Sketch of the Life of Willard H. Nickerson
A Resident of Vineland for Many Years
I joined the company to which I belonged. There were 28 fire companies in the city with 100 men in each company. After awhile the peg wood on this machine gave out and they couldn't get any in there only through blockade runners, consequently the machine had to stop. I told them what I could do to remedy it. I would go out and hire about 20 boys 15 to 18 years of age and I would teach them to peg by hands. In a couple of weeks we had them all working. At this time they concluded to send the foreman, Mr. Barton, to Atlanta, Ga., to take charge of a tan yard there. So very unexpectedly I was appointed foreman of this factory at $25.00 a week.
When war was declared, Capt. Farsean, the Frenchman, was given charge of a propeller that acted as a spy boat down below Ft. Jackson and Ft. St. Philip. There were six of us who volunteered to go with him. Two miles below the forts there was a company of sharp shooters stationed in a swamp with their forts built up in trees there being no dry land. We ran down below the forts one day to carry some stuff down to join the sharpshooters - a big Dutchman - who had a rifle and all the equipment, and going down he was full of fight. A seagull flew over the boat and he pulled his rifle on him and said, "Spose that was Lincoln, I shoot him." When we got down, we ran below a big flat boat and pulled in, so as to land our stuff on that flat boat. There wasn't a foot of dry land in the swamp anywhere. The water was 2 or 3 ft. deep. A half mile below there was a bend in the river, and while we were in there a Yankee gunboat came around the bend in shooting distance. The Captain gave orders to back her out, so we could swing our heads around, and run up under the guns in the fort. The boat drew 8 feet of water and her propeller stuck fast in the mud. Then the captain gave orders to throw oil all over the vessel and everybody look out for themselves. We were at least 30 feet from the shore and they all commenced jumping overboard. I went below to get something I wanted to take away with me and after staying down there 5 minutes I came up on deck and found everybody out of sight, and the front of the boat all ablaze, and the Yankee gunboat almost abreast of us. I swam out till I got my feet on the bottom of the river, then I waded out a piece. They had been putting up a telegraph line down there and had cut the trees in front of the river, but the water was so deep, at least 4 ft., they had to leave the stumps about 5 ft. high. There was one tree right near the edge of the swamp that was partially cut off and the top of the tree fell into the river, still hanging to the stump. About that time they lowered the cutter from the gunboat with a crew coming ashore. Then 1 crawled up on to this old tree and sat there looking at them to see what they wanted. About that time a cannon ball came down from the forts and plowed up the water about 30 ft. ahead of the gunboat. The second shot came pretty close to her. By that time the cutter had gotten pretty nearly in shore, where I was. There I heard the boatswain's whistle aboard the ship, calling the cutter back. They left me sitting on the tree and the gunboat dropped back down the river. Then I went into the swamp to see what I could find. The first thing I found was the Dutchman, standing in about 4 feet of water. He had lost his rifle and canteen and when I went up to him, he said: "Mein Got! ! this is no place for one man." The fight was all out of him. About 10 o'clock that night, they sent a boat down and took us up to the forts. They put us aboard the "Algerine" and the captain went into the forts. In the morning the captain of the "Algerine" came to me and said, "I want you to take your men and turn in and work with my men." I told him that those men weren't lit to go to work before noon, for their clothing was wet, and they bad no change, everything being burned except what they had on. " Well," he said, "that's the orders of your captain." I told him 1 had to get the orders from my captain, and not from him. And then he got his hack up and sent for Captain Farsean. Then Captain earne aboard and told me that they wanted me to take the men and help out on the "Algerine." I told him that the men weren't in condition to go to work and wouldn't be before noon, on account of their wet clothing. He said, "Very well, that will do." But the captain of the "Algerine" was mad at me. The prospects were that the Yankee fleet was strong enough to capture Ft. Jackson and Ft. St. Philip, 75 miles below New Orleans, which would leave that city unprotected. This government factory that was running, ceased operations, and the machinery taken apart and spread around in different buildings for fear of being confiscated by the Yankees. While we were in the city, waiting for a boat, New Orleans was captured. This was the second day of April, 1862, when the Yankee fleet arrived. The troops were on the transports and didn't get there till several days later. Just before the troops landed, I was sent out by a party in New Orleans, something over a hundred miles in the Confederacy. There a railroad runs from Algiers to Burwick's Bay - 80 miles. The first 40 miles is plantations, farmers, etc. The last 40 miles is through a swamp all covered with long Spanish moss, inhabited by wolves, wild cats, bob cats and black bears. There are no houses except section houses, where the section hands put up. These houses are about 10 miles apart. I arrived in Burwick's Bay in the spring of the year, and the heavy rains of the spring had overflowed the bayou and run all over the lowlands. I took a steamer from Burwick's Bay and went up across Grand Lake. I landed from that steamer in a house built upon stakes. I climbed from a small boat right up into the door - no dry land in sight. Then I hired a couple of men in a canoe to take me up the bayou 5 or 6 miles to the relief schooner. There I came down to the Frenchman 's house and hired the first two men I spoke of, to take me across Grand Lake to Indian Bend, a small French village. There was only one horse and wagon in the village, so I engaged that to take me across ten miles to a town called Franklin, on the bayou. During the night there were three men came, one being quite sick. They begged me to let them have that horse and wagon, to take the sick man across to Franklin. I told them I would if they would take my valise and I would walk across. The next morning I walked the ten miles but have never seen anything of my valise since. I arrived in Franklin just about dinner time, an entire stranger. I went to the hotel and got my dinner. I was there for the purpose of waiting for a small steamboat to come down the bayou to take me to Burwick's Bay. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon a report came in that the Yankees had come out to Burwick's Bay and siezed all the rolling stock. Then there was great excitement in the town. The Mayor thought the Yankees were coming right up to Franklin. There were about a dozen or two of paroled soldiers from Ft. Jackson and Ft. St. Philip, who walked up and down the streets and drilled full of fight. About dark nearly all the citizens, the men folks, were down on the banks of the bayou. A light was discovered coming from towards Burwick's Bay. Then the soldiers cried, "They are the Yankees" and "It won't do for them to find us here under arms," so they left and the 30 or 40 citizens had to leave and go back to their families. That left about a dozen or so, waiting on the banks of the bayou to see what the boat was. About that time an old fellow gave me a hunch and said I had better look out for myself as these people all thought I was a Yankee spy. Burwick Bay is about 30 miles below Franklin. When this boat arrived it proved to be a job boat which had only come about 6 miles from below, and knew nothing at all about the Yankees coming out to Burwick's Bay. In a few minutes after that the "Southern Merchant" came down the bayou. The Mayor went down and said, "Go back! Go back! The Yankees are coming right up here." The captain said he didn't care - he was going to take his boat down home - six miles - and the next morning he was going on to Burwick 's Bay, and if there was anyone who wanted to come aboard, come on. I stepped aboard. The next morning I arrived in Burwick 's Bay, and the people were all up in arms. The Yankees had siezed all the rolling stock. I was then 80 miles from New Orleans. I had Confederate money and Yankee money of gold, with me, but I couldn't hire anybody to take me to New Orleans and there were no trains running at that time, so I started to walk the R. R. It was built by dumps for about 40 miles and on each side of that railroad there was a gully of water and old crossties and limbs of trees that had blown off. These were covered with water moccasins - they had cralwed out of the swamps on to these ties and trees, to get into the sunshine - thousands of them, but I never saw one on the track that I was traveling. That was about all I had to entertain me. About 5 o'clock in the evening I came to a section house. I tried to make arrangements to stay there that night. Nothing doing! They were all scared about the Yankees. The next section house was about 10 miles from there, and I got there about 9 or 10 o'clock. It was built up quite a little piece into the edge of the swamp. I got nearly down to the house, when two big dogs came at me. I began to back up towards the road and they followed me up on the R. R. and got between me and the way I wanted to go - frequently snapping at me. I hollered "get out" several times to attract the people at the house but no one responded. The larger dog of the two kept running up close to me and I pulled a bowie knife. I thought I would slash him and not kill him. I slashed at him and that made him worse. Then I pulled a 6-shooter and shot him. The other one sneaked down to the house - but no one came out. Then I had another ten miles to travel. The entertainment that I had was about like the last. The howling of wolves, the screeching of wild cats and the most scary thing ol all - the hooting of owls up in the cypress trees right overhead. They made a terrible noise, but are harmless. About one o'clock I arrived at the next section house, which was built up within 6 feet of the track, and occupied by throe or four men - section hands. They took me in, got some rapper, and gave me a lift on a handcar about 6 miles in the distance I was going. Soon after I left them I met a passenger train coming over the road going to Burwick 's Bay. I noticed several men in uniform, Yankee guards on the train. I then tramped on till I came to the first settlement, Tigerville. After getting something to eat. 1 went to the station to make inquiries what I had to do to gel on that train when it came back. They told me there were no passengers to he taken - they said the only people allowed on that train were people going into the city with provisions. I studied a little while and then went to see an old lady who lived near, and bought half dozen ducks and 4 or 5 chickens. Then I waited till the train came back and boarded her. I was told I would be searched when I got into Algiers. I had some papers, a bowie knife and two six shooters that I didn't want to lose. I noticed the conductor come along and take my fare just the same, although they wouldn't sell me a ticket. When we got within about a half a mile of Algiers - late in the afternoon - there was a bunch of horses got on the track. They were slow getting off, and the train slackened up, and the fireman got off and drove the last horse off the track. We were so near into Algiers then, that they didn't get under much headway, so I dropped off the train and mingled with the crowd and took it along easy, till I got to the ferry. I had left the ducks and chicks on the train.
During my trip I had discovered several shiploads of cotton that had been run out of N. 0. and hidden in the bayous - to keep from being confiscated by the Yankees. After I returned to New Orleans, and before the Yankee troops landed, there were thousands of bales of cotton rolled out of cotton sheds into the green and set on fire, and also a large number of hogsheads of sugar were destroyed rather than let fall into the hands of the Yankees.