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

Saturday, April 7, 2012

April 7.—Just returned from a little trip to the country in time to hear the morning news of a splendid victory yesterday, at Shiloh. No particulars received. Skirmishing near Yorktown reported; nothing definite.

Headquarters 7th Illinois Cavalry,

In a very fine House,

Point Pleasant, Mo., April 7, 1862.

If this isn’t fine your brother is incapable of judging. Cozy brick house, damask curtains, legged bedsteads, splendid tables and chairs, big looking glass, and everything just as fine as a peacock’s tail. I do wish you could have been with me the last two days. They’ve been two of the best days of my life. During the storm of Saturday night, the 5th instant, one of the gunboats ran by “Island 10.” I heard of it early Sunday morning, and got out a pass for Andy Hulit and myself to look for forage, intending, of course, to ride down to the river and watch the gunboat as we knew there’d be fun if she attempted to run below Madrid. We rode up the river about six miles (half way) to a point that extends into the river on our side, and got there just as the boat did. ‘Twas the “Carondelet,” and indeed she looked like an old friend. The sight of her did me more good than any amount of furloughs could. At this point, I spoke of, we have three batteries within a half-mile, and there were two Rebels’ batteries visible right at the water’s edge, opposite. We just got there in time to see the ball open. Besides the two secesh batteries visible, they opened from four others masked by the brush and trees, and hitherto unknown to us. Their six, our three, the gunboats, all firing together made by far the grandest thing I ever witnessed. I suppose there were from 30 to 40 guns used, and at least a half thousand shots fired. Andy and I were on a little rise of ground a couple of hundred yards from our main battery and where we could see every shot fired and its effect. There were lots of shots fell around that battery, but none near enough us to be disagreeable. About an hour’s fighting silenced the Rebel batteries, and that fun was over. Our boat didn’t go over to them at that time, but came into our shore and laid up. She was not struck once, nor was there a man hurt on our side. Andy and I rode out in the country and got our dinners with a friend of mine, and about 3 p.m. started home. We just got back here as the gunboat was preparing to attack the batteries immediately opposite here. She ran down the river on our side, a mile below their guns, and then turning her bow square toward the enemy, started for them and commenced firing. We could see every motion of the Rebel gunners plainly, and they worked like men, until the boat got within about 300 yards of them, when they broke, and I tell you they used their legs to advantage; all but one and he walked away with his arms folded perfectly at ease. There’s an immense sight of enjoyment in witnessing such fights as these. Well, I saw another fight this morning, but ’twas too far off for interest, after what I saw yesterday. Two more gunboats came down last night in the rain and darkness past the island. This fight this morning was commenced by the Carondelet, on a five-gun battery, only four miles below and across from Madrid. She called the Louisville to her aid, and then one walked up on the battery from below and the other from above. It is grand to see these gunboats walk into the enemy. They go at them as though they were going right on land, if the Rebels would stay there. (One hour later, 9 p. m.)

Just as I finished the last period, an artillery captain came dashing up through the door, just from Madrid, and wanted to know where the gunboats were. He said that the Rebel floating battery, that has been lying at Island 10, was floating down and the transports were afraid to try and bring her into land, and he wanted to notify the gunboats so they could catch her. We told him they had gone down to Palmer’s division, six miles below, and away he went. I’ve been out waiting to see her pass, but she hasn’t arrived yet. He said she was not more than three miles above. All such items help to make soldiering interesting. Our three transports have taken 20,000 troops over into Tennessee since 9:30 this a.m. I call that good work. Colonel Kellogg has gone over with Pope to see the battle, if there is any. These Rebels don’t begin to fight a gun equal to our boys, and all the people here say so. I really do not believe they have the “bullet-pluck” that our men show. Our regiment is left here alone in its glory. We’re occupying the town, enjoying life, and having all the fun we want. I killed a mosquito to-night, and it brought up such disagreeable thoughts that I couldn’t eat supper. If they don’t eat my surplus flesh off me, I know I’ll fret myself lean as they increase. The colonel got back yesterday. You ought to have seen him look at the eatables last night, and shaking his head with disgust, go back to his tent without touching a bite. The first camp meal after a furlough I suppose isn’t particularly delightful. There’s no telling whether there’ll be a fight to-morrow or not. We’ll probably not assist if there is. But after the fight is over and the victory won we’ll come in and chase the Rebels until they scatter. The infantry do the heavy, dirty work and get the honor, and we have all the fun and easy times there are going. I’m willing. I’d rather scout and skirmish than anything I know of, and am perfectly willing to let the infants do the heavy fighting, for they only make an artillery target of us when we’re brought on battle fields.

There wouldn’t be much left of my letters if I’d leave out the war gossip! Forty of the Rebels deserted and came to our gunboats to-day. Sergeant Wells, who while over there is a spy, was taken prisoner the other day, escaped to our gunboats. It saved his neck.

April 7 — First detachment went on picket. Fired a few shell into the Yankee encampment to apprise them of the fact that there is life in the old land yet.

Monday April 7 1862

Rain last night and mud this morning. In the office as usual. A fire broke out this morning on the corner of the Ave & 7th Street, it has been burning most of the day. Six stores and one Hotel were destroyed before three o’clock. Willie came down to the office before three to go home with me. I took him down to see the fire, he was some frightened at the noise and confusion. It has snowed most of the day and no wind so the fire did not burn very rapidly. All the engines were there, but the efficiency of the fire department was not much. Went down to the “National” to meet some gentlemen with S Seely of NY to examine Models & Drawings in reference to Iron covering for Ships of War. Staid till 1/2 past 10. We had the corrigated Iron in question. We think that there must be “something up” down the River as since 9 o’clock two messengers have called at our door with Dispatches for Comodore Smith from the War Department, perhaps the “Merrimac” is out again.


The three diary manuscript volumes, Washington during the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, are available online at The Library of Congress.

APRIL 7TH.—R. G. H. Kean, a young man, and a connection of Mr. Randolph, has been appointed Chief of the Bureau of War in place of Col. Bledsoe, resigned at last. Mr. Kean was, I believe, a lieutenant when Mr. Randolph was colonel, and acted as his adjutant.

April 7th.

Until that dreary 1861, I had no idea of sorrow or grief. . . . How I love to think of myself at that time! Not as myself, but as some happy, careless child who danced through life, loving God’s whole world too much to love any particular one, outside of her own family. She was more childish then — yet I like her for all her folly; I can say it now, for she is as dead as though she was lying underground.

Now do not imagine that Sarah has become an aged lady in the fifteen months that have elapsed since, for it is no such thing; her heart does ache occasionally, but that is a secret between her and this little rosewood furnished room; and when she gets over it, there is no one more fond of making wheelbarrows of the children, or of catching Charlie or mother by the foot and making them play lame chicken. . . . Now all this done by a young lady who remembers eighteen months ago with so much regret that she has lost so much of her high spirits — might argue that her spirits were before tremendous; and yet they were not. That other Sarah was ladylike, I am sure, in her wildest moments, but there is something hurried and boisterous in this one’s tricks that reminds me of some one who is making a merit of being jolly under depressing circumstances. No! that is not a nice Sarah now, to my taste.

The commencement of ’61 promised much pleasure for the rest of the year, and though Secession was talked about, I do not believe any one anticipated the war that has been desolating our country ever since, with no prospect of terminating for some time to come. True the garrison was taken, but then several pleasant officers of the Louisiana army were stationed there, and made quite an agreeable addition to our small parties, and we did not think for a moment that trouble would grow out of it —at least, we girls did not. Next Louisiana seceded, but still we did not trouble ourselves with gloomy anticipations, for many strangers visited the town, and our parties, rides, and walks grew gayer and more frequent.

One little party — shall I ever forget it? — was on the 9th of March, I think; such an odd, funny little party! Such queer things happened! What a fool Mr. McG—— made of himself! Even more so than usual. But hush! It’s not fair to laugh at a lady — under peculiar circumstances. And he tried so hard to make himself agreeable, poor fellow, that I ought to like him for being so obedient to my commands. “Say something new; something funny,” I said, tired of a subject on which he had been expatiating all the evening; for I had taken a long ride with him before sunset, he had escorted me to Mrs. Brunot’s, and here he was still at my side, and his conversation did not interest me. To hear, with him, was to obey. “Something funny? Well —” here he commenced telling something about somebody, the fun of which seemed to consist in the somebody’s having “knocked his shins” against something else. I only listened to the latter part; I was bored, and showed it. “Shins!” was I to laugh at such a story?

7th. After work was done went to the river and washed. Had a good visit with Ed June.

Monday, April 7. — Rained violently all day. Visited all officers to see if they were provided with canteens, etc., etc All very nearly ready. Streams will rise and roads deepen so that no movement can now be made. A gloomy day to pass in camp, especially after getting ready to move. Set at liberty two citizens in guardhouse.

7th.—Some fighting to-day, by small bodies, with slight loss on either side. In the afternoon, finding our camps commanded by the enemy’s guns, we started suddenly on a move of what we were told was to be a mile or two. The rain poured in torrents, and, instead of marching a mile or two, we kept on the move until late in the night. Many of the officers made the soldiers carry their (the officer’s) tents on their shoulders, and this, in addition to gun and knap sacks, and whilst the officers rode unincumbered. In the organization of an army under a republican government, was such a distance between officer and soldier ever contemplated? We halted about ten o’clock, drenched with the still pouring rain. The men are almost starved, having been for nearly two days entirely without rations, and lie to-night in pools of water.

Monday, 7th—It rained all night. The battle was renewed this morning at 6 o’clock, by our forces under General Buell. The Eleventh Iowa formed and marched forward with parts of broken regiments, in support of the left center of Buell’s army, whenever needed. It was very trying for us thus to stand in line of battle, shells exploding over our heads and cutting off limbs of trees, spent minie balls flying all about us, yet not being able to get into action, because of the line of battle just in front of us. The rebels were fighting desperately, but falling back all the while with great slaughter of men. About 3 p. m. the rebels in front of us began to retreat, with Buell’s army after them, but we remained in line. About an hour later the report came that the rebels had left the field, and we were ordered back to our camp in Jones’ Field, arriving there about dark. We had not been in our tents since Sunday morning and they were still standing, but a great many had been hit and badly torn by shells and minie balls. We found the body of a rebel soldier lying in my tent; he had been wounded and apparently had gone in, crawled between our bunks and bled to death. We carried the body out to the parade ground and then got a shovel to clean away the blood from the place where the body had lain in the tent.