Letters of Luther Clark Howell, 1861-1862

The original documents are at the Archives & Special Collections, Amherst College and these transcriptions are published here with their kind permission.


Ship Island, March 30, 1862

Dear Clara

This hot Sabbath day, just as the drums beating the “Assembly” for service, I sit down and commence this large sheet wishing most devoutly that I might be permitted to finish it, instead of going to that dreary Episcopal service which seems to me the most like the “vain repetitions” of the heathen of anything I can imagine. I have just learned one is not compelled to go and therefore I shall stay and write.

First, I will tell you about the island and then the forces present. My old ideas of the “Great Sandy Sahara” are fully realized into the ankle at every step we go on this lower end of the island. We walk in the sand, sleep on the sand, and eat sand pudding. In fact, sand of the fine quality is very abundant. If you would like a few loads just send me an order for I recommend you or Sid to purchase this sort in preference to anything I have seen.

We have a little place in the center of the island where the sand is hard and there we drill five hours a day no matter how hot it is. Farther up toward the north-eastern part of this island, there are swamps containing now and then an alligator and woods containing an occasional wild boar. The swamp and the woods I have seen; the alligators and the boars I have heard of. The shore is covered with shells, but they are quite ordinary and therefore I don’t think it will pay to collect them.

We have had about such weather as N.Y. affords in June, only the nights are colder and very damp. When we awake in the morning, if we we jar the tent, down comes [sic] the liquid drops upon our heads. One very curious feature of the island is this — dig down a couple of feet anywhere in the sand and you get plenty of spring water. Every company and every tent can have its well by sinking a barrel, and barrels are plenty.

Gen. Butler’s command is divided into three brigades – the first under command of Gen. Phelps; the second under command of Gen. Williams; and the third under Col. Shepley. We belong to the second brigade in connection with three Western regts., to wit: 6th Michigan, the 4th Wisconsin, and the 21st Indiana, also the 26th Mass., what used to be the old 6th, Col. Jones of Baltimore celebrity. The other brigades are about the same size. Some of these regiments are very well drilled. Some of these troops are going to embark tomorrow to get a foothold somewhere on the mainland and it will be in the direction of New Orleans. We shall not go at present — not within a couple of weeks — but we shall be in at the death, be assured.

The gunboat New London is one of the most daring little crafts I ever saw. Hardly three days passes but she brings in a prize. Today she came in with a rebel steamer and the day after we landed, when Gen. Butler and wife had just found a board house, she brought in a schooner laden with furniture among which were dressing stands, tables, chairs, and a beautiful piano, all of which Mrs. Butler has appropriated.

A few days ago, three men came down in a small boat from Mississippi City having deserted from Rebel-dome and we saw their steamer chasing them. But the moment our gunboats started to give chase, she turned tail and made the water fly splendidly. They gave us appearances that the Rebels were determined to give up New Orleans, but we can’t tell just yet. Since then, three women came in a sailboat — or rather 4 women and a child, it proved to be — and asked protection and food.

We live on ham, rice, beans, molasses and bread, a few potatoes, and coffee, have boys to cook and barring butter, we have a complete table. I hardly miss the butter now; we use condensed milk when we can get it. Our drill hours are from 7 till 10 a.m. and from 4 till 6 p.m. between which hours we loll.

This is emphatically a letter of facts and not a fancy. Do you like the kind? They certainly are the most sensible letters. They are the most brotherly for you to state. It is healthy for another fact. Now Good-bye.

Your affectionate Brother Lute

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