(Note: This narrative by Joseph L. Hallett I is currently in the possession of Joseph Hallett III. He has graciously provided a copy for use in this project and all inquiries about the original narrative should be directed to Mr. Hallett.)
REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR, PART I
In looking back to the year 1861, we find our country in a state of agitation and discord which it is difficult for the present generation to realize. In the North it was patriotism for the Union that inspired us, and we failed to observe that in the South it was their local patriotism that made us consider them traitors.
There were many loyal people in the South who opposed a separation of the states and fought the best they could against disunion, and with such force, that several of the states hesitated a long time before taking decisive action, but were finally obliged to secede by the hot heads who were bent on declaring war. Efforts of the loyal citizens of the North and South for reconciliation were fruitless. The die was cast, the South chose to settle the dispute by a conflict of arms and the Rebellion, sometimes designated the Slavesholders Rebellion, was launched into activity.
The firing upon Fort Sumpter [sic] startled the North into a realization that Civil War had begun in earnest, while the shooting of Col. Ellsworth at Alexandria, as he was mounting the stairs of a public building to haul down a Confederate flag, aroused the indignation of every heart loyal to the Stars and Stripes.
These with other incidents coming close to the beginning of the conflict between the states, were like firebrands, and incensed the spirit of the North to such an extent, that her sons were impatient to take the field in defense of Old Glory. President Lincoln’s appeal for volunteers met with such quick response that treble the number would have jumped to the call to arms.
Thrilling scenes were witnessed in the cities where troops were marshalled and paraded in the streets to the inspiring strains of fife and drum, and there was enthusiastic cheering from the crowds of citizens lining the curb. Train-load upon train-load of infantry, cavalry and artillery were given the right of way and hurriedly pressed to the front; those were busy and strenuous days.
I was nineteen years of age, and, like thousands of other patriotic young men, I was ambitious to join the ranks in defence [sic] of the Union, and as there were three brothers it was right that the family should be represented, and the lot fell upon me.
Towns and cities in the loyal states had organizations called Union Guards, they were assemblies that anyone could join for instruction under competent leadership in the Manuel [sic] of Arms and United States army tactics, preparatory to enlisting in the service, and incidentally for home duty, should occasion arise.
Encouragement was given by employer to employee to join the guard with the assurance that if they went to the war employment would be given them on their return.
Patriotism ran high, and included all classes, butchers and bakers, and candle-stick makers, stood by the side of bank clerks, cashier, artisan, teacher, and every profession was represented, and there was a general leveling and mix-up when the command was given to “fall in.”
We were matched according to height, irrespective of congeniality, or brains. A large proportion of those who became members enlisted in the war and many became commissioned officers of high rank due to home training in the Union Guard.
I became a member in the early Fall of 1861, at Springfield, Massachusetts, meetings for drill were held in the City Hall Auditorium nearly every evening in the week. We soon learned company movements, shoulder muskets, shift bayonets, take aim, etc. In October I was solicited to assist in recruiting for the thirty-first regiment of Massachusetts volunteers.
Eliott Bridgman and George Darling of Belchertown were my compatriots in the work. This regiment was one of a brigade, General B. F. Butler was authorized by special act of Congress to raise for a specific purpose. Repeated calls for volunteers in the preceeding [sic] months had taken thousands of available men and recruits must now come from those who for one reason or another had withstood the previous calls, but were none the less patriotic.
In the sparsely settled town of Washington, in the Berkshire Hills far from railroads, I came across a band of charcoal burners, a sturdy set of men, six feet or more in height, of physical build, just the kind I was desirous to enlist in my Company and for Uncle Sam. Watching the fires of the wood ovens was monotonous labor and it was not difficult to corral a dozen brawny fellows who were willing to enroll their names on the mustering list. Among the number were five brothers by the name of Frink, they all enlisted, made good soldiers and served through the war, excepting one who was killed in battle.
In Agawam I found a party of men in a barn stripping tobacco. They were much older than myself, and it was embarrassing to address strangers of twice my age, and I shrank from approaching them. It was the “cause” coupled with a sense of duty that gave me courage, and they not only listened attentively to the appeal, but several enlisted, and in like manner I was successful in getting my full number of men and bringing them to camp.
The thirty-first was known as the western Bay State Regiment, and composed of men from Hampden, Hampshire and Berkshire counties. Colonel C. P. Gooding [sic: O. P. Gooding] of the regular army was appointed Commander.
The place of assembly was the Agricultural Fair Grounds in Pittsfield, the coldest spot in New England. The rendezvous was christened Camp Seward in honor of William H. Seward then Secretary of State. As Winter advanced the weather was intensely cold, ice and snow covered the ground. It was not an easy task to convince others of their duty to leave comfortable homes, firesides, well heated shop and office, salaried positions, and other emolument for a pittance of thirteen dollars a month, clothes, and rations of hard tack, bacon, beans and black coffee, but the call was urgent, and patriotism won, and within a short time the full quota was raised, and a fine body of men they were.
It was a proud day when I first donned the uniform decorated with glittering gold buttons and shoulder straps of a Second Lieutenant. Camp Seward was situated on rising ground and never should have been selected for a camp except for the convenience of barns, sheds, and exhibition buildings to shelter a thousand people at the annual fair. Snow and ice made company drill perplexing and hazardous to life, and limb and excuse for many uncomplimentary remarks when the men lost their footing and went sprawling on the ice. Inspection of the guard on a dark night was particularly perilous and one was often humbled perforce in making rounds to the sentry, it was a school of learning and guard mounting, and drilling must be included.
In making the rounds one night I found a sentinel fallen asleep from the effects of the freezing cold, or a tired feeling may have come over him from the indulgence of too much booze, being a new recruit he may not have been thoroughly instructed as to the penalty of such a serious offence. As there were no known rebels north of the Potomac and no danger of an invasion of the camp from the enemy, he was excused with a severe reprimand.
One day before leaving Camp Seward I was summoned home on some pretext which I do not now recall, and left Pittsfield on the afternoon train. I was glad of another opportunity of meeting relatives and it might be the last time before our departure as we were then waiting orders to move. After supper, at which there were extras of cake, preserves, a large dish of floating islands, and probably pie, the family gathered around the sitting room table and joined in conversation suited to the hour. About eight o’clock the door-bell rang and a messenger stated that we were wanted to meet friends at a neighbor’s house.
It would nave been discourteous to have declined and we answered the summons.
To my surprise the rooms were filled with neighbors, friends, and church folk. It was a merry gathering and all showered best wishes, God-speed and safe return on the young soldier boy. The climax came when my pastor, Rev. Daniel Steele, invoked silence and called the meeting to order. I was the only one present mystified as to what it all meant. The reverend gentleman made a speech full of patriotism reviewing the cause of the war and our duty as citizens to uphold and support the Government in every way possible to suppress the rebellion, then addressing me, stated my obligations as an officer, and hoped I would be true to the flag, and concluding his remarks said, that I must have weapons of defence [sic] and presented me with a handsome steel blade encased in a gold mounted shark skin scabbard. One of Ames Company’s best swords, elegantly illuminated and engraved. A gift from friends.
While in Pittsfield the towns people were solicitous of our welfare and did all they could for our comfort and showed their hospitality by inviting the officers to afternoon teas and evening receptions almost daily.
General Butler came to review the regiment an was given an enthusiastic welcome by the soldiers, and a large reception by the residents.
The officers board cost thirty cents per day while in camp. Of course we dropped style and did our own “stretching” when seated around the plain board table. We had tin plates, pewter spoons, and quart tin bowls for drinking, knives and forks of heavy tin and iron. At sound of the bell there was a rush for the tables as everyone had good appetites and the food was wholesome.
Our first pay day was on January 9th., 1862 and we were paid in gold. The next pay day was six months after when we got our allowances in greenbacks of less purchasing value.
There was rejoicing upon receipt of order to break camp; hurrahs broke from a thousand throats, caps flew high in air and everybody was happy at the thought of moving.
On the morning of February 11th., 1862 the regiment was formed by companies and marched to the station where the train was in waiting; the soldiers carried their blankets, knapsacks, canteens and muskets; all were in merry mood excepting those who bade farewell to kindred and sweetheart at the depot, reception of both joy and sorrow were repeated at each station while descending the mountain and until the train had crossed the Connecticut River and we had left behind us the home country. At the large towns the station platforms were crowded with friends and townspeople and we were surfeited with confectionery, cake, fruit and cigars in evidence of the good-will and God-speed of the citizens.
It was late in the afternoon when we arrived at Lowell, the home of General Butler. The regiment proceeded to camp on the outskirts of the city where we found comfortable quarters and were less exposed to the cold and frequent storms of the season. We remained at Lowell nine days, and on February 20th., the regiment was again assembled and carried by train to Boston; here we were joined by three companies, of the thirteenth Maine Volunteers, Colonel Neal Dow, and embarked on a new and large iron steamer Mississippi bound for Dixie Land.
In marching through the City the streets were lined with people who raised cheer upon cheer and showed evidence of encouragement and loyality. At the wharf was gathered a multitude from state and city, including relatives and friends, come to bid farewell to the departing soldiers. There were many affecting scenes aboard the steamer when all visitors were ordered ashore. My brothers William and Henry had come from Springfield and would gladly have made one of our number, could they have done so. Brother William was particularly interested in a blue army chest made with his own hands and had my full name, company and regiment legibly printed thereon. The chest was strong and durable; it did good service, has been pensioned as it deserves, and is still in condition to go through another war should occasion require.
At three o’clock the hausers were slipped and the steamer drifted out into the harbor amidst loud cheers and wild waving of handkerchief’s, and whatever may have been the inward feelings, there was shown a disposition to make the partings as cheerful as possible. A large proportion of those on board had never before sighted the sea, their surroundings were new and interesting, and were more entertaining when the boat got to rolling, and the odor of bilge water was inhaled. With appetites gone they wished they were at home with the friends they had left, and they soon sought an early retirement below decks. Our poor little drummer boy was so sick that he piteously begged us to throw him overboard. Two days’ sail brought us to Hampton Roads without incident other than the novelty and experiences noted of the first sea trip of the farmer boys, and others from diversified vocations. Here lay at anchor warships and transports, and various ships loaded with troops and stores for the army. On the Virginia shore could be seen rebel scouts riding on horseback, who were evidently spying out the land, and taking note of the assembled ships and their departure. These scenes gave a realization of war that had not before been a part of our experience, and, although no one of the line officers was appraised of our destination, we were anxious to proceed on the journey.
After waiting two days at this port, General Butler accompanied by his staff, and Mrs. Butler came aboard and on the afternoon of February 25th., the steamer was headed to the open sea. There was a gale blowing and it became quite rough rolling, and tossing the ship in a most uncomfortable manner, and as night came on the tumult increased, hatches were battened, waves swept the decks breaking glass in the sky-lights, chairs and all movable furniture went curvoting [sic: cavorting?] from one end of the dining cabin to the other, glass and crockery was dislodged from over-hanging racks and fell with a crash. While lying in my berth I was deluged with water that had been carelessly left in the bowl, thus effecting a partial cure of an attack of sea-sickness combined with strong feelings for home and mother. There was an entire absence of patriotism and it was a matter of no consequence which side won. That there were a good many prayers for safety, and a large amount of vigorous cursing by the unregenerate trooper down in the hold, goes without saying, and there was sleep for neither saint nor sinner. There was no basis for debate that it was one of Hatteras’ worse [sic] storms; the lullaby was taken out of the song “A life on the Ocean Wave, and a home on the Rolling Deep” which had put us to sleep in the days of our infancy.
During the night it was discovered that we were out of our course and nearing the breakers, but by quick action the ship was brought about and ship-wreck prevented. The following day the sun rose unclouded, gale abated and the sea became calm. We were far enough South to feel a change in the temperature; the air was warm and spring-like, a most delightful exchange from the cold of New England, and everyone enjoyed the sail and almost forgot the discomforts of the previous nights. I was on deck early enjoying the novelty of the scene and the balmy air; soldiers were seated in groups while others were strolling about the decks; all was as serene as a May morning. I went below to breakfast about eight o’clock. General Butler and many of the officers were seated at the tables enjoying their coffee, when suddenly there was felt a slackening of speed, and in an instant a grounding and crash that nearly threw us from our chairs. What could it mean? All rushed on deck. It was soon discovered that the ship had poked her nose into Frying Pan Shoals, and while fast and unable to back off, the Capt. ordered “let go port anchor” with the result that the ship was not only doubly secured, but the fluke of the anchor had gone through the sides of the ship and had rent a hole in the iron larger than a man’s hand through which the water poured filling the forward compartment and driving the men to the deck. The outlook was ominous. But a short time before, Captain Fulton had told General Butler that we were several leagues clear of the shoals; neither the captain nor mate could, or would explain the situation. From observations it was seen that we were within five miles of Fort Macon on the rebel shore; horsemen were riding up and down the beach, artillery was being exercised and with glass we could see that we were objects of much interest to those on shore. Our position was extremely precarious, shipwreck should a storm arise, on the one hand, or sojourn in rebel prisons, should no friendly aid come to our relief. The ship drew eighteen feet of water, and there was only fourteen feet at the prow, without loss of time the anchor was raised and pump started but it did no good. When asked should the flag be hoisted with the usual sign of distress, General Butler replied “No; the Union up.” A signal gun was then fired in hopes that it might attract the notice of some passing ship. It was rumored that the mate and engineer had planned to escape in one of the boats, and to thwart any such attempt, and also be ready against an attack from rebel gun boats, the officers were directed to wear side arms and have the men armed. A man as sent aloft to report the approach of’ any vessel. To add to our discomfort, about noon the sea began to roughen, and as each wave struck the ship, it groaned and quivered, stores and munitions were cast overboard. Men were formed in line and ran at double quick over the deck, forward and aft, hoping to shake the sand from under the ship, if it were possible. This was continued for a long time, but to no avail.
Thus passed the hours, and hopes of rescue were nearly gone, when at about four o’clock came a welcome cry from the lookout, “Sail-ho”. Was it friend or foe? We were prepared for either. It was watched with the greatest anxiety as it steadily approached and as it drew near, and to our relief, we saw the Stars and Stripes, floating at the mast-head. It proved to be the blockading steamer, Mount Vernon, ever on the alert, had seen the perilous position of the Mississippi, and was hastening to us. No time was lost. Though the sea was boisterous and the waves ran high, it was decided to transfer by boats to the Mount Vernon three hundred of the Maine Regiment, which was all the steamer could accommodate. Mrs. Butler and maid went also; General Butler remained on the Mississippi. Night was closing down when all were transferred. The ship was getting more and more uneasy, as were the twelve hundred left on board. Fortunately it was nearing high tide, the steamers were connected with strong hausers, our men were gotten in line and ran fore and aft as before, all steam put on and with their combined efforts, a desperate attempt was made to pull the ship off the bank. For a time the steamer would not budge, but these methods were the only alternative, and by persistent endeavor the banks of sand finally gave way, and the steamer moved into deep water; all was again well and we were saved. Then was the time to cheer and lungs were strained to their utmost capacity; the Confederates were disappointed that we got off, but there was unbounded joy on shipboard. The bow of the steamer was sunken low in the water and would have filled and sunk, but for water-tight compartments.
We followed the Mount Vernon to the mouth of Cape Fear River and anchored for the night. The next day it was decided that we should go on to Port Royal, a hundred: and sixty miles, to make repairs. Our progress was slow, but weather and a smooth sea were favorable, and we arrived safely at five o’clock in the afternoon. A pilot was secured and preparations made to land. The troops had their knap-sacks buckled to their backs, and muskets in hand, and were sorely disappointed when it was declared inexpedient to go further that day. However all were glad to be in the bay surrounded by fifty or more ships of all classes; many were craft captured by our blockading vessels and were laden with stores for the Confederacy. Pumps were kept running and bailing continued all night, and we felt reasonably safe. Everyone was astir early the next morning and soon after breakfast the steamer was under way, and was soon along side the bank at Seabrook, four miles from Hilton Head.
My Company was the first to go ashore; all were delighted to step foot on terra ferma [sic] once more, and for a time the soldiers were given their liberty to roam at will. They ran, jumped and frolicked like a flock of sheep, but the great feature was their crowding the negro shanties for hoe-cake and coffee. The officers were as jubilant as the men and enjoyed the feast, as well as watch the colored cooks while the fry and bake pans were kept busy.
The negroes were happy to see us and their bright eyes glistened, and broad mouths opened displaying shining white teeth, like ivory as we handed them bright coins from our pockets. Their homes were small cabins of two rooms each. Where the army of little tots that were running about like so many chickens were stored was past finding out. Our tents were pitched on the shore by the plantation. There was a swarm of negroes left by their master when our forces took Forts Walker, Pulaski and Bauregard [sic], and they were delighted to be left alone to enjoy their freedom. When asked if they wanted their master to come back, they said “No”, we want to be free. On a nearby plantation we visited, there had been four hundred slaves. We met one of the four hundred, who told us that when the Yankees came, Massa made a sudden retreat by vessel, taking the negroes with him to the interior; that he was sent ashore and told to go back, kill the horses and live-stock, burn the cotton-gin, and houses that they might not come into the hands of “you folks” and then to come to him, up country. Instead of following his master’s instructions he took a boat, and rowed to Fort Walker, and revealed to the Union Commanding Officer where a large quantity of cotton was stored. This was seized, and there was no destruction of animals or property.
One of my men came to me soon after we landed and handed me a two dollar bill, which he wanted sent to the foreign missionary society. He was terribly frightened in the storm off Hatteras, and had promised the Lord the money for the cause if He would spare his life. No great loss without some small gain; the money was forwarded. When not on duty with the regiment much of my time was occupied in superintending the unloading of cargo and getting the water from the injured compartment of the ship. There was no cessation of work day and night. This made considerable grumbling with the men in that they were obliged to serve both as soldier and sailor since they had left Fortress Monroe and some would been glad to quit and go home; they were unable to decipher that it was Uncle Sam’s work in cases of emergency to do all kinds of labor as well as to shoot rebels.
The task was finally accomplished, ship was righted, and repairs were made by artisans of the navy sent from Hilton Head. Coal, stores, and ammunition were reloaded without delay, and on March 11th the troops came aboard and all were ready to proceed. We were three weeks from Boston, and hoped that there would be no further delay. The engines began to beat and the steamer was ploughing through the water at a good speed, when lo! another mishap befell us.
Suddenly the ship became ungovernable, and veering to the right ran with great force, onto an oyster bed and was fast in the mud and sand. A hurried investigation disclosed that the tiller rope had been cut. Of course no-one swore or gesticulated, for we were from Puritan New England; but there was an exciting inquiry to learn who was the Jonah to cause this fourth hindrance since we sailed.
This last misfortune was too much for the irate General whose suspicions were now fully aroused. The Captain of the steamer was arrested, questioned, and a search of his papers revealed the cause of all of our troubles since leaving Hampton Roads. Captain Fulton was a native of South Carolina, a rebel sympathizer, and had done his best to deliver us into the hands of the Southern Confederacy, a fair proposition for a traitor, but General Butler was otherwise minded; surely it would have been a grand prize for Jeff Davis, had it turned out as planned, and might have been had not the Mount Vernon come to our rescue. Considering General Butler’s well known severity in discipline, it was thought strange that Captain Fulton was not shot on the spot or strung to the yard-arm. He was however, placed in irons and sent to Fort Warren, Boston Harbor, where he remained a prisoner safe from intrigue to the close of the war.
At high tide two large tugs tried to haul the steamer off, but it was all in vain. Again a portion of the cargo had to be lightened and the regiment removed to another ship; then by the help of three tugs the steamer was pulled off into deep water after a delay of two days. In passing down the bay a salute to General Butler was fired from the guns of the Susquahannah, and the band played “Hail Columbia” and “Dixie,” which was returned by hearty cheer from the Mississippi. The weather was fair and we had a fine trip to the gulf of Mexico and arrived at Ship Island on the morning of the twentieth of March, but could not land until the twenty-fifth owing to a rough sea. There were a good many ships laying at anchor, and much damage was done from the breaking of cables and collision with vessels, including our steamer which met with more or less loss by coming in contact with a schooner that ran amuck [sic].
On the way our Colonel gave us instructions evenings in army tactics. There were company inspections every morning at which the officers appeared in full dress; religious services were held on the Sabbath, the Chaplain stood by the capstan, which was covered by the American flag and served as a pulpit, the enlisted men sat in rows on the deck, while the officers ranged opposite and constituted the choir. The sermon was listened to with thoughtful reverence and the singing was spirited.
One sad incident marred the trip, a private of Company B died on the nineteenth; a brief burial service was held, the ship paused for a moment as the body was consigned to the depths of the sea, a volley of musketry was fired and the ship moved on.
Other regiments had preceeded [sic] us. A more forlorn and desolate place for human habitation than Ship Island is unimaginable, a stretch of low lying land, composed of fine sand of dazzling whiteness drifted by every puff of wind; sprinkled everything and banked about our tents the same as drifting snow would do in a northern blizzard. It was as fine as flour and there as not a morsel of food eaten without this gritty mixture. We got a full measure with our rations, but did not like it for a steady diet. There were a few scraggling shrubs and pines at one end of the island, the only signs of vegitation [sic], and this spot was so highly prized it was set apart for a cemetery.
The only building when we arrived was Fort Massachusetts and some section houses brought for hospital purposes and to cover stores and supplies; the chief reliance for shelter was tents which were anchored with difficulty and easily blown down by an ordinary gale; this often happened during a rain storm and we got thoroughly drenched. Drinking water was had by knocking the heads from barrels and sinking them in the sand to sea level; the water soon became brackish and new wells were dug to ensure a drink that was at all palatable. Ill health prevailed and there were many deaths; one of the saddest scenes was the daily procession of a squad of soldiers with reversed arms and measured tread, bearing the uncoffined remains of a deceased comrade to burial; the roll of the muffled drums was doleful music, and brought sad reflections. Tramp, tramp, tramp marched the little band, their feet sinking to their ankles in the sand as they wended their way to the cemetery. There a trench was easily prepared and the body was consigned to its final resting place, the last act was a volley of musketry fired over the lonely grave and the squad returned to their tents.
Thunder and lightening storms were frequent visitors, the worst I had ever experienced; one storm continued all night with sharp and blinding flashes which prohibited sleep; a tent was struck by lightening killing three and seriously affecting others. To add to our discomfiture the wind blew down our tents and the sea waves rolled in upon us drenching everybody and everything.
It was without the slightest regret when the day came to leave the island suited to the habitation of neither man nor beast.
The Thirty-first was much in favor with General Butler and was again given orders to embark on the steamer where he had maintained headquarters since coming aboard at Fortress Monroe.
We sailed on April 14th. Our course lay to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Our steamer took in tow the ship North America, steamer Jackson, the Great Republic, and there were other ships, in all carrying eight thousand troops of General Williams’ brigade. Our progress was slow and we were twenty-four hours in reaching the southwest pass. There the captain of a blockading steamer reported that the mortar fleet had opened fire on Fort Jackson that morning at eight o’clock and there had been heavy firing all day. The hawser was cast off the North America and our steamer plowed ahead with all speed for the scene of action. On the way we passed Pilottown and plantations bordering the river and were happy in the sight of green fields and trees, Negroes cautiously peered at us from behind buildings and were evidently frightened at the Yankees and distant firing of guns.
We came to anchor at a point where we could clearly see the bombardment and near Admiral Farragut’s fleet of eight wooden frigates and eighteen gun boats carrying all told one hundred and seventy-seven guns; also a flotilla of twenty-one mortar boats (converted schooners) each having one mortar and two thirty-two guns under command of Admiral David D. Porter. We were there to occupy the forts when they surrendered, or to storm them if it were thought necessary to do so. Shot from the rebel fort fell uncomfortably near, but luckily never hit the steamer. We realized that we were in the enemy’s country and might soon have a taste of powder ourselves.
Immense quantities of driftwood and large trees floated down the stream; alligators lay basking on the shore. The officers spent their time on the quarter-deck and in the rigging watching the fire of the guns. Eleven steam boars were above the forts, probably excursion boats from the city, with people come to watch the bombardment. They had no idea that the forts could be taken, or that our fleet could get by them. A shell from our guns dropped on one of the steamboats with a loud explosion and with disastrous results to those on board. Our steward went ashore and got vegetables and milk in exchange for ship stores and we had a plentiful supply of oysters from the flats at the mouth of the river. Thus passed five days of monotonous waiting for we soon tired of the firing which had continued night and day. The steamer was over crowded and many had to sleep on deck, which was preferable to between decks, where the air was close and suffocating; there was considerable fault found at these conditions, which were unavoidable. Sargent Barnes was the man for the occasion; he soaked his hard-tack in coffee to accomodate [sic] his store teeth, laughed and cheered the men in every way possible.
The insistent and almost continued firing from the mortar boats for six days failed to bring the rebels to terms, showing the strength of the forts to resist our attack. There were also other obstructions to meet.
The confederate fleet consisting of the formidable iron clad ram Manassas, gun boats Warner, Stonewall Jackson, Resolute, Defiance, and other craft, while land forces under command of General Mansfield Lovell lined the shore. Eight hulks and rafts built of logs fastened together with strong iron cables stretched across the river and were securely anchored. These must all be subdued, conquered or destroyed before we could advance. The situat10n was serious, was it possible to meet all these obstacles with our wooden ships, every-one admitted that it was a hazardous undertaking. Orders from Washington were for Admiral Farragut to co-operate with General Butler and seize New Orleans, so the effort must be made. Attention was first centered on the forts. The mortar boats were moored to a bend in the river, and within range, but hidden from view of the forts by tall trees, and from their position threw shells into the fort day and night for two weeks, causing considerable damage and much worry to the rebels; but they did not surrender.
The next move was to send a boat load of marines to cut the cable that bound the dismantled schooners. It was a perilous undertaking which called for volunteers. A dark night was chosen and the marines approached with muffled oars; but not withstanding this precaution they were discovered and fired on from the shore, happily without effect; the cable was severed and the obstructing boats were swept away by the strong current and thus the daring task of the plucky crew was successfully accomplished. Soon thereafter the enemy sent down fire rafts ablaze with pine knots and cotton bales saturated with combustible oil and tar, for the purpose of setting fire to our ships. It was a spectacular show, surpassing any Fourth of July exhibition ever attempted; the heavens were gorgeously illuminated as the fiercely burning rafts came drifting down the river headed for the battle ships and transports. Consternation and intense anxiety was shown on every hand at this unexpected and heretofore unknown war demon, these fire brands would gladly have been given the right of way on their course to the sea, but there was no dodging them.
Swift despatch boats put out and by skillful manoeuvering diverted the rafts to some extent; several ships caught fire and were saved from burning only by strenuous exertions on the part of the crews. With this new menace to confront, there being more fire rafts in reserve, Admiral Farragut decided to wait no longer, but chance the forts and give battle to the confederate fleet. Orders were given on the twenty-third of April (three days after the cables had been cut) to the ships commanders to be in readiness to start at six o’clock the next morning. Prompt to the minute the ships were in line, the flag ship Hartford in the lead.
The mortar boats worked overtime, so to speak, pouring shot and shell into Fort Jackson to paralize [sic] the gunners and silence their fire, as much as possible; yet there was stubborn resistance to the fleet’s progress. It was a hot fight on both sides, broadside upon broadside flashed from the guns, the noise was terrific and deafening; it was pandemonium let loose; the rebel forts and fleets were trying their best to destroy their opponent. Farragut in the rigging directed the movements of his ships; it was a difficult situation as the smoke was often blinding and taxed the greatest energy, courage and coolness of the leader. Major Bell, afterwards, in answer to a lady’s request to describe the battle said — “Imagine all the earth-quakes in the world, and all the thunder and lightening storms together in a space of two miles, all going off at once, that would be like it, madam.”
Although considerably damaged our ships got by the forts and gave battle to the Confederate fleet. The Manassas and all of the enemy’s war-ships were sunk or destroyed; our loss was one boat, the Veruna, pierced by the ram.
The rebel land forces made a hasty retreat on steamboats that fled with rapidity, nor did General Lovell stop to defend New Orleans; and so great was their anxiety to escape, I am not sure that they were heard from again. The city was in a state of terror and chagrin at the destruction of their strong defence, and thousands of citizens left their homes and business and fled on the approach of the Union fleet. The fifty-two guns in Fort St. Phillip were silenced as our ships passed, and its fifteen hundred defenders escaped with the land forces; the defenders of Fort Jackson were not so easily frightened, the officers boasted that they would never surrender.
It would have been suicidal for the defenceless transports to attempt to pass Fort Jackson before its guns were silenced. The garrison had defied our battle ships and it was now decided to move the army around to the gulf side, land the infantry and storm the fort. The odors of burned powder had given to our men a keen appetite to meet the rebels and to share with the navy in the victories, and they were ready for the affray. The transports accompanied by a river steamboat, named the Lewis, to facilitate our landing, got underway and we were off soon after receiving our orders. We arrived the next morning and began to disembark at a point just beyond range of the rebel guns. The 26th Massachusetts was ashore, and the 31st was on the steamboat preparatory to landing when word came that the fort had surrendered, and General Butler wanted the 31st regiment at Fort Jackson the next day at ten o’clock. This was good news although our boys were disappointed in their plans for a brush with Johnny Reb. We returned to our old home on board the Mississippi and were at Fort Jackson at the hour appointed, April 28th., the fort having surrendered the day previous.
It was reported that the garrison mutinied and deserted during the night and came five miles up the river when they were intercepted by our pickets and surrendered; the following day the officers gave up the fort and were taken prisoners. This opened the way for the transports, and they proceeded up the river and arrived before New Orleans at noon, May 1st. Prior to this Admiral Farragut had called on the Mayor to surrender the city and sent two officers and squad of marines to hoist the Union flag over the Mint. The troops disembarked as the transports arrived, the 31st Massachusetts in the lead, and my company was the second to land; by four o’clock six regiments of infantry, a troop of cavalry and a battery of artillery were ashore. The town was wild with excitement, a vast mob of tuberlant [sic: turbulent] beings had gathered on the levee, they were sullen, with evil intent in their eyes and with clamitous [sic: calamitous?] tongues used vile slander and in every way tried to provoke us to resentment; the crowd showed unwillingness to yield space and threatened all sorts of evil. “You will never get home again, Yellow Jack will have you before long,” “Hello, Yanks, where are your horns?” “Yanks loan us a pickayune [sic]” and other chaffing remarks, alternating with threats and curses. Our orders were to stand abuse and to cause no provocation, not fire a shot unless told to do so. It seemed at time as if our orders must be disregarded. Our regiment was practically General Butler’s body guard and led the column as we started for the Custom House escorted by the fife and drum corps playing the tune “The Girl I Left Behind Me” “Pickayune Butler is Coming to Town”, and other lively tunes; music hath charms to quell the savage heart and we were not molested on the way.
We found the building in a state of confusion, miscellaneous papers were scattered about the desks and floors in the offices, and bonded packages had been broken into and part of the contents were removed. In the Post Office department some of the mail pouches had been opened and letters were found in every corner, while others had been undisturbed, showing that the clerks and officials had left their employment in haste.
This disorder made rich pickings for the soldiers, and many souvenirs were obtained and sent to friends in the North. On the opposite side of Canal Street was the sign of Beebe and Company, Agricultural Implements. which was a reminder of the ploughs that firm made at Wilbraham and I had seen carted through the city by ox teams to the B. and A. freight house and shipped by the car load to the Crescent City. The sign of Hallett and Crowell was another prominent sign, and there were other names suggested that there must be some Union Sympathizers in the city.
By nightfall the regiments had dispersed, our Company was sent to the Saint Charles Hotel where the General established headquarters. Troops were posted in the parks and paraded the streets; discourteous demonstrations were shown towards the Federal soldiers but strenuous orders were issued from headquarters and quiet was soon restored; a few arrests and banishments did the work; six men were hung for overt acts; one a notorious rebel and gambler hauled down the United States flag from the Mint and tore it into threads and paid the penalty at the ropes end.
Before the rebels left the city they destroyed cotton, sugar, tar, rosin, timber and coal; set fire to the shipping and there was talk of burning the city. There was much suffering among the poor owing to the scarcity of food; flour was sixty dollars a barrel and other provisions proportionally high.
The sanitary conditions were wretched and a menace to the health of the unacclimated soldiers. Efforts were at once inaugerated [sic] to cleanse the streets, alleys, filthy bayous, and all germ breeding plague spots; occupants of dwellings were required to remove rubbish from cellars and back yards, and inspectors appointed to see that their orders were executed. Jails were levied upon and citizens without distinction of color, class or creed, were employed at fair wages; any wagons drawn by mules aided in the cleansing process and by a liberal distribution of lime and other disinfectants with an abundance of water from the river, the city was made sanitary and kept clean with the result that there were only two cases of yellow fever while the Union Army occupied the city and those were brought on vessels from Havana through false swearing at Quarantine. There were however, many cases of malaria, and intermittent fever owing to climatic change and I fell a victim. We had been in New Orleans but one week when at night while officer of’ the guard at Saint Charles Hotel I was stricken and was sent to the Saint James Hospital, which had been one of the principal hotels. It was then nearly filled with the sick from our army. There I lay on a cot for six weeks, at times so very ill that Chaplain Chubbuck of our regiment wrote dispairing letters to my mother causing much anxiety for my welfare, and many fervent prayers were made for my recovery. A pious aunt, who was somewhat of a prophetess and always hopeful, would say “Joseph is yet alive” and repeat the words daily to keep the family cheerful. Could they have spent one day at the hospital they would have been less hopeful. Everything was done for the relief of the sick that was possible in the depressing atmosphere, and as there were hundreds to care for the physicians and nurses were severely taxed. Daily, morning and afternoon, was heard the sound of muffled drums, and the tramp of soldiers bearing the mortal remains of comrades to lonely burial; these scenes and the doleful music was not the best medicine to the invalid, nor was it conducive to an early recovery.
It would have been a remarkable coincidence had everybody in New Orleans been a Secessionist; there were notably exceptions, both men and women, who only dared make their loyalty known after arrival of the Federal troops; their stories of suffering in body and estate was pitiable, all owing to their known sympathies with the North; they had been ostracised [sic] by their former friends and neighbors. These loyal people received us gladly and did what they could for our welfare; the women aided the nurses at the hospitals and were veritable angels of mercy to the sick and sometimes disheartened soldiers. One day an elderly lady and daughter carrying a basket laden with fruit, jellies, cordials and delicacies, passed from ward to ward distributing as they went and speaking words of cheer, and not infrequently taking messages, sometimes the last to be sent home to wife, mother and friends. These good ladies wrapped on the door of my room, and b1dden to enter, placed the basket on the floor, while the elderly lady took a chair by my cot. Greeting me kindly, she smiled and with sympathetic voice questioned me about myself. When given my name she became greatly interested and said with surprise, “Why that was my maiden name, did you come from Cape Cod?” I told her that my home was in Springfield, but that I was born in Hyannis and mentioned my relatives there. She said that her home was in Osterville, that she had known my mother and all my family well having often driven to Hyannis with her Uncle Ben to church, and after the sermon dined at my grandfather’s, Squire Baker. Then both hands dove into the basket and withdrew some of the choicest delicacies. I still retain conviction that the beginning of my convalescence dates from that visit. Whether it came from the meeting of friends, or the stimulating wine, I am unable to say.
The lady was Mrs. Augusta M. Richards, and the daughter Miss Carrol Richards. The husband, Dr. Richards, had died in Cuba a few years before and the widow and child went to New Orleans and were unable to escape when the state seceded. Mrs. Richards made daily visits to the hospital, and never failed to call and inquire how I was getting along, and often left a “strengthening potion” from the contents of her basket. The women in the North had “sewing bees,” knit mufflers, stockings, made all sorts of linen and woolen goods to send to the soldiers, boxes and barrels filled with these stores and also edibles and liquids were sent for distribution in camp and hospital where most needed, and from these Mrs. Richards received most of her stores. Cleverly written notes, prose and poetry by spinsters were frequently found pinned to a package with the donors name. In the course of distribution a pair of heavily knit wool stockings fell to my lot with a nicely written note attached and signed with the maker’s name and address, from a town way down East where there is zero weather and the donor had no conception of the climate of the sunny South. In fact the temperature was then ninety in the shade, and paper socks would have been more suitable. I kept the stockings for a long time for the sake of the donor, and the sweet little letter was religiously guarded, but the stockings fell to a smiling contraband, whose shoes were worn out, and he was glad of a substitute. This latter I afterward regretted and would have given the weight of the stockings in pickayunes [sic], had they been placed in cold storage to be called for when our ship sailed for home. The invalid soldiers had come to await with expectant pleasure the visits of their ministering angel with her cheerful salutation, encouraging message and the willow basket. Once when the contents were nearly all gone and little left but a pair of stockings with a note in the toes, Mrs. Richards entered a ward where the brave Michigan and Indiana sufferers were convalescing after the terrible battle of Baton Rouge. Before her on their cots there lay two mutilated but cheerful young fellows covered with sheets. She held up the parcel and said, “but one pair left, draw lots tor them.” “It’s all right, Mrs. Richards, one for each.” He held up one amputated leg, without the foot, and the other saying not a word, but with a smile showed that his leg was gone above the knee.
When able to leave the hospital this good woman insisted that I come to her home on Colosseum Street and board until I was sufficiently recovered to join the regiment; she was a woman of superior mind, a ready conversationalist and writer, possessed a fund of anecdote, a charming hostess, and delighted to entertain friends.
Among her callers were General Butler, General Banks, Admiral Farragut, Ex-Mayor Smith of Boston, and other prominent men and officers. While there my negro boy became envious of my watch and chain, purse and other belongings. He secreted himself one night under my bed; the next morning the articles were gone and Ned was missing. The plunder was never recovered, but the boy was found by the police, tried in court and sentenced to prison to reflect upon the evil of covetousness. Several years after the close of the war it was my pleasure to entertain Mrs. Richards and daughter at my home and in a measure return her many kindnesses to me.
June 2nd I received my discharge from the hospital and reported for duty. Our regiment was stationed at Annuciation Square, a beautiful park in the residence district. The spire of Bishop Polk’s Episcopal Church cast a shadow over our tents; the good bishop had become militant when the state seceded, had been commissioned general by Jefferson Davis, and deserting his parish was then in the Confederate Army, and we were thereby deprived of the sermons of an eloquent preacher.
Our officers occupied houses that had been vacated by their owners who had gone to their plantations as they were not in sympathy with General Butler, or the Federal government. The houses were luxuriously furnished; there were servants quarters in the rear, shade trees and flowers filled the yards and we felt under obligations to our Confederate brethren for providing us with such pleasant homes. Hundred of contrabands flocked into the city for refuge and the servant question gave us no anxiety. Our daily routine consisted of roll call and guard mounting in the morning, dress parade in the early evening, and occasionally a regimental parade, and a review by the general. The weather being warm and the soldiers not fully acclimated, company and regimental drill was not insisted upon.
There was very little field duty during the summer months owing to the excessive heat. The city and forts were policed; and short expeditions were sent into the country; and there was some skirmishing with the enemy. A Company from the Thirty-First Massachusetts Regiment was sent from Fort Pike across Lake Ponchatrain [sic] to route a camp of guerrillas, and Captain Jeff Thompson, a Confederate General. They went as cautiously as possible and when quite near their object stopped at a house for water. An elderly man wearing a frock coat and white choaker was standing on the piazza. When asked for water, he replied that he was a stranger and could not get any. Directly thereafter two of our men spied him on the opposite side of the house, waving his handkerchief to the rebels a few rods off; one of the men leveled his gun but it missed fire; the second one up with his musket, bang went the gun, and the man fell from the balcony. The rebels showed fight and brought a cannon with them and a sharp encounter
A burly Irishman short and thick-set stood in unsoldierly position, with feet far apart, and with musket to his shoulder in the act of firing when a cannon ball passed between them. Pat turned to his lieutenant who stood near and said, “Begorra Lieutenant, that was a narrow escape for you and me also.”
General Butler ruled with a rod of iron. The rebel element was outspoken and publicly gloried in rebel victories; plans were laid to take the city, secret meetings were held and organizations were formed to kid-nap General Butler and subdue the soldiers. The women wore miniature confederate flags in their bonnets, and men wore them in their hats; but when these emblems of rebellion were seen by Uncle Sam’s boys they were held up, and the flags were confiscated. Those who were too persistent in their demonstrations for Jeff Davis were arrested and banished to Ship Island, or lodged in jail and there was no distinction in sex. General Butler had posted on the door leading to his office this notice, “There is no difference between a he adder and a she adder,” and the severity of his orders confirmed that opinion. Private individuals, houses, stores, offices and shops were searched for fire-arms, and an enormous arsenal of weapons was gathered, and it was only by the strictest vigilance that we escaped serious trouble.