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ceived instructions from General McClellan, who did not reach the Peninsula until the second of April, to keep all the troops in the vicinity of the fort for a few days, so that the rebels should have no idea of the direction in which the army was to eventually move, whether towards Norfolk or Yorktown. He accordingly did so.
On the 27th reconnoitering parties were sent forward. Smith's entire division marched, without knapsacks, to Watt's Creek, a small hamlet near Big Bethel, where some rebel cavalry were discovered and put to flight by a few shells from our artillery. There were newly made camps and other evidences of the recent occupation of the place by rebel infantry. For the first time, the Thirty-third boys discovered a batch of the rebel literature, which has furnished so much amusement for northern readers during the progress of the war. Little groups were collected to listen to the reading of various documents, including several tender missives, the writers of which had evidently followed Voltaire's advice for writing love letters, “to begin without knowing what you have to say, and end without knowing what you have written."
On the same day Gen. Hooker proceeded with his command to Big Bethel, the enemy decamping when he made his appearance. After remaining over night at Watt's Creek, sleeping on their arms, in the forest, the troops of Smith's division returned and encamped about two miles north of Newport News. A severe rain-storm set in after dark, and the men of the
Thirty-third awoke in the morning, to find everything afloat. There was water enough within the encampment to have easily floated a canoe, which of course occasioned a general clearing out on the part of the regiment.
Several severe cases of sickness arose from this heavy freshet, and a Division Hospital was established at Newport News, under charge of the Thirty-third surgeon. A new and more elevated site, and nearer the James, was immediately occupied.
The men were allowed to bathe daily in the river. One afternoon, while so employed, the small rebel Gunboat Teaser, afterwards captured and found to
commenced throwing shells at the bathers. The sudden appearance of these unwelcome visitors in their midst produced a general “skedaddle,” and the men came running into camp as fast as their legs would carry them. Some made their appearance in a perfectly denuded state; others more fortunate had managed to secure a shirt, while two or three came in with simply cap and stockings on. This affair created great merriment, and furnished a fruitful theme of conversation for weeks afterwards. The firing of the Teaser produced no effect beyond the severe scare administered to the men.
Soon after the return of the regiment from Watt's Creek, two Companies proceeded again in that direction to ascertain where the enemy's picket lines extended. They saw a few of the confederates, who fled on their approach. The Thirty-third assisted in building a log redoubt near the encampment, which was named Fort Wright, in honor of Joseph Wright, Esq., of Waterloo, N. Y. Scattered up and down the James River for miles, were to be seen the remains of elegant country seats and farm. houses, destroyed by the rebel General Magruder at the time Hampton was burned. The country on every side presented a scene of ruin and desolation, conveying to the mind a vivid impression of the wanton devastation of war.
After the lapse of a few days the Thirty-third was sent, with the other regiments of Gen. Davidson's brigade, for the third time, to Watt's Creek, and after dispersing the rebel pickets, returned without loss.