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

Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton (Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers)

Ringgold Barracks, Texas,
September 10, 1865.

My Dear Sister L. :—

I have no letter to answer since my last, but I have a little time to spare to-day, being Sunday, and will devote it to you by writing.

I try to imagine what you are doing just now, and what is the change in the looks of the place since I was there. I presume that just about this time of day you are sitting in one of the slips in that “Podunk” or “Chachunk” (what do you call it?) “meetin’ house,” listening intently to the logical instructions of some “Elder Boanerges” and wishing between times that you had your big brother up there again to show him to those who were not sufficiently impressed by your first exhibition. Ah, well! You can’t get him there to-day. Let me see. It is nearly the middle of September. We have been making garden. Our cucumbers are up and doing nicely—so are several other plants. You, I suppose, are just getting through harvesting. Charlie’s barns are full to overflowing. The cows come up at night so full they lie down with a grunt, and all the country round shows the fullness and beauty of the early autumn. I have not learned to tell the season here. July and August have passed never so quickly, so coolly, so pleasantly before. Most of my time is spent in my office and, instead of the excessive heat being troublesome in the southern climate, I have never suffered so little from heat in New York. There is all the time a breeze, and the thick walls of my adobe house shut out all the heat of the sun.

I say the time has passed pleasantly. One reason is that I have had little time to think of unpleasant things, and another, I suppose, is that I am somewhat pleased with the power and influence of my new position. Except the commanding general, there is no one here so much looked up to by the citizens as “El Quartelmaestro,” and then my business suits me. General Steele, Inspector General, has been inspecting my train, shops, storehouses, etc., to-day, and he compliments me highly on their appearance. From down the river I hear the same thing. “I like to consign a boat to a live quartermaster,” says the quartermaster at Brownsville, “but how do you manage to unload your boats so quickly?” I do it by keeping things moving. I set seventy-five men with an officer in charge at work as soon as a boat is tied up, and when the load is off her papers are ready and she starts back. There is a pleasure in hard work when you see the results. That makes all the difference in the world. The way I punish an unruly teamster is to make him dig a big hole and then fill it up, dig it out and fill it up the second time, and that is enough for any man. It fixes them.

I should not write such a letter to everyone. It sounds a little like self-praise, but between us there need be no reserve. I tell you all because I know you like to know just what I am doing.

By the way, have I told you that I have at last dropped the “A” and my “pay handle” is “R. Q. M.” of the Eighth? Burrows got his appointment in August and I stepped into his shoes at once. Rank from August 5th.

The prospect for getting out of the service very soon is not very good. As things are shaping I do not much think I shall try till after Congress meets. Wilson Camp has sent in his resignation and he will go out sure. The medical board that examines all officers pronounced him disqualified to perform his duties, by reason of physical disability contracted in the line of his duty. It is a big joke, for he is physically the ablest man in the regiment. Can stand more hardship than the whole medical board together, but he said “the doctors ought to know,” and sent in his resignation on those grounds. I suppose I might do the same thing, but I do not care to do it.

The paymaster has paid us a visit and some greenbacks. I received $577.63 for four months.

Well, I will bid you good-bye, hoping to hear from you soon and as often as you can find time to write. Love to Charlie and all the good folks. Shall I bring home a doll trom Mexico for your baby?

I enclose a missive I received the other day. Perhaps you can read it. It refers to a mule.

Adios, hermana mia,

Office A. A. Q. M., Second Division, Twenty-fifth
Corps, Ringgold Barracks, Texas,
August 27. 1865.

My Dear Sister L.:—

I received your letter dated July 23d, by the last boat (23d) just a month from date. I cannot tell you how glad I was to hear from you again, but I can tell you that you must not expect many long letters from me, till I come home. There is not much to write, anyway. I have already written a tolerably full description of the country, and now I have no time to write anything but business letters. I am division quartermaster and post quartermaster at the same time, and you may judge I have something to do. Since the other quartermasters left I have worked night and day. To-day is Sunday and I and my clerk have written thirty-one business letters, besides inspecting my train. I am supplying forage to six hundred horses and mules, and have thirty-five six-mule teams of my own to take care of. I have estimated the value of the property for which I am responsible at $350,000 and I cannot take care of that without some work.

The only recreation I have taken lately has been to attend a ball over in Camargo, Mexico. General Cortinas and General Espinosa, of the liberal army, were in town, and the merchants got up a ball to bring together the United States and Mexican officers. The “baile” was “dedica a los Gefes y Officiales de los Estados Unidos del norte”— of course, you know what that means.

The senoritas were numerous and of rather a different style from these peon Mexicans. Their papas had thousands of silver “pesos” and they were as well dressed and well behaved as our girls at home, to say the least.

I am getting quite well acquainted in Camargo, where I am known as “Don Olivero el Quartelmaestro.” Every one is known by his first name only. Charlie there would be “Don Carlos.” Oh, how these girls can waltz, and how I can’t! I didn’t enjoy the dancing much, except looking on. I could only schottische a little.

It would amuse you to see what a man of consequence I am in Camargo. A brigadier general is nowhere beside “El Quartelmaestro.” “Why?”—Because he don’t make contracts for lumber, coal, grain and hay—the quartermaster does.

There are a thousand things I would like to tell you about, but I haven’t time. I send with this the July Atlantic. I have had the August number two weeks and have not cut the leaves yet.

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.

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.

Brazos de Santiago, Texas,
July 8, 1865.

Dear Sister L.:—

I have written of our voyages, its pleasures, and the shipwreck at the end. I have told you the features of the country here, its lack of vegetation and its abundance of salt and sand. There is not much more to tell, except that we are just about ready for a march away up the Rio Grande, into the wilderness of the Comanche country. I expect danger and hardship, heat, thirst and all the troubles and pleasures incident to a trip in the wilderness of this romantic country.

The rebellion is dead—we have no more rebels to fight, and the work laid out for us seems to be to garrison the forts and posts along the frontier, from the mouth of the Rio Grande away up into New Mexico. I saw an officer yesterday, who had just come down from up there, who said he had not seen a white man beside his own company for two years. Greasers (Mexicans) and Comanche Indians are the inhabitants up there. With us, it will be some different. We have a whole army corps to be scattered along the frontier, and there will be frequent communication.

You do well to talk about heat and rain. What would you think of a country where the average heat is from 96 to 100 and you lived in a cotton house where it did not rain for three months, and then the whole three months’ rain came down in one day, where you would have to get your water by condensing the steam from sea brine? It wouldn’t suit me for a home, but a sojourn here does very well for an episode in one’s life. There is no use in your disliking my coming here. I was well on my way when you wrote the words, and here before I read them.

If you find the time when you can go on a visit to Michigan, you better go, without making any calculations of my going with you. Our “best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley,” and there is no telling what may happen to any of us. I have a plan in my mind now, which I intend to work out. The war is over, the object of my enlistment is accomplished, and I propose to resign about the middle or latter part of September, so as to start for home about the first of October. I shall go via the Mississippi River, make a visit to our parents in Michigan (I cannot say go home, because I have no home yet), then come for another visit to you, and about the first of January go for a term of instruction in the forwarding and commission business, to Eastman’s Business College at Poughkeepsie. After that go to New Orleans or St. Louis and get a position as agent for some firm in the business, till such time as I get ready to go into business on my own account. An officer in the regiment, whom I have known intimately for nearly two years, will join me at the school, and we shall go together for better or worse. It is a business that can be carried on with less capital and produce surer and larger profits than any other I know of, and one which will suit my tastes better than a quiet country life. Now what do you think of my plan?

July 1, 1865.

Dear Sister L.:—

I send you another “boarder.” The time for distinction of color per se is past. The face you see is the counterfeit presentment of the “American citizen of African descent,” Jefferson Chisum Brown, called for short (or surnamed) Jeff. Mr. Brown belongs to a numerous and highly respected family. The fact that his name is not descriptive of his condition is not uncommon, or at all remarkable. Though he is Brown, he is also “black as the ace of spades.” That is a camp simile, which you will not understand, but it means very black. Mr. Brown’s former residence was Charleston, and he belonged to the aristocracy there. He came over from there with Robert Small on the Planter, and though his trip will be an event commemorated in history, Mr. Brown himself can claim little credit for it, because as he acknowledges—”he didn’t know whar dey was a fotchin’ him to.” Mr. Brown is at present employed as a polisher of metal (cleans the sword) and an artist (handles the boot brush) under the auspices of my friend Burrows.

Brazos de Santiago, Texas,
June 27, 1865.

Dear Sister L.:—

By this time you will think I should be able to give you something of a description of this strange country. If you look at a map of Texas you may see down at the mouth of the Rio Grande, the name of Brazos de Santiago. There is a little strip of sand about ten miles long, dignified by the name island, and on the northern end of the island is the village. The village is a row of small wooden houses put up by the government for store rooms and offices, with a few occupied by sutlers.

There is a wharf and shipping. These form a very small part of the scenery—the rest is sand. There is not a spear of vegetation growing within sight of my tent. There is not a tree within fifteen miles. Just across the narrow strait is the Isla del Padre, another sand strip, seventy-five miles long. At the mouth of the strait is the bar and a dangerous one too. There is only about seven feet of water and the breakers roar and tumble over it so that at most times a small boat could not live ten minutes. The ships anchor outside and are unloaded by little sloops called lighters, which, with the Spanish names, Bonita, Dos Amigos, etc., and their Mejicanos crews are funny crafts. They rendezvoused here when cotton ran the blockade, and loaded and unloaded the ships, and now that their occupation is gone they come to Uncle Sam for employment.

I told you, I think, that our regiment was ship-wrecked when they came ashore. It was only such a peril as one likes to tell of when it is past, for no one was lost. The schooner though, lies high and dry on the beach. We have had terrible times for water. There is none on the island fit to drink—all salt. Two condensers are in operation, but they would not begin to water all the troops. Our men have gone nine miles up to the Rio Grande after water and got back the same night, rolling barrels of water all the way. Just think of that for getting your water. It don’t rain here, or we might get rainwater. Now that all the troops except our brigade have gone up the river we hope to get water enough.

The sun is terribly hot. At noon it is directly overhead and if it were not for the constant sea breeze we could not live. The wind commences to blow from the southeast every morning about nine o’clock and blows till nearly daylight next morning, so that in the shade of a tent it is quite comfortable. The hottest time of day is from sunrise till nine o’clock when there is no breeze. About four p. m. it is comfortable walking and we go to bathe, keeping an eye out for sharks.

You must be well on in the summer now, and it is almost the Fourth. What glorious celebrations there will be this year!

Many officers are sending in their resignations, but none of them in this corps are accepted. I think I shall stay through the summer pretty well contented and see what turns up then.

U. S. Steamer Illinois, off Brazos de Santiago, Texas,
Thursday, June 15, 1865.

Dear Sister L.:—

I wrote you last from Mobile Bay, just as we were about sailing. Our trip across the Gulf of Mexico had nothing of special interest till on Tuesday morning we sighted land, the island “Del Padre” or Father’s Island, as we would say, and at 9 o’clock we dropped anchor at Brazos.

My letter from Fort Morgan left us expecting to disembark the next morning, and the entry in my diary for Friday, the 9th, is “Disembarked at Mary Cove, Mississippi Steamer Swaim. Sand-flies. Swimming in the surf. Roast pork at the Hotel de Lawrence. Soiree dansante—minstrels—model artists—midnight orgies on the beach—school house.”

To you, that collection of disjointed phrases is suggestive of bedlam, I presume. To me it is suggestive of a day long to be remembered for its unique pleasures. “Mississippi Steamer Swaim” recalls the image of the craft that took us off the Illinois to the wharf at Mary Cove—a lumbering awkward looking steamer, that could turn one wheel forward and the other back at the same time—that made a smoke suggestive of inferno—and that coughed like a consumptive Titan. “Sand-flies” is a compound word, and sand-flies themselves are a compound of all the disagreeable qualities of mosquitoes, fleas, lice, gnats and bedbugs. They are so small they are almost invisible till they bite, and it is no pleasure to kill them for they stand still to be killed with perfect equanimity, and for every one you kill ten more take his place. The only things to keep them away are mud and tobacco. We had a few of them at Mary Cove.

“Swimming in the surf” recalls a pleasant two hours of sea bathing, when big waves combed over us, or tossed us high on the beach, and when the sharks kept at their proper distance, which we were afraid they wouldn’t.

“Roast pork at the Hotel de Lawrence” recalls our dinner. We had gone on shore expecting to starve, or live on salt air till the next day, but the adjutant and I with our usual inquisitive spirit, started on a prospecting tour, and catching a glimpse of some “delaine” that did not look exactly like the “cracker” style, we ran alongside, took a reef in our topsails, saluted, and invited ourselves to dinner in an insinuating way. Of course, ourselves included the colonel and major. We soon found that Mrs. Lawrence was a southern lady, the wife of an officer in our navy, who hailed from Boston, and that the lady and her two daughters and niece had just come from Boston, where they had been living since the war began. That Mrs. L. had kept a hotel in Pensacola, appeared from her conversation. That she had kept a good one was evident from the dinner she got up for us.

Soiree dansante recalls the evening. Imagine our surprise in finding in that low cottage by the sea, half buried in the sand, a piano, and a girl who could play with taste and skill, one who had played on the great Boston organ. We found it; we sent for our band after tea; we sent for the violins and guitar from the string band, and our “choir” came too. We had music, songs and dancing. At the first squeak of the viol, the girls said it sounded familiar, which was a hint that could not be resisted by a soldier. The floor was cleared and a cotillion formed in a reasonable time. Once the spell was broken there was no stopping it till the “wee sma’ hours.” The tall form of the colonel, with his riding boots, went round and round the mater-familias in stately Lancers or lively quadrille. Schottische and waltz pleased the daughters better, and we had a good time all round.

“Midnight orgies on the beach” recalls the bath before the bed in the school house. We enjoyed that surf some after being cooped up on a ship for more than a week, and then we slept in a school house. The very idea was novel, but we were not in Virginia, and they do have some school houses in Alabama, I believe.

Well, I have enlarged pretty well on that little page, but I have not written half those few disjointed words suggest to me.

The Gulf is full of sharks and the fierce monsters have been following us ever since we left Mobile. Yesterday we caught one about thirteen feet long, and raised him out of the water, but he straightened the hook and got away.

Last night at sunset we had a burial at sea. One of the men of Company F died and as it was impossible to land, and we could not keep the body, it was buried in the deep. The body was sewed up in a blanket and placed on a board on the guards of the ship, with heavy weights at the feet. The band played a dirge, the chaplain read the Episcopal service for burial at sea, and when he came to the words, “We commit his body to the deep.” the plank was lifted and the body descended with a sullen plunge to the bottom of the ocean.

U. S. Steamer Illinois, off Brazos de Santiago, Texas,

Thursday, June 15, 1865.

Dear Father:—

I have a few minutes in which to write a continuation of my note from Mobile Bay. The Illinois returns to New York to-morrow, or sails for there via New Orleans, and I must send by her.

We disembarked near Fort Morgan on Friday the 9th. Found on shore a family from Boston, with a piano and girls fond of music and dancing, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Re-embarked the next morning and sailed at noon. Our trip across the Gulf had nothing of interest till on Tuesday morning we sighted land, the Isla del Padre, and at 9 o’clock anchored off Brazos. There are only nine feet of water on the bar, and as our ship draws nineteen, we could not get over and it has been too rough to transfer the men to a lighter till to-day, when we got them off on a schooner, though it was a perilous job. I expected to see at least one or two drowned, but they all got off in safety. I remain to unload the rations and stores, and seize the time the schooner is off to write my note.

Our brigade is to remain with division headquarters at Brazos. One of the other brigades is at Corpus Christi and one at Indianola. Brazos is an island at the mouth of the Rio Grande. Seven miles down the coast on the other side is Bagdad in Mexico, where several thousand French and Imperialist Mexicans are camped. One of our regiments will guard the ford, and as soon as I can get time I am going across to see how they look.

Brazos has not much to recommend it as a pleasant place to garrison, but we shall build barracks and live within ourselves and enjoy ourselves, I make no doubt. The worst feature is that we must use condensed water. I shall be busy for a time in fitting up, and in making up my papers, but I hope to have time to write some letters, and I hope some of you will write to me at least once a week. Change the address from Washington to New Orleans, but make no other changes.

U. S. Steamer Illinois, off Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay,
Thursday, June 8, 1865.

Dear Sister L.:—

I’ve just time to write a line to say we are so far on our voyage in safety. I was transferred from the Warrior the day we started. Had a lovely trip—couldn’t be better. Shall disembark here to clean the ship—and coal and water again—and then—ho! for Texas or elsewhere.

U. S. Steamer Illinois, off Ft. Morgan, Mobile Bay,
Thursday, June 8, 1865.

Dear Sister L.:—

I wrote you a line this afternoon just in time to get it off by the New Orleans boat. I could not write much in the few minutes of time I had before the boat left, and so to-night I will write a little more extended account of our voyage.

I wrote you from the Warrior expecting to go down in her, but on arriving at Fortress Monroe, the general concluded he couldn’t dispense with my company, and ordered me to the Illinois. I was not sorry to make the change, as my regiment was there with the general and staff, and the Illinois is a floating palace.

I spent a day in Norfolk and then removed my traps to the Illinois, and on the 31st we weighed anchor and steamed out past Cape Henry lighthouse and off to sea. The next morning we were out of sight of land, and steaming southeast to cross the Gulf Stream; our ship drew nineteen feet of water, and we could not go next the coast, so as it would not pay to go against the current all the way, we were forced to go outside. The time passed merrily away. A few were sick enough to make amusement for the others, but none enough to be thoroughly wretched. We had plenty of books, and in the evening we gathered in the spacious saloon and had whist parties and quartettes of euchre or old sledge, and such like abominations.

On Sunday morning we came to the Bahama Banks, where the waters changed from their indigo blue color to azure, light green, purple and almost all the colors of the rainbow. The water was so clear we could see the bottom at thirty feet, and the finny monsters were disporting themselves regardless of the curious eyes that looked at them for the first time. At noon Memory Rock rose in bold relief against the horizon, lone, stern and grim, a sentinel of the sea. In the afternoon we passed the Bahamas, a line of long, low, sandy islands, uninhabited except by a few wreckers, and not very inviting situations for a cottage by the sea. But at dark we saw the cottage by the sea, indeed. It was a little hut on a lonely rock, where dwells the keeper of the Isaac Island Light, an English lighthouse. He has a spice of solitude, he has. State’s prison is nothing to it. I mused on the pleasures of solitude, as I watched his lonely light flash and fade in the darkness, and I concluded that it must be very sweet to have someone to whom you can say—”how sweet is solitude?”

On Tuesday we sighted, away off in the dim distance, the heights of Cuba, and that afternoon passed the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas. The last is the penitentiary of the army, where mutinous and other desperate criminals have been sent. It rises like a great castle in the sea, and is a lonely place enough.

This afternoon we sighted the land off Mobile Bay, and at three o’clock we dropped anchor off Fort Morgan, and now I am writing on deck, with my portfolio on my knee, and the scene of the greatest naval battle of the world spread out before me. Within a stone’s throw, I can see the ripple in the current which marks the spot where the ill-fated Tecumseh went down, right under the guns of Fort Morgan, and a little to the left the ribs of the rebel ram are rising above the water. Here the “gallant, grim old Admiral.” ran the gauntlet of the terrible batteries. My words are too tame—I will not attempt to describe it. Read “Our Battle Laureate” in the April or May Atlantic, and you will get some idea of the inspiring scene.

Well, the sun has disappeared in a blaze of glory behind Fort Gaines, and I must bring my letter to a close for want of light and room for more.

To-morrow we disembark, and I hope before we reembark to see how Mobile looks, but I may not make it out. The rumor to-night is that we are to go to Brazos Santiago, at the mouth of the Rio Grande.