Note: We recognize that some of the thoughts and language herein are considered racist by today’s standards, however we have not altered or edited them, preferring to let the reader discern the author’s intent and measure the progress made in the century since these narratives were written.
The first of January 1863 found us (three companies: F, G, and I, of the 31st Mass. Vols.) doing garrison duty at Fort Pike, and quartered in the new barracks, which we had built in 1862. There were also a detachment of the 4th Mass. Battery quartered with us, and about seventy-five or a hundred Negroes of all ages, sexes and colors, refugees from the plantations around Bonfouca, Pearlington, and from the interior of the state of Mississippi, who had availed themselves of the existing state of the country to obtain their freedom. They were living in rough shanties and old rotten tents of the Fremont and Sibley patterns, which had been put up for their accommodation, some opposite the barracks, and the rest on the old Hospital grounds on the lake shore, at the farther end of the shell road, a mile from the fort. All comprising the Garrison of Fort Pike.
On the 3rd of the month, the paymaster made us a welcome visit and gave each of us $52.00, or four months pay. The paymaster is a man whose visits are few and far between and, need I add, a visitor who is always welcome.
On the 4th, wrote a letter to Brother Albert.
About the 13th, I went on guard on a rainy day for Harry Horr for a dollar. Was guard in the casements at the Sally-Port, over the soldier prisoners. I did not feel very well. A large boil was coming on the end of my nose.
On the 17th, in the morning went to the Surgeon and got excused from duty, my boil was so very painful. The boys called me nose-gay while the boil lasted. Before that was gone two more large boils came on my cheek, which kept me awake two or three nights. Three companies of colored troops came to the Fort, the forepart of the month, and took up their quarters at the Old Hospital grounds, down the shell road, a straight road built through the marsh a mile in length, built of shell and always hard in the wetest [sic] weather.
On the 22nd, Brigadier General Sherman came to Fort Pike and had a General Inspection. We had our three companies out in the forenoon and drilled them awhile. He was pretty hard on the officers, as they were taken all aback and did not know how to give their orders properly. He talked to them pretty severely. In the afternoon, he inspected the Battery detachment and the colored troops. My boils excused me from the inspection that time.
On the 24th, the 4th Battery detachment left the fort for New Orleans. They did not have their guns here at all.
Returned to duty on the 27th, having been excused from duty ten days, the only time I was unwell this whole year. Since the inspection we have to drill considerably in the forenoon at heavy artillery in the fort, and in the afternoon at battallion [sic] drill down the shell road. We have dress parades every night and inspection every Sunday. We go on guard once in five or six days.
January at Fort Pike was a very warm month. We only had four or five frosts during the whole month, but there were some days when a fire felt comfortable.
In February, we had a large amount of drilling to do, so when it came our turn to go on guard, (which happened once in five or six days) it seemed like a resting day to us. We had some very cold days the forepart of the month, and one night the water in the moat froze around the edges and a small pond hole back of the cookhouses froze over a quarter of an inch thick. We used to go over to the guard house on the wharf, the only place we could get to a fire. There we would sit or stand until we got partialy [sic] warmed, when we would go back to the Barracks and stay as long as we could stand it. We gladly welcomed the sun towards the latter part of the month, when we would sit on benches or play wicket ball [on] the south side of the Barracks.
On the 9th, wrote a letter to Brother Albert from which I obtained most of the incidents of this month’s history. At that time the grass had begun to grow a little and looked quite green.
On the 19th, I had a pass to go to New Orleans. Went on board the J. M. Brown at 4 o’clock in the morning and soon after the boat started for the city. We reached Lake Port before sunrise,where the boat stopped. Then we, Wm. Stockwell and myself, went ashore and took the cars for New Orleans. We went from the Depot to the Custom House on Canal St. where Co. H of the 26th Mass. Reg’t were quartered, as Stockwell had two cousins in that company. From there we went to Carrollton railroad depot,where we took the cars for our camps near Carrollton. We left the cars opposite the camps, and Wm. Stockwell went to the camp of the 53rd Mass., [a] 9 months Reg’t, where he had some acquaintances, and I went down near the river bank to the Camp of the other 7 companies of the 31st, who were camping at that place. But the Reg’t had, about a week before, taken ten days rations and gone on an expedition near Plaquemine, leaving a few sick men to guard the camp. So I went back to the 53rd camp, where we took dinner. We had fried pork, bread and molasses and a cup of coffee. They said they always had coffee there three times a day. In the afternoon, we took the cars and went back to New Orleans. Traveled down to the French Market, where the oranges were piled up on the levee like apples around a cider mill. We each of us bought a barrel of cocoanuts [sic], paying four dollars a barrel for them, and a barrel of oranges, paying five dollars a barrel. We hired them taken to the Pontchartrain railroad depot, but we were a few minutes too late for the five o’clock train, so we waited nearly an hour for the next train. We had some difficulty in getting them to take our freight, as it was against their rules to take any after 5 o’clock. We at last succeeded in getting them aboard, but when we got to Lake Port the train stopped some ways from the wharf, and they unshackled the engine for the night, so we unloaded the barrels and commenced to roll them to the boat. But Lieut. Rice, our Quartermaster, made them hitch on again and run the train down to the boat, so we loaded on the barrels again and had them taken down to the boat. Very kind in the Lieut. As soon as we got aboard the Brown, she started back for Fort Pike and we went back to the after part of the boat and went to sleep. I never saw New Orleans when it was so busy and lively as then. The orange groves in the gardens along the railroads were most beautiful to see, being covered with green leaves and ripe fruit. A finer sight could hardly be found anywhere. We reached the fort about 11 o’clock, took our barrels over to the Barracks, and went to bed. The next morning, the 20th, we sold out our fruit and nuts, making two or three dollars by the operation.
Toward the last of February, the weather began to be warmer, and the returning sun was welcomed with gladness. We would sit on the benches and play wicket ball the south side of the barracks and take some comfort. The grass began to grow very fast, and the white clover heads to show themselves, making the Parapets of the fort look beautiful. While we were at the fort, we would occasionally get oysters and fish from the passing boats, and we would sometimes fish for crabs or other fish about the fort for ourselves, thereby taking a great deal of comfort.
Feb. 22nd. We fired a salute in the fort this morning,in honor of the anniversary of Washington’s birthday. In the afternoon, Corporal Naughton and six men (myself in the number) were detailed as volunteers to go on picket guard to Pleasanton Island Light House. We generally voluntered [sic] to go to the lighthouse, merely for the change in our monotonous existence at the fort. In the winter the mosquitoes at the fort are not very plenty; but at the lighthouse they are troublesome the whole year round, owing to its being on a very small shell bank with a marsh on every side. But we would occasionally volunteer to endure the torment of the mosquitoes,rather than stay at the fort all the time. We took five days rations and went on board the Firmeza with them and set sail. We had a very pleasant sail of seven miles on the Firmeza, on what was better known as the Green Sloop, that being her color. The pickets that we relieved returned to the fort in the Dixie, a small sloop, but a fast one. We generally had one man for cook while at the lighthouse, which left five of us to watch through the night, someone generally being around in the daytime, so we did not consider it necessary to stand regularly in the daytime. We had to hail all boats that came from either way and went towards the mouth of West Pearl river, and all boats that came down from there excepting Turner’s Schooners. This time, we were at the lighthouse, the wild ducks and geese were very plenty, the ducks living around in the lagoons or ponds that are very numerous in this region, and the geese taking longer flights and feeding where the marshes had been burned over in the fall. So we ran a lot of buckshot and pistol balls in some moulds that Fred, the lightkeeper, had, and to pass away the time we would take a tramp to the Lagoons in Pleasanton’s Island for ducks; I got a shot at some once & wounded one, but could not get it, as it went into the tall grass at the edge of the lagoon. Fred, who had a shotgun, got two of them.
On Friday, the 25th, we, Fred and Charly, light keeper and assistant, Henry Naughton, Harrison Horr, one or two others I have forgotten and myself, went aboard the Firmeza, sailed across the Rigolets and around to the farther side of O’Rourk’s Island, which had been deserted since we took O’Rourk prisoner in 1862. O’Rourk used to have a wood yard and wharf on the Island, and his house was built on spikes [piles?] driven into the mud; he also used to keep hogs, it requiring nothing for them to eat, only what they picked up on the Island for themselves, until they were to be fatted. Then, he shut them up in a pen and fed them a few weeks, thus getting his pork very cheap. When O’Rourk was arrested, these hogs were running loose, and at the times I write of, they had increased to quite a drove, some fifty or a hundred of them, and very wild. It was fine sport to hunt them.
The Island had been burned over, or part of it had, in the fore part of the winter, leaving several hundred acres in the center quite bare, which was frequently occupied by immense flocks of wild geese. To hunt these Geese and hogs was our object in coming over to the Island. The largest part of the Island had not been touched by the fire and was covered with grass as high as our heads. We landed on the north side of the island leaving Charley in charge of the Sloop. We deployed, agreeing to fire on the large flock of geese that were then feeding on the new grass and bugs, so we started after, loading our rifles with a ball and a few buckshot. When we got to the edge of the tall grass, we found that we were too far from the geese for an effectual shot, so we commenced to creep nearer, getting what shelter we could, but their watchfil [sic] sentinels saw us and gave the alarm,and the whole flock instantly arose in the air with a noise that could be heard two or three miles. There were thousands of them which made a dense cloud, which we all immediately fired into, but the distance was too great and only one was hit, and that flying some distance and coming down in the tall grass, was not to be found. Thus ended our goose hunting in Louisiana. But we were not going back without some game, so we turned our attention to the hogs whose paths Fred had accidently ran [sic] across while after the geese. Before we found them, which we at last did on the west side of the island, it commenced raining, very fine at first, but kept increasing till it wet us through and through. But that did not hinder our sport, which was very exciting for an hour or two, after finding the hogs. The grass being so high and thick, we spread out, enclosing the hogs, and kept drawing nearer, firing whenever we saw them, using only our rifles loaded with a ball; at last, we succeeded in killing four of them, not very fat, but better than no meat. We wasted a number of shots as the grass was thick and we would not get a very good sight of the game. One ball passed near the head of Fred, the light-keeper. While we were chasing the hogs back and forth, a coon started to run across a part of the marsh that had been burned over, but we saw him & Horr shot it. After we had got through hunting, we signaled for Charley to bring the boat around to the west side of the island. Then we commenced drawing our game to the shore. We at last got it aboard and started for the lighthouse, which we reached just before dark. We had a very good day’s sport, catching four hogs and a coon. After we got to the lighthouse, we got some water boiling over a fire and set up a pirogue or old canoe for a scalding tub, then dressed off our game. It was dark before we finished and we were tired, having tramped over the island nearly all day, part of the time with wet clothes.
On Saturday, the 26th, we had fresh pork to eat, but we were too tired to think of cleaning our guns, which were covered with rust. We [were] not expecting to be relieved till Sunday, so we supposed that we should have time to clean our equipments before the next inspection. But in the afternoon, the relief came down and we had to start for the Fort. We took a yawl or row boat, as there was no wind, and had to pull to the Fort, which we reached about 8 o’clock in the evening with our guns covered with rust. And on the morning of the 27th, Sunday, we had to go to inspection, and of course, we had no time to clean our guns, so I borrowed one of [Lawrence W.] Hopkins’, who was on the sick list. But his was not in very good order and when Capt. [Elliot] Bridgman inspected the company, he sent me in to clean my gun. He sent in three others that had been down to the lighthouse, so I was not alone in it. This ended our experience in Picket Duty for that time. On the 28th, we had our regular muster,which we always have once in two months, for pay.
On the first of the month, a mail came in from New Orleans. I was fortunate enough to get a letter from Emma Allen.
We had a dull time of it this month; our regular routine of drill and guard duty. Our only excitement (the life of a soldier) being the arrival of steamers at the wharf. We would all run to the wharf to see them as they came in, which was once or twice a week, sometimes oftener.
The air was generally warm and balmy and the weather beautiful. The new grass commenced to grow luxuriantly and gave the low lands a beautiful appearance, and the parapets of the fort were covered with white clover in bloom, so on the whole the view was quite pleasing. The few peach and cherry trees were in bloom and the young figs had grown to be as large as robins’ eggs, before the month was gone. I used to love to hear the mournful and musical note of the sandhill Crane, which could be heard for two or three miles. But they have left us at last and I have listened in vain for them since, as they generally stay on the lone seashore, and before the next winter, we had moved.
Sometime this month or earlier in the season, I went over to Weems’ Plantation, across the Rigolets, with Scott, our butcher, H. Horr, a few others and four contrabands; part of us went over in a small boat, up a small bayou that terminated about a mile from the plantation buildings, while the contrabands rowed a larger yawl up Salt Bayou had a landing place near the Cotton Gin. We traveled around awhile before we came to the cattle, then shot two of them, which Scott proceeded to dress, while part of us stood guard, so as not to be taken by surprise by the Guerrillas that sometimes visited those parts. About three o’clock p.m., we began to be pretty hungry, as a piece of bread and cup of coffee is not a very hearty breakfast to work on. So Horr went to work building a fire; none of us had any matches with us, so he took his pistol and flashed a little powder into an old stump which was pretty dry, and at last succeeded in kindling a fire, over which we held pieces of the liver and about half-cooked them and got them smoked pretty black. This liver we ate clear without any salting, and a better meal I hardly ever ate; [I] suppose it was because we were so hungry. After the beef was dressed we carried it to the boat, about half a mile off, and then killed some pork for ourselves near the Cotton Gin,while the Contrabands started off with their boat and the beef. We got two pigs, which we got through dressing about sundown, had to carry them a mile to our boat, and then we went back to the Fort very much tired. But we had a good meal of roast pork the next day.
One of the Century-plants in the garden at the Plantation began to show signs of budding. A stalk commenced to push up from the center of the plant. It grew rapidly and was 15 or 20 feet high when it blossomed. The flowers branched out from the main stalk four or five feet in length of the stalk, they were of a pale yellow color, not very handsome, but not often seen. It blossomed in June and July. In March the strawberries and roses were in bloom, but the garden and grounds and even the buildings looked forlorn, for they had been deserted since we came to New Orleans, the former owner being a prisoner at the fort. He (Weems) was taken for burning the gun carriages, spiking the guns, and burning the buildings around Fort Pike, and the hospital on the lake shore. He was accused by Col. Claiborne of Miss. Don’t know whether it was ever proved against him or not. Weems, O’Rourke, Gussman and the other prisoners were sent to the city or exchanged during the summer, and O’Rourk’s family moved down near his old house at the lighthouse, on the west side of West Pearl river, at another house where there was formerly a wood yard. I believe Weems was released and went back to his Plantation in the spring of 1864, but while we stayed at the fort, the island, (for his plantation was an island) was deserted, and the fields grown up to weeds, and a few hogs and cattle roamed over the island at will. We killed most of them before we left, one day coming over and hunting in vain for cattle all day, there being but two left and the hogs kept clear of us.
On the 20th, a mail came in from N. Orleans; had a letter from Albert.
The 23rd was a rainy, disagreeable day, but every rain gave us good water to drink. Our carpenters built six cisterns, which were set up the fore part of May on the south side of the barracks. The weather began to be quite warm, being 70 or 80 degrees in the shade by Farenheit. This warm weather started the figs to growing beautifully. They grow right from the limbs without any blossoms.
My records for April are rather meager and some of them doubtful, especially the date of the visit to Ship Island, but it is the best I can do under the circumstances.
On the 16th, I with a few others had a pass to go over to the Plantation after blackberries. It was a very warm day and the mosquitoes were plenty and very troublesome, especially among the grass and vines where the berries were. We found the berries very thick and I picked seven or eight quarts of them. When I got back to the fort I bought some sugar of the Commissary, which I put with the berries and made some nice sauce, which was very good with our bread. I went over to the Plantation several times during the blackberry season, went on the other boys’ passes, with leave from the orderly Serg’t, giving them half I picked for the pass. In this way, I contrived to have berries as long as they lasted. There were some beautiful roses in the ruined garden of the old plantation. A grape vine or two, some peach and orange trees and the grounds all grown up with weeds. It looked sad and desolate.
On the 18th, the 128th N. Y. Reg’t came to the fort, on board the steamers J. M. Brown and Empire Parish. One of the boats made a landing at the wharf and the New York boys, being encouraged by some of ours, made a raid on our Sutlers establishment, frightening him considerably and taking some of his goods, a dozen or two hats, some tobacco and other things. Our boys got “down” on the Sutler, on account of his outrageous prices, and a few months before, some of them had stolen nine barrels of ale out of about twenty that he had stored in the sally-port. This was taken by Co. I in the night, and the next night, after it began to grow dark, he had the remaining barrels rolled to the boat that had just come in. While the contrabands were rolling them by our quarters, which were then under the fig tree, two or three of them were taken, and the guard that went to Lake Port with the boat took most all that was left, filling up the barrels with lake water. That was some time before, and the same restless spirits thought this a good opportunity to vent their dislike, so improved it. One of the New York fellows was taken by the guard and put in the guardhouse, (one of the casemates), but he jumped out of the port hole and swam or forded the bayou, and so, got back to the boat. After the riot, the N. Y. soldiers were ordered aboard, and both boats anchored in the middle of the stream. One night, a short time after, some of our boys made another raid on the Sutler’s, battering in his door and window with the boom of an old schooner, bricks, etc. The next day, the Sutler moved his goods into one of the casemates, and that night the boys took a boat and went around into the moat, up the port hole, where they climbed in and stole two hundred dollars worth of Sutler’s goods, which they hid in the marsh, and wherever they could find a good place. After this, the sutler, Fabacher, moved back into his shanty and we had to furnish two extra guards every night, one on the bridge and the other at the water battery. The sutler was not molested afterwards while we stayed at the fort. But to return to the expedition.
On the 19th, they started up Pearl River and went up as far as Gainsville where they found the steamer A. G. Brown, that they went after, and a schooner loaded with sugar, cotton, and rosin. They stayed two nights, coming back to the fort on the 21st, where they stayed all night. They made the owners of the A. G. Brown pilot her down Pearl River. All that they took amounted to about twenty thousand dollars worth. Quite a fine operation.
On the 22nd they started for New Orleans.
On the 23rd, a mail came in. I had one letter from Brother Albert.
It was in April, I believe, although of the date I am not certain, that the paymaster came to the fort, on board the Savory, on his way to Ship Island. He came in the evening. About half past nine, after we had got to sleep, they came around and detailed a Corporal and six men, Thompson was the Corporal, and I was detailed as one of the men. We took our things and went aboard the Savory. We went for a guard for the Paymaster and the boat, which was loaded with commissary stores. We had a dark cloudy night, and in the morning the wind began to blow, and as we came into the Gulf, the boat pitched and rocked, which made most of us seasick, including the Capt. and crew.
We reached Ship Island early in the morning, and the Paymaster went ashore in a yawl boat, while we anchored out side. But the wind kept increasing, and the waves dashed up under the guards of the boat, throwing the spray over the whole boat, and of course, we all grew sicker. And the Captain, getting frightened, run up the flag, Union down, as a signal of distress, and some naval officers came aboard, gave the Capt. of the Savory a talking to, and ran the boat up to the wharf, quite a delicate operation for such a boat in such a sea, but it was done skilfully. We were only too glad to get on terra firma, again. We stayed that night in one of the portable houses that we used to keep Commissary stores in. The Quartermaster Serg’t was very kind to us, furnishing us with rations, and gave us one of the storehouses for quarters. The Island was garrisoned by seven companies of a colored regiment. There were quite a number of prisoners there that had been sentenced to hard labor. These were employed working on the fort. The appearance of Ship Island had changed greatly since we left it in 1862. The city of tents was gone. The village on the lower end had increased wonderfully. The fort was nearly done, or the Mason work was, but there were no guns mounted inside. And several batteries had been built on the sand hills around the lower end, and the barren sand, where our camps were formerly situated, was covered with a thin but tall growth of coarse grass. I had some difficulty in finding our former camping ground, which I had the curiosity to visit. I went to the grave yard where a few of the 31st boys lie sleeping. Sad feelings took possession of my fancy. I picked up a few simple shells to keep as a memorial of the place.
The fine large schooner Anne C. Leverett lay at the wharf at Ship Island, discharging a cargo of brick. She had on board two condensers, for making fresh water from salt water, one was for Fort Pike, the other for Port Macomb. She came to the fort a week or two afterwards. I had to work on board of her, unloading the smoke stacks, boilers, engine, etc. of our condenser. We stayed at Ship Island only one night, then we came back to the fort.
The weather in April was quite warm, and as a natural consequence, the mosquitoes were plenty and troublesome.
On the 5th, a mail came in. I was fortunate enough to get two letters. One from brother Albert, the other from Charles Davis, who was then at home in Staffordville, but has since enlisted in the 1st Ct. Heavy Artillery, Co. A. and was in front of Petersburgh [sic] under Gen. Grant.
On the 6th two men came to the fort, from Pearl River, with a small boat loaded with honey, which they got permission to sell to us soldiers. They had several hundred weight of it, which they sold to us for twenty five cents a pound, and as they did not have anything to weigh with, they sold it by measure giving us a quart cup full for two bits (or 25 cents). I bought six bits or $.75 worth of it, getting a two quart glass jar and a cup full.
Our Company Commissary, [Charles] C. O. Thomas, bought what they did not sell to the boys; bought with company funds, so we had enough to eat with our bread for several days. The men stayed at the fort all night and on the 7th went back up Pearl River again after another load of honey. They brought down several loads,coming as often as they could collect a load, which was two or three weeks at a time. It was very good honey.
We had to go on guard in May five or six times. When we came to the fort, there was an old barge or launch lying in the moat, full of water. In the spring of this year, Lieut. Rice, our Quartermaster, had it bailed out and hauled out to the ways below the fort, where it was hauled up and the barnacles scraped from its bottom, the seams calked with oakum, and the whole of it painted. Then the Lieut. had some paddle wheels made and fitted to the boat and turned by long levers fixed to the crank of each. It took thirty-two men to man the boat, & as many more could ride in the boat. Lieut. Rice then had a carriage built and one of our two small mountain howitzers (12 pounders) mounted in the bow. It was very hard work to propel this boat, and it was of no great use, so the men here gave it two names: one, The Mankiller, the other, Rice’s Folly.
About this time a man named Perrington bought an old schooner that was lying at the fort, and we soldiers had to help him haul it on to the ways or long timbers running parallel to one another into the water, the other end on the shore. We worked for him several days between drill hours. When he had got her fixed, we helped him launch her, again. Perrington sold the schooner at New Orleans, making considerable money by the operation, while we got nothing for our work.
One day in May, our Sutler came in from the city, bringing four or five ladies in his sloop. They stayed in the Citadel all night and Capt. Rockwell used our flag for a mosquito bar, so the Serg’t of the guard could not get it to raise over the fort until nine o’clock, and then it hung lifeless a half day as though aware of the disgraceful use that it had been put to. In the morning, Captain B. had dress parade for the gratification of the women, as it was the only time we ever had dress parade in the morning. In the forenoon, the officers took the ladies out to ride in the Polly, giving the men that manned the boat a ration of whiskey for their services. The ladies went back to New Orleans in the afternoon in the Lelia, or Sutler’s boat. I have to set down these occurrences in a very disjointed manner, as I have forgotten the date of occurance [sic].
On the 15th of June, several of us soldiers, myself among them, obtained passes to go over to Weems’ Plantation. After we got there, we found nothing worth the trouble of coming to see, so by common consent we took the cart path across the island until we came to Salt Bayou, on the north side of the Island,where there used to be a bridge, but had been burned by the rebels, so there now remains a few charred logs, and a boat [that] answers for [a] ferry. We were soon all across the bayou and wended our way to Mr. Sneyder’s Plantation. Mr. Sneyder is an old man, owns a small plantation about a quarter of a mile from the bayou. He used to come to the Fort quite often with eggs, chickens, milk, honey, peaches and other luxuries of his place, which luxuries he generally sold to the officers taking his pay in Pork, flour, etc. He had been over so that we had got well acquainted with him, so we stopped at his place and held quite a chat with the old folks. We had some water to drink from a well, for the soil is a little sandy there, and higher than most of the surrounding country, so they had the uncommon luxury of a well, which was stoned up with boards. The timber over there was mostly pine, oaks, magnolia, a few persimmon trees, etc. Most of the land was heavily timbered, there being occasionally a plantation, though not very wealthy ones. After we had rested awhile at Mr. Sneyder’s, we started on along the road through the woods, stopping by the ways to pick high blackberries, which were quite plenty,though the largest part had been ripe and fallen off, but we ate our fill of what were left and sighed to think that we could hold no more. We had our guns with us, as we always did when we went outside the lines, and our party numbered ten or twelve, so we were not afraid of Guerrillas, who sometimes visited there parts, so we kept on with our exploring expedition, and after we had traveled about half a mile, we came to Mr. Saddler’s habitation. Saddler is another Dutchman and some relation to Sneyder, as they married sisters. Mr. Saddler had sometimes been over to the fort, so we were somewhat acquainted with him, and as it was a warm day, we stopped to see him. Mrs. Saddler was engaged in carding and spinning cotton, which they wove into a coarse cloth. The lady of the house brought some for us to examine. It was very strong and durable. They said the cheapest cloth they could get was a dollar a yard at Mobile or at Jackson,their nearest market, and as they could not get any from our lines, they had to make their own after the fashion of fifty years ago. After we left Saddler’s plantation we continued our march into the interior, stopping occassionaly [sic] at the dwellings of the poorer planters to chat with them, until we were about six or seven miles from the fort; then we retraced our steps, retreating in good order, after eating all the blackberries we could hold. When we reached the Fort, it was quite late, but we were satisfied with our excursion. After this, two of Co. I boys, [Albert] Cook and Bradmen [Charles Bradburn?], who had become acquainted with some fair damsels in that region, obtained passes quite often and visited them, but alas, they were rebels still, and one bright sunshiny afternoon, the two gallants of Co. I were betrayed and taken by the Guerrillas, and our men (I was at the Lighthouse then) had to turn out and make a raid through that vicinity for the missing men, but without discovering their whereabouts. In a few weeks however, they returned and reported that they were taken to Gainsville, had good treatment and were then paroled. Their capture prevented any further excursions in that direction.
There was at this time in New Orleans a class of inhabitants styled “registered enemies”, because they wouldn’t take the oath of allegiance. They consisted of men, women and children, and numbered ten thousand; and Gen. N. P. Banks, then in command of the Gulf Dept., sent forth a decree that all such persons should, within a given time, leave our lines and go over to the enemy. Free transportation was also furnished, and about twenty loads of them passed Fort Pike on their way to Biloxi and Mississippi City, on the coast of Miss. They went mostly on schooners sailing under a white or flag of truce. As soon as landed, the able bodied men were conscripted by confederate officers waiting for the purpose, so in fact, we helped to fill their ranks. Two or three loads of the registered enemies were taken out on the Steamer J. M. Brown, and one afternoon as she came along, the Commander of the Fort, Capt. Bridgman allowed them to land at the wharf, and a dozen or more of them to land, showing them about the outer works, and allowed some of the ladies to go inside to dress parade, setting chairs for them upon the barbettes, and we could see as we went through the ceremony of dress parade, their scornful looks at us Yankees, and more than one had a book, taking notes of the guns, etc.; and as we marched out by the rebel gentlemen, they looked with scorn on us as we passed. This made us angry, for they had no business to land at the fort. So Corporal Thompson, a good soldier and a Christian, feeling it his duty, wrote to the Commanding General, informing him of this circumstance and also of the visit of the ladies that the Sutler brought to the Fort. And in due time, an officer belonging to the General’s Staff came to the Fort to examine the facts of the case, and Thompson was called for, and made his statements before the Officers, but neglected to call in sufficient evidence, depending too much on his own statements. And the officer stayed all night and it was fixed up some way between them, and after he was gone, Capt. Bridgman reduced Corporal Thompson to the ranks. This ending of the case worried Thompson considerably, and with some other causes, it turned him crazy.
At the fort, we had several carpenters that were hired by the Quartermaster’s Department. They had finished the wood work of the citadel, built our barracks and cookhouses, and in June they were engaged in building cisterns, eight of which they put up, two to catch the water from the roof of the citadel, the other six under the eaves of the barracks. These cisterns with three old ones, caught all the water we had to use at the fort. Several times, the water ran low in the cisterns and became so full of animalculae [sic], or what we called wigglers, that we strained it through a piece of mosquito bar, which generally took out the large ones. This water then tasted very good to us, as we could get nothing else to drink. We generally had a rain before our water was quite gone, but in midsummer we had a long drought, when the sun was so nearly overhead that the sun shone down the chimneys of the cookhouses, and shone on the hearths; then there were weeks and weeks that no water fell; at least, the water ran so low that we could draw no more water from our cisterns; then we used to put up a ladder on the outside and another on the inside, and go into them and dip up what was below the faucets; this water was thick with wigglers and dirt, and after being strained it was dark colored as strong tea. At about this time, our officers sent for a steamer to get us some fresh water, but there was not any to be had, then. And for two or three days, our cooks made coffee and cooked with salt water. At last, a steamer was at liberty and came to the fort, where she hitched to a flatboat which she took up Pearl River, and before night we had all the fresh water we wanted. One day, we had to drink lake water or go without any; it was not very salty at that time, the tide being out and Pearl River emptying into the Rigolets only seven miles distant. In the latter part of June, we had our condensers put up at the fort, and after that was in running order, we had all the water we wanted. The fresh water made by the condensers is the steam of salt water, which being cooled, ran into a cistern made to receive it. It did not taste as good as rain water, but was a great deal better then none.
About the 18th or 20th, our turn came to furnish pickets for the lighthouse, and as a change of scene was what I liked once in awhile, I volunteered to go, as my friend and comrade, Harry Horr, was going as asst. corporal. We had a pleasant sail, down there, and were warmly welcomed by our old friends the mosquitoes. One day, while we were at the lighthouse, we had the hotest [sic] day I ever saw. The sun was nearly vertical, and not a breath of air in motion. We sat or lay on the northern piazza in the shade, and for hours we were trembling with the intense heat. The sweat ran off us until our clothes were soaked with it. The birds had all sought some shelter from the heat, and not a solitary note disturbed the quiet of that hot summer day.
There was [were] at this time at the Fort, hanging up where the sun could shine on them, two thermometers. The mercury in them ran up to 120 degrees, and in one of them it boiled over and never settled, afterwards. The other continued to work as well as ever.
Another day while we were at the lighthouse, a day which was not so hot as the last mentioned one, we, [Harrison] Horr, [Forrest E.] Hanson, and myself took our guns into a skiff and went on an exploring expedition around Pleasanton Island. We first rowed out in the Rigolets until we came to Lake Borgne; here we turned to the right around the eastern end of the Island, entering soon after a wide Bayou that connects with Lake Catherine. We soon came to a schooner that had been moored here some days, the spars of which we had seen from the lighthouse. The crew were loading her up with shells to build roads in the swamps near New Orleans. After we left the schooner, we rowed over half a mile, and found ourselves opposite an old, ruined building, which was still standing on what formerly was an old cotton plantation. We landed here and explored the premises, which were overgrown with weeds, brush and briers; the old dykes or levees were in a ruined condition. They had once served to keep out the high tides, but the plantation had long been unoccupied. There had once been a murder committed here, the owner of the place being stabbed, in his bed at night, by some of his enemies; and as it was a lonesome, desolate place, it was never inhabited after the murder, and is said to be haunted, by the Pearlington people from whom I heard the story of the murder. We found it haunted only by clouds of mosquitoes, and poisonous snakes, one of which we saw, a very brilliant-looking reptile, but as he did not like our company and ran under an old pile of lumber, we concluded to let him go, especially as his bite was a most deadly one. We also saw some hogs’ tracks near the building and we followed their paths for nearly an hour and, at last, we came to the conclusion that the hogs must be the invisible spirits that haunted that desolate spot. So we turned to the boat again and continued our voyage of discovery. Before we got around to the Lighthouse, we saw two or three large aligators [sic], and so we tried our skill in shooting at them. Our balls passed very close to the rough monsters, but luckily for them did not hit them. They did not like the whistle of our minnie [Minie] balls, and soon went down out of sight. At last, we reached the Lighthouse, having rowed completely around the Island; a good ten-mile voyage.
That night, about ten o’clock, a man came down from Turner’s mills, a few miles up West Pearl River, with the information that the guerrillas were coming down to burn the mills because Turner had been sawing lumber to sell in New Orleans; and as we were only two or three miles from Turner’s, we expected to be attacked ourselves. So, the Corporal mustered our whole force consisting of 7 Infantry and Artillery, besides the skirmishing force of Charley, Frederick, and Frederick’s wife, who wanted to take the command into her own hands, threatening to shoot the first man that ran away. (She had a pistol.) At last, Fred sent her into the house. Our Artillery consisted of one 12-pounder, a brass piece, very light, weighing without the carriage only 160 lbs., and called a mountain howitzer; this we had loaded with canister, and a man stood all the rest of the night with the lanyard in hand, ready to fire at a second’s notice. Fred’s wife, at last, made us some coffee, which was very good. We thought she did better making coffee than she did as a military commander. Fred kept signaling to the Fort most all night. About four o’clock in the morning, a gunboat came down there with Capt. Bridgman on board. After asking a few questions, they turned around and went back. We passed a sleepless night, but the rebels did not disturb Turner’s mill that night. A day or two after, we were relieved. That was the last time I went to the lighthouse on guard. Harry Horr was promoted to Corporal soon after we returned to the fort.
On the 30th we had an inspection and muster for pay, as usual at the end of each period of two months.
In the last of June, and all through the month of July, some of the people of Pearlington would come to the Port nearly every day, with their boats loaded with plums, peaches, melons, a few poor apples, and other fruits. We could buy their peaches for fifteen cents a dozen. Figs sold very reasonable.
On July 4th, we wished to have a good time and celebrate the national birthday, and as several hundred dollars had been saved “as company fund” from our rations, we had the money to do it with. Our officers purchased several gallons of whiskey, a quantity of lemons, and sugar to make into punch. Some chickens, sauces, etc., for a good dinner, and a number of prizes were also purchased. In the morning, we had several tubs of lemon punch made, so we had all we wanted to drink through the day, and some of the boys were far from sober long before the day was done. Just after breakfast, the first prize, a copy of Casey’s Infantry tactics, was awarded to the best drilled man of the three companies, and in the trial, corporal Patrick Dinan, of Co. I., proved to be the man. After the 1st prize had been awarded, the three companies were marched out on the shell road toward the target, which was set up twenty rods distant. We fired one shot each and the best shot won a nice silver cup. This prize was won by Orderly Serg’t [Charles L.] Moody of Co. G. The target firing continued until noon, and we adjourned till after dinner. We had a nice dinner of roast beef, stewed chicken, well seasoned, and potatoes, tomatoes, catsup, etc., the best dinner we had seen since we joined the army, and we all did justice to the occasion.
After dinner we continued our round of enjoyment. The first thing was a greased pole, with a watch at the top, for the successful climber. After a dozen fruitless attempts, the prize was reached by Nevins C. Morse, a drummer boy of Co. F. The next performance on the program was a sack race. This made sport enough. There were six competitors for the prize in this race, and we had but four sacks, so the winner in the 1st trial had to run with the two last. This was done by the men getting into the sacks, and the mouths of them drawn up around their necks. They could only move by hopping. They had about six rods to go, and they would fall over and pitch round in a ludicrous manner. George H. Munsell was the first one through in the first race, so he had to go again in the 2nd heat. He was hard pressed by the Serg’t Major, but won the prize, a nice $15.00 pipe. The next scene was a comical, though dangerous one. It was a wheel-barrow race, about a dozen engaged in it. They had about six rods to go, turn around a barrel, and come back to the place of starting. They were all furnished with wheel-barrows, placed in a line, and a bandage fastened across their eyes, and the word was given to start. They all started on a run, and three or four ran together, jamming one fellow’s hand very badly. After they started, they ran in all directions, but the right one. Only one fulfilled the requirements, and that one could see under his bandage, but the prize, a portfolio, was awarded to him. The next exercise was the funniest of all, and made the most sport; it was called Hunting the Gold. About fifteen pounds of flour was put in a wash tub, and a silver half dollar placed in the bottom of it. This game was for the contrabands. They had their hands tied behind them, and hunted for the money with their heads, and as they were sweaty, the flour stuck to their wool and faces, making them look funny enough. This sport continued until we had laughed all we could and had got tired of it, without any one getting the the money. Then Capt. Rockwell promised the money to the one that beat in a race on all fours for about ten rods. They prepared themselves and the word was given. They all started in that position, but had not gone far when most of them jumped up and ran with all their might. These, of course, lost the prize, but it was won by a pickaninie [sic] who kept on his hands and knees all the way.
We then took supper, after which there was a foot race for five pounds of tobacco, won by Wm. L. Bishop, F Co. Among the competitors was one of the fattest, heaviest men there. This was Wm. Pratt, and we have ever since had considerable fun over his thinking he could run. He was left clear behind. Co. I were not satisfied by the result of this race, so they got together another prize of two or three books, and had John Mealey run with Bishop, but the latter won again. The sun had set long before the last race was decided, and we then went over to the fort and listened to a patriotic speech by Capt. Bridgman, and a poem and essay by Amos Ramsdell. We had been so busy all day, that we had forgotten to fire the national salute from the cannon of the fort. We returned to our quarters after listening to the speeches, fully satisfied with our day’s sport. I never expect to see so much fun crowded into one day again.
On the eighth of July, the glorious news came from New Orleans that Vicksburg had, on the 4th inst., surrendered to Gen. Grant. We were marched over to the fort and heard the dispatch read, and we gave three cheers with hearty good will. Two days later, viz. on the 10th, we were again marched over to the fort and heard another dispatch read, that Port Hudson had, on the 8th inst., surrendered to Gen. Banks. We gave the good news three-times-three and a tiger; then sprang upon the parapets and fired one hundred guns in honor of the victory, done by the order of the Gen. commanding the defences [sic] of New Orleans.
About the 18th of July, my friend H. Horr and myself, getting tired of our lazy life, commenced making finger rings of horn and setting three small pieces of silver in the back of each ring. The rings were very pretty and sold readily for a dollar each. “Trust till pay day.” We commenced the manufacture of these rings more for pastime and to keep our minds easy, those long hot days, than for profit, though the latter was not overlooked or despised. I made about twenty of the rings before we left the post, getting about $15.00 for my work.
On the nineteenth, the steamer A. G. Brown, loaded with paroled prisoners on their way to Ship Island, stopped at the post. Our parole camp was then at Ship Island, and the men had to go there to await their exchange. Among the released prisoners was one [Charles] “Bully” Stutson, a notable character belonging to Co. A of our 31st Mass. Reg’t. He was captured on the Port Hudson campaign, while he and two or three others fell in the rear to plunder, and being left “beyond the support of the column, were gobbled by the Confederates. None of the paroled men had drawn rations that day, and they were consequently very hungry. Bully went once to the barracks and got something to eat, and I bought a pound of crackers for one hungry fellow to divide with his comrade. They only stopped a few minutes at the wharf.
On the 21st we received a mail, the only one for nearly a month. I got two letters. These mails were looked for with longing eyes, and eagerly welcomed when they arrived. During the fore part of August and the whole of July we got all the peaches, from Pearl River, that we were willing to buy.
During this month several events occured [sic] that should be recorded, but I cannot recollect the dates nor the order of occurance [sic], for I write this nearly two years afterwards, with no aid but a poor memory. One of these occurences [sic] was the death of Sergeant Henry S. Church, of our Company F. He died of typhus fever, after a short illness of only two days. He died in the night; the next day Serg’t Horr was sent to New Orleans to procure a metallic coffin, for we decided to send the remains home to his wife in Deerfield. The remains were placed in one of the casemates and a watch kept over them, in which I took my share. But the coffin did not arrive until sunset on the second day, when it was found that the body had bloated so that it was impossible to get it into the coffin. So, at nine o’clock at night, he was placed in a wooden coffin, silently and without a funeral procession was taken to the lone graveyard in the marsh, and there buried in sorrow. He was the third man that had died in Co. F. He will rest as well there as in his native place in Mass. There he lies in the swamps of Louisiana, one of the many sacrifices offered on the altar of his country. Peace be to his remains.
Another event in our quiet camp life was a raid into that part of the state of Miss, back of Pearlington. Some of the inhabitants had brought the information that a party of eight Confederate drovers were collecting all the cattle in that region for the enemy, and paying in Confederate bonds. So the next morning, early, we fitted out an expedition for that region and started early for the scene of action. The expedition consisted of the side wheel gunboat Folly, manned with about 50 men, and re-enforced with the Cutter, a long rowboat that had been fixed up and supplied with a good set of oars, manned with 10 men. Lieuts. [Lewis F.] Rice and [Martin] Pulver went in command of the fleet. We worked our way through eight miles of the Rigolets, then took a Bayou near the outlet of Pearl River, and worked our boats about eight miles further, coming to anchor or rather tieing up to the shore, about half a mile above the residence of Col. Claiborne.
Here we procured information and started across the country, through the pine forest, leaving a small party of men to guard the boats. After we had traveled about two miles, we came to a clearing, where the inhabitants told us that the rebel drovers left there the night before, for another plantation still further ahead. We stopped here to rest and get some water, for it was a very hot day. Then we again resumed our march, following an old cart path about two miles farther, till we came to the next plantation, where we again stopped to drink and rest. Here we saw three or four Creole and quadroon girls, who were making a good supply of molasses candy, which they distributed freely among us, talking socially with us all the while.
On the strength of information here received, we came to the conclusion that the enemy were beyond our reach, and we intended to return after we had rested long enough; when all at once we were surprised by the appearance of one of the drovers galloping up the road towards us, but as soon as he saw us, he turned and fled, while the sharp crack of three or four of our Enfield rifles expedited his flight, doing him no damage beyond a scare. We now started in pursuit of the enemy, on the double quick, going nearly two miles, when we stopped at another plantation to rest, and we now concluded that it was useless going any farther, as we supposed the drovers were by this time aware of our approach, and were at a safe distance. But while we were resting in the house, two of them passed near the house, with their drove of 200 head of cattle; and as we had no picket posted, they had got very near the house before we saw them. Both parties were surprised. The drovers put spurs to their horses and skedaddled, followed by about a dozen Minie balls. I was in the house when the first shot was fired, but got out in time to get one shot, when they were about fifty rods distant. We did not hit either of them.
We now had a rich prize, the large drove of cattle, but like the man who drew “the elephant in a lottery,” we did not know what to do with it. We had no way to take them to the fort, so we killed one for the meat, and left the rest to be again picked up for the rebel army. I think it was very bad management, for the cattle might have been driven to the landing, and most of us stayed for a guard, while a despatch could have been sent from the fort to New Orleans by telegraph, for a steamer to come and get the cattle. They would well have paid the cost of transportation, but they were left, and so we lost the fruits of victory. We got a few peaches at the last plantation, where we stopped, and all that wished took some of the beef that we had killed. I carried back a haversack full of steak.
We started on the retreat just before sunset, and had to pick our way back through the woods in the dark. We procured a contraband of one of the planters for a guide, and we at last reached the boat about 10 o’clock at night, very tired with our fruitless Sunday’s work, for the expedition started Sunday morning.
After taking a drink of coffee, we re-embarked and turned our bows towards home, taking turns at the levers that moved the wheels of Folly. It was very hard, slow work, and we were thoroughly tired out and very sleepy when we reached the lighthouse, seven miles from the fort, at one o’clock Monday morning. Both the officers were ahead in the cutter, and two sergeants were left in command of the Folly. When we reached the wharf of the lighthouse, we men were determined to stop and rest until morning, as we knew it could do no harm, but the Sergeants, finding their expostulations of no avail, called to the officers and they came back. Lieut. Pulver, then taking command of the Man-killer, threatened us severely if we did not work the boat to the fort; so we reluctantly and grumblingly took hold and toiled along our weary way, for the tide was going out and there was a strong current against us in the Rigolets; but we at last reached the wharf at Port Pike, just as the first faint blush of that August morning was tinging the eastern sky with gorgeous colors. But we did not stop to enjoy the sunrise, but started for our bunks to sleep, and it would have been hard to find a more tired set of men than we were. No wonder the “Folly” was renamed the “Man-killer.”
That day, I had all the beef steak that I could eat. The country in that part of the state of Mississippi, where we traveled was low, flat and with a light soil covered with pine forests, with a few plantations. The productions of the soil were cotton, sweet potatoes, corn, pitch, and rosin, fruits, peaches, plums, and a few oranges. The Bayous and streams were lined by live oaks, Sweet Gum, magnolia, cypress, tulip, persimmon, and other southern trees; the banks were covered with vines of a kind of palm-leaf plant. This was the last expedition that we made from the fort.
Another sad event in our camp life, that happened about this time, was M. M. Thompson’s loosing his reason. As I have before stated, he was reduced to the ranks for writing a letter to the general, and worrying about that, with some other causes, destroyed his reason. He was kept at the fort a few days, until he had became a raving maniac, tearing his clothes, shrieking, gibbering, and acting in a horrible manner, until we could do nothing with him. He was then taken to New Orleans by his cousins, Chas. and Harry Horr, and admitted to the Charity Hospital at that city, where he remained for a few days, until he got so bad they could not manage him. He was then taken to the Parish prison, where he was chained up in one of the cells and died in that place a few weeks after. A post mortem examination learned that his brain had all turned to water. Thus perished the Christian soldier, Marcus M. Thompson, the fourth man of F Co., 31st. Mass. Volunteers, that died in service. “Thy will be done, 0 Lord!”
During the forepart of August the weather was very warm and mosquitoes were troublesome, but the last half of the month was quite cool for the season, and we had showers most every day. On the 26th, we received “Marching Orders”, but had to wait several days for transportation. Capt. Bridgman here received a commission as Colonel of the 20th Regt. Corps d’Afrique, and Lieut. Pulver a Major’s commission. Also Sergeants Mason Abbey, Jessie Hayden, Daniel Morrison, Amos Ramsdell and Corporal Henry Naughton got commissions in the same regiments. All these left our company. Chas. H. Horr was the only sergeant that stayed with the company, and he had a commission offered him. On the 31st, we were, as usual, mustered for pay.
On the 2nd inst., the long looked for Pay Master made us a welcome visit at the Fort, and gave us each two month’s pay, or twenty six dollars. We were paid up to July 1st. Money was, as usual, quite flush for a few days.
On the 5th, the steamer W. B. Savory arrived at the fort, to take us to New Orleans on our way to join the regiment at Baton Rouge. We went on board in the afternoon with baggage, etc., then took leave of our old comrades, that had joined the Corp d’Afrique. Bade Adieu to our for-more-than-a-year home and started.
We had a quiet passage across the lake. Steamed up the New Basin Canal just after dark. We landed near the head of said basin, and took up our quarters in Fassman’s Press, having out a camp guard. On the 6th, we remained in camp, a number of us getting passes to go over the city. I had a pass on that day, and had a very good time; bought several useful articles that I stood in need of. Was very glad to get where there was something going on again. A great number of the boys got beastly drunk and rolled around in the dirt like hogs; a sad sight to see.
That night we had a dress parade in the press yard. Capt. Rockwell had command of the detachment. Lieut. L. F. Rice had charge of Co. F. He was soon after promoted to Captain, and had command of the Company for a long time.
On the 7th, we still remained at the Press, which we had swept out, and cleaned up. And most of the boys that did not get passes the day before, got them on that day. We again had dress parade in the evening; this time on a vacant square near the Press yard. Many spectators were present, who seemed to enjoy the scene. At that time, we were thoroughly drilled, and went through the Manual of Arms with great precision, but rather quicker than the ordinary time.
Late in the afternoon of the 8th, Capt. Rockwell procured transportation for the detachment, and about sunset, we “fell in”, and then two of us, Geo. Goodwin and myself, were detailed to stay and guard the officers’ baggage until a team was sent for it. We then took off our knapsacks and went into the office, while the rest of the boys marched to the boat, but it was so late that they could not get a team that night, so we were left for the next boat. The detachment proceeded up the river and arrived at Baton Rouge on the 9th, and were escorted from the boat to the camp by the seven companies of the regiment then at that place. It was remarked at the time, that the three Fort Pike companies were as strong in number as the seven remaining ones, who had been through the campaigns of Fort Bisland and Port Hudson, where their losses were heavy in killed and wounded; but in fact, the three companies did not muster as many men as the seven, but had as many for duty. Goodwin and myself had a good time at Fassman’s Press. We boarded at Poydras Market, lodged in the office of the Press, and took turns in strolling about town. Wrote some letters on the 10th. On the same day, Lieut. Perry, who had been left in charge of us, got transportation for us on the steamer South Western. We got our baggage on board in the afternoon, and left the wharf at 5 p.m., and steamed up the river in the evening, past Jefferson City, (the upper part of New Orleans) with its one cotton factory, the only one in the south; past Carrollton and Fort Butler, rich plantations, etc. We watched the scenery passing before our enraptured gaze, until the shades of evening dimmed our vision, then laid on the decks to sleep. We had left the mosquitoes behind.
At two o’clock a.m. on Sept. 11th, we were awakened by the arrival of the boat at our destination. We (Goodwin and I) transferred our baggage to the Natchez, an enormous river boat, that was too old for service, so was used for a wharf at Baton Rouge. We slept the night out on the Natchez, and in the morning, loaded the baggage on an ambulance sent to receive it, and went up to Camp Banks, situated on rising ground, south of the State Penitentiary. The Camp was laid out regular, situated on level or nearly level land, but with no trees or shade of any kind. Some days, it was very hot. We had the tall, round Sibley tents, and the camp looked very pretty, viewed from the tops of the State House, which had been burned down within the past year. The walls were still standing.
Baton Rouge is a picturesque town, situated on a bluff on the Mississippi River, 135 miles above New Orleans. This Bluff is the first rising or natural ground above the mouth of the river. All the land below, for a distance of 230 miles along the river, being land made by the deposit of the great father of waters for centuries. At the time of which I write, a part of the town was in ruins, having been burned at the time of the battle in Aug. 1862. During the progress of the battle, a number of buildings had been fired in the outskirts of the place and in 1863, tall, blackened chimneys, surrounded with weeds, the sad relics of numerous happy homes, loomed up in every direction, a sad witness of the desolation of war. But by far, the largest part of the town was still standing and doing a thriving business with the Country people, when the lines were open. The streets were lined with trees, giving them a cool, pleasant aspect. Just above the town was a fort or strong earth-work, and around the town, in the rear, ran a line of rifle pits or a breastwork, built by our soldiers after the battle. The Penitentiary was tenantless; the State House in ruins. The woodwork, having been burned, the walls and towers still remained standing. On the top of one of the eastern towers had been erected a platform, reached by four long, shaky ladders. This was used for a signal station on the Port Hudson campaign. From this place, a fine view of the surrounding country could be obtained. Looking eastwardly, the eye rested on the different camps of the garrison: Camp Banks in the foreground containing the 31st Mass. Volunteers, with tall Sibley tents, etc.; to the right of them, the 156th N. Y. Regiment, camped in small A tents, with tents and streets in regular order, making a pleasant looking village of nearly one thousand voters. Directly on the left of these two regiments was the gloomy looking prison, and beyond the Penitentiary, the Camp of the 128th Regiment N. Y. Volunteers. To the right, and some distance from our camp, was the camp of the 38th Mass. Volunteers. These four regiments were all the Infantry in the place, and were all formed in one brigade. The post was under the command of Brigadier Gen. Cooke. Beyond the camp, and for some distance, could be seen the ruins of peaceful homes, two cemetaries [sic] and the battleground, with a few houses still standing. The land in that direction was covered with tall weeds and brush. The background of this desolate picture was a magnificent stretch of timber, composed of oaks, Hickory, Sweet Gum, and Magnolia, with other southern trees. Turning to the north, the vision would rest on the upper part of the town, spread out around and below, just above which, the fort was situated, hardly visible by reason of the shade trees. In the fort, were encamped a detachment of the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery and a few Squadrons of the 4th Wisconsin Cavalry. Beyond the fort, in the background, lay the river, with the masts and part of the hull of a wrecked U. S. gunboat visible above the surface. Turning to the west, you would see below, the majestic river, with its muddy, yellow current ever rolling by. Beyond lay the county of West Baton Rouge, with its large plantations, each one almost a village in itself, with its large sugar house. The mansion of the planter, the humbler dwelling of the overseer, and the negro quarters containing from 30 to 100 dwellings, according to the size of the plantations. To the south rolled the Father of waters with its numerous windings. In the foreground, was spread the lower end of the town, with one large State Hospital, one of the few prominent buildings of the town; just below the town, the Camp of the 4th Mass. Battery was visible. Still farther to the south, the view was closed by the dark, somber magnolia Grove. Such was the view spread out before me from the top of that ruined tower. In peaceable times, Louisiana’s capital must have been a gay and happy place. But now alas, how different! The State House in ruins, the surrounding country dotted with bare, blackened chimneys! The plantations, neglected and covered with weeds, and this old tower, from which we are gazing, is a fit place to sit and muse over the desolating effect of war. But we change the scene.
For a few days, we were busy fixing up our tents. Some buildings were torn down and we got lumber to build bunks and floors for our tents. We had thirteen men crowded into our tent and had to lay with our feet to the center pole, and were very crowded, but we contrived to make it go. We had to go on Picket guard once in five or six days. I had never done much picket duty, which was pleasant duty at that time of the year, so I was always anxious to have my turn come to go on picket guard. Our picket line was about six miles long and stretched from the river above the town to the river below. We had to drill two or three hours a day, and had dress parade every night.
In October, we had considerable picket duty to do, besides our drill. The posts on the Port Hudson and Penitentiary roads were the favorite ones. When the lines were open the outsiders could pass in and out by showing their oath of allegiance, and trade was brisk. We generally got all the sweet potatoes & pumpkins we wanted, sometimes a few dollars in money, etc. The people also brought whiskey to the pickets, leaving as many as a dozen bottles of it at one post during the day. A number of the boys of course, would get drunk, which made the duty harder for us sober ones, but we would roast our sweet potatoes and forget all about it.
The citizens had to get permits from the Provost Marshall to take goods outside the lines; their wagons were searched at the picket lines, and if they had more goods than the permit specified, the extra was confiscated. But they managed to smuggle out a great deal besides what they had permits for. Sometimes, when we had a sharp officer of the guard, they would get detected and loose [sic] their goods. One day, when Lieut. Rice was Officer of the guard, he detected a man trying to smuggle out a cut of gray cloth, for confederate uniforms. He had the cloth folded in his saddle blanket, and he had exhibited his pass and had got by the guards, when Rice noticed that his saddle set rather high on his horse, so he had the sentinel call him back, took the cloth, and sent the man to the Provost Marshall’s office. The same day, he detected a lady engaged in the same line of business. She had boots, cloth, and other goods fastened to her crinoline, but L. F. Rice was not to be deceived, so the goods were taken and she was sent in to the Provost Marshall, but when we had an easy officer on guard they would get through the lines, especially if the ladies were handsome, which was the case with a great many.
On the days when the lines were open, cotton would be toted in right smart, from one to three hundred bales a day. Cotton speculators were numerous. The price of the staple ranged from 20 to 55 cents per pound. Sugar was sometimes toted in in large quantities. One planter had six hundred hogshead of it at his plantation, about eight miles out. The guerrillas began to steal it, so he came into Baton Rouge and hired all the drays he could get, to go out and get a load of it. On the 20th of the month they went out and got 63 dray loads of it. The niggers that went out after it, stole a lot of the sugar, most of them had a bag full. But the owners rode on ahead of the train and had the guards at the picket line stop them as they came up and take off the bags of sugar where they had over 12 or 20 pounds. After the train had passed, the man had his bags of sugar taken away, leaving one containing about a cwt [hundredweight = 100 pounds] of it for the guards. We had a haversack full of it in our tent.
On the 21st we received a mail. Got one letter. We were also paid off on that day, getting two months pay or 26 dollars. A great many of the boys got drunk and, of course, were punished. The modes of punishment were bucking, tieing [sic] the men up by the hands, so they could hardly touch ground, and tieing [sic] them on the top of a sharp-edged wooden bar, six feet from the ground, and out in the sun. The sale of whiskey had to be carried on clandestinely, as it was against military orders for soldiers to have any. Women would bring the whiskey into camp in a bag fastened around the waist, beneath their gowns. This poor stuff was made of alcohol, burnt sugar and a lot of water, and readily sold for two dollars a quart. Soon after we were paid off, the boys got to quarreling with the 4th Wisconsin boys for the possession of a boarding house for frail fair ones, and one night a sergeant of Co. K got a squad together and took their guns and fired on the Cavalry boys, who then skedadlled [sic], one man slightly wounded. Only the “roughs” were engaged in this quarrel, but it produced a camp guard for the whole of us. That night, we were called up to a second roll call, to see who was out of camp, and the next morning we had to have a guard around our camp. Before this happened, we could go where we pleased, if we were in camp when wanted.
Oct. 31st was another muster day for the army. On that day, we, Companies E. F. H. and I., were marched down the river nine miles, where we camped a day or two. We did not get there till dark. Pitched our tents in the dark, on rough ground, and slept on a rough, hard bed. We got shelter tents from the companies that stayed in Baton Rouge.
Nov. 1st, we arose early, cooked our coffee, and after breakfast, proceeded to clear up a new camp. We cut the brush and dug the ground over level, and fixed a good camp ground. Then friend Harry Horr and I went to see what we could learn of the place. There were a few large sugar plantations in the vicinity, with a short crop of growing cane, nearly ready to cut. Some large splendid Pecan trees grew near our camp, with the nuts already ripe. We got our pockets full of the nuts. Then we went down to one of the cane fields and had a fine time trying to catch a hog; we at last succeeded in killing a small but very old pig, with a club. We took the pig into a patch of tall weeds, and dressed him soldier fashion; took his hide off, then we went sneaking back to camp the back way, and then had some fryed [sic] pork for supper. The negroes here were selling pork for two bits ($.25) a pound and Pecans for $.15 a hundred.
On the 2nd of Nov., I was detailed for picket guard and was stationed a short distance from camp. That day the boys chased hogs through the woods, shooting them with revolvers. Pork was cheap after that. In the afternoon, we got a mail. I got two or three letters. In the evening of the same day, we got marching orders, and made a masterly advance on Baton Rouge; in the night, we had the road to our camp blockaded by a piece of telegraph wire, fastened to a post each side, to prevent a charge of the enemy into our camp. We left the enemy (hogs) badly cup up and scattered. Rebel Gen. Logan had threatened Gen. Cooke with an attack and was reported to have several thousand men a few miles off in the country, organizing for an attack; that was the reason of our recall.
On the 4th of Nov., Gen. Cooke had light artillery stationed in front of our camp and deployed along the line of breastworks. These were kept in position for a week or so, and then returned to camp. At the same time, the Gen. had a lot of negroes at work completing the line of works, and had a number of buildings that were outside torn down, the shade trees cut, and everything leveled to give a clear view in front. After the scare was over, some of the other companies of the 31st were sent down to Hog Hollow, as we called it, but this last detachment built a stockade there, and it went by the name of the Stockade after that. But there was no attack made on either that place or Baton Rouge. Everything went along in a quiet way, the regular routine of drill, guard mounting, parade, and picket duty. The weather began to grow cold and we bought some stores in our tent. We paid $13.00 for a sheet iron funnel stove that would heat the tent red hot in five minutes, and be stone cold in ten minutes, unless kept full of wood. It was a poor plan having fires in the tent, for we all took colds and had sore throats after we got the stoves. About this time there was a great deal of talk about re-enlisting as Veterans. Col. Goodwins [?] and other officers made speeches and some papers were signed by about 3/4 of the regiment, but the papers were illegal. We had no right to re-enlist until we had served out two years of our first enlistment. We were expecting to be mounted, but were not accepted at headquarters as Cavalry, so the papers were destroyed, and nothing more was done about it.
Gardeners near Baton Rouge had their peas, turnips, and cabbages planted and growing first rate for the winter market.
Capt. Rockwell died a short time before we left Baton Rouge. We left Baton Rouge, near the last of November, I think. His body was sent home to Pittsfield in charge of his colored servant.
Dec. 5th, we were again paid off. We received two month’s pay or $26.00. I had considerable due me, which I collected. I sent home $10.00 dollars this time which made but two hundred dollars saved for nearly two years service.
About this time we got marching orders. On the 9th, we struck tents, packed knapsacks and waited in our old camp for hours for the regiment’s baggage to be loaded on the boat, while swarms of camp gleaners flocked around, taking all the property they could lay hands on, that we soldiers could not take with us. At last, about three o’clock in the afternoon, we formed line and were escorted to the riverbank by the 156th N.Y. Vols, while the band played martial airs. When the 156th reached the riverbank, they halted, came to “Front” and presented arms, while we marched by them and halted on their right, and saluted them in the same manner, as they marched back to camp. Then we had to wait about an hour longer for the remainder of the baggage to be loaded. We then went aboard the steamer Northerner, and at five o’clock, she left her moorings and steamed down the Father of Waters like a thing of life, while the receeding [sic] view of the city, with the towers and battlements of the State House, gilded in the golden light of the setting sun, and the remainder of the city nearly hid by the foliage of the trees, still green with leaves, formed one of the grandest and most pleasing views I ever saw. But darkness soon closed the fading view, and the cold night breeze drove us into the spacious cabin or salon, where we spread ourselves on the deck, while the throbbing of the great heart of the steamer lulled us to repose, from which we awoke to find our boat at anchor opposite New Orleans, on the morning of the 10th, having made the trip, 140 miles, in less than eleven hours, while we were asleep.
We laid on the steamer at anchor till afternoon, when the anchor was raised and we steamed up the river to Carrollton, six miles above New Orleans, where we landed at 4 o’clock p.m. Then our camp ground was picked out and we moved onto it. But we could not get any tents that night, so we lay in the open air without shelter.
On the 11th, we got our new A tents. We called them by that name on account of their shape. They were 6 1/2 feet square at the bottom, and tapered up to the ridge 8 feet from the ground. Each company pitched their tents on a separate line, with military precision, and the camp made a pretty village. Six of us had to sleep in one tent the first night; we were so thick that we had to lay up edge-ways, and it was impossible to roll over. I had now been in service just two years.
On the morning of the 12th, a lot of us ran guard and went to an old war ruined mansion near our camp to get some lumber for our tents. Our tent’s crew got an old stair case and a lot of window and door casings and other lumber. The floors had been taken long before. We then hired a negro with a cart to draw our lumber to camp. We were busy all day fixing our tent. We built up the sides two or three feet high, put in a floor, then we built bunks top of that, fixing a board to fill the passage on the center when we went to bed, so it made a second floor two feet from the ground. Thus we got the whole area of the tent to sleep in, and had our knapsacks and equipments down out of the way. This made a comfortable tent of it. But the weather was growing cold, and we could not have a fire in these tents, as we had been doing in our Sibley tents at Baton Rouge, so we did not pass the nights as comfortably as we did before, but it was healthier for us. One of our six men moved out that day, so we five could lay quite comfortable. We had to go on guard once in five or six days while we were there.
We had dry weather until about Christmas time, and our camp was in good shape and looked pretty and was crowded with peddlers bringing mashed potatoes, butter cakes and the small New Orleans Picayune pies, thin and tough as dough could make them,— Saur Krout, a favorite dish with the Dutchmen, sour milk, etc., and a great many old hags brought Louisiana whiskey on the sly fastened around their waists. Quite a contraband trade was carried on in that article. Christmas day we had a lot of stewed wild ducks for dinner, which was quite a rarity to us. About this time it commenced raining and rained most every day, making the ground very muddy. This Louisiana mud was most as slippery as ice, and stuck to our shoes like tar. The nights grew cold and the mud would freeze in the night so it would bear our weight in the morning. After the sun got up we would sink in over our shoes, and at night have a hard dirty job getting our shoes off. Then we would lay down and shiver out the nights. In that dismal way we passed the last days of 1863. We commenced getting our horses in December, getting a few at a time, which were equally divided among the different companies. We also drew our sabres and revolvers in Dec., and part of our Cavalry equipments. We came down to be mounted as Cavalry and took the name of the 6th Mass. Cavalry. We did not turn in our infantry equipments until after the first of January.
On the 31st of December, we were mustered and inspected. We went out with our old Infantry equipments and, answered to our names as they were called. While we were in line, it commenced to snow, an uncommon thing for this latitude. This old year went out dreary enough to us. The mud in our camp was six inches deep, and looked like a hog pen, and we had no boots, so our shoes were full of mud and our feet wet and cold all the time, and the year ended in a cold storm.