Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Sunday, August 3, 1865.

I am very contented and too busy to have any time for fretting. I teach four hours a day, and am busy turning out sheets and putting a square patch into the middle of all our pillow-cases. I shall have lots of sewing for the winter, so if you hear of a nice woman in the “special relief,” engage her for about Christmas time. I hope to go from here about the middle of December, get home a week before Xmas, and stay till the end of the first week in January, giving me three weeks at home, and allowing two for the journey, one going and one coming, and three days at each end for packing and unpacking, making my stay away from school duties just six weeks, and you must not tempt me to take more. I am having holiday now, remember.

The island is very quiet just now. There was no truth in the report of a military organization, rebellion, or anything of the kind. A few men united into a company to defend their watermelon patches, and once [when] they were going their rounds they met a young captain who has made himself very unpopular since he has lived on the island, and they refused to turn out for his buggy, obliging him to drive around them instead of standing aside for him to pass. He construed this into armed rebellion, and reported to General Gillmore just as the steamer was sailing for the North. There was no time to contradict the report, or investigate. Last Sunday Colonel Howard came over to tell the people that General Gillmore had ordered him to take away all their guns, but that he had just come into command of the post, and should not do it unless he saw some reason for so doing. These guns the people had bought themselves, and they have never done any serious mischief with them. Colonel H. told me that he thought the way to make them rebel was to do this, and he would not if he could help it. So the people do not parade, I believe, and all is very quiet and orderly. They all are very indignant at the supposition of their taking up arms against the Yankees and they say it is a “Secesh” trick to spread such a report and bring reproach upon them. Mr. Tomlinson came over and made a speech showing up Delany on the same day. Delany is the major who made that unwise speech a few Sundays ago and got the people so excited against Philbrick.

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August 2d.—Dr. Boykin and John Witherspoon were talking of a nation in mourning, of blood poured out like rain on the battle-fields—for what? “Never let me hear that the blood of the brave has been shed in vain! No; it sends a cry down through all time.”

 

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Aug. 1, 1865.—Yesterday we received a mail and in it two letters from you of the 9th and 13th of July, the first I have had from you since I left home. It makes me feel as though it had broken up the feeling of isolation that prevails here. The country seems to be pretty healthy and the men seem to improve—I think perhaps because we all live short. I think no army since the war began has been so miserably supplied as is this army. The coarsest and plainest food is all we can get, and even that is frequently scant and of poor quality. There is one advantage in this, and that is that we can not spend much money.

General Stanley and Corps headquarters arrived here last evening. I do not think we shall go to Austin. The understanding now is that one division goes to San Antonio de Bexar and the other two remain at Victoria, 20 miles from here. Which division goes up the country we do not know. There will probably be no movement for two weeks yet. We all, officers and men, feel wronged and outraged that we are kept in service. The law under which we volunteered declares that we shall be discharged as soon as the war is over. The war is over. Throughout the whole broad land there is not an organized force of rebels in arms. The people of the South have all returned to their allegiance and in good faith are endeavoring to restore civil government. There is no earthly use for an army here, and yet the Government is paying 150,000 men.

I do not mean by this that there is so large a force in Texas. Probably there are not 75,000 soldiers here, but the organizations to which they belong contain that number of men. Only a little over half of the 13th is here and none of the absentees return, yet all have to be paid. I am astonished that the people at home do not insist on having the army mustered out on the ground of economy. I myself was opposed to doing it too hastily; but the time has now come when the regular army and the colored troops are ample for all the purposes that an army is required for.

Of course it makes no difference to me whether this corps is mustered out or not, for I can get out of the service any time. I have already written to you that I have concluded to remain until September 25th, when I am entitled to be mustered out. Then there is a bare hope that the regiment will be mustered out by that time.

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Ringgold Barracks, Rio Grande City, Texas,
Sunday, July 30, 1865.

My Dear Sister L.:—

Having some leisure to-day, I will give you a description of our march from Brazos, and my impression of the country as jotted down in my diary. We had been expecting the order to march for some time, but it did not come till on Monday, the 10th of July, and about 5 o’clock that afternoon we started.

Our road at first lay along the beach on Brazos Island, south, but just at dark we forded the channel to the main land, and began to cross the plain—moonlight on the plain. It was my first experience of the kind, and my first impression was of a beautiful scene, a boundless prairie, dotted here and there with prickly pears and Spanish bayonet. The prickly pear is a sort of cactus that grows all over this country. It looks like a set of green dinner plates, the edge of one grown fast to the next, and so on, and the whole so covered with sharp thorns that you cannot touch it with your hand. The pears grow round the edge of the plates, about the shape and size of pears, covered with thorns and of a beautiful purple color when ripe, and full of seeds like a fig. Most of the men devoured them greedily, but I did not fancy their insipid taste. Everything that grows in this country has thorns or horns. Even the frogs are horned, and the cattle have horns longer than their tails. Most of the grass I have seen is harsh, prickly stuff.

We bivouacked that night at 10 o’clock, at White’s Ranch, having marched about ten miles. The next day was to be spent in camp near the river. A party of the officers strolled down the bank to swim. Few of us had yet been in Mexico, and as it was not far off I proposed to swim over. The current was very swift, six miles an hour, and my proposition was accepted by but one of them. We two started and did swim over. So my first exploration of a foreign country was in puris naturalibus and the result nothing worth mentioning, for the country was just like that we had left.

The next day at 3:30 a. m., we continued our march, and a terrible march it was. Part of the way the road lay through mesquit chaparral, impenetrable thickets of scrubby, thorny trees, too small for shade and too dense to admit a breath of air. Dry as parched corn was everything, no grass, no water. I have passed miles and miles of such road since, but nothing that seemed so desolate as that first experience of the chaparral. By and by we came out of it and entered a broad prairie of wild, coarse grass. A mile or two off we saw a drove of wild asses. A mounted man started to reconnoiter and it would have made you laugh to see those wild fellows scorn him with their heels. They waited till he got reasonably near, and they went away from him so fast that he stopped to look in sheer amazement at their speed. It is needless to say he did not catch any of them.

We halted about 4 o’clock, having marched sixteen miles. There was much straggling, and I could not blame the men, for it was impossible to march under such a sun. I had all I could do to ride my horse under it. Next day we marched eight miles to Brownsville, halted till four o’clock and then went three miles farther and camped. We spent a day or two there, and as it is the only town of importance in this part of the state I must give you some description of it. The population is mostly Mexican, ten to one Yankee. It is about the size of Jamestown, N. Y., and has one street, something similar to the main street there, but the balance is Mexican, all. I used to think that Ross Brown’s delineation of Mexican life, in Harper’s Monthly, was somewhat exaggerated, but I am satisfied now that his portraits are true to life. I went down to the river to swim, and was a little surprised to observe that it is the custom for whole families to enjoy that luxury together without the incumbrance of bathing dresses. All ages and sexes were indiscriminately mixed in the river, and as when you are with the Romans, you must do as the Romans do, I mixed in too.

The houses in town are adobe (mud brick) or “jacal,” mud and sticks, with mud floors and roofs of thatched grass and cane. The prime requisite seems to be to keep cool, and I must admit that with their style of dress the result is attained. The little pot-bellied children go entirely naked till they are ten years old, when they attain to shirts, which seems to be the only garment worn till they are grown up, when the women add a petticoat or skirt, and the men a pair of leather breeches. I must do them the justice to admit that they are clean. Their beds, where they have any, are as clean as any I ever saw, but most of them sleep on raw ox-hides laid on the floor. Passing along the streets, one sees through all the open doors, the families reclining on these rawhides, in all stages of dress below semi-nakedness. These people are the genuine Aztec Mexicans—a race by themselves, neither negro nor Indian, but something like both. There are some among them who approach civilization. My first lesson in the language I learned from a pretty senorita—bright, intelligent, vivacious and pretty. She called at a jacal where I stopped a while, and addressed me with a “Buenos dias, Senor” (Bwa-nose-de-as-Sayn-yore) good day, sir. She took a bunch of “cigarros” (cigarettes) from her pocket, passed them around and lit one herself. The women all smoke. Of course I could not refuse to light my cigar at her lips, when so temptingly offered. She told me that horse in “Mejicano” (Meh-i-can-o) is “caballo” (ca-wal-yow ); saddle is “silla” (see-vah) ; eggs are “blanquitos;” milk, “leche:” hens, “gallinas” (gah-ye-nas); rooster, “gallo;” chicken, “pollita chiquita.”

In one day I had mastered Spanish enough to ask: “Tiene listed pollitas chiquitas?” (Have you any chickens?) “Si, Senor” (Yes, sir.) “Quanto es por dos?” (How much a pair?) “Un peso por dos.” (A dollar a pair), and I could buy.

They are an exceedingly polite people, never omit the “Senor” in their conversation. My senorita, when I left, kissed her hand to me with “Adios, Senor,” in the prettiest way.

I attended a “fandango,” or Mexican ball, at the Brownsville market house. Many senoritas were over from Matamoras, just across the river, most of them well dressed and good looking. An American officer’s introduction was to step up to one and with a bow say, “Dance Senorita?” “Si, Senor,” is the invariable reply, and after a Spanish waltz or schottische, he is expected to give her something to drink and smoke a “cigarro” with her. They all dance well and the music of cornets and flageolets is far from disagreeable.

I have always been fond of the water, and swimming is a favorite amusement. There is another officer in the regiment, brought up “on old Long Island’s sea-girt shore,” who is equally fond of it, and we are often companions in swimming frolics. “Miller & Norton” are supposed to do just as much in the way of feats in water as can be done in the Eighth, so we always stump the company when we go in. At our camps above Brownsville we agreed to swim half a mile further in the river than anyone else, so we went two miles above the camp and took a boy along to carry our clothes, and then swam down half a mile below the camp. It was no great feat in a six mile current to swim two and a half miles in half an hour, but it sounded big, and left us champions.

The water in the river is very muddy, looks just like the road gutters after a heavy shower, but it is all the water we have to drink. In all our journey I saw but one well and one spring. The water in the wells if dug, is bitter. Every few miles on the road we came to “lagunas” or lakes of fresh water, that had no apparent outlet or inlet. They come from the overflow of the river, and the water collects in such large bodies that the wind gives it motion enough to prevent its stagnating and it is quite palatable, though I doubt its being wholesome. We camped usually near some laguna. As we came farther up the country we found more ranches. These are jacal houses, with enclosures for the cattle, sheep and goats. There are large flocks of sheep and goats together that feed over the country, with men or boys to guard them, and are driven up at night. There is one peculiarity about the Texas cows, that would be awkward in a dairy country—they will not milk till the calf has sucked and if the calf dies or is killed they immediately dry up.

I have heard before of snake countries, but till I came here I never saw many snakes. There are some here. I have counted on a day’s march of fifteen miles, more than a dozen snakes. Not the little striped worms than run in New York meadows, but black snakes and rattle snakes from six to eight feet long, killed by the troops and left lying in the road. The adjutant has a string of eighteen rattles that he cut off one snake. It was nearly eight feet long and four inches thick. I have killed several big black snakes myself, but those rattle snakes I’m going to let alone.

Another of the varmints in this country is the tarantula, an enormous spider, whose bite is more venomous than that of the rattle snake. The back of the beast is covered with a fuzz, like the inside of a chestnut bur in color and texture, and its legs as long as a man’s finger and very thick and muscular. There are two fangs in its mouth, sharp and black, much like a cat’s claw. I killed one when on the march, the only one I’ve seen. They are not very plenty, I believe. There are scorpions here, too.

In passing through some parts of the country, the chaparral cleared tip and the mesquit trees with the wild grass under them, looked exactly like an old orchard of half-dead apple trees in a field of half-ripe oats, and the road winding through the grass, like some farm road in harvest time passing through a grain field.

There is abundance of game in the country—wolves, foxes, deer and immense rabbits, but there are no edible vegetables or fruits to be had, and I tell you it is tough living, and take it all in all, I would not live in this country if I could own a whole county. To all intents and purposes, this country is Mexico still.

Monday. 31st; I had not time to finish my letter yesterday and will add a few lines to-day and seal it up, to wait the arrival of the next boat. There is no telling when that will come.

Last night I was disturbed in my sleep by a strange noise, and rising up in bed to listen I made out that a pack of prairie wolves had made a visit, and were paying their compliments by making a most infernal noise about ten rods away in the chaparral, whining, howling and yelplike a parcel of half-fed curs. They are cowardly rascals.

Well, I’ve written you a long rambling letter. Things are jumbled up in it very much as they have been in my experience here, and it seems half like some ugly dream, but you can rely on it as being all true. About two months more of such life and I hope to see civilization again. In the meantime I hope to hear from you as often as a mail comes, which is seldom.

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Ringgold Barracks, Texas,
July 28, 1863.

Dear Sister L.:—

I have just time to drop you a line before the mail goes, to say that I arrived safely at the end of my long tedious march, through the strangest country and oddest people you or I ever saw. By and by, when I have leisure, I have lots of material for letters.

I was appointed Post Quartermaster immediately on my arrival, and I have been so busy that I have not had time to eat my meals half the time since.

We have a large post and plenty of business, but it is rather a hard country to live in, I should say. Nothing in the way of vegetables to eat can be had, and we have to drink the Rio Grande mud, and are glad to get that.

A line is all I can write. You must take the will for the deed and make up by writing often to me.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Green Lake, Tex., July 28, 1865.—The corps gets here very slowly, and we can not get away from here for some days, perhaps not in two or three weeks, and by that time the order sending us so far into the interior may be countermanded. Indeed, we hear a rumor that we are only to go to Victoria, some 25 miles inland from this point, but the rumor is not very reliable. We are fitted up now so that we are very comfortable, except that we can not get enough decent food.

The Major reached us on Monday night last. He and I are in the same tent. I have a bunk and mosquito bar over it and sleep very comfortably. Before we got fitted up I lay on the ground outside and a sudden shower one night soaked me to the skin. We have but few flies here. The boys kill lots of alligators two or three miles from camp. Time hangs heavily on my hands, and did I not expect to make one of the dear home circle so soon I should be unhappy.

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July 26th.—I do not write often now, not for want of something to say, but from a loathing of all I see and hear, and why dwell upon those things?

Colonel Chesnut, poor old man, is worse—grows more restless. He seems to be wild with “homesickness.” He wants to be at Mulberry. When there he can not see the mighty giants of the forest, the huge, old, wide-spreading oaks, but he says he feels that he is there so soon as he hears the carriage rattling across the bridge at the Beaver Dam.

I am reading French with Johnny—anything to keep him quiet. We gave a dinner to his company, the small remnant of them, at Mulberry house. About twenty idle negroes, trained servants, came without leave or license and assisted. So there was no expense. They gave their time and labor for a good day’s feeding. I think they love to be at the old place.

Then I went up to nurse Kate Withers. That lovely girl, barely eighteen, died of typhoid fever. Tanny wanted his sweet little sister to have a dress for Mary Boykin’s wedding, where she was to be one of the bridesmaids. So Tanny took his horses, rode one, and led the other thirty miles in the broiling sun to Columbia, where he sold the led horse and came back with a roll of Swiss muslin. As he entered the door, he saw Kate lying there dying. She died praying that she might die. She was weary of earth and wanted to be at peace. I saw her die and saw her put in her coffin. No words of mine can tell how unhappy I am. Six young soldiers, her friends, were her pall-bearers. As they marched out with that burden sad were their faces.

Princess Bright Eyes writes: “Our soldier boys returned, want us to continue our weekly dances.” Another maiden fair indites: “Here we have a Yankee garrison. We are told the officers find this the dullest place they were ever in. They want the ladies to get up some amusement for them. They also want to get into society.”

From Isabella in Columbia: “General Hampton is home again. He looks crushed. How can he be otherwise? His beautiful home is in ruins, and ever present with him must be the memory of the death tragedy which closed forever the eyes of his glorious boy, Preston! Now! there strikes up a serenade to General Ames, the Yankee commander, by a military band, of course. . . . Your last letters have been of the meagerest. What is the matter?”

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Green Lake, Tex., July 26, 1865.—I am well and in good spirits, notwithstanding we have nothing decent to eat except fresh beef, and nothing but warm water to drink. I keep cold coffee without sugar in my canteen, and drink that. I have to sleep on the ground, for the reason that there is not a pole nor a board within ten miles with which to build a bunk. Only two more months, and then I will leave for good.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

July 25, 1865.—The weather would be very hot were it not for the trade winds, which come up about nine or ten o’clock in the morning and blow a stiff breeze from the south all day. But we shall lose the benefit of this when we get into the interior probably. Everybody says that the country improves as we advance into it, and that at Austin we will get better water and more to eat. If we do I will apologize for slandering Texas. Do you think I am sorry that I did not resign at Nashville? Not a bit of it. My presence here is absolutely indispensible to the welfare of the regiment, and right here, beyond all question, is my post of duty as long as I can reasonably remain.

My time expires September 25th, only two months hence, and then I can be mustered out, get my three months’ extra pay, and I presume enough mileage to pay my expenses home—neither of which would I get if I resign. So I tell the boys that if my health keeps good I will stay with them until that time. Then it will take me about twenty days to get home.

At Lavaca I met a brother-in-law of Mr. Sheldon, of Burlington, named Chrysler. Mrs. Chrysler looks just like her brother. They had not heard from their friends North during the war, and of course were much pleased to get recent news from them. They have been here many years, are well off, and are very loyal. I hear of Judge Irvin, our Judge when I commenced practice, living some thirty miles from here on our road to Austin. I hope to see him.

It cost me over $80 to get here, the best I could do. I had Government transportation from Cairo. It will cost me more than $100 to get home, and if I should fail to get my final pay in New Orleans, which is quite probable, I shall just about be out of money when I get ready to start home, and there will be none in the regiment then.

General Beatty and General Wood have advised Dr. Cady to resign. He is in the hospital at Indianola. He will probably take the advice. Captain Pratt and Lieutenant Loucks have resigned and gone home.

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Sunday, 23d—I started for home, thirty miles distant, with Abner Hatch, who had come down from our neighborhood with a team for the purpose of taking a load of the boys home. We left Davenport at 7:30 o’clock this morning and I reached home at 5 p. m. I found my folks all well. I am at home this time never to go to war again. It was a fine day for a ride in Iowa; it had rained yesterday, and though it was somewhat cloudy, the prairies never looked so nice and green as they did today.

Monday, 24th—It rained all day. I remained at home and brought my diary up to date.

Tuesday, 25th—I went into the harvest field and worked all day at binding wheat.

Wednesday, 26th—Working in the harvest field is making me quite sore, as it is the first of the kind I have done in the last four years.

Thursday, 27th—It is the same thing and nothing of importance.

Friday, 28th—I went out to Tipton today, and in the evening had a fine visit with Miss ——.

Saturday, 29th—Home again from my visits. I have worked three full days now in the harvest field.

Sunday, 30th—I went to church this morning and in the evening went to visit friends, old and new.

Monday, 31st—Today I again went out into the harvest field.

_

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