(Note: These letters from Joseph L. Hallett I to his Mother, Brother, cousin Judah and aunt “E Ann” were transcribed from the handwritten originals by Joseph L. Hallett III in November 1992 & November 1993, 130 years after they were written. Spelling and punctuation have been preserved. The original letters are currently in the possession of Joseph Hallett III. He has graciously provided the transcription for use in this project and all inquiries about the original letters should be directed to Mr. Hallett.)
Custom House New Orleans
December 14th 1862
My Dear Brother
Another Sabbath has dawned. It is silly for you to ask have I been to Church and to Sabbath School. No, I have not been out of the Custom House today, and could not leave the station long enough to go to church, though I wanted to ever so much. One of the worse features of the signal service is to be obliged to stick at the station the twenty four hours around. Then it has its advantages, I do not have to “work”, and spend only a couple of hours a day in practicing with the opposite station which is more a pastime than work. The hours of the day are generally spent in study, reading, writing. My nights are not broken of rest as they would be were I with the regiment. In truth as the art of signalling has been acquired all we have to do is to make the most of our time while waiting for orders from Gen. Butler to enter into more active service in the field.
That orders will be given before long and give us something to do I must earnestly hope and believe. I am tired of inactivity, enough to go where they are fighting where there is some excitement. Only think it is over a year since I joined the Army and haven’t been in any battle yet. There is regiments started for Vicksburg since I wrote last. The 12th Maine has gone. The 2nd Louisiana [?] and Billy Wilsons [??] are going tomorrow and a Vermont Battery. These troops are to march to within a few miles of Vicksburg and then form a junction with McClenands [sic] Command. The “Essex” has gone up as also several gunboats. The “Hartford” “Richmond” “Mississippi & “Pensacola“, Sloops of War are expected to go up as soon as and whenever rain to raise the level of the river. If any of the original Party go it will probably be on these boats to communicate with the fleet coming down from above. It will be a terrific battle, as the city can be taken only by storm. But there is not the least doubt but what our side will conquer.
The Armies of the South and Southwest have gained [?] most every battle and the rebels are afraid of Grant, Rosencrans, Butler & Co. They tremble at their names, and although like forts Jackson & Phillips, Vicksburg under a determined army would never surrender or be garrisoned by Yankee soldiers. Vicksburg is the strongest hold the South ever got and if it falls, our armies can move up through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia to Washington, and from Washington send us home. I should not be surprised to hear that Vicksburg had been evacuated. The rebels have so many Tories (conscripts) in their Armies that they can make no dependence on Victory, with twice the number against the Yankees.
I have seen a great many rebel prisoners but as with Southerners generally they have a great gift of gab, can talk and brag but can’t do the work when it comes to soldiering that Yankees can. My eye has watched rebel officers on parole in N.O. their uniforms covered with gold. They walk as though they were Kings or Generals when in fact they are poor subjects of Gen. Butler. Prisoners of War. In their own domain, Lieutenants.
But how different they appear from the Federal officers with their plain neat uniforms, unassuming manners. The place where the Federal soldiers show their dignity and worth is on the battle field, the Confederate in the city where all is quiet and fire arms of little value.
The [???] looks very prosperous now. The right men are in the right place & victory is sure. So it appears at least & if Burnside doesn’t get Richmond & McClenand [sic] Vicksburg and Butler Mobile, there will be a rev. among the fighting class. These places must be ours before January. I’ve been without turkey one Thanksgiving, how can I another. It will take some time to march to Washington, but I trust that Burnside will take Richmond and save the South and Southwest the trouble. But if Burnside with his 150,000 men can’t take the rebel Capital, Butler & McClenand [sic] must and will with half the number and too before another Christmas.
I commenced an “introduction” to my letter but as you perceive my pen has wandered off into something else and now I will finish. You know a book or a letter is never perfect without a “preface”. Am sorry that I neglected to write the whole of it before, but “better late than ever”. This morning I had inspection at 9 as usual after which I read a chapter or sermon from a book entitled “Voices of the Night” written by Dr. Cumming. The text from which the discourse is written you will find in Heb 4-9 — it is an excellent sermon. The book was given me by Mr. Magee an officer on the sloop of war Pensacola. Magee has received orders to report at the Engineers Dept. Washington and leaves in the first Government transport. Magee is a fine fellow, a splendid draughtsman.
If he had time he would come to Spfld. and see you being a particular friend of mine.
After reading, I took my marine glass and had a good smoke while taking observations up and down the city. In the river opposite the Custom House lies the Hartford, Admiral Farragut’s Flag Ship, near the Hartford is a British and two French war vessels. The British colors are flying from the British craft and the French flag from the yard arms of the French vessels. The ships look very well as to build but the colors are about the meanest unsympathizing rags I ever see. Not a bit better than those of the Southern Confederacy. They have some nice army cloth on board the ship that flies the “Union Jack” but nary a yard will they sell to U.S. Officers while secessionists can get all they want. So Magee said.
There is a large number of vessels in port landing with sugar, molasses & cotton for the North. When I returned to my quarters, I knew that I could not go to church, and have devoted a portion of the day to you.
Yesterday I got your letter dated the 30th. It was quite interesting and considerable late news: were surprised to hear that Foster [sic] was up for City Clerk and shall be more surprised if he is elected. I wrote him a letter when at Carrelton [sic]: suppose he would be above answering it, if he gets to be City Clerk.
What a lot you have to do Sunday, should think you would be glad to have it stormy some Sabbaths so that you might have a “day of rest.” What a queer name for a Sabbath School (Scutter). It sounds very much like scut, cut, Syrian Bakers oxen, [?], pussy, She’s Aunt, etc. Must be you had a voice in giving the school a name. I have no doubt but what great good will be the result of establishing a school in that part of the city. A school has been needed a long while above the depot.
It looked some like [?] times down at Fork [sic] didn’t it? Dont you call the Gt. Eastern [??] of an ark: wouldn’t her “bilers” make considerable noise were they to “bust”? I went to N.J. once.
Aunt informs me by her last letter that [?] Joe is quite a lad, smart, and that she has “let the cat out the bag” and [?] Joe is going to be a Lieutenant bye and bye along his uncle Joe L. That’s right! Train up the child in the way he should go. Let the youth be taught military give them swords, pistols and such like and make men of them. Military is no humbug now days. The steamers you write of seeing in New York have arrived. There are lots of men in the custom house looking at half dozen transports loaded with troops which come up today and are anchored at the bend of the river.
The question is who are they: where did they come from? Some say it is Banks and his men. At all events they are big steamers and arrived with troops. I made out Mo— on one of the flags of the ship ahead. Shall be able to write more about them tomorrow. Dont I wish the 46th was in them? I can write no more now.
Love to Nettie & the baby from your affectionate brother Joseph.
New Orleans, La.
December 15th 1862
New Orleans Monday Evening
My Dear Aunt Ann,
Well Aunt E Ann this has been a wonderful day, a great day for us New Orleans people.
With me it has been nothing but Banks and Boxes, Boots, Cake and Cloth. The secret expedition about the destiny of which nobody knew anything certain only our friend Abraham and Gen. Banks has turned up in New Orleans and tonight lies before this great metropolis of the South. Other than it made its appearance before the city yesterday afternoon and tonight is quietly moored in the waters of the Mississippi not two hundred rods from the Custom House. I knew pretty well its destination, and should not risk my boots (the old ones) against a bet that in two weeks it will be in Vicksburg. Gen’l Banks is stopping at the St. Charles Hotel, the finest house in the city, the troops have not disembarked and probably will not until they get further up the river.
Vicksburg is six hundred miles from here and much to [sic] far to walk. I’m glad Banks has come this way, it looks like [??], Gen. Butler has offered Banks any aid in his [??]es, troops, ammunition, anything, and as Banks has no Signal Officers, more than probable that our party will join his expedition whether it be for Texas, Vicksburg or Mobile. Efforts are being put forth to effect this, and by another steamer you may hear of my departure from New Orleans.
One of Gen. Butlers Staff remarked, when asked if Butler would consent to our going with Banks, “don’t know, hardly think he can spare you.” I hope he will let us go for I want to be of some service in this campaign. Uncle Sam pays well, and having acquired so important an art as signaling, I desire to test its merits in the battle field. I think I have set long enough on my haunches and want to be up and doing.
When I have been in a fight I shall have something interesting to tell you: dont find much to interest nowadays, out side the Army and may as well be out of it, as for news as to be confined to a Signal Station twenty four hours in the day and twenty four hours in the week. Its been a long while since I saw a rebel shot or anything of a fight and I shall be as green as though I had not been in the Army if they don’t give us something to do.
The box arrived “right side up with [??]” not a thing damaged the least, not even a cookie broke in pieces. I found a letter too, from Mother & Aunt. The boots fit my feet like a ducks feet in the mud, and I am much pleased with them. Come on Mr. Banks, I’m ready! I don’t care where you meet the rebels in Texas or California — I’m in! Don’t you reckon they’ll skedaddle when they see “boots” coming after them? I’m thinking they are a little ahead of Gen. Butlers boots. The cloth for uniform is good to go “sparking” in. Wont the “gals” stare when they see J. Lewis troting [sic] through the streets dressed in a bran [sic] new go to meeting suit? Hey! I can have them made up for $24.00 at the first tailors out of Paris. First Class and best style.
The cake I havent disected [sic] yet but it looks O.K. and the cookies I know to be.
Aunt made them. She’s sure she’s [??] she’s E Ann. That was a very nice handkerchief, but no account was given of it and I dont know who to credit it to, if I go away shall take it along with me, it is such a long one. John has been in this evening and got his boots and cake. His boots are first rate for him & please him mightily. John has joined the Regulars: is going to Fort Pike tomorrow to get his knapsack.
Two mail steamers crossed the bar today and will be up tonight. Maybe I shall get another letter but shall not be much disappointed if I do not. I have been much favored of late and can not complain. I might write more, but what shall I write? Give me some questions which I will answer sometime.
William is hunting some water for me to wash. It is nearly ready.
Your affectionate Nephew, Joseph
Custom House N.O.
I can not write much: the mail closes this afternoon. Gen’l Banks has superceded Butler. What will be the next move I can not say. Butler & staff are going North. I have heard it said that the Signal Corps goes with him, if true I may see you before long. Guess it isnt so, though it may be. Banks brought Signal Officers with him. Butler may keep us. I came from Carrollton a week Thursday: relieved Lt. French who is at Hdqtrs. I believe with Banks that white [??] are dreadful uncertain. Tomorrow I may have orders to report with the expedition for Vicksburg or to prepair [sic] to go North. I can not tell.
Since I came to the city I sent for Mr. Anderson of the 9th Conn. to call at the Custom House and see me. Said he would but has not come yet. My uniform is underway, there was not enough cloth to make coat. It requires 2 1/4 yds, the piece had only 2 yds in it.
I have two large Photographs of the Signal Station at Carrollton and two of Camp Pomfret which I sent Henry to put in plain neat frames. He will get them in a few days.
The troops dont like the change in Generals at all. Banks is a smart man but Butler has done the work and is doing as well as could be desired. Give him the troops that Banks has and he would do a great work this winter.
I don’t see the point myself in removing Butler and if its a political move, cursed be the man that done it. Politics is rotten, a political man is the meanist kind of a man nowadays. They had better leave their politics and go to studying tactics.
Banks has a good field to work in. And he has got which Butler never had — the men to work with. Be a good boy Judah and I will remember you one day. Your cousin,
New Orleans, La.
Custom House Signal Station
December 20th 1862
The Major has just paid me another months wages and I take this opportunity to transmit a portion of it. The Columbia sails this afternoon.
I have not time before the mail closes to write much but will try to write some tomorrow to send Monday by the North Star which takes Gen’l Butler & staff North.
I am going this morning to take my choice out of fifty horses for myself and party. It is the most difficult task I have had for a long time. Of the result you shall hear hereafter.
Enclosed please find $70.00. $50.00 you will please deposit as heretofore, and $20.00 keep to pay for boots etc. The rest which I can I will send in a short time.
There is nothing of importance since Butler [sic: Banks?] arrived, his troops are not all here yet. 10,000 are at Ship Island under Genl. Cocherand [sic]
Banks has sent some troops to Baton Rouge, the rest stop at Camp Pomfret [??].
We have no orders as yet. The future as to when and where is all a blank. Rec’d letter from Mother last night of the 5th.
Your Aff Brother
New Orleans, La.
December 24th 1862
to: H. M. Hallett [?7] Springfield, Mass
My Dear Brother
A half hour ago there was a terrible racket on the levee. Guns fired from the ship of War Hartford and several other vessels in rapid succession in honor of the Hero of New Orleans. The levee or wharf was thronged with citizens and soldiers and cheer after cheer was raised as the steamer which conveys Gen. Butler to the North moved out into the stream. The rigging of the Man of Wars — men and other craft tieing [sic] in the harbor was filled with the hardy tars who cheered lustily as the “Spaulding” sailed by.
From my station in the Custom House I could look directly into the river and taking the telescope I observed all that was going on. The General stood alone near the wheelhouse, a large military cloak thrown over his shoulders, and as he was cheered took off his cap and waved his hand to the crowds on the ships and levee.
He is gone now and the steamer which carries him to another field of labor is rapidly approaching the mouth of the river and the Gulf of Mexico. Before you get this you will hear of his arrival at New York [?].
None can say that “Butlers Expedition” has not been a success. Henceforth it will be “Banks Expedition” to which the few regiments Butler leaves will be added, and if Banks succeed(s) as well as Butler, none can complain.
The Inspector General has been his rounds inspecting the different regiments in this department and in his report says the 31st is the best regiment without exceptions in the department. Ain’t that a compliment, and isn’t it an honor to have a connection with such a body of soldiers. I have written about Colonel Gooding before, and spoken of his military talent and an official report from the Inspector General like the [?] fully testifies to the efficiency of Col. Gooding to the command he bears. And I am happy to add that Gen’l Banks has promoted the Colonel to a Brigadier General.
The Thirty-first will be sorry to lose so able an officer, merrit [sic] ought to be rewarded and for one I am glad for the Colonel. I am going to try and get a Photograph of Col. Gooding to send to Mother. He is a fine looking man. Not anything fancy, he is not a showy man but plain in dress, determined as he is fair in all his dealings.
He belongs to the Regular Army, and is simply detached. He has been in the Army fourteen years, is a graduate of West Point.
Lieut Col. Wheldon has resigned and left for the North in the steamer that conveys Maj. Gen. Butler. This will make two vacancies in our regiment and if filled by the line officers, Capt. Hopkins will have the Lt. Colonels position and Capt. Bridgman be Major and as I have never been a Second Lieutenant my commission having been made as First Lieutenant from November 21th 1861, it will bring me very near a Captain’s Commission. There will be three Captains made from Lieutenants. I rank number four, and hit it into one. Lieuts Merso [sic], Co. B., Howell, Co. D, & Andruso [sic] Co C. Theres chances yet and possibly I shall be addressed Captain before the war is over. As matters are at present it is impossible to count on tomorrow.
We may be returned to our regiments. Banks having brought in a Corps of Signal Officers, though it is not probable from the fact that we are experienced officers and the others are not. And again Banks cannot of his own will send a signal officer to his regiment. We are under orders from the Adjutant General and likely as not will be sent to other parts. I think however that we shall stay in this departure. Heard last night that the whole corps was going to Baton Rouge.
From appearances I guess Banks intends making that city his headquarters. There is eight Massachusetts regiments in Banks Expedition. Should not wonder if the 46th was among the number. The Mississippi is “fast” in the “bar” below N.O. about forty miles. Cant get over. It was just so when we came up, the Mississippi barely scraped over.
I’m looking out for the Springfield boys and it will not be long after they arrive but what I shall see some of them.
Chaplain (Orderly) Barnes has been down to see me, came last Monday and went away this morning. He brought three dozen eggs which is quite a gift considering eggs only cost ten cents apiece in the city.
He got them for 30 cts a dozen up country, where his regiment is in camp. Chickens cost a dollar here and he is going to send me down a couple today for Christmas. They cost four bits where he gets the eggs, and so I shall celebrate tomorrow by giving my men a Christmas dinner, if the hens dont fail. Turkeys are five dollars. Guess you forgot that when you sent the box.
I’ve got three of the best horses in the party. My own is a very dark chestnut and a splendid horse to the saddle. He has a white mane, and white hind feet, is about seven years old, full of life, and can go like an arrow. In build you seldom see a finer horse, and is the greatest horse to show off I ever see. He cant walk but is dancing all the time. The animal has a long faculty [sic] and as Aunt would say “he knows a great deal.” To be sure he has one fault, that of dancing, and yet I cannot believe it is a sin for a horse to dance. If Mother thinks it is I will try and break him of it. The other horses are black and nice ones, but not so good saddle horses as the one I ride. I have a McAllen [sic] saddle, saddle bags, etc.
The horses are kept in the basement of the Custom House. I am confined to the station so closely that I cannot exercise riding much. If you were here you might ride all you wanted to. The following is a copy of an namier [sic] of the horses:
List of Quartermaster stores, transferred by E. H. Russell, Quartermaster U.S. Army to Joseph L. Hallett, Lt. 31st Mass Vols & Actg. Sigl. Officer etc etc Three Horses, Cert. unknown, Condition good. I certify that I have this day transferred to J L Hallett etc. These horses:
(Signed) EH Russell 1st ?? & Actg Sigl Officer
It is not written very plain but guess you can make it out. I am now OK [sic] ready to go into the field whenever the Government calls.
Yesterday I got my new uniform. It fits well and is just the thing. The tailor had some cloth that matched that which you sent and got me out [sic] coat pants and vest for $18.00. On the whole suit from boots to cap I shall save by getting the materials [??] $25.00 which is worth saving.
Christmas Eve 7:30
Since writing I have been out to ride. Rode down on the levee, saw a regiment of Massachusetts boys (26th) manoeuver, perfecting themselves in drill, preparatory to meeting the enemy. Rode by the St James Hospital, & Lafayette Square where the 9th 61 [sic] are camped. Met Col. Gooding who will call on me tomorrow I guess.
Got back to the Custom House after an hour [??], gave the pony to William to feed, and after reading a little, am at your letter again. If I had a command of words what letters I could write. Christmas Eve in New Orleans. I sit without a fire, and what little effort it costs to write makes me sweat. You are probably cold with a coal fire in your room. Outside the air is clear cold and frosty.
The citizens here are celebrating Christmas Eve by a display of fireworks, i.e. rockets & roman candles while the little ones are firing crackers. The air, the music and all but the people make me think of our Fourth of July evenings at the North.
My chickens have come, and I’m bound to celebrate tomorrow by giving my men a rousing dinner if it takes the last ticket (the currency of N.O. is pickeyune tickets)
My William is a capital caterer and if we dont have cranberry sauce, and a plum pudding, it will be because we cant get materials to make sauce & pudding with.
You must not think because I’ve got in the Army that I’m going to take my Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner off salt junk & hard bread. I should like to be at home tomorrow just long enough to get a piece of pie and cake. Those which are rather necessary for Christmas, suppose I shall have to do without this year. But [??] chicken and pudding is sure.
The Creole from [??] 15th has come in this evening and so [?] mail will be ready in the morning. Wonder how many letters I shall get for Christmas? Will fill out the next page tomorrow. The 8 o’clock gun has fired. Good Night.
Bully for you Totty, I have got two letters this morning. One from you mailed the 10th the other from Tolemans [sic] wife. Both quite interesting. Good as a Christmas present can be out side of a stocking. Its the stocking you know that makes a Christmas present valuable.
This is a lovely day, splendid. The bells have been ringing all the morning.
Capt. Bridgman ate breakfast with me and will come to dinner. Our Company under Lt. Pulver – Capt Darling in command of the expedition were fired upon a couple of days since by the guerillas. Capt D was wounded in the leg and Pulver was shot in the hand (little finger) neither very bad. They were on a steamboat when they were attacked. Our men stood the fire gravely and killed a number of the rebels.
The “Geo Washington” sails this afternoon and carries the mail. I will send you a couple of very interesting [??] Read Gen. Banks address. I have nothing new to communicate. Am well and doing well. I mean to jig along in the right way if I dont run very fast.
A Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from your affectionate Brother Joseph.
(PS) Wonder what’s coming now. Shall look for your next letter with big eyes. More babies I expect. Send I Loes [??] picture when you have it taken.
[written on stationery of the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railway – New Orleans]
New Orleans, La.
December 31st 1862
My Dear Mother.
Stepping into the Post Office just now I saw written on a placard that the mail for the North closes at 12n and have only time to write a few words.
It does not seem as if this was the last day of the old year, that tomorrow will be the first day of January.
There is no snow on the ground, no sleds or sleighs in the streets, nothing to indicate that cold winter is upon us. You know I sent my overcoat home last summer. I am glad I did for there is few days when it would add to my comfort in N.O.
I am quite well and comfortable. And have not seen the day since we left Camp Seward that I would leave the Army for any other calling. My success the first year has been better than anticipated when at home. I have got on in my duties easier than I reason to expect from the little knowledge of the world acquired in former years. Am sorry that I was not able to comply with Deacon Eldridge request. Tell Henry to remember me to the old gentleman when he meets him again.
I think Gen. Banks is a little busy with the secessionists. They are exhulting mightily over the changes in generals, and sing the Bonny Blue Flag and talk secession to their hearts content.
Gen. Butler knew no pardon to violators of the Stars & Stripes, those who hauled it down from the U.S. Mint were numbered with the murderers and swung at the ropes end. Traitors when known were severely punished and none dare utter a secessionist word to come to his ear, but now things are very much changed, and Banks will have to put down his foot as Butler did or lose what Butler in his eight months gained.
Troops are being hurried to Baton Rouge, probably for a run on Port Hudson & Vicksburg. Things remain the same as heretofore with me. I think I wrote that I have got my Commission. It was given me last Sunday, dates from the 20th Mar 62 instead of 61. 1st Lieut. I dont expect to have my commission as second. The Union feeling is rather low right now. Burnside ain’t quite so smart as was thought before the battle at Fredericksburg. The Northern papers say it was a success because he got his army across the river without great loss. A great victory by “falling backwards.” I don’t know as the army of the Script [sic] & Southwest [sic] will do better than the army