The most important item in the collection is von Eberstein's memoir. The description that follows is taken from von Eberstein's handwritten original, which is fragmentary, and a partially typed, partially handwritten transcript. The transcript includes pages missing from the original and contains some paraphrased sections. Duplication of some specific facts in the transcript makes it likely that von Eberstein's entire manuscript was consulted when the transcript was made. Because of the fragility of the original, photocopies have been provided for researchers. Numbers in the top right corner of the photocopies correspond to page numbers of the transcript copy.
The first portion of William Henry von Eberstein's memoir concerns the history of his family. Von Eberstein descended from a line of English and German aristocracy. Notable members of the von Eberstein family include Christian Ludwig Baron von Eberstein, General Field Marshall in the Prussian army (ca. 1700), and William Baron von Eberstein, counsellor of the Courts Justice at Dresden, Germany (ca. 1775). William Henry's father, Ernst Albrecht Baron von Eberstein, served in the Prussian army and in the British army in the 60th Royal American Regiment (ca. 1808-1818), and was appointed vice consul at St. Servan, France (1818-1833).
Ernst Albrecht Baron von Eberstein married Johanne Elizabeth Funk, November 1800. They had two children before her death in 1810. He married Harriet Perchard Champion in February 1814. She was a descendant of Eleanor Hyde, the sister of Edward Hyde, one of the eight Lords Proprietors of Carolina. William Henry von Eberstein, the fifth of eight children of Ernst and Harriet, was born December 21, 1821, in St. Servan, France. Von Eberstein's narrative includes boyhood reminisces of family, friends, school, boating, and bird snaring at St. Servan. He describes landmarks on the Isle of Guernsey where the family moved after the death of his father.
At the age of thirteen, von Eberstein began his life as a mariner. In June 1835 he signed on as a midshipman aboard the merchantman
CHIEF of the British East India Company. His memoir details his first encounter with death battling a fierce storm in the Mozambique Channel, Africa. Later he signed on the brig
WILLIAM OF GUERNSEY as second officer. He describes the ports-of-call of Sete, France; Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, Brazil; Altona, Germany; Genoa, Italy; Cayliari, Sardinia; and Trieste, Austria. As first officer of the bark
LALLAROOK (1841), von Eberstein observed life on board ship, transportation of prisoners to the penal colony at Sydney, Australia, visits to London, and the harpooning of porpoise for food.
In the same year, von Eberstein ran African slaves from the Congo to Brazil as captain of the Spanish brig
LA BONNIE ESPERANZA. Recounted in his story is a resulting confrontation with the English brig
BOXER. His other seafaring positions included third lieutenant on the frigate
IMPERIAL PRINCE of the Brazilian navy (1842) and master of the merchant vessel
CAROLINA (1843). He later served as first officer of the American schooner
ENTERPRISE out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Von Eberstein reports on hunting seal, penguin, and otter at Cape Horn, trading and fighting with the Indians of the Messiah Channel, life among the "horse Indians" of Chile, and being shipwrecked off the coast of Argentina.
Von Eberstein relates his experiences whaling in the Pacific (1845) as chief mate on board the
MARY HOWARD out of New Bedford, convalescing in Hawaii, and whaling and fishing on the ship
TWO BROTHERS (1846, 1848-1849). He became familiar with North Carolina as mate on the schooner
DELAWARE (1846) owned by Thomas De Mille of Washington, N.C. Von Eberstein sailed out of Washington on various schooners:
WASHINGTON, GLOBE, COMET, INDEPENDENCE, and
NORTH CAROLINA. He relates fighting a hurricane while serving on the
NORTH CAROLINA and the cowardice of her captain, Monroe Williams.
In 1850, von Eberstein and his brother visited their family in Europe. Von Eberstein spent some time on the Isle of Guernsey and with his mother in Dresden, Germany. While in Germany, he joined the forces of the King of Saxony to help quell a socialist revolution waged by the Red Republicans.
Von Eberstein moved to Chocowinity, N.C., in July 1851, where he established himself as a merchant. He married Annis Harding in April 1852; they had four children. Eventually von Eberstein became a school teacher in Pitt County and at Pineville Academy in Chocowinity.
Von Eberstein's memoir relates that he soon returned to the sea (ca. 1860), taking charge of the schooner
INDEPENDENCE, which shipped naval stores out of Washington, N.C. He served as mate on vessels of S. R. Fowle of Washington including
MELVINA, MECKLENBURG, CHARLES ROBERTS, and
OCEAN WAVE. Von Eberstein describes navigating a perfect landfall at Ocracoke Inlet while suffering from yellow fever and breaking up a planned robbery and mutiny as captain of
ROUGH AND READY. He also captained the Washington-based ship of Joseph Farrow,
QUEEN OF THE SOUTH.
At the start of the Civil War, von Eberstein enlisted (April 15, 1861) in Captain Thomas Sparrow's "Washington Grays," Co. A, 7th N.C. Infantry Regiment. (The "Washington Grays" mustered into state service as Co. K, 10th N.C.T. [1st N.C. Artillery Regiment] on June 22, 1861.) Von Eberstein was elected the company's fourth sergeant. In May 1861, von Eberstein, in company with a small detail, seized the U.S. hospital on Portsmouth Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He relates a newspaper account of the rest of the unit's celebrated departure from Washington, including a flag presentation ceremony on May 20, 1861.
Shortly afterwards von Eberstein was transferred to Beacon Island. He describes duty, camp life, and an attempted mutiny by a company from Greenville, N.C., stationed at Fort Ocracoke. In August 1861, von Eberstein became chief ordance officer on Beacon Island. He recounts in his memoir the cowardice of the commanding officers in unnecessarily ordering the evacuation of the island when Union forces started infiltrating the North Carolina sounds. Von Eberstein then served as drill master and chief ordnance officer on the Pamlico River at Swan Point, N.C. He mentions the capture of Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark on Hatteras Island, and Roanoke Island, where most of his unit was taken prisoner. The taking of these points forced the evacuation of Swan Point which von Eberstein comments on. Also, he mentions the battle of New Bern, N.C., March 1862.
From that time, von Eberstein administered ordnance and ordnance stores at Tarboro, N.C. He recruited soldiers in Washington, N.C., until the fall of the town to Federal forces in March 1862. Von Eberstein rejoined his paroled regiment at Greenville, N.C. He relates a humorous story of Confederate troops stationed at Greenville preparing for battle with Yankees who turned out to be grazing cows.
In the summer of 1862, the regiment was ordered to Wilmington, N.C., where Sergeant von Eberstein helped construct a river battery near the town. Von Eberstein transferred to the 61st N.C. Infantry Regiment on July 3, 1863. Promoted to sergeant-major, he was ordered with the unit to Charleston, S.C. He describes military operations on James Island, Sullivan's Island, Fort Sumter, and Morris Island during the summer of 1863. Von Eberstein discusses a visit by Jefferson Davis to Sullivan's Island where he reviewed Confederate troops. Von Eberstein received official commendation for duty rendered at Battery Wagner and was badly wounded during the subsequent fight at Battery Gregg. While at home in Chocowinity convalescing from his wounds, Federal soldiers stationed at Washington tried repeatedly to capture him.
Von Eberstein returned to his regiment in late November 1863. They were ordered to Petersburg, Virginia, where he relates attending an interesting Christmas party. His description of military activity around Petersburg in the spring of 1864 includes engagements at Blackwater Creek and Drewry's Bluff. On May 16, at Drewry's Bluff, von Eberstein was again badly wounded. Taken to a Richmond hospital, he cites an incident in which a Virginia woman denied him food because he was a North Carolina soldier. Later, he was furloughed home to recuperate from his wound; he remained there until mid-August 1864.
Although von Eberstein was not involved in the fighting around Petersburg that summer, his narrative mentions the 61st N.C.T.'s involvement. He cites the Battle of Crater (July 30) where U.S. Negro troops were slaughtered. Von Eberstein rejoined his unit at Chaffins Farm, Virginia, in time to participate with General Robert F. Hoke's Division in a counterattack at Battery Harrison (Sept. 30).
Because of numerous wounds received in various engagements, von Eberstein was deemed unfit for active field duty in the autumn of 1864. He served as acting adjutant of the 61st N.C.T. for a short period but finally received a discharge on October 4, 1864. He went home to his family in Chocowinity. After recovering from exhaustion, he and his family moved to Pitt County, N.C., where he was living when the war ended. Von Eberstein mentions the surrender of the Confederacy and his postwar occupations as harness maker and farmer. The memoir ends here, although there are additional photocopies in the transcript relating to von Eberstein's Confederate service.
There are discrepancies between von Eberstein's memoir and published records concerning his military service. Photocopies of pertinent entries have been provided for researchers from Louis T. Manarin's
North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865 and Walter Clark's
Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions From North Carolina in the Great War, 1861-1865.
The collection also includes manuscripts in French and German containing von Eberstein's autobiography and partial histories of the Viking settlement of New Vinland and of the American Civil War. Von Eberstein's autobiographic sketch essentially follows the memoir but includes only his early life and seafaring experiences to about 1845.
Additionally, the collection contains von Eberstein's commission as captain in the N.C. militia (1852) and his soldier's discharge from Confederate service (1864). Legal papers, in old German script, concern a debt case between von Eberstein and Levy Guthmann of Offendorf, Prussia (1875); and others, in English, pertain to the estate of Baroness Henrietta von Eberstein (1886). Correspondence (1851-1878) and a German publication on the von Eberstein family (1878) make up the bulk of genealogical material in the collection.