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

Reminiscences of the Civil War, William and Adelia Lyon

Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Claysville, Ala., June 26, 1864.—I have sent two expeditions across the river the past week, one under the Adjutant to Guntersville, and one under Captain Blake into the country a few miles below here. They captured quite a number of horses and mules, and Captain Blake captured two rebel officers—Captains, I think. They encountered no armed force. The Adjutant captured a rebel mail, containing many papers and letters. I send you two of these specimens. The letters are of no military importance. Most of them were written by privates in Johnson’s and Lee’s army, and the writers all think that they are whipping us badly at all points. The tone of all the rebel papers is very sanguine of ultimate success. Never was any people so blind to their real condition as is this people. One fellow writes in May from somewhere in this State to his father that Lee has just defeated Grant in a great battle, and that our losses amount to 100,000 killed, wounded and prisoners, while the rebel loss is but trifling.

The hot weather is upon us. This morning is clear and still, and the sun lets us know that we are ‘down South.’ Standing at noon with my back to the sun, my shadow falls just two inches beyond the toes of my boots. I am perfectly well, but I make as little exertion as possible during the day. The nights are comfortable.

My regiment is so scattered, and therefore weak at any given point, that although there is no force of the enemy very near any part of our line, yet I can but feel constant anxiety. Indeed, I think I am leading a more anxious life than ever before in the service. The fact is, we are doing the duty and bearing the responsibility that ought to be divided between two regiments. I find that I have a good horse, and I ride much more than I ever did before. I can not realize that I have been in Wisconsin within three months. I never felt so isolated in my life.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Claysville, Ala., Sun., June 20, 1864.—Colonel Chapman goes tomorrow morning with Companies A. B and K too Whitesburg, ten miles south of Huntsville, where he will have command.

It seems very healthy here. The regiment is uncommonly healthy. We shall occupy more than 40 miles of the river. I shall have about 250 men here, or close by. We are making arrangments to get mails and supplies by river.

We are not entirely out of the world, as a gunboat patrols the river from Bridgeport to Decatur once or twice a week; and there is a railroad from Nashville to Decatur, you know. This boat will carry us up and down at any time.

We hear that Forrest has whipped us near Memphis and is making his way to Decatur. This will give the 18th Michigan a job, if true. Colonel Jim Howe’s brigade is there, including the 32d Wisconsin. General Granger is there, too. The 13th Wisconsin is not there. I hear that the 8th Wisconsin is at Vicksburg on its way home on veteran furlough. I wish you to show all possible attention to my Company K boys. Tell them that I do not do much fighting now-a-days, but I think a heap about them.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Claysville, Ala., June 16, 1864.—I send this by Lieutenant Balis, who goes to Woodville in the morning with the remains of his brother, who died this afternoon of pneumonia. He was a new recruit, about 35 years old, and leaves a wife and one or two children. He was a frail man and ought not to have gone into the service.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Claysville, Ala., Wed. Eve., June 15, 1864.—I got an order this evening to send four companies to Whitesburg, which is on the river south of Huntsville, and some six miles below our present beat. The Adjutant starts in the morning for Huntsville for more specific instructions; so I improve the opportunity to let you know once more that I am well. I do not expect this order will involve any change in my headquarters. Colonel Chapman, I hear, is at Whitesburg now, waiting for these troops, and he will probably remain there and take care of that end of the route. This will relieve me from a good deal of tramping.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

June 14, 1864.—I have been down to the river today. Our pickets exchange shots with the rebels on the other side almost every day. They are few in numbers, and the river is so wide that it is a harmless amusement for both sides.

Colonel Chapman is below on the river somewhere, and I expect him every day. The 18th Wisconsin is on the river below us. I have got the companies all posted now, and intend visiting them as soon as Colonel Chapman gets back.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Claysville, Ala., June 8, 1864.—We got here last night after a rough march, but all well. The country is very pleasant. Only three or four families here. Will give you full particulars in my next. The wagon train is just leaving for Woodville for supplies. We are not settled yet.

The journey was pretty rough. We had to ford one large creek where the water was up to the horses’ sides. We got through without accident. There is but one decent house in the place, and in it lives a widow— an old lady—and two daughters, young women. The Adjutant and I took possession of the surplus rooms in the house for headquarters, and we have made an arrangement by which the family do the cooking and washing. They are poor people, but neat and respectable, a good deal above the average of poor whites down here. I think that they do not chew snuff, although I am not quite sure about the youngest one. All we pay is to furnish provisions for the whole. They seem to be very economical, and I think we shall like the living. They cook well. I have a good airy room up stairs. The old lady has lent me a feather bed. I shall fill my cotton tick with cotton, of which there is plenty here. I brought from Stevenson a nice camp bedstead, and am rigged out very comfortably indeed.

I have four companies, B, G, C and I, on the river, and shall send out three more tomorrow, A, F and D, leaving with me H, E and K. Company C is but a little over a mile from here. They exchange shots occasionally with bushwhackers, but it is too far to do any execution. There seem to be no organized bands of rebels on this side of the river, and no considerable number on the other side.

We get our mail from Woodville, twenty miles distant. It seems odd to go five or six days without hearing a word from the outside world, yet we will get used to it after a little I suppose.

We had green peas and mutton for dinner. The peas we bought, the mutton we confiscated.

There is a better class of people here than there was at Stevenson or Donelson. They are cleaner and more intelligent, and generally not so wretchedly poor.

I have a very trusty, honest horse. I intended to go out with A, P and D, but the roads are so bad I will not go. It is about fifteen miles to the farthest post, and bad roads at that. It is quite a serious thing to haul all of our supplies from there. I am trying to make arrangements to get them by way of the river.

We suspect that old Fever-and-ague lives down here and will be amongst us in August and September. The country is flat, but it is only a few miles to the spurs of the mountains. Brigade headquarters are going to Decatur. It would suit me just as well if they went to the Isthmus of Suez. They do not disturb us.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

Bellefonte, Jackson County, Ala., June 5, 1864.— We left Stevenson yesterday morning at eight o’clock, in the midst of a very heavy rain, and reached this point, 14 miles distant, at sundown. We had several hard showers during the day, but the boys did not seem to mind it much. It rained all night, and until about nine o’clock this morning, which makes the roads very muddy; so I concluded to lay over today, especially as it is Sunday. We move at sunrise tomorrow morning, and it will take us two days to reach our destination, which is about thirty miles from here. We have 800 men and 20 teams, and make quite a little army.

The country over which we marched yesterday was tolerably level and looks not unlike our oak openings in Wisconsin, though the soil is generally thin and poor. The road was bad in places, and we were detained several times by wagons breaking down or getting stuck in the mud. We learn that the roads are better ahead, and the mud is drying rapidly this afternoon. The whole route is a desert, made so by our armies. Fences are destroyed, and nearly all the plantations are deserted. Many of the houses have been burned down, and there are no growing crops.

The Adjutant and I rode into Bellefonte last night ahead of the regiment, and such a picture of utter desolation as the place presents I have seldom seen, even in the South. The village is the county seat of Jackson county, and was once about half the size of Elkhorn, Wis. Its situation is not unlike that of Elkhorn, being built on level ground around a public square, in the center of which once stood a fine court house. This court house was burned down the day the 13th marched through here last September, and in consequence of that coincidence we were charged with burning it; but it was not so, and I indignantly denied the charge and demanded the proof. It has not been produced. At that time there were many citizens here. Now they are all or nearly all gone, and every building is nearly destroyed. This was done by General Sherman’s army last winter. The frames and roofs and brick walls are standing, but the siding has been torn off, partitions broken down, floors ripped up, and doors and windows all carried away or destroyed. The fences, too, have disappeared, and the whole site of the town, gardens, dooryards, public square, and every place except a narrow track in the center of the street, is covered with a rank growth of weeds.

When we came in a dead silence brooded over the place. There was no sign of life except two half-starved, poorly clad women, slowly making their way through the deserted streets on two lean and hungry-looking donkeys; and a solitary cow feeding upon the weeds by the roadside. It looked like a fit home for owls, and bats and serpents, and it was difficult to realize that it was ever the abode of man. Yet riding about the town we find many evidences of the taste and refinement of the former inhabitants. The ruins of what were once beautiful flower gardens are frequently met with, and blooming among noxious weeds we found roses and other flowers in great profusion, which in variety of coloring and brilliancy of tints excel anything we ever see at the North.

The people are fugitives in the South. They are all bitter Secessionists, and they are now reaping the terrible fruits of their great crime. In a frenzy of unholy passion they sought to destroy our Government, to tear down the glorious fabric of liberty, which was our common heritage, and lo, their homes are a desolation, and they and their wives and children, like Cain of old, are wanderers and vagabonds in the earth. Like Cain, too, when they think of their mansions destroyed, of the ruin that reigns where once they dwelt, of the peace and prosperity and happiness they once enjoyed, they may well exclaim, ‘Our punishment is greater than we can bear.’ And now, having indulged in a little highfalutin, ‘merely to show you,’ as Josh Billings says, ‘that I ken du it,’ I will come down to matter of fact things and inform you that the peaches are as large as butternuts, and the country is full of them. Blackberries are nearly full grown and turning red; raspberries and cherries are ripe, but scarce.

It will be several days before I can get another letter to the postoffice for you.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Stevenson, Ala, Fri., June 3,1864.—We leave here tomorrow at sunrise. We had a hard rain last night, which relieves us from marching in the dust. The 22d, and other Wisconsin regiments in this department, get hurt occasionally, I see, though none except the 3d have been cut up very badly yet. There seems to be plenty of work and little glory for the poor 13th.

I had the whole regiment on dress parade last night, and it made a superb show. I felt just as though I should like to try their mettle where the bullets fly.

The new troops that have taken our place are many of them getting sick. We are toughened to the heat.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Stevenson, Ala., Thursday, June 2, 1864.—We are still here, you see, but hope to get started tomorrow. We are waiting for our teams, which are on the road here from Nashville and expected tonight. The regiment is together now, except the men detailed at Nashville and a few others. They make a fine show.

Adjutant Ruger went through here last evening wounded. He was struck in the knee by a piece of shell, bruising him pretty badly; but he will probably recover without any permanent injury to the limb. He is in fine spirits. This occurred a week ago.

We shall be able to take all of our traps, and the Adjutant and I are going to let Jerry do our cooking. We rather like the prospect of moving.

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Colonel Lyon’s Letters.

 

Stevenson, Ala., Sun., May 29, 1864.—The 132d Indiana (100-days men) arrived here last evening to relieve us, and we go to Claysville, which is the last of the poor 13th for the next 100 days. No fighting, no wounds, no glory for us. Oh, how badly you will feel about it. We shall not leave, I think, until the last of the week, as our transportation has only this morning left Nashville, and it comes through by land. We were all well satisfied here, and yet the boys never left a place more cheerfully.

The country where we go has not been so badly devastated as this, and it is said to be a good country. We expect to revel in fruit. The peach crop will be very heavy this year.

I learn that poor George Yout was killed. He was a brave, good boy, and I feel great sympathy for his family and friends.

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