rushed hastily along the road, drag-
ging the children after them, and sharply rebuking their
cries and expressions of fear.

So during the entire night, amidst the greatest excite-
ment, and in many cases agony of fear, the road was
thronged with transportation wagons, hurrying along load-
ed with baggage, camp equipage, camp utensils, furniture,
and other articles, which jostled the crowd of contrabands
hastening along the same route. Artillery, baggage wag-
ons, soldiers, negroes, all manner of vehicles, sped along
pell-mell during the entire night, and all made confusion
worse confounded.

The day broke, and still the road was traversed by con-
trabands, each one bearing a load on his or her head or
wheeling a creaking barrow, or perhaps drawing a cart
loaded down with furniture. The Naval Brigade held
their positions at the redoubt, under arms all night, and
ready, with two or three pieces of artillery, which had
been left, to sweep the avenues of approach with shot and
shell, if the enemy should make an attack. At about ten
o'clock I rode over to Hampton, to witness what was ex-
pected to be the destruction by fire of the entire village
and bridge leading to it. At that time I met, I was about
to say, hundreds of slaves, men, women, and children, the
women invariably turbaned with a flaming bandana hand-
kerchief, and the children barefooted and without cover-
ing to the head. Not a single article of furniture found in
this latitude but might have been seen on the heads of
these unfortunate creatures, and what was too heavy to
carry was placed in the canoes, flatboats, and wherries that
dotted the bay, pulled by swarthy sons of Africa. Never
was such an exodus seen before in this country.

Arriving at Hampton, after passing squads of soldiers
at the bridges and along the roads, we found the village
almost deserted, a few soldiers, negroes, some wagons, and
one or two officers' horses were all that could be seen in its
desolate streets. Turning up the main road, toward York-
town, where the old county court-house stands, we found
the scene of the conflagration, which we first discovered
from the fort. A small wooden structure of great age,
lately occupied as an Odd Fellows' Hall, was in ruins, and
the conflagration had so far destroyed the next building,
occupied by the jailer, as to induce them to give up all
hopes of saving it, and to turn their attention to the jail,
which was then burning. All three of the buildings were
totally destroyed, in spite of the efforts of a detachment of
Zouaves from the Tenth regiment, who worked the two
fire-engines sent up from the fort. At the time I left
Hampton the enemy, who were near our earth-works, had
sent a flag of truce in to General Butler, by a Captain
Rand of the rebel force. I have not learned the object of
his mission. Up to the time I close my letter General
Butler had not determined to receive the flag. I shall
give you the result to-morrow.

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