(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 III
While the ceremonies of surrender [of Port Hudson] were in progress preparations were being made to return to Baton Rouge. There the troops embarked on steamboats, some going to New Orleans and others to points in the western part of the state. General Grant came from Vicksburg to advise General Banks and Admiral Farragut about an immediate advance on Mobile, they agreed that it was imperative that the move should be made at once on the wave of enthusiasm, the result of the recent victories. But the government at Washington thought otherwise and directed the planting of the flag in Texas. It took weeks to prepare for this campaign which meant hundreds of miles marching, the providing of provisions and ammunition which must be hauled by wagons a large part of the way. The Red River could be relied upon for transportation to a limited extent only; the country must be traversed, and the rebels driven, whipped and scattered and not left a menace to New Orleans. After a brief sojourn in the city I was ordered to join the advancing armies; a line of signals was established as rapidly as the army advanced. The Confederates had massed a considerable force and their policy appeared to be one of defense rather than aggression, and as usual were annoyed by bands of guerrillas and sharp shooters; they would hide in ambush and we lost some of our men by their cowardly methods; among the killed was Captain Dwight, shot dead while quietly riding along the road. I was with the company and clearly remember the cloud of sorrow that fell over us for he was a beloved comrade.
Sometimes the army would rest for several days and the divisions were often separated by one to ten miles; communication was maintained by signals with Department Headquarters.
On the second of November the army reached Vermillionville, the Catholic Church was occupied as a signal lookout and used as a station for the transmission of messages to the division commanders. From the church spire there was a fine view of the surrounding country, and during the day almost every movement of the enemy within five miles of our lines could be clearly seen and reported promptly to headquarters.
My next station was at a cross roads town where there were not more than a half dozen houses which were mostly deserted. Our army was here separated by ten miles, and in this forlorn place five miles from any of our troops, and without any guard to protect us, we were forced to live, or more properly exist, for more than a week. I had for my companion Lieutenant Sizer but he was recalled in a day or two leaving me alone with my men to whatever chances might befall us. The one store was empty, and on the roof of this building we made our station; we ate and slept in the store using the counters for our beds.
The atmospheric conditions caused by mists and fogs was exceedingly trying and injurious on the muscles of the eyes, focast [sic: focused] on a telescope for hours without intermission: a flagman was on the look-out for signals day and night and we were kept busy almost continuously from October 11th to 21st. On the evening of October 20th 1863 I received orders to break camp the next morning and come to the front as the army would continue its march that day. This was welcome news as we did not like the situation where we were, and were pretty well exhausted from work and loss of sleep.
To the front we went but not in the way we had expected. The night of the 20th a fog settled on the earth followed by a drizzling rain, and as it was pitch dark, and the conditions were such that it was impossible to signal for even a short distance, I gave orders at ten o’clock for all hands to turn in and get as much rest as they could, preparatory for an early start. There was no need of opiates, a soft couch, and feather pillows to induce sleep; and in a cheerful frame of mind we lay down on the hard board counter and were soon soundly asleep.
At the hour of three I was awakened by a stern voice close to my ear commanding me to get up. Opening my drowsy eyes and from the light of a lantern beheld an officer in gray uniform, with pistol in hand, altogether too close to my head, and with a band of followers [similarly] armed, at his side. There was no misjudging their errand, resistance was impolitic, to say the least, we were prisoners and must make the best of it. Our arms of defense and all my official papers were seized, but we were generously allowed to retain our clothing, blankets and personal belongings. So sudden had been their appearance we hadn’t time to be scared or frightened, in fact I took it as a natural [con]sequence to our exposure and lack of protection. General Franklin afterward explained that he did not send us a guard for the reason that the rebels would come in force and gobble the whole outfit if they had any intention of coming our way. A lame excuse, as we thought.
My colored boy who slept in a dark corner of the room was aroused by the noise and with trembling limbs crawled into an empty box and was the only one of my party to escape.
We were marched out into the dismal rain and mounted on our horses; commissary stores were confiscated and carried off with our team of mules. Into the darkness we plunged securely guarded by a hundred rebel cavalry men. By this time I was thoroughly awake and had time for reflection. Was there any avenue of escape? No there was none. It is difficult to express my feeling at that time.
Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate states, had issued an order in retaliation of General Butler’s vigorous course after the capture of New Orleans. Davis’ order was exaggerated to incite a spirit of hatred against the Union soldiers and a cause of much suffering to those sent to rebel prisons. It read in part as follows:
“I do declare Benjamin F. Butler to be a felon deserving of Capital Punishment. I do order that in the event of his capture the officer in command of the capturing forces do cause him to be immediately executed by hanging. By virtue of my authority as Commander in Chief of the armies of the Confederate States, do order that all commissioned officers in the command of said Benjamin F. Butler be declared not entitled as soldiers engaged in honorable warfare but as robbers and criminals deserving death, and that they and each of them be, whenever captured, reserved for execution.
By the President, Jefferson Davis
J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of War,
Signed at Richmond 23rd day of December 1862.”
Further items bearing on this interesting topic, which showed the feeling in the South at that time are here given.
A woman wrote to a Charleston newspaper, “I propose to spin the thread, to make the cord, to execute the order of our noble President Davis, when old Butler is caught and my daughter asks that she may be
allowed to adjust it around his neck.
Signed by a daughter of South Carolina.”
“Ten thousand dollar reward for capture of Butler, dead or alive, to any proper confederate authority. Charleston, January 1st 1863”
In view of Davis’ order and the bitter feeling against General Butler with whom I had long been associated, I naturally felt at this critical moment a bit anxious and revolved in my mind “what will the
harvest be” and was a little nervous as I eyed with suspicion a rope dangling from the pumel [sic: pommel] of one of the officer’s saddles and noted that they were in ernest [sic] conversation and kept a close watch over me.
It was early dawn when we reached the main body of the Second Louisiana Cavalry. My fears of immediate execution were allayed when I met Colonel Vincent. I found in him a type of the Southern gentleman, and just then he was so elated over the success of Captain Prudhome in securing his prisoners that he gave me a cordial welcome to the confederacy and honored me with a place with his staff at the head of his regiment, and as there was no suggestion of hanging I hoped the Colonel had forgotten Jeff Davis’ orders. Whatever might follow I was sure of a good breakfast as he drew from his haversack pieces of cornbread and some cold broiled chicken which was divided with his Yankee guest and was eaten as we rode over the trackless prairies. This civility was unlooked for and dispelled any fears. We were two or more miles distant from the left flank of the Union army, and traveling in the same direction we could see clouds of dust which arose as the latter tramped along the main highway. Colonel Vincent appeared nervous fearing that he would be discovered and hurried forward as fast as the horses could take us. There was no rest for dinner and we rode all day by detour to avoid conflict with the Yanks, as they called the Northern soldiers. We must have ridden at least forty miles and were far in advance of the Union columns at five o’clock when sore, tired and hungry we dismounted and went into camp for the night.
I was escorted to a corn crib and locked in for safe keeping. Later I was taken to a campfire around which the officers were gathered eating their supper, and I was invited to join in the feast. The menu consisted of broiled chicken, corn bread, roasted sweet potatoes and coffee substitute. No one complained of’ the fare and it was better than I had anticipated after the unceremonious call of Captain Prudhome in the early morning.
The night passed in the crib without event, not even the mice and rats disturbed my slumbers. I had been used to sleeping on hard beds and now after the weary ride of the day it was a luxury to rest on a pillow of unshelled corn. I was awakened early by the morning sun and the noise of the soldiers getting breakfast. Again I was a guest at the officers’ mess. When the meal was over I thanked the officers for their kindness (as I was about to leave them and be put in charge of others) asking one favor of Captain Prudhome that he would return my sword when the war was over, mentioning the sentiment I felt for it. My address was engraved on the scabbard, but he did not agree to my request.
We were assembled and led off by as villainous a looking squad of mounted rebels as I had ever seen. The Captain of the crew was portly and dressed like a frontier man, his head crowned with a sombrero, while around his waist was strapped a leather belt filled with cartridges, and a brace of pistols by his side, and the men were all armed with carbines. Our horses were not in evidence, which meant that we were to “foot it.” The most regrettable feature of the moment was that I must part forever with my pet horse Billy and dare say he reciprocated those feelings; we had been companions on long marches, in scenes of danger and were the best of friends; but there was no redress, the rebel colonel saw the animal’s fine points and took the horse for his own riding. We were informed that our destination was a rebel prison in Texas and a journey of several hundred miles lay before us. Everything was discarded that we could spare making our roll of blankets as light as possible. Onward we tramped, resting at night wherever darkness found us, sleeping on the ground and being sometimes favored by the branches of a friendly tree. Our day for broiled chicken was past, we subsisted on corn mush and jerked beef, with a cup of water for desert, and sometimes pecan nuts we gathered from under the trees. There was nothing to encourage or inspire us on our monotonous way. When too greatly depressed we would all join in singing, “Tramp, Tramp,” “Three Blind Mice” and “Glory Halleluiah,” and any old song that appealed
to us at the time. Coming to towns and cross roads, negroes and the few white people left, nearly all of them women, the men having joined the rebel army came running to the street to see the yankees, whom they had been taught to believe, were strange creatures with horns. It was amusing to see with what curiosity they eyed our little band, and their disappointment when they discovered that we looked like ordinary white folks.
An incident of unusual interest came to our observation while passing through a town, that was probably the County Seat. A crowd of a dozen or more whites and a few negroes stood before a public building. Standing on the steps was a negro woman, and by her side was the auctioneer getting bids from the people below. From my earliest boyhood the most attractive show on earth was to me an auction sale; better than a circus, or Sunday School picnic. Here was the real thing, the cause of the war, and we did hope that our leader would halt that we might see it through. It was an impressive scene, the first and only time I had seen a slave under the hammer. It was like the pictures in abolition books which stirred the hearts of the northern people against the evil of slavery, and culminated in their emancipation. The bidding was slow, owing no doubt to our presence and realization of the fact that the Union Army was approaching, and the uncertainties of the value of slave property at that crisis of the war.
Daily we were entertained with all sorts of rumors to the effect that battles had been fought and the Union forces severely whipped with immense loss. This did not lighten our spirits, or quicken our pace.
That the armies had met we believed, but that the stories told were exaggerated, we had no doubt, and the truth we should learn later.
Fierce battles were fought with large losses on both sides, and I had the satisfaction of learning that most of’ the Second Cavalry were taken prisoners, including the company that pounced on my signal station, and unceremoniously awakened us from our dreams. I thought too, that they must then be glad they had not “executed” the orders of Jeff Davis. It was my pleasure to subsequently meet Captain Prudhome, when he was a prisoner in New Orleans, and to pay him some courtesies for lenient treatment to me.
In about ten days we reached Alexandria, a large town on the Red River. We had walked over two hundred miles and were foot sore and weary but in good physical health. My men were put in a sugar house for safe keeping, while I was lodged in the Court Room, a large hall of the Court House; that occupied the center of the town square or park. The room held conscripts, felons, and negroes, some wore ball and chain around the ankle. They were not a desirable set of companions; not the kind I would have selected from choice, but as the majority of the number were in sympathy with the Union, and none were quarrelsome, we got along very well. Guards stood at the door to see that none escaped and patrolled the park day and night. I was permitted to get my meals at the town hotel a few blocks away, a guard accompanying me, and standing over my chair while I ate. This was an unlooked for privilege. The walk to and from the hotel was diverting, and the fare meagre tho’ it was, was a benefit to health and as we took plenty of time to Fletcherise it served as a help to both mind and body. It was fortunate that my purse contained fifty dollars in greenbacks, equivalent to one thousand dollars in Confederate currency, and the proprietor was mighty glad to have me for a boarder. This arrangement was accorded for two weeks, while I was the only officer to be guarded. Then there were arrivals of thirty-nine Union officers, and two thousand enlisted men, that had recently been taken prisoners; too many to be given hotel privileges. The officers were lodged at the Court House, and the men were corralled at the sugar house. It would be unkind to say that I was glad to welcome the new arrivals, but somehow joy sprang into my heart, when I heard their footsteps on the stairs. How true the saying,”Misery loves company.”
I stood at the stairs to give them welcome. There were several that I knew, among them Lieutenant George H. Herbert, a brother signal officer. It appears that when the rebels gave us a surprise visit, my black boy, “Tom” kept as quiet as a mouse, and remained hidden until early dawn, when he made a quick run to camp, getting there before the army started. Herbert said Tom was much agitated and white from fear. He reported that the rebels had “done took” Massa with all his men and had carried them off. That was the first news they had of the affair, and it created quite a stir and a desire to learn further particulars, and secure stores and equipage should there be any. Lieutenant Herbert was sent back to my camp, and while investigating, and about to return, Johnny Reb suddenly appeared on the scene, and without ceremony took him under his wing.
It was a large hall where we were gathered, affording ample floor space for exercise, and room to lie our blankets at night; the days were passed telling stories and reading such meagre literature as we possessed, and included rebel news printed on wall paper. In some mysterious way a pack of cards was smuggled into the room to the enjoyment of those who knew the games. Occasionally the guard would take us to walk on the streets where we were objects of great interest to those who had never seen a Yankee. Rations consisted of corn bread, stewed beans served in tins, and jerked beef that had been dried in the sun, and was tough as sole leather. Having plenty of leisure there was no objections to fletcherizing, and long hours were spent in eating. Colored women brought sweet cakes and sweet potato pies to the door, and the supply was quickly exhausted; they left with broad smiles on their faces and purses filled with pickayunes. These old colored women soon learned the insatiable appetite the yankees had for pie and brought bigger baskets to meet the demand. The Confederates hauled wagon loads of sugar cane to camp, and having a fellow feeling for us “shut ins”, they would beckon us to the windows and toss up large stalks to those who had a failing for sweets, as all had, and sugar-cane was the only confection we could get, and it got to be our chief staple of diet, with the result that we all gained in avoirdupois and were a healthy lot of prisoners; my share of gain was twelve pounds.
Our white clothing was taken to the laundry with great regularity as we had only one change of linen, and others none save what was on their backs. Said laundry was across the street and down a steep bank
to the riverside. There we lined up, side by side, while the guard with loaded guns watched the manoeuvers and saw that none made their escape. We labored as best we could in the cold and muddy water without the aid of soap, borax, gold dust, or other cleansing agents, using the best knowledge we possessed and rinsing until our hands were sore, and arms were painfully lame. There was no perceptible change in color, but the clothes were washed, satisfying the conscience for the gospel law of cleanliness. The experiences of the soldiers in this line should account for the vast numbers of laundries that sprung up all through the country at the close of the Civil War.
During our sojourn among the Confederate soldiers we found many who were not enthusiastic for their “cause” and cared little which way the war terminated, or how soon hostilities ceased, officers visited
the prisons and freely offered to aid in our escape; this was particularly true of those educated in the mystic grip.
At the end of three weeks we were informed one morning that we were to be taken, if walking can be so construed, to Texas, and to make ready without delay. These orders following wash day, it was an easy matter to comply as all we needed to do was to comb and brush our heads with a towel, and make bundles of our scant ward-robes. We were glad to get into the open air and stretch our limbs, though we knew nothing of the path that lay before us, or what the conditions and our surroundings would be at the end of the journey.
We were again under the surveillance of armed horsemen. The cloudless sky, warm sunshine, open country with diversity of scene enlivened our spirits, and there was hilarious song and expansion of lungs in the joy of our escape from closed walls. At noon time while seated on the sod for rest and refreshments, an interesting incident occurred. A man approached in a gig and after conversing with the officer in charge, came to where we were seated, and inquired if any of us were from New England. I was the only one of the number that could reply in the affirmative. From Massachusetts? Yes. Boston? No, Springfield. There upon we engaged in conversation and he persuaded the officer to let me ride with him, promising to deliver me safely later in the day. On the way he introduced himself as Aurin Taylor, a native of Springfield, and where he was educated in the public schools, gave his father’s name, which I knew well. He was glad to hear from his old home and friends; said he came to Texas long before the war, had married and settled there with his family, and in heart was loyal to the Union side, and had kept from the Confederate army by contracting to supply shoes to the soldiers. Will add here that a few weeks later, I called upon the father in Springfield, told him of my having met his son, of his loyalty, etc., which was most gratifying to the aged parent. Less than three months thereafter I again met the son at Alexandria, then within the Union lines, told him of my visit North, and of the pleasure it had given his
father to hear of him. I then handed Mr. Taylor a clipping from the Springfield Republican, received after my return to New Orleans, bearing notice of the decease of his father.
We rode together until three o’clock and were considerably ahead of my comrades and waited for them and I was then returned to the squad as was promised. We resumed our tramp at night under the canopy of the heavens, subsisting by day on foraged rations, a good part consisting of nuts we gathered from pecan trees, and berries by the wayside. We had nearly reached the borders of Texas when a messenger overtook us and announced to our great joy that terms had been effected for an exchange of prisoners. So sudden was the news sprung on us we could hardly contain ourselves, caps were thrown in the air, hurrahs went up, and strange to say our tired and swollen feet became normal.
It was right about face in the quickest time possible, a walk of a few hundred miles more or less to the place where we were to be exchanged was of no consequence, so delighted we were that our exile was near its end, and we would again be within the Union lines. It was a long tramp before we got there, we had lost more flesh than we had gained, on a diet of sugar cane, shoes, if we had any were well nigh heel- and sole-less, and our ambitions were to reach a clothier and
haberdasher at the earliest moment. Fortunately there were no camera friends to take our pictures. We were received by our comrades with open arms and given the best meal we had seen for nearly two months. I was without decent clothing, and none to be had nearer than the city, was without signal equipments and not strength to use them, could I have gotten any; was somewhat emaciated and a fit subject for the hospital. What would I do?
It occurred to me that it would be a mighty nice thing to go home, see mother and friends, and in the invigorating atmosphere of the North regain health and strength for future campaigns. I had been in the service two years and absent from my native state nearly all of that time. I applied for a leave of absence, and was granted forty days. I went to New Orleans and was given transportation on the steamer George Washington for New York. The weather was propitious, and we spent the six days of the trip on deck. There were few other passengers but among them I became acquainted with Norman L. Archer, a fine young fellow from New York who had engaged in business in Baton Rouge, and feeling indisposed was taking the round trip, thinking that a sea voyage might prove beneficial. On reaching New York typhoid fever developed and he lived only a few days after his arrival in the city.
My case was different; the sea air had done me so much good that when the ship drew into port there was not much evidence of hospital and prison life. My friends were prepared to treat me as an invalid, feed me on gruel, chicken broth, wine and jelly; but on observing my robust condition, the diet was changed and there was a continual round of feasting; beef, pies, cake, floating island, with wine jellies,
fruit and confectionery for dessert. It is needless to say that I met with a cordial reception. Just how I survived the surfeit of cake and pie, and again reported for duty at the expiration of my furlough, is a
problem that has never been solved.
It was pleasant to meet friends after so many months of absence, learn of the changes in families and the city, and also to relate some of my adventures and escapes in the war. All was not joy; there were some sad reflections when told of sweet hearts who had ceased to love, since I went away, had married, and my heart failed as the list grew, and I was ready to pack my grip and return to the war. The days sped with rapidity and the hour came when I must leave to catch the steamer. Friends vied with each other in some parting remembrance. Our old doctor brought a box of pills as an antedote [sic] against sea sickness, but they failed to work. There were nic-nacs and a quantity of cake and other edibles sufficient to gladden the heart of a country minister. My grip could not hold a tenth of the collection. There were no evidences of when the war would end, and friends meant that I should have enough.
The return was by the able and finely equipped steamer Evening Star, Captain Rodney Baxter in command and I soon mad his acquaintance. The steamer sailed from New York, March 4th., 1864. There was a large list of passengers and every stateroom was occupied and filled to its utmost capacity. In the list of names was a Quaker gentleman, wife, and three daughters, by the name of Archer. My room-mate was Mr. Robinson, a brother of Mrs. Archer. We had not been out long when I was introduced to the family. The Quaker was a zealous abolitionist and had assisted many slaves to freedom by the underground railroad route, and was intensely interested in the progress of the war and a good friend to the soldiers.
Our meetings were frequent and we spent hours on deck talking over the war and relating my experiences with the Army and Navy. It was his son whose acquaintance I made on the steamer coming North, and when he learned of the incident he seemed to be much attached to me, and we were much together during the rest of the trip.
Mr. Archer was on his way South to settle his son’s business, that of a cotton merchant at Baton Rouge, and was taking his family for the benefit of the voyage. En-route the steamer put into Havana early one
afternoon to lie there until the following day. This was a chance to see the city and a party was made up to spend the night ashore. Small boats came alongside the steamer into which we got and were rowed to the landing. The ancient buildings low in construction, were painted all colors of the rainbow, a novel sight to us foreigners for no one of our party could speak the native tongue. On landing we went first to a hotel and secured lodgings, then hired valanties [?], a rig with two immense wheels between which rested the box, and the driver straddled the horse, and thus we rode about the town. The streets were paved with cobblestones and were in much need of repair, the wheels often dropping into deep holes, and ruts, and the weak springs of the vehicle added to the discomforts of the drive. As we were there to see the sights of the city and I had a young lady by my side, what did it matter how rough the roads! The Plaza was beautifully laid out with walks and adorned with flowers, tall palms, ferns, and a variety of tropical plants.
The avenues were broad and the imposing state buildings of the Captain General were unique and of a style of architecture quite novel; while guard and soldiers in brilliant uniform were everywhere. It was the hour for driving. Spanish ladies dressed in light costumes of lace without covering on their heads, some smoking cigarettes, and accompanied by gaudily dressed escorts, eyed us with curiosity and must have thought us yankee martyrs from our heavy woolen suits, for it was Winter, and only four days had elapsed since we sailed down New York Harbor in a blinding snow storm. Well, they were not far from right as the temperature was around the nineties, but we all enjoyed the novelty of the scene oblivious of fur coats and winter dress. Meals at the hotel were good; a variety of fruit and vegetables in abundance, luscious sweet oranges were fifty cents a bushel, and we took a basket of them aboard the steamer. A day’s sail brought us to quarantine at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Here an officer came aboard to inspect the steamer and to administer the oath of allegiance to the passengers else they could go no further. All went well, until the “swearing” officer came to my good Quaker friend who was in a plight. To take an oath was contrary to his solemn religious obligations which read “swear not at all” by mental reservation or otherwise, and although as loyal to the government as any person could be, he absolutely, and with persistency refused to to take the oath.
It was an embarrassing and perplexing situation for both; the officer’s duty was to swear everybody. The ladies of the party were orthodox and did not hesitate to swear on all proper occasions, but the husband and father would not budge an iota from his inborn convictions, and for awhile it looked as if there must be a separation. For personal reasons, having become quite in harmony with the youngest daughter, I got interested in the case and came to the gentleman’s rescue. The swearing officer, Lieutenant A. M. Jackson, at present a practicing physician of Fall River, was an acquaintance of mine, we had been in the field together and were close friends.
I assured him of Mr. Archer’s loyalty, and of my willingness to vouch for him in any manner necessary. We got our heads together and soon agreed that an “affirmation” in lieu of an oath, would fill the bill in this particular case. This was cheerfully made and clearance papers duly served, permitting him to roam at will. On our arrival in New Orleans I at once reported for duty, and also kept in touch with my new friends, and was able to show them some courtesy as they were strangers in that city.
Several thousand Confederate prisoners had been taken in recent battles and the officers occupied a large and handsome house on one of the residential streets. In passing the house one morning a voice hailed me with “Hello, Lieutenant.” I was not aware that I had any rebel friends in the city and was surprised to see the face of my old acquaintance Captain Prudhome of the Second Louisiana Cavalry peering from the window. We had not met since the day he took me prisoner a few months before. I passed the guard and was soon in a lively skirmish of words with the Captain and twenty officers of his regiment whose hospitality had been accorded me around their camp fires. The tables were now turned and we had a lively time relating our experiences. None of the officers appeared depressed and were seemingly happy to be in the city where they had friends, and some of the number had homes and their families were but a few blocks away. They had all the comforts of a luxurious home, a good table amply supplied with food from the Commissary and all the extras money could buy were brought to them by their sympathizing friends.
I could but note the contrast of their surroundings to the prison at Alexandria where we were obliged to live in a room with negroes and [the] lowest class of white men and the coarse and meagre fare, but perhaps it was the best they had.
The battles had filled our hospitals with the sick and wounded and among these were many Confederate soldiers and there was no distinction in care; friend and foe received the same treatment by our surgeons and nurses.
Rebel sympathizers were allowed to visit the hospitals and bring baskets filled with good things for the confederate sick, but were sure to skip the federals. Our men had all the Government could supply, but
they did not take kindly to so much partiality and the surgeon in charge told the rebel women that the food they brought must be equally distributed among all the patients. At this they demurred, grumbled and growled, but the order was imperative, and thereafter our soldiers fared as well as the rebels.
When I left on furlough the army was in the western part of the state fighting their way to the Red River opposed by a large confederate force in command of General Dick Taylor. They knew the bayous, cross roads, and the country in general, and had adopted a guerrilla warfare, which caused extreme annoyance, much fighting and great loss to both armies, though the Union army suffered most. I remained in the city a sufficient time only to get a new outfit of signal equipment and horses and with orders to report to General A. J. Smith, the fighting general of the northwest, started for the front on April 12th. It seemed strange to be riding over the roads I had so recently traveled on foot, but now under vastly different circumstances.
The scenery was the same, the villages, cross roads where my signal station was, and which was so attractive to the rebels, the corn crib that had been my bed one night, the familiar pecan trees under which we slept and dreampt [sic] of “home and mother” only to awake and find it was all a dream and resume our journey after a meal of cold victuals. The streets and buildings at Alexandria seemingly smiled at my return and I was half disposed to drop into the old prison where I had spent weeks under confederate hospitality. These and other scenes came to mind as we rode along.
At Alexandria I learned that our army had met with serious defeat and was retreating. I hurried onward meeting lines of baggage wagons, ambulances, detachment of troops, and evidences of a state of demoralization. I found General Smith with the 16th and 17th corps covering the retreat and pressed closely by over thirty thousand of the enemy commanded by Generals Magruder, Marmadyke and Dick Taylor; they were exalting in their victories and were determined to annihilate Bank’s army; they had routed the Union forces in three pitched battles since leaving Grand Echore [sic: Ecore], and might have accomplished their threats had not General Smith opportunely arrived with his divisions in fine spirits having a few days before whipped the rebels at Fort DeRussey.
General Banks had erred in not massing his troops and waiting for reinforcements then on the way. General Smith was mad to the core when he saw the situation, and it was evident he was not of Quaker descent for he swore like a trooper at these blunders.
Flushed with victory the rebels pressed hard on our flank and rear to the annoyance of General Smith who swore until the vocabulary of oaths was exhausted, and they were then repeated. I was tempted to get outside of hearing as such profanity did not accord with my Sunday School teaching and might have done so was it not imperative that I should be at his elbow. The rebels followed close on our tracks with shot and shell falling in our midst, and sharp shooters lay in ambush greatly to our discomfort. General Smith became impatient as well as annoyed and would have given them battle had not the odds been so largely against him. Shells were thrown into our camp at night, one shell burst killing four of our men and wounding others. The general was thoroughly angered, and bent on revenge was soon in his boots and saddle giving orders, and at early dawn after a silent and cold breakfast his forces were in line to give battle. Pickets were called in and the fight began in earnest; it was no boys’ play. The rebels confident of victory rushed on and a general engagement ensued; volley upon volley of musketry was fired from both sides and the artillery was not idle, shells were thick in air and burst in every direction. The scene was so exciting none seemed to fear the danger and our men stood their ground heroically; there was no sign of wavering and how long these conditions would have lasted no one could tell. When the sun was well risen General Smith ordered ten pieces of artillery in line to the rear under cover of some light timber and when stationed gave orders for the infantry to fall back to the support of the guns.
The enemy did not divine this movement and evidently took it for a retreat and they came on with a shout and yell like demons being sure they had us in their clutches and their spirits had no bounds. They were close upon our heels as the infantry cleared the artillery and faced about. This staggered the rebels for the moment and when our guns opened with grape and canister they fell like grass before a withering fire. Those who could turned and ran as fast as their limbs would carry them leaving hundreds of killed and wounded on the field. Their joy was turned to mourning. Once only thereafter before we reached Alexandria did they show any disposition to make a stand, they took advantage of heavy woods where they were protected by trees. General Smith gave orders to clear them out and our boys spoiling for another fight went at it with a will; singing, talking and joking as they marched over an open field and when they came near the timber charged with a frightening yell. The enemy stood their ground for a few minutes and then ran, thousands of shots were exchanged, and strange as it may appear, our loss was only one killed and three wounded.
The rebel generals had boasted that none of our army would escape, and that they would capture or destroy our war vessels and transports that lay in the river. At Cane River they planted guns on the opposite bank supported with infantry and we had to fight desperately to gain a crossing. This was accomplished by the aid of the gun boats that kept in touch with the army. We were hampered in our progress by two thousand or more contrabands who had escaped from their masters and they must be protected in their flight. It was pitiable to see the poor negroes of all ages trudging along the road bare-footed and scantily clothed, the little children clinging to their mama’s skirts, and infants crying. They said they were going to join the Union and had little idea of the suffering they must endure. It was with difficulty that they could keep up with fleeing army. General Banks provided for them as best he could and they were put in charge of Major General Hunter, but many fell by the wayside before we reached Alexandria April 26th. We could get no further without abandoning the gun boats as the river had fallen
and the boats could not get over the rapids until there should be rain to raise the water. Earth works were thrown up five miles east of the town and here we waited until the gun boats could be released.
I met Mr. Thomas Stebbins, a native of Springfield, he had been a merchant in Alexandria for twenty-three years and was reputed wealthy but had lost much in the war; his sugar and cotton had been destroyed by the rebels to prevent it being confiscated. This was a useless sacrafice [sic] as receipts were given and settlements made for all property taken by our government.
There were no signs of rain and we were in a perplexing and desperate situation surrounded by the enemy with daily skirmishing and a threatened general engagement. The rebels had planted an eighteen gun battery thirty miles down the river, cutting off our supplies. A transport with the 120th Ohio regiment aboard got aground within range of the battery. The Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel were killed and only one hundred and fifty of the regiment escaped death and were taken prisoners. The Warren, another boat, met a similar fate; the brave fellows spiked the guns before the few that were not killed surrendered. Simeon Baxter of Hyannis was among those taken prisoners. Surrounded and with our supplies cut off it looked as if the boasting of General Magruder and Taylor would be more than a prophecy. My experience at this place was most interesting. My station for observation was on top of a chimney over ninety feet in height from the ground, and at this elevation could see the country for miles around and was able to report the movements of the enemy, and give warning of any threatened attack. We ate our meals and slept at this elevation and kept watch for signals night and day. The manoeuvers of our troops and firing on the picket line five miles from town were clearly observed, and messages were sent and received between General Banks and the brigade commanders and the fleet, and we could direct the guns of the latter as the boats lay under the banks too low to see where to fire.
Colonel Bailey conceived the plan of building a dam across the river below the rapids with the hope of a set back to the water sufficient to float the gunboats. It was a herculean task. The buildings of a large sugar plant were razed and the material of wood, iron and brick were used in the construction of cribs and other work. A brigade of negroes were employed day and night for a week. The dam was a success, and was one of the greatest achievements of the war. One by one the gun boats shot through the narrow opening of the dam until all of the twelve boats got safely through. The rebels were disappointed and chagrined, but it meant much to our army.
We moved out of Alexandria on the 13th of May. The sick and wounded were put on transports, and the army marched on the road adjacent to the river, and were partly protected from the rebel forces that followed in their wake, by our gun boats. The line was fifteen miles in length and our route being over dry and dusty roads made it a long and fatiguing march; our men were covered in dust and looked more like gray backs than blue bellied yankees, as they were called by the Confederates.
It was my fortune to be assigned to Admiral Porter’s flag-ship, the Cricket, and I thus escaped the dust, though we had plenty of rebel smoke to breathe, and rebel bullets to dodge. The gun boats had twenty-five transports to convoy and as the army moved slowly, we could not make much progress, and were only ten miles from our starting point at the end of the first day. An early start was made on the 14th, the iron clads ahead, followed by the tin clads and transports. We were moving slowly along when at ten o’clock we heard firing ahead, but kept on our way and immediately the familiar sound of phiz, phiz, saluted our ears, and the bullets flew thick about us.
The Cricket was of the tin clad class; boilers and lower deck protected from musketry only. At Grand Echore [sic: Ecore] thirty-eight shot struck the boat tearing and splintering the upper works letting daylight through in many places. When the bullets began flying, I was sitting with Admiral Porter in the unprotected cabin; the rebels had seen the Admiral’s flag and paid particular attention to the Cricket with leaden compliments. To reach the main deck at this critical moment would have been running too great a risk, so we dropped flat on the cabin floor; splintered glass and wood were scattered all through the cabin, which gave us a good scare, but no injury, and when there came a lull in the firing, we hastened to the protected gun deck.
The Cricket had eight twenty-four pound howitzers which were kept busy throwing grape and canister into the trees and bushes along the banks. This had a quieting effect on the rebels at this point. We were attacked at intervals all the way and none dare show his head above the iron works for fear of sharp shooters. Nearly every boat met with some loss in killed and wounded; the transports fared the worst. At Fort DeRussey we transferred to the Choctau, a large iron clad gunboat; we remained here until the boats passed and then followed to protect the transports.
On the second day we heard heavy firing in the direction of Marksville, four miles north of the river, and beyond reach of the fleet. General Banks was expecting an attack at this place, and sure enough the enemy gave battle and we had to rely wholly on our own resources. The Confederates were still bent on crippling our army and destroying it if they could before it reached the Mississippi River. It was a determined battle with varying results. Our army was chafing under their defeat at Mansfield, and determining to make a new record for themselves, fought unflinchingly for several hours and came off victorious and without further annoyance.
The Atchufaluya [sic] river was reached on the 17th. A pontoon bridge was thrown across the stream, and the army moved over. It was a tedious undertaking and was two days in crossing.
I left the gunboat on the 16th, and boarded the Forest Rose, a small river boat bound to Simsport where we arrived late in the evening; took my men ashore expecting to meet our army, but they had not arrived. We found a steamboat near by where we sought quarters for the night. The Captain took me for a spy and was about sending me away, but relented and reported us to General Warren who was aboard. We were questioned, and being convinced that we were all right, gave us staterooms where we passed the night. I had a pleasant time on the gunboats and met with many exciting scenes, made many new acquaintances with the officers, among them a Mr. Hayden who had been a law student in Springfield, and was then a paymaster in the Navy.
The army came up in due time, and on the evening of the 20th, the march was continued; we avoided the heat of the sun by travelling at night, and made fifteen miles when we camped soon after midnight. I lay on the ground with a saddle for my pillow, and blankets for covering, and slept like a log until sunrise. Breakfast over, I advanced with the cavalry, and the same afternoon came to Morganza on the west bank of the Mississippi River, thirty miles above Port Hudson. The army arrived later, and thus ended the Red River Campaign. General Banks was censured for the failure of the expedition; but it was undertaken in opposition to his advice, and in spite of his protest.
It began to rain soon after we got to Morganza and was as wet as it had been dry. Some days there were eight to ten down pours in that many hours, and the expression “it never rains but it pours” must have originated in Louisiana.
While in camp a large steamboat loaded with Confederate prisoners went up the Red River to meet as many Union prisoners to be exchanged. Our men were glad to get under the stars and stripes and return to their friends and regiments from which they had been absent for nearly a year. The assistant surgeon of the 6th Massachusetts cavalry, one of the exchanged prisoners, referring to the battle of Pleasant Hill, said that the rebel dead filled a five acre lot, and there were twelve hundred wounded in the hospital at Mansfield. How few know or can realize the horrors of war.
Major General Sickles reviewed the troops on June 15th., which was luckily one of the few pleasant days. The camp mustered fifteen thousand strong, and the several arms of the service made a fine appearance as they passed in review. General Sickles had lost a leg in battle but that did not disqualify him for service and he was then on a tour of inspection of the armies. He was visibly affected as he sat on his horse with bared head, while the regiments passed and saluted with torn and threaded flags bearing but a semblance of what they were before the battles. This and the decimated columns told the story of the war more effectually than pen could describe. A few week after the return of the expedition General Banks was relieved of his command and resigned his commission in the army. General Banks’ estimate of the efficiency of the Signal Corps is expressed in the following letter addressed to Major General H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief U.S.A.
General: The Signal Corps has been of very essential service in this department, in all our operations by land and water, In our recent movements upon the coast of Texas it was the only means of communication between the inland bays and the coast, and without the assistance of the Signal officers it seems as if, sometimes, we would have been deprived of the power of communication.
The importance of its service in this case can hardly be overestimated. The same is true of its services on land. The gentlemen connected with the Signal Corps in this department were men of excellent character; great energy and courage, almost always in the front of the army and in positions of danger, and undergoing any amount of fatigue and trial without complaint; discharging all their duties to our entire satisfaction. I do not know that I have received a complaint of neglect of duty by any signal officer. I wish to make my unqualified approval both of the utility of the corps and the conduct of its officers.
General Banks was superceded by Major General Edward R. S. Canby in May 1864.
After the return of the army from Red River the initiatory steps of the movement against Mobile were taken. Elaborate instructions were prepared for the guidance of the signal party during the investment of Mobile, giving in detail the points to be occupied, the number of officers to be provided for each station, and calls to render certain the effective co-operation of the two arms of the service, the Army and Navy. General Canby gathered together all the troops that could be spared from the region covered by his command and placed them under General Gordon Granger. Troops were sent by steamboats over Lake Ponchatrain [sic: Pontchartrain] and by transports down the river, and thence by sea with the fleet which consisted of the warships Hartford, Brooklyn, Monongahela, Pensacola, Richmond and gun boats of less calibre. Signal officers were allotted to the war ships and the land forces. My eyes had become impaired to such an extent by the excessive use of field glasses and telescope that surgeons who made examination considered the case serious and advised a cessation of work and an immediate consultation with a specialist. This was a trying and perplexing situation as I desired to go with the expedition and had hoped to remain in active service to the end of the war; neither did I wish to remain ineffective. It ended in forwarding my resignation to Washington.
In the interim I was made Quartermaster and Ordinance Officer and I sailed July 30th on one of the ships accompanying the fleet. To the right of the entrance to Mobile Bay was Fort Morgan one of the strongest of the old stone forts, strengthened by immense piles of sand bags covering every portion of the exposed front. The fort had three tiers of heavy guns, and in addition to these a battery of eleven powerful guns on the beach at the water’s edge.
On the left and nearly opposite was Fort Gaines situated on the east side of Dauphin Island and Fort Powell farther up the bay. Fort Gaines mounted sixteen heavy guns. The rebels considered the works impregnable but did not depend solely upon them. They had a fleet of war vessels including an iron clad ram considered the strongest and most powerful agent of destruction ever put afloat. Her armament consisted of six heavy guns sending a solid shot weighing one hundred and ten pounds. In addition to these means of resistance the narrow channel in front of the fort had been lined with to torpedoes.
On the evening of August 3rd, General Granger dis-embarked his command on the western extremity of Dauphin Island and invested Fort Gaines. On the morning of the 5th the first gun was fired from Fort
Gaines the shell striking a few feet from our camp. This was the signal for action. Our batteries had taken possession during the night and soon were in active operation; help was given by the Monitor Chickasaw and so effectively shelled and with such persistency [sic] that Colonel Anderson was glad to surrender the fort with its garrison of eight hundred men, entire armament, stores and supplies. The “rebs” surrendered unconditionally. We entered the fort and soon our flag waved messages from its ramparts.
I slept that night in one of the officers bunks but was furiously attacked by an enemy more determined than the rebels ever were, and also by “gallinippers” that infested the island. It was the worst battle I had fought and congratulated the rebels on having escaped so dreaded a plague. So numerous were the mosquitoes that they completely covered the neck of my horse in crossing the island and I was obliged to protect my hands and face and get out of the pest’s reach as fast as possible. I acknowledge my defeat and happily was not called to renew the battle.
Fort Powell did not make any resistance whatever. During the night Lieutenant Colonel Williams of the 21st Alabama abandoned and blew up the fort, having received orders to save his garrison if the fort became untenable. Fort Morgan the largest and most formidable of all the forts and the powerful rebel fleet was the next in order to be attacked, and in this land forces could take but a small share in the
victory or defeat that would result from the battle. It was an extremely hazardous undertaking. As one writer has well said “Except for what Farragut had already accomplished on the Mississippi it would have been considered a foolhardy experiment for wooden vessels to attempt to pass so close to one of the strongest forts on the coast; but when to the forts were added the knowledge of the strength of the ram and the supposed deadly character of the torpedoes, it may be imagined that the coming event impressed the person taking his first glimpse of naval warfare as decided[ly] hazardous and unpleasant. So daring an attempt was never made in any country but this, and was never successfully made by any commander except Farragut, who in this, as in his previous exploits in passing the forts of the
Mississippi proved himself the greatest naval commander the world has ever seen. It was the confidence reposed in him, the recollection that he had never failed in any of his attempts, and his manifest faith in
the success of the projected movement, that inspired all around him.”
The fleet got under way at six o’clock on the morning of August 5th, preceded by the monitors Tecumseh and Manhattan, the battleships closely following. The Hartford led the battleships and Admiral Farragut aloft, in or near the crows nest, a rope about his waist and secured to the mast to prevent his falling, and where with glass in hand he could observe all that was to be seen, and could give orders to the fleet’s captains.
The ship I was on was quite close to the scene, and I watched the manoeuvers through my field glass.
The first gun fired was from the monitor Tecumseh and was quickly responded to by guns from the fort; then all our warships took a hand in the fight. The air was filled with smoke, fire and flame, and the roar of the guns was terrific. As our ships drew near the fort, the rebel guns belched forth a murderous fire of shot and shell, and it looked as if every one of our wooden ships must go to the bottom of the sea. Farragut had chosen a course near the shore, and slightly from the channel, and thereby the hulls of the ships escaped being pierced by the shot as the fort guns could not be sufficiently depressed to reach them, and the water batteries on shore were soon silenced by the broadsides from our guns. The fight was at its hottest; the Union fleet had reached the line, the crossing of which meant victory, when the monitor Tecumseh ran upon a torpedo, staggered for a moment, then suddenly careened and almost instantly disappeared beneath the water, carrying with her over one hundred men and officers imprisoned in their iron coffin. The pilot and some half dozen in the turret managed to jump through the ports, and were rescued at great peril by our boats. My eyes were on the monitor at the time of the accident and it was marvellous [sic] what power there was in so small a compass to lift such a heavy body of iron. It is probable had our ships taken the main channel they would have met with a similar fate. Having passed Fort Morgan, the battle with the rebel fleet began.
The rebel vessels Selma, Morgan, and other gunboats, with the ram Tennessee (the most formidable of them all, covered with heavy sheets of boiler iron, and reinforced with steel rails, making it invulnerable to shot and shell from the outside, and possessed with power to sink every one of our ships), were lying across the channel in front. All of their efforts were centered on the flagship and it was only by skillful
manoeuvering that the Hartford escaped. Our plucky monitor followed in the wake off the Tennessee, and by well directed shots at the open ports succeeded in disabling the casement so that the ports could not be closed, and by a continuous fire raked the vessel fore and aft which caused havoc and death aboard. Admiral Buchanan lost a leg, and surrender of the ram quickly followed. It had however done a large amount of damage to our fleet and it was a miracle that any of our wooden ships escaped. Had the commander of the ram used the craft as a ram only. and as was intended it should be used, it is probable that our fleet would have been destroyed. Opening of their stern ports to fire their guns was their fatal mistake.
The commanders of the other rebel boats, scenting defeat, turned and fled up the bay as fast as steam could carry them; their mainstay on which lay their dependence to whip the yankee ships was gone. Chase was made and some of the rebel boats were sunk, and others were captured. The firing ceased and from vessel after vessel of the victorious fleet rang out such cheers as are seldom heard and never forgotten. Fort Morgan did not surrender for several days after our navy had won their victory. Troops were transferred from Dauphin Island to Mobile Point preparatory to the investment of Fort Morgan.
The day following the battle our officers took the captured Tennessee directly under the walls of the rebel fort to reconnoiter and search for any weak points that might be found, if there were any. This was a grievance to the garrison and decidedly humiliating, and must have caused feelings of depression to see their pet war-ship, in which they had relied, and which had cost a million of dollars and great sacrifice,
turned against them. That there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, we can well believe; that their was fire and retribution in their eyes was evident from the storm of shot thrown from the fort, but it had no more effect on the ram than were they made of rubber. The shot rebounded and dropped into the sea without doing the least injury to the ram. This was continued for nearly an hour, when the Tennessee
slowly withdrew unharmed. Our ships then took positions and made a target of the fort. Shells were thrown with great accuracy, battlements were torn away, woodwork set on fire and the fort could have been levelled [sic] had not the rebels got wind of an attempt at assault by our infantry and surrendered August 23rd. In a letter addressed to General Canby, three days after the surrender, Admiral Farragut wrote,
“General Page, commanding a first rate work with a sufficient force to maintain it, well armed and provisioned, and a garrison determined like himself to defend it to the last, quietly and tamely yielded after one day of bombardment, and then having raised the white flag in token of submission, with a chivalrous spirit of resistance they destroyed everything they could lay their hands on, spiked the guns, sawed the gun-carriages and broke their swords and threw them away.”
I went through the fort and viewed the destruction on all sides, dismounted cannon, broken stone and bricks everywhere, battered walls, confusion all around. I had never cared for trophies, they being too burdensome. In one of the chambers I picked up a book with manilla [sic] paper covers; it was a small copy of the New Testament printed at Atlanta, Georgia, by the Confederate States of America in 1862.
This I kept and still retain and is the only relic of the Southern Confederacy I have with the exception of a f’lag bearing the stars and bars — emblem of the “Lost Cause.”
The Confederacy was fast losing territory and grip, not alone in the Department of the Gulf but in the northwest and all along the lines, which foretold the approach of the close of the Civil War.
My resignation papers were approved and I received orders to report to Washington to settle my accounts, etc., and sailed on a steamer for the North on September 7th., and was honorably discharged.
I received two brevet commissions signed by the President, one for meritorious services at Port Hudson, and the other with the rank of captain for meritorious services during the war.
This chapter would not be complete without mentioning that soon after the close of the war an express package was left at my office, and to my delight, I found it contained the sword which was prized so highly, and of which I was relieved when taken prisoner. The Confederate officer had made good. It bore stains of Louisiana mud and abused service, but I was glad to get the sword again under any conditions.
In conclusion I will say that I have written mostly from memory and cannot vouch for the accuracy of all the dates and details, but they are substantially correct. I had no thought of covering so many pages when I began writing. If these reminiscences are as pleasing to those who read them as it has been gratifying to me to review the experiences of nearly three years in the war that resulted in the
emancipation of three million of slaves, and reunited the States of this Union, I am content.
Joseph L. Hallett
Hyannis, May 1911