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

Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 26— To-day a party of Yanks almost succeeded in capturing a train of forage wagons that was gathering supplies in the neighborhood of McGaheysville, seven miles from Conrad’s Store, in the direction of Harrisonburg. But as usual some of Ashby’s ubiquitous watchdog cavalrymen were there, fought and drove the Yanks away and saved all the wagons, to the great delight of some scared teamsters.

Camp Number 2, near Raleigh, Virginia, Saturday, April 26, 1862. — The sky is still overcast. We shall move on five miles today if it clears up.

At General Beckley’s residence are the females of three families. Mrs. Beckley and all cried when we left. One young lady, Miss Duncan, has a lover in Company F; Miss Kieffer, in hospital staff, and all the other damsels in the like category. They all speak of our regiment as such fine men! We burned all their rails! Will pay for them if General Beckley is discharged.

At 10 o’clock marched to Shady Spring; camped on a fine sandy piece of ground belonging to Dr. McNutt. The Secesh burned the dwelling, the doctor being a Union man. Floyd camped here also. A large spring gives the name to the place. The water gushes out copiously, runs on the surface a few rods and runs again into the earth. The grass is starting. The horses of the cavalry were turned loose on it and played their liveliest antics. The sun came out bright, a clear, bracing breeze blowing. Altogether a fine afternoon and a happy time.

APRIL 26TH.—Gen. Lee is doing good service in bringing forward reinforcements from the South against the day of trial—and an awful day awaits us. It is understood that he made fully known to the President his appreciation of the desperate condition of affairs, and demanded carté blanche as a condition of his acceptance of the position of commanding general. The President wisely agreed to the terms.

Saturday, 26th—Our regiment is now brigaded with Iowa soldiers, the brigade being completed today. Our brigade is composed of the Eleventh, Thirteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Iowa Infantries, with Colonel Crocker in command.[1] We were inspected today by the general inspector of the army, and had all our accouterments on.

[1] ‘The brigade dating from April 27, 1862, became known as “Crocker’s Iowa Brigade.” It remained together throughout the war and maintains an organization to this day.—A. G. D.

April 26th. The Mayor of the city has surrendered it to Flag-officer Farragut, and a battalion of marines, under Capt. J. L. Broome, went ashore to raise the Stars and Stripes, but were opposed by the citizens and returned to the ship. In the afternoon we went up to Carrollton and captured sixty or eighty guns without firing a shot, they having been deserted and the gun carriages destroyed.

April 26th, 1862.

There is no word in the English language that can express the state in which we are, and have been, these last three days. Day before yesterday, news came early in the morning of three of the enemy’s boats passing the Forts, and then the excitement began. It increased rapidly on hearing of the sinking of eight of our gunboats in the engagement, the capture of the Forts, and last night, of the burning of the wharves and cotton in the city while the Yankees were taking possession. To-day, the excitement has reached the point of delirium. I believe I am one of the most self-possessed in my small circle; and yet I feel such a craving for news of Miriam, and mother, and Jimmy, who are in the city, that I suppose I am as wild as the rest. It is nonsense to tell me I am cool, with all these patriotic and enthusiastic sentiments. Nothing can be positively ascertained, save that our gunboats are sunk, and theirs are coming up to the city. Everything else has been contradicted until we really do not know whether the city has been taken or not. We only know we had best be prepared for anything. So day before yesterday, Lilly and I sewed up our jewelry, which may be of use if we have to fly. I vow I will not move one step, unless carried away. Come what will, here I remain.

We went this morning to see the cotton burning —a sight never before witnessed, and probably never again to be seen. Wagons, drays, — everything that can be driven or rolled, — were loaded with the bales and taken a few squares back to burn on the commons. Negroes were running around, cutting them open, piling them up, and setting them afire. All were as busy as though their salvation depended on disappointing the Yankees. Later, Charlie sent for us to come to the river and see him fire a flatboat loaded with the precious material for which the Yankees are risking their bodies and souls. Up and down the levee, as far as we could see, negroes were rolling it down to the brink of the river where they would set them afire and push the bales in to float burning down the tide. Each sent up its wreath of smoke and looked like a tiny steamer puffing away. Only I doubt that from the source to the mouth of the river there are as many boats afloat on the Mississippi. The flatboat was piled with as many bales as it could hold without sinking. Most of them were cut open, while negroes staved in the heads of barrels of alcohol, whiskey, etc., and dashed bucketsful over the cotton. Others built up little chimneys of pine every few feet, lined with pine knots and loose cotton, to burn more quickly. There, piled the length of the whole levee, or burning in the river, lay the work of thousands of negroes for more than a year past. It had come from every side. Men stood by who owned the cotton that was burning or waiting to burn. They either helped, or looked on cheerfully. Charlie owned but sixteen bales — a matter of some fifteen hundred dollars; but he was the head man of the whole affair, and burned his own, as well as the property of others. A single barrel of whiskey that was thrown on the cotton, cost the man who gave it one hundred and twenty-five dollars. (It shows what a nation in earnest is capable of doing.) Only two men got on the flatboat with Charlie when it was ready. It was towed to the middle of the river, set afire in every place, and then they jumped into a little skiff fastened in front, and rowed to land. The cotton floated down the Mississippi one sheet of living flame, even in the sunlight. It would have been grand at night. But then we will have fun watching it this evening anyway; for they cannot get through to-day, though no time is to be lost. Hundreds of bales remained untouched. An incredible amount of property has been destroyed to-day; but no one begrudges it. Every grog-shop has been emptied, and gutters and pavements are floating with liquors of all kinds. So that if the Yankees are fond of strong drink, they will fare ill.

Yesterday, Mr. Hutchinson and a Dr. Moffat called to ask for me, with a message about Jimmy. I was absent, but they saw Lilly. Jimmy, they said, was safe. Though sick in bed, he had sprung up and had rushed to the wharf at the first tap of the alarm bell in New Orleans. But as nothing could be done, he would probably be with us to-day, bringing mother and Miriam. I have neither heard nor seen more. The McRae, they said, went to the bottom with the others. They did not know whether any one aboard had escaped. God be praised that Jimmy was not on her then! The new boat to which he was appointed is not yet finished. So he is saved! I am distressed about Captain Huger, and could not refrain from crying, he was so good to Jimmy. But I remembered Miss Cammack might think it rather tender and obtrusive, so I dried my eyes and began to hope he had escaped. Oh! how glad I should be to know he has suffered no harm. Mr. Hutchinson was on his way above, going to join others where the final battle is to be fought on the Mississippi. He had not even time to sit down; so I was doubly grateful to him for his kindness. I wish I could have thanked him for being so considerate of me in my distress now. In her agitation, Lilly gave him a letter I had been writing to George when I was called away; and begged him to address it and mail it at Vicksburg, or somewhere; for no mail will leave here for Norfolk for a long while to come. The odd part is, that he does not know George. But he said he would gladly take charge of it and remember the address, which Lilly told him was Richmond. Well! if the Yankees get it they will take it for an insane scrawl. I wanted to calm his anxiety about us, though I was so wildly excited that I could only say, “Don’t mind us! We are safe. But fight, George! Fight for us!” The repetition was ludicrous. I meant so much, too! I only wanted him to understand he could best defend us there. Ah! Mr. Yankee! if you had but your brothers in this world, and their lives hanging by a thread, you too might write wild letters! And if you want to know what an excited girl can do, just call and let me show you the use of a small seven-shooter and a large carving-knife which vibrate between my belt and my pocket, always ready for emergencies.

26th. Sunday. In the morning separated and went by companies. Nettleton and staff went with Co. “G” to “Turkey Creek,” stopped at nearly every house. Took what arms, horses and cattle we could find. The guides deceived several families making them think we were secesh to capture Carthage. All people here are rebels, loud in their praises of the rebel soldiery and in their imprecations against the Union boys. The girls sang the “Army Wagon.” Was much amused. Had a good visit with them—”Challes” by name, said I was the only gentleman in the lot—asked my name and said possibly they could some time do me some good. Our men brought into camp cattle and horses. Eight prisoners were brought in, including John Dale, State Senator from Jasper County. Lots of interesting incidents.

April 26.—The day has cleared off beautifully. The news of the fall of New Orleans is confirmed. There was no fighting in the city. The forts were taken, and the gunboats came directly up, and threatened to shell it unless it was immediately surrendered. There were so many women and children in it that the authorities were compelled to surrender without striking a blow in its defense. Its loss is a severe one to us, as it commanded the passage of the Mississippi River, and the gunboats can ascend the river and capture any place they wish. I have been told that our forces destroyed all the sugar in the city at the time of the surrender. I do hope that this is true, as I had rather refrain from its use all my life than that the enemy should have it.

Three men have just had limbs amputated. This is so common that it is scarcely noticed. How my heart sickens in contemplating the horrors with which I am surrounded! Our sins must have been great to have deserved such punishment.

26th.—News reaches us to-night of a pretty severe skirmish two or three miles off, in which it is said about fifty of the enemy were killed. I have very little confidence in these “it is saids.” We lost four men killed. I went to Ship Point to-day, and made the acquaintance of Doctor McClellan, (brother to General,) and Surgeon General Smith, of Pennsylvania—both agreeable men. Our army have done a wonderful work here, in the last few days. They have built a “corduroy road” all the way to Ship Point, eight miles, through a most dismal swamp. Over this road we are now transporting all our supplies and munitions (having got possession of York River, up to the neighborhood of Yorktown.)

Abby Howland Woolsey to Mother.

New York, April 26th.

My Dear Mother: We are all bright and well this fine morning. Jane and Charley have gone to the Philharmonic rehearsal and Carry is practicing some of her old music on the piano, in a way to make you, who love to hear it, happy. Mr. Prentiss came in last night to see us, looking well, but queer, as he always does in a black stock. He had been hard at work moving his books, and did not intend to go to prayer meeting, and evidently didn’t suppose we had gone, or he wouldn’t have come to spend the evening with us. He told us much that was pleasant and funny about his visit in Washington, which, short as it was, paid him well, he thought, for going. . . . He hopes E. and G. will get their wishes and go to Fort Monroe, as they are in a state of mind to be fretted and troubled if they don’t. . . .

Very few of the wounded brought by the Cossack from Newbern were landed here. . . . All were crazy to get home, all full of spirits and fun. The five or six who were carried to the N. E. Relief only fretted at having to spend a night longer on the road. The man with both legs gone smoked his pipe and read his newspaper. His chief anxiety was to go into New Jersey by a certain train. . . . Five or six ladies were at the rooms, Jane among them, yesterday, a lady apiece and several men to each volunteer. . . . No wonder it dazed an Irishman just released from four months imprisonment in Richmond. “Begor,” he said, “I can’t pay for all this!” . . . Jane says there is nothing much for the present set of ladies to do, except to rearrange the piles of shirts, etc., on the closet shelves—changing them about from the way she had fixed them! They immediately proceeded to that work, and each new set of ladies will have that, at least, to occupy them. As for the Park Barracks, a portion of them have been scrubbed and whitewashed, the bunks taken down, neat iron beds all made and put up. Mrs. Mack is to live there as Matron, and, for the purpose of a mere halting place and infirmary, it is as good an one as they could have, though too many ladies were on hand, switching things over with their hoops, giving unlimited oranges to men with the dysentery, and making the surgeons mad. There were, beside, half the medical students in the city, all staring and eager for jobs;—no difficulty in the men’s having all, and more than all, the attention they want. One good thing Mrs. Woodruff did, at Mrs. Buck’s suggestion,—sent over to the Astor House for a steward, and through him ordered a good dinner brought in of tender beef, fresh eggs, etc., for the twenty or thirty New York and New Jersey men who were resting there. It will be charged to New York State, which supports the Barracks. . . . We have Lloyd’s map of Virginia hung under the front parlor picture of the Virgin, along the back of the sofa, and we sit there and read the papers and study it.