(Note: These letters from Joseph L. Hallett I to his Mother, Brother, cousin Judah and Aunt “E Ann” were transcribed from scans of the handwritten originals by Cliff McCarthy and Stan Prager in October and November 2019. In some places, spelling and punctuation have been modified for readability. The original letters are currently in the possession of Joseph Hallett III. He has graciously provided scans for use in this project and all inquiries about the original letters should be directed to Mr. Hallett.)
Sea Brook Isle Tuesday March 11th 1862
Conforming with your request to write often I improve the opportunity this morning which I think will give me sufficient time to finish and tell you about all that has happened since writing last. I guess you will be surprised to learn that the steamer Mississippi is again in a bad fix and as the mate said the devil must be in her. I think no less than true and the Mississippi an ill fated vessel. And we may as well attempt to go to China in her as to Ship Island. It rains today and we lay on a sand bar with the Mississippi on her beam end which makes a slant of the tables very convenient writing accommodations. I closed my last letter Thursday the 6th. I was sent onto the Mississippi to take charge of a gang of men in unloading the freight and getting out water from the hole that the leak might be stopped and we got ready for sea. There were five lieutenants each of us had charge of twenty men. We worked through the day and at night were relieved once in two hours, but it was not very pleasant I assure you, to have to be aroused from sleep and go to work in the night and especially for the men who grunted considerable in that they had to be both soldiers and sailors. They say they did not enlist for sailors but they have had to do work on the ship ever since we left Fortress Monroe. There are good many that sigh for home, I reckon. The men have been relieved every twenty-four hours but I have been on until this morning and feel pretty tired. The weather has been fine though some of the times it has been very warm and on shore the sand has blown making it very disagreeable. We have loaded some 150 tons of coal onto the steamer since I came on and I have been dirty as a pig without a chance to get clean until yesterday afternoon when I took time, although subject to arrest when away from my men without leave. You know we are under strict military discipline now and it won’t do to disobey. Capt. Nettleton and several of the officers have been arrested for most trivial things such as leaving the Camp for ten minutes and sent to their quarters while we have frequently men in irons for little or nothing.
The ship was cleared of water and the hole in the bulkhead stopped Saturday by some Navy officers from Hilton Head and as a matter of course Gen. Butler must have the freight put onto the steamer again forthwith, so that I was obliged to keep my men at work all day Sunday. By the way Gen. Butler and Staff and the Maine companies that came with us in the Mississippi were to go to Ship Island in another steamer the Matansas which would make more room for the 31st Regt. and greatly lighten the vessel. So I was ordered to see to the transferring of the General’s baggage (and there was a lot of it) and the ammunition from the Mississippi to the Matansas. Lieutenant Hayden got the baggage and ammunition out of the Mississippi and I saw that it was properly loaded in the Matansas. We worked hard and long and at night had loaded at least 25,000 pounds of stuff including cartridges, shells and cannon. It was the General’s intention to leave Sunday but the Maine boys were not ready until night so that they could not get off. Monday at 11 am the most of the freight being loaded onto the Mississippi the tents were struck and the men began to come aboard and we were to get off with the tide but at 4 o’clock there was some 200 still on shore and the tide going out so that we were obliged to leave them to be taken off by a tug while we got into deep water. The engine began to work and we were moving off rapidly when the tiller rod broke. The helm became unmanageable and the steamer was driven onto a sand bar within 20 feet of the shore at low tide and here we are immovable. You may imagine how we all looked as this was not the first but third or fourth disaster and delay. Here we are 21 days from Boston and half way to Ship Island when we should have been there 10 days ago and for what I know in New Orleans.
Last night at high tide two heavy tugboats were attached to the Mississippi to try and get her off but in vain and I do not know what will be done though it is evident that one more effort will be made to get off and if that fails we must wait for other transports. We have a good table set on the steamer but very poor water which is condensed from salt water and many are made sick by it. There has been a battle at Savanah [sic] only 18 miles from us and we could hear the firing at Sea Brook. Gen. Sherman is in command at Hilton Head. quite a number of our men have been down there. my time has been so occupied or I should have gone to the fort or to Beaufort.
Had I known how long we were to stay at Sea Brook I could have got a mail as it comes from Hilton Head once a day and they get a mail there quite often. But I presume I shall get one at Ship Island and if we start tomorrow with good luck we shall be there in 6 days. Our pay rolls have been made out and the Col. says as soon as we get to Ship Island we shall get our pay.
I know of nothing more to write of importance. Shall write to Abby and Mary today.
with love to all I remain your aff. son
Joseph L. Hallett
At Sea March 16th 1862
It is the Sabbath and while the bells are ringing you for church in cloaks and coats I am writing in the cabin of the Mississippi sweating as on Fourth of July in Massachusetts and it is much warmer on deck for there the hot sun beats down and the warm air strikes one incessantly. The steamer is heading for the much talked of Ship Island and our cruise is now off Great Bahama Bank and as nigh as I can learn 50 miles from Key West and 450 or 500 miles from our destination. We have had a very pleasant trip thus far from Port Royal which we left Thursday noon and I do hope that a bad beginning may form a good ending to the expedition.
When I closed my last letter we lay on a sand bar at Sea Brook Landing and as I thought never should get afloat again, but contra to expectation, having discharged part of the cargo and the men placed on to other boats by the help of three powerful steamers, the Mississippi was hauled into deep water Wednesday morning having been on the bar 40 hours. Having got off, we went to Hilton Head where we lay at anchor waiting for fair weather till Thursday noon when we started for sea. The steamer Susquehanna lay in the harbor and as we passed she fired a salute to Gen. Butler and the band played ”Hail Columbia”, “Dixie”, etc. which sounded beautifully and was responded to from the Mississippi by hearty cheers. There was scarce a ripple in the water and the sail down the harbor was delightful. The weather on Friday was warm and muggy and the sea rolling as now we entered the Gulf Stream and as we had a strong current and tradewinds to contend with the steamer made but 3 knots an hour much of the time. Saturday was cloudy and it rained a little toward night. I have spent much of my time on deck and have enjoyed myself finely. The quarter deck is for the officers [illegible] and we gather there between meals and sit and read and talk and watch the waves and when we get tired of reading and talking, etc. we think of home. The idea is we try to keep home out of our minds as much as possible for we know that the steamer is caring us farther and farther away and home is the last thing to think of. Friday and Saturday evening the moon shone brightly and the salt air floated over the deck. We even gathered a few of us on deck to sing and play. Lieut. Smith played the guitar while the others sang. We have recitations in tactics before the Col. every evening and I am of the opinion that we shall make thorough military soldiers if any we abide by the discipline of the regular Army wholly. This morning I got out on deck at 7 o’clock. we were running out sight of the land but our course was toward it. At 8 o’clock the bell called us to breakfast. I thought how I would like to sit down to brown bread and beans instead of the hash and [illegible] bread and crackers which we have had every meal for breakfast on board since we left Boston. At 9 o’clock each company was called in line for inspection, when the officers had to appear in full uniform. After inspection a quarter before eleven the companies were marched onto the quarter deck to listen to a sermon by the Chaplain from Romans 5th chapter 1st verse. The sermon was a good one but the getting to it was tedious, singing and then reading so many prayers. There is an awning shadowing the deck and you would have smiled to see the men sitting “spoon fashion” arranged of tier after tier. The Chaplain stood up the capstan covered by the stars and stripes for his pulpit while the officers sat at the stern of the boat facing toward the men and constituted the choir. Sermon ended, the companies were marched to their quarters while we sat around until dinnertime when we went below. I will tell you which we had for dinner just for varieties [sic] sake and which is generally the same with little change. First soup, which is brought to us by waiters. Then we help ourselves to what is on the table, roast beef, mutton, boiled ham, chicken or turkey, mashed potatoes, turnips, beats, pickles, bread and crackers, and when we get through the meats our plates are taken. So much for that.
Monday 17th 2 pm. We are off Key West. A pilot is coming to us by which we can send letters so I hasten to add a few lines that I neglected to yesterday. Capt. Fulton who had command of the Mississippi from Boston to North Carolina is a southern man and it was thought strange by some in Boston than he should have charge of the steamer and his ill management of the boat from the time we started either proved him incompetent to manage the Mississippi or else to get us into the hands of the rebels. He professed to have been master of vessels for a number of years and thought it strange that an accusation of that kind should be brought against him. I think that he has proved himself a traitor. Gen. Butler arrested him after we got off the sandbar at Sea Brook and he was transferred to the Matansas and the Mississippi put in charge of Lieut. Sturgis of the Navy who piloted us to Sea Brook from Cape Fear and who has brought us safely to Key West and will pilot us to Ship Island. We do not stop at Key West but should continue on and I hope get to the island by Wednesday. I have heard it stated though not very generally known that we are to go to Texas.
The pilot is waiting.
Love to all,
Ship Island Saturday, March 29, 1862
Dear Friends at Home.
My last letter was written on board the Steam Ship Mississippi as we lay off the island and we did not get ashore until Tuesday forenoon. Monday afternoon an order was given by Col. Gooding for the men to pack knapsacks and take two days rations start at sunrise from the boat. The order was promptly obeyed and the men filled with delight at the prospect of getting on land again. Early in the morning a tug came alongside of the Mississippi and one company after another disembarked and were landed on the wharf, formed in line, and marched to the ground selected for our Camp about 2 miles up the island. The sand is very light and fine resembling blotting sand and as we marched the feet sank several inches and such a getting up stairs I never did see, one step forward and two back. I was glad when halted. There is one thing about Ship Island to its credit and worth remarking. There is nothing green (save the 31st), not a speck of grass or tree to be seen around camp, but water is abundant and as soon as the men stacked arms before pitching tents they took their tin cups and by digging 3 or 4 feet found water and it is the case all over the island. The surface for a foot down is light and dry below which it is damp and I can account for the heavy dew nights in this warm climate only by this. I wake up mornings and find my coat quite wet and think it must be very unhealthy here. We pitched our tents about noon but what to do for dinner I knew not. The men had rations of meat and crackers but our officers what to do we knew not. All that Capt. Bridgman, Lieut. Darling and myself had was two sandwiches and nothing could be got only by orders on the Port Commissary. While we sat thinking what it was best to do Capt. Barrett of the Michigan 6th came to where we were and introducing himself kindly invited us to dine at his tent which invitation we gladly accepted, went with him and sat down around a chest and ate of preserved sausages, potatoes, boiled rice and bread. good enough for anyone. In the afternoon I was invited to dinner by a Lieut. in the Indiana regiment and as we found it difficult to get any thing ourselves I went and made a meal of bread and molasses. At 8 o’clock I returned to my quarters and made my bed. I do not find here the moss for filling ticks that we did at Sea Brook but spread the quilts down and one over me which answered very well. In the morning were awakened by the beat of drums and light at 5 o’clock. did not lay long after I awoke and was glad to be relieved from the [illegible] the prints of which I felt for several hours afterwards. Jimmie was sent to the baker’s for some bread and I borrowed a cup of molasses which constituted our morning repast. Borrowing three tin plates of our company we sat on our chests poured some molasses on them, broke off a piece of bread and didn’t we make a hearty meal. Who wouldn’t be a soldier in the Army of the North. We had bread and molasses for dinner, supper and breakfast the next morning, being unable to get anything else. At 10 the Captain started down to the Port Commissaries and said that if there was anything to be had he would have it, returning in an hour with some sugar rice coffee and a ham. We cooked the ham and some rice and made a fine meal and with molasses is all the variety we have since or expect to get while on Ship Island. I often think of home and should not mind a bit of Aunt’s pie now and then and a beer come Saturday night! We hain’t many dainty officers or privates in our regiment [illegible] a day. We have no floor to our tents and the sand being light blows into our [illegible] and for one feel that I have nearly ate my peck of dirt and such gritty fellows as we shall make to fight the rebels must make their mark. Although Ship Island is so breezy yet in many things we are pleasantly situated. You can judge by the [illegible] I send our [illegible] on the island. On either side is the surf rolling upon on the beach continually which we can see from our tents door and is convenient for a wash. We can also see a portion of the main land. Cat Island is plainly seen and in clear weather Mississippi City. The weather is much like dry days warm the mornings and evenings damp and oppressive. We are much focused in hours of drill from 7 to 10 am & 4 to 6 pm which gives us the heat of the day to lay still in. Our parade ground is [illegible] about a mile up the island and the only difficulty is in getting to it through the sand. The companies form on the beach and march as near the sea as they can but find it very bad walking the whole way.
Sunday afternoon 30th. It is exceedingly warm hot as mid-summer . I have been reading hymns for some time and the Tract Journal of Feby 1861 and for an hour or two been in the Sergeant’s tent singing. The regiment was out this morning for instruction which took little time and the sun being so warm our church services will not take place until 6 o’clock. As we sat eating our potatoes ham and rice this morning a great many remarks were made about home and what the folks would think to see us sitting around in the sand eating food which the style we live would be no temptation to beg in New England. And yet who wouldn’t be a soldier.
And now a few lines in reference to our fighting prospects. Our regiment has been placed in Gen. Williams Brigade, including the 26th Mass. formerly the 6th famous in Baltimore Col. Jones, 21st Indiana, 6th Michigan, 4th Wisconsin, and crack regiments they are too. Their movements are like clockwork. Yesterday morning we received an order from headquarters that our brigade was to embark on transports for some point on the mainland. And we felt delighted at the prospect of getting a foothold on secesh ground. Our regiment went on board and the others are going on board today to sail tomorrow. You can’t imagine our chagrin and disappointment as we were told that the 31st would not go on account of its inproficiency in drill. Col. Gooding felt awful to think that we had been detained on the Mississippi were it not for that we should be able to go and see the first fighting of the expedition. As near as I can learn, and you can’t tell much what will be done by what one hears, the place for point of landing is 12 miles from N[ew] O[rleans]. I hope that we shall be ready to go ourselves in a few days and I think the plan is to set us all (I hear) on the march soon.
Most every day [illegible] with men and women who profess to be northerners escaping from the South come to the island. They assist our troops at New Orleans but they are all looked upon as spies, we treat them as friend. The gunboats in the harbor come in every day with rebel vessels they have captured. I have not got any mail yet and the cry steamer in with a mail has become a cry of disappointment often. One of our men got a Republican of July 15 and that is the latest news. If I could get a letter and paper often I should like soldiering first-rate, and wouldn’t give up as it is for money. There are many privations and dangers to contend with in a soldier life but I like it. Nims’ famous battery is attached to our brigade.
Wednesday, April 2 Yesterday I thought of Springfield and how much moving there was going [in and] After drill in the p.m. the Col. gave Capt. B[ridgman]’s office a new tent which we put up and moved into. wonder where I shall be next April. The troops are most all onboard ships. The Capt. of the Mississippi told Lieut. Rice that he had a chart marked out for the Southwest Pass ready to sail any time. Forts Jackson and St. Philips are on this Pass. I understand that the mortar fleet that went from here about two weeks ago have taken Fort Jackson which is the strongest of the two. We are making good proficiency in drill and shall be ready to ship any time. Col. Weldon’s Regiment 13th Maine is to remain as guard on the island.
There are 3 or 4 brass bands in our brigade and we have music enough.
There is a funeral of someone most every day which is very solemn on the desert island. the other day as I lay resting on my chest, I heard band playing in slow time the [illegible] hymn in which are the words “Come to Jesus Christ and Live” and looking out of my tent saw a company headed by a band following one of its members to the burying ground. Visiting the cemetery one morning I saw many graves with a very few with plain boards with their initials carved on them to mark where they lay.
We have but a few sick belonging to our company. Those that are sick I look after visiting the hospital nearly every day and talking with them encouragingly and sending them a mouthful from our table. I can’t but laugh to hear them say sometimes how could I have enlisted.
Mr. Chubbuck the chaplain of the 31st is not popular at all. Not an officer as I can learn likes him and and the men are tired of hearing him read the same prayers over and over again. It is evident that he is not the man for the place. I wish we had a good earnest and interested preacher.
Our head surgeon Dr. Sanborn is crazy and a guard is placed over him. Dr. Bidwell assistant surgeon is a fine man, stands over 6 feet in his stockings.
Thursday, April 3 Every day brings something new. Major Strong, of General Butler’s staff, and Capt. Conant of the Springfield company were sent in a boat with flag of truce to carry a boy that was picked up at sea from a foundered English vessel, the boy having friends at Biloxi, a small town about 8 miles from Ship Island. The Major and Capt. did their errand and were returning when they got aground and a party of Mississippi mounted riflemen came down and ordered them to surrender and gave them 20 minutes to do it in. Major Strong said that he should not surrender and would fight till the last. They were in a large sailboat and had permission[?]. The Mississippians went to get more men to assist but when they got back the boat was off and the Major got back safe. He told General Butler what reception he met with, which made him so mad that he sent three gunboats yesterday to shell the town. I saw the boats as they moved away from the island and about two hours after could hear the reports of cannon, it sounding like the continued roar of thunder, which kept up until dark. Have not heard the result but have no fears.
I make it a practice every morning at 5:30 to take a bath which I find very beneficial. I have not had but one sick day since I came to Ship Island. I wish I had brought some sauce such as pickled horseradish, etc. we can’t get anything scarcely here and what the sutlers have they ask enormous price for. No kind of fruit can we get not even a raisin.
The steward on the steamer Mississippi said that he was steward on the South Carolina and ran with Rodney Baxter and that Rodney left his position as sailing master on the South Carolina expecting the command of the Mississippi and he told the steward one day that he expected a new ship and wanted him as steward. I presume that he will be sent to take the ship since Capt. Fuller has turned traitor.
A mail is to leave here for the North this week and we are expecting one. doubtless ours will go but I shall not be disappointed if we do not get any. I am told that we shall not get our pay at present and not before July, which makes it very inconvenient. I don’t want any myself from the fact that there is nothing to sell, but should like to send a few dollars home.
Our company cook Mr. Richardson cooks for our needs and we pay him extra. Our company is allowed so many pounds of rice potatoes bread etc. which is more than they can consume and we pay them cash. what we [give them] they buy what little notions they want such as pie and nut cake.
I will endeavor to draw a view of our tent and how we enter at meal time. There is much that I could write if I could think what it is. What I don’t write now I shall in my next. Will send letters as often as the mail leaves. Remember me to [ illegible] and family and also to all of my friends. Trusting that you and I will continue to enjoy the blessings of the kind Provider and never be sent to such a dry place as Ship Island is the best [something] off, your son brother and friend,
I have not used much medicine myself but I have cured one of our men from my medicine box. I prize it highly.
Ship Island, April 10, 1862
Dear Brother, I send home my overcoat because it is nicer than I require for “the business” and the weather too warm to carry it where we are going, so I send it home and shall get a privates’ overcoat which I can lay down and have a nice one when I return from the war. I want it cleaned and pressed and put away with my other “old duds,” which will be worn when I get home, for I don’t see any prospect of the Government’s paying us any money. When it comes pay day won’t there be a pile though. I draw pay from the time we had 80 men which is January 10 and have received one month at Camp Seward. I can send money for home from here by Adams Express for 1% at my risk or 2 1/2% at their risk. The Box will come to $2.00 to Boston and I would pay it here if I had the means. Please keep an account of things and when I get home we will straighten things. Capt. Bridgman puts his coat in the same box and his folks will call for it and pay half the charges when they take it.
We are enjoying first-rate weather though pretty warm. do not mind the sand as I did at first. have been sick a little since we came here but enjoy good health now. We live regular and plain. Get up at Reveille 5 o’clock and attend roll call, take a bath when the weather will permit, breakfast at 6, Battalion Drill at 7 until 10, Dinner at 12 M., Battalion Drill again at 3:30, Retreat at sunset, Tattoo at 9 and Taps at 9:10 when all lights are extinguished. We live better than when we first came on the Island, but find about the same sprinkling of sand in our victuals.
Biloxi, the small town opposite on the main land was shelled by our gunboats a few days since. The Connecticut 9th landed and made a charge on the rebels who fled and left their tents and all that was in them. The men brought away guns, pistols, swords, and some Confederate money that they took from them. Capt. Lee had a two dollar Confederate bill given him, which is of the poorest quality of paper and very bad print. When I get a shinplaster you shall have it. I have mentioned in my letters that soon we shall be in New Orleans and now we are under marching orders and shall leave within 48 hours. Yesterday we had orders to furnish the men with shoes, canteens, haversacks, and the cooks have been ordered to furnish 10 days’ rations to the men. Our improvement in military discipline has been so great that Gen. Williams has concluded to take us with his brigade. The guns are all put in repair and we are ready for a fight. I shall pack my chest with every thing that I do not carry and all that I shall take will be what I can carry on my back. There are no wagons in the Regt. and few on the island, only enough to take the General’s traps. I shall take a haversack with hard bread, a canteen with water or coffee, and blankets, which with my sword and pistol will constitute about what I shall take. The fact is we shall make an attack as soon as we get to the S[outh]west Pass. The Mortar Fleet is to engage the forts while we make an attack on some part. I hardly know where myself and we must bivouac for a few days. I have marked my chest “Send to HWHallet Springfield Mass.” in case of accident or we get where we can’t get them. Our baggage will be placed under guard and if we get in quarters where we shall stay any length of time it will be forwarded. Lieut. Smith of Capt. Lee’s company has resigned and returns on the first vessel to his friends. I can’t say what reason he has for resigning but if I were in his place think I would wait until after the battle. I would not resign now if I knew that I should be shot, just as we are going to make the first strike for our country in these parts. I enlisted to fight and to back out is cowardice. He says that he will call on you and you can learn more about us than my writing 40 pages.
Yesterday preparatory to leaving there was a “grand review” of Gen. Phelps the 1st, Gen. Williams’ 2d and Gen. Shipley the 3rd brigades, 17 regiments in all. The line was formed on the South Beach and was near if not quite 5 miles long. The regiment was looking fine and as Gen. Butler and Staff rode by all came to “present arms” and when he had rode by the regiments [illegible] ranks and wheeled into columns by company and [illegible] in review. It was sunset before we got through and were pretty tired. There were two artists present and I understand that the review will be sketched in Harper’s Weekly and New York Illustrated probably in a couple of weeks. Our company’s position is the second on the right of the Regiment, a first-rate position, and our company is second best to none in the regiment. I feel proud to go into the Field with them. They are men that won’t run from the enemy. Our surgeon has been in here. Gen. Williams told him that for the next 30 days we should have a hard time and suffer much, that we should be off as soon as we could get onto Transports. You need not feel anxious if you do not hear from me again for some days as I think it will be impossible to send a letter after we get on the Main land. I fear not but am thankful that I am able to bear a hand with my brother officers in putting down the rebellion and believe that kind Providence that has been with me thus far will watch over me in days to come. Love to all interested in your affectionate brother,
Joseph L Hallet
[postscript across the top margin of the first page]
I hear that the General Washington a sailing vessel from New York has a large mail for the 31st. I have seen the Republican up to March 10 which was brought by a private mail. See that Corning[?] has an addition to his family. I should feel the better to hear from home before we leave. until further notice address Ship Island and it will be forwarded to me
Mr. Furbush a private in our company has been discharged and has agreed to go to Springfield and see you. I am sorry to have him leave us. He is a good soldier. has a blood vessel on the calf of his leg which unfits him for a soldier.
Ship Island, Gulf of Mexico, April 12, ‘62
The bearer is a member of our Company and has been for the past four months, but on account of disability will be discharged from service and returned to Massachusetts by the first Transport. I sent you a letter yesterday but the bearer Mr. Fawcett can tell you more than I have time to write. by kindness he has volunteered to go direct to Springfield and call on you.
Last night was the most severe one with the exception of the gale off Hatteras I ever passed. A terrific thunderstorm lay over us all night. The wind blew down tents & the waves rolled up on the beach furiously. The lightning was quick and sharp blinding the eye and keeping us awake, but sad to relate a tent was struck by lightning and 3 instantly killed and others are just living.
I spent last evening with the Chaplain who says that he shall organize prayer meetings immediately. He has been to Fort Pickens and gave me an account of the Fort and surroundings. There are few rebels there. Most have moved to Mobile & New Orleans.
We are to go on the Mississippi with Gen. Butler to New Orleans. Provisions are being taken on board today and we shall go on board it is thought tomorrow. I think likely that our regiment will be sent to garrison the fort when taken, either Jackson or Fort St. Phillip. It is however a camp story and little is known of the future.
Wm. Stockwell of Co. F is brought before a Court Marshall [sic] for sleeping on his Post. Though he says he was not asleep, I was Officer of the Guard and [illegible] on evidence of the Corporal.
It is reported that the George Washington which had a mail for our island, two of her boats having been found this morning adrift.
Your aff. brother,
P.S. Since writing the above a mail has been received but no letter from any of our folks. John Matson got one from you. Mine will probably be along by and by.