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

The Color Guard, A Corporal’s Notes, James Kendall Hosmer

Our work was done. The regiment languished for two or three weeks, — first upon the bluff; then upon a hot, pestilential plain, far back within the fortress. Day by day, men fell sick of fever, or worn out for the want of proper food. Day by day, we laid away the dead; and it was plain more must die, unless we could soon go northward.

At length, the forenoon of the 23d of July, while we were burying poor Spencer Phelps, dead of terrible fever just at the moment when relief was at hand, the transport touched at the Levee, which was to take us North. At dusk, we left the tents and the graves, the long parapet with our rifle-pits beyond, and the barren, sun-baked bluff. We marched aboard, a nerveless, debilitated company, too weak and sick to show joy even at going home.

Grosvenor, indeed, my good friend, a high-minded patriot, whose great spirit had carried his feeble body through all our exposures, though pale and haggard, went from man to man, shaking-hands. He lay down at night, spreading out his blankets with his old comrades. In the morning, his couch lay as he had spread it; but he was gone, and the eyes of no man have rested upon him since. His was a brave and knightly soul. No doubt he rose in the night, too, exultant, perhaps over the brighter prospects of our great cause, and over the thought that hardship honorably borne was soon to be over, to sleep. The moon, about full, floated gloriously before him in the heavens, among the summer clouds, as the “Sangreal, with its veils of white samite,” floated before Arthur’s pure-souled knights. A misstep with his. weak limbs, and he fell overboard into the flood. So our good friend must have perished.

Steadily we pushed northward. A large space, where it was most airy, was given up for a hospital, and crowded with the sick. Here was my post at night, from seven to one. One night, three worn-out soldiers gave up the ghost; but the wind, as we drew forward, blew more cool, and the air of home began to have its effect.

We looked off upon Natchez and battered Vicksburg; upon gunboats patrolling, and at anchor off dangerous shores. Then came Memphis; and in a day or two, a week after we had begun our voyage up those long leagues, we reached Island Ten and Columbus, — the hostile strongholds of two years before.

We left nearly a score of our more deathly sick to the Sisters of Charity at Mound City; then on through Egypt,” where they did not care for us; across through loyal Indiana and Ohio, where they cheered and clasped us, and only blamed us because we had sent no word of our coming. Flourish, little Marion! where every villager came running to us, who were so worn and hungry, with a well-filled basket; and blessings on generous Buffalo! city of prodigious gains and prodigious munificence, where, on Sunday morning, a congregation and their shepherd held service at the depot, ministering with tearful eyes to the sallow and fever-smitten multitude.

And now we are nearing home. Hark! it is my own church-bell, ringing welcome. Here are the familiar faces at last. Old Cruden and venerable Calmet welcome their master from their shelves; and ere long, washed and refreshed, the soldier falls on his knees, by the side of his own sweet, white bed, to thank God for his mercies.

The Banks campaign of the spring and early summer of 1863 is coming to be looked upon as a masterpiece of strategy. As yet, but little has appeared in print about it. It ought, however, to interest the military student and the general public. Facts, I think, will support the interpretation of the campaign, which I propose to give. If the view about to be presented is correct, to Gen. Banks, in addition to his former fame, is due the glory of being a mighty leader of armies.

Gen. Banks was sent to Louisiana to hold and govern the territory which had already been conquered by Butler and Farragut, and to restore the Federal authority in regions still under the rebel domination. In the way of offensive operations, the special task given him to perform was to co-operate with Grant in re-opening the Mississippi. Vicksburg and Port Hudson were the two obstacles to be overcome. To Grant was intrusted the reduction of the former; to Banks, the capture of Port Hudson.

During the inclement weather of the winter, the army was arriving. The regiments, as they came, went into camp, and were vigorously drilled. In March, when the heavy rains had ceased and military operations became possible, Banks was ready to take the field. His force consisted only of the Nineteenth Army Corps. A good part of this force were “nine-months’ men,” whose terms of service expired during the first part of the summer. Whatever was done, must be done before midsummer.

At this time, Gardner held Port Hudson with a force equal to, or perhaps greater than, the army which Gen. Banks could bring against him. To rush at once upon the enemy, within his strong intrenchments, would have been to incur certain and bloody defeat. It was an occasion for strategy. Port Hudson could be reduced, if Gardner could be led to send away a considerable part of his garrison; and if, at the same time, it could be so managed, that the remnant left should be short for supplies, so that protracted resistance would be impossible. How to accomplish this was the problem before the general, in the beginning of March, when he prepared for active operations.

The first operation of the campaign was directed toward cutting off the river communication of the garrison, by which they could receive supplies and re-enforcements. The 13th of March, we set out from Baton Rouge for Port Hudson. At dusk of the 14th, the reader of the foregoing pages will remember, we were pushed up to within easy cannon-range of the rebel batteries; while field-artillery fired and manoeuvred as if a rush were to be made at once upon the parapet. We expected a land-attack; the enemy expected it. A bright reb, whom I met, during the truce on the morning of the capitulation, between their rampart and our rifle-pits, told me, that, so confident were they that night of a land-attack, the cannoneers on the bluff were off their guard. They did not see the fleet stealing silently past, until the vessels at the head were pretty much out of danger, up the stream. If they had seen them, they could have kept them down as they did the ships farther back.”The next day, as I stood on the bold Port-Hudson bluff, and saw the immense guns which the rebels had planted on the brow, with delicate sights just above the enormous muzzles, and well-stored magazines, and ovens for hot shot close at hand, I could not help believing what the rebel had told me. With those cannon, hot shot and shell could be cast, almost with the precision of rifle-balls, at objects passing below. If the cannoneers had kept sharp watch, the “Hartford” and “Albatross,” both wooden vessels, could not have passed. It was precisely that thing the general was manoeuvring after, — to induce the garrison to look for a land-attack; whereas the object he had in view was to get these powerful vessels above the fortress to cut off the river communication. It was the artifice, precisely, of a skilful boxer, who makes a feint with his right hand, then puts in the blow in earnest with his left. The stratagem was successful. The general, no doubt, wished to pass a stronger force of vessels above the fortress; but the two proved sufficient. The rebels had nothing on the stream to cope with them in fair fight, and Farragut was too sagacious and prudent to be entrapped. The “Mississippi,” indeed, was lost; but one old frigate was a small price to pay for so substantial an advantage.

The next operation of the campaign was to manoeuvre in such a way as to induce the rebel commanders to believe, that Port Hudson, after all, was not the threatened point. Now that the river was in our possession, the great garrison at Port Hudson would soon be embarrassed for supplies; and, if Gardner and Pemberton could be induced to believe that Banks had some project elsewhere, it would be the natural thing for them to withdraw a portion of the force from the distressed stronghold, and send them, by land, where they fancied the troops could be of more service.

Banks proceeded without delay. At the end of March, we embarked on transports, and went southward from the rebels, toward New Orleans. Landing at the Bayou La Fourche, we marched westward, and, in a week or two, began the raid through the back country, from Brashear City to Alexandria on the Red River. The inferior rebel force in this region was dissipated by our hasty rush; a vast amount of cotton and sugar were captured; and supplies were seized, which might possibly have found their way into Port Hudson, escaping the vigilance of the “Hartford” and “Albatross.” But the most important end accomplished was this,—and it was, no doubt, the end which the general had mainly in view, — it completely misled the rebel generals as to his real designs.

The young rebel colonel, chief of Gardner’s staff at Port Hudson, the night after the capitulation in July, rides over to the Federal camp to see his old friend and former companion-in-arms, Col. G —, of the —th Mass. An old friend of mine, a distinguished young officer of the regiment, is present at the interview, and sits up himself with the rebel colonel, till midnight, talking over past events. Next time I see my friend, he tells me about his talk. One thing is this: This officer says, that, when Banks was at Alexandria, it was believed, on the rebel side, that Port Hudson was no longer threatened; that, at that time, Lieut-Gen. Pemberton sent word from Vicksburg, to his subordinate, Gardner, that Port Hudson was not in danger, and that he might send elsewhere part of his army. Gardner did so; and, when he was weakened by sending off a large portion of his force, suddenly Banks, on the Red River, put his army upon transports, and Port Hudson was invested, before a man of those who had been sent away could be recalled.

“Oh,” said the rebs to us when the fortress fell, “if you had only attacked us when you came up in March. when we were ready for you!” But that was precisely what Gen. Banks was too wise to do. Instead of that, he had preferred to manoeuvre so as to induce the rebel leaders to reduce the garrison, and to cut off their supplies of provisions.

The field of all this manoeuvring was very extensive. The Fifty-second Regiment marched more than three hundred miles while it was being done, and a portion of the army accomplished still more. Well do we remember what ache and sweat it cost us! But it was vigorous to the extent of human endurance, and perfectly successful; for at the end of May, when the sudden investment of Port Hudson took place, the place contained but a few thousand troops, with provisions for only a few weeks.

The third and closing operation of the campaign was the siege of Port Hudson. During this siege, two assaults were made upon the rebel works, — on the 27th of May and the 14th of June. Both were bloody; both were unsuccessful as assaults: and Gen. Banks has been blamed sometimes for having “mismanaged” them, sometimes for having suffered them to be made at all.

As to the charge of mismanagement. It should be remembered, that no military undertaking is more critical than an assault upon a well-defended fortress. In 1811, Wellington was twice repulsed at Badajoz, with prodigious loss; and in 1799, at Acre, Napoleon himself rushed seven or eight times in vain against the works defended by the British and Turks. Certainly it would be rash to say, simply because an assault was unsuccessful, that it was mismanaged. The opinion of competent military critics is alone of value upon this point. The writer is far enough from pretending to such a character. We used to hear, at Port Hudson, that the assaults failed from lukewarmness on the part of subordinates; from the irremediable embarrassment arising from the early and unexpected fall of officers holding important commands; and from the circumstance, that portions of the attacking force lost their way. To say the least, it is as probable that some such cause as this prevented success, as that there was want of skill in planning the attacks.

Gen. Banks has been blamed for having suffered the assaults to be made at all. Since an assault is so critical an affair, perhaps nothing is sufficient to justify one, but some great strait in which a general is placed. A siege is far safer and more certain, and ought, no doubt, to be preferred, when there is time. Was Gen. Banks in such a strait as to justify him in trying to storm Port Hudson? It is hard to see how a general can be in a much closer corner than was Gen. Banks at the end of May. At the outset of the campaign, his force was small, in view of the objects to be accomplished. The vigorous operations which took place at once had diminished this force very largely. The hot season had already begun; during which, sickness was sure to prevail. Moreover, the time of the “nine-months’ men” was on the point of expiring. Is it strange Gen. Banks felt driven to even desperate expedients?

The assaults failed in their main object of taking the fortress, but still secured us some advantages. Each time, numbers of rebels fell, and important ground was gained close under the hostile parapet.

The siege was pushed as operations had been pushed from the beginning. Farragut kept watch above and below on the river, and no food could reach the half-starved garrison. From land and stream poured in a constant fire of shot and shell, while sharpshooters sent their volleys day and night. At length, the place fell. It was high time: for the nine-months’ regiments were beginning to mutiny; New Orleans, which was held by a small force, was seriously threatened; and the whole army, under the burning heats, was fast sinking away. Out of our company of ninety, scarcely twenty were on duty at last. The whole regiment was diminished in the same proportion, and the men counted as effective were generally far below the standard of health; yet there were few stronger regiments than ours. That the fall of Vicksburg, which took place a few days previous, only hastened the fall of Port Hudson by a day or two, we have the testimony of the rebel leaders, and the explicit declaration of Gen. Grant himself. The Nineteenth Army Corps claim for their general the full glory of the capture, — a success accomplished with a small comparative force, within a comparatively short time, under unfavorable skies. We claim for our leader the superlative merits of almost unexampled vigor, sagacity, courage, and persistence.

The day after the surrender, I saw the general ride on his black steed, down the bluff, on his way to the “Hartford,” to exchange congratulations with his brave and skilful coadjutor, the admiral. He was haggard and pale, as were his men; but strong and exultant. So he rode, — the foremost man of New England; perhaps the foremost man of the land: and so, I can believe, rode Marlborough, after Blenheim; and Prince Eugene at Belgrade.

During the past year, I have seen much of human nature,—often a very rough side of it. In our own regiment were a large number of men of such age and character as are not usually found in the position of private soldiers; but we had, besides these, a proportion of “rough characters.” Then, again, in organizations less favored than ours, with which we were associated, there was ample opportunity of meeting with those whom society calls very much debased. I met such men under circumstances when many of the ordinary restraints of life were taken off, so that their true natures could come out more fully. What have I learned? To put as much confidence in men as ever; to believe in the intrinsic goodness of the human heart. Indolence, cruelty, sensuality, meanness, are the things men invariably detest, and what they blame. Mercy, liberality, truth, kindness, are what they invariably commend.

Much evil there is among the rank and file, as there is among those higher in position. I have seen want of patience, want of honesty, want of temperance. I have seen gambling and ill-temper, and know how foul the air of a camp is with coarseness and blasphemy. But this I have not seen: the man who liked or would commend selfishness; the man who disliked or would blame unselfishness. One does not learn to think less of human nature from contact with “rough men,” however it may be from contact with those at the opposite social extreme. Often they do not imitate what they admire; often they do not avoid in their own conduct what they detest in others: but this is true, that the human instincts are always fixed in a love for good, in a hatred for bad. In the society of the low, as in every human society, there is but one rule for securing enduring popularity, — “Be unselfish.”

I have known men, rough in language and manners; judged by our conventional standards, thoroughly unsanctified; perhaps they hardly ever saw the inside of a church, or breathed an audible prayer, though their talk was full of oaths: yet they would do noble things. They would help others generously; they would bear privation cheerfully; and I have known them, in a time of pestilence, to watch, day and night, with patients sick of contagious diseases, when the camp was full of death. They watched until they grew sick; then, after they were sick, until their lives were in peril. I have heard the lips of dying men bless them.

The thought of the beautiful poem of “Abou Ben Adhem ” is, that, because he loves his fellow-men, an angel writes his name at the head of the list of those whom “love of God had blessed.” I know not why the names of some of these I speak of should not be written there too, “rough” though they are.

Now that all is over, let me set down, briefly, the light in which the great question lies before me after this experience. I find my face set persistently as ever against the threatening power. Near observation only confirms what we hear of its strength, of its iniquity, of its persistent hostility to what we hold sacred. Of the benefits I have derived from this military experience, it is not the least, that now I know, through my own observation, what before was only hearsay. We have heard that Southern society was ignorant; that, at the South, there was little regard for justice; that the heart of the slaveholder became cruel and hard; that the marriage-tie was held in small respect. We have heard, too, about the effect of slavery upon the negroes; that although it raised them, in a degree, above barbarism,— far enough to make them useful instruments, forcing them into industry and into so much of order and decency as improved them as tools,—yet that there it left them, and interposed iron barriers against their mounting farther in the scale. We have heard, that, under slavery, there can be but one form of industry,— the simplest agriculture; that here the tools are coarse, the methods rude, the operations so carried on as soon to impoverish the earth; that when the surface richness is taken off, instead of replenishing its strength or subsoiling, the soil is simply abandoned, to become a wilderness again, while the planter goes off in search of virgin, inexhausted land.

All these things have been matters of hearsay; but now I can pile fact upon fact, from my own observation, in confirmation. If slavery is to exist, it must extend its area. There are inherent necessities which force it to seek new and again new domain. How lucidly and convincingly is this argued in “The Slave Power”! We must triumph, or, I believe in my heart, we shall see the triumphant South extending its dominion southward and westward into Mexico; thence, in the future, forced by these inherent necessities, into the other continent and the tropical islands, — extending its empire throughout the “golden circle” that surrounds the Gulf of Mexico. This territory, slavery will blast as it has blasted the territory in its possession to-day. It will debase the master-class into the cruelty, the injustice, the corruptness, which we know now as characterizing them. It will maintain the servile class in a situation but little removed from their first barbarism.

I know not how, to-day, any knightly and chivalrous soul can do otherwise than burn to rush forth to prevent this. As I write, the cause of the slave-power languishes. It was otherwise up to the first days of July; or, rather, its decline was less marked than our safety required. I remember well, how in the rifle-pits, toward the end of June, I heard Grosvenor talk, who is now no more. Justice and truth, he held, were in peril as much as when we came forth; and could we go home, and leave it so? Rather ought we to stay, though amid hunger and fever and leaden rain, until light came. Almost in that very hour came the dawning of light. But if skies again darken, if through unforeseen disaster or alien interference the good cause is again imperilled, ought we not to thank God we have learned to endure the march, to poise the rifle, to bear up against the hot, shrill hail of war? So to live, in these times, we feel is to live well; and to die at the front is to die well; and, unto those who die thus, the voice of Christ might say, —


” Come, my beloved! e’en as I was pained,

So art thou broken, and thy life outpoured:

Therefore I bless thee, and give thanks for thee.”

July 13. — Since the army entered Port Hudson, I have taken two long rambles: the first, to the corner of the works opposite our “right centre,” the point at which we were stationed; the other, to what is called the “citadel,” at the southern end of the defences on the river-bank. It was only very strong curiosity that drew me out for these walks. We all find ourselves much debilitated. Our fare, always hard enough, has lately been harder than ever. About the time of the surrender, there was a period of some days during which I tasted nothing but our hard-bread — which now is often wormy — and our coarse coffee. Fat salt-pork, indeed, was served out to us; but that, for me, is out of the question, in this climate. We are just finding out, now, the strait we were in. The rebels had actually blocked up the river at Donaldsonville, and destroyed our communications with New Orleans, whence we draw all our supplies, when Port Hudson surrendered.

The day after our entrance, however, I forgot my weakness, so far as I could, and started with Grider and McGill out upon the line of the Clinton and Port-Hudson Railroad for the “works.” I ought to say, that we find Port Hudson to be a little cluster of perhaps forty or fifty houses, on the edge of the bluff. The line of rebel intrenchments extends about this in the form of an irregular semicircle, — beginning on the river-bank, then running well back into the country, and returning to strike the bluff two or three miles below the village. The length of the line of intrenchments is said to be about seven miles. As we left the neighborhood of the little village, the country grew wild, cut and crossed, like the ground we had occupied outside, with ravines and little watercourses. The carcasses of animals were abundant, making the air foul; and often we came to old camps, — rows of huts built of logs and mud. Many of the huts were pierced by our shot, which seem to have penetrated to every part of the space within the enclosure. Every few steps, the foot trod upon a fragment of exploded .shell, or a Parrott bolt, or round shot. Not far from the breastwork, we came to a redoubt which contained a ruined cannon. It was a large siege-piece, facing, through its embrasure, one of our cavaliers, which contained, I remember, a formidable Parrott gun. This poor cannon was deeply dented here and there throughout its length, its carriage splintered; and it was turned on to its side, so that the trunnions were vertical. The last shot of our Parrott, so the rebels told us, had struck at the muzzle, just splintering the lip of the piece, then fairly entering the bore. We could feel an obstruction in the bore of the gun, with the rammer, which we supposed was the bolt. We were told that the shot struck just as a brave and skilful officer was sighting the piece; and that a certain dark stain, still visible on the earth near by, was his life-blood, poured out then and there. This cannon was not upon the outer intrenchments. The precision of our artillery-fire, the rebels assure us, was something wonderful; and we found ample evidence of it. Every gun at all exposed was sure to be detected by the sharp eyes of our cannoneers; and then its fate was sealed. At last, the rebels only dared to place their guns in the rear, concealing their whereabouts as much as possible: but then they were not safe, as in the case of this piece.

From this point, we soon came to the memorable angle where our sap approached. Every step, the evidences of the past storm became more numerous. The trees had lost their tops, the shells had hollowed out huge holes in the ground, and even weeds and bushes showed where the fire had swept. We came fairly to the outer works: and here the appearance of things was as if a tornado had swept across, whose hail had had the power to penetrate every thing; or rather as if the spot had received such a fiery storm as fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah. The few trees still standing were splintered into match-wood up their sides, or had lost their tops; and, in some cases, the solid balls had pierced them through and through, leaving them standing, tall and thick, with perforated trunks! The rough buildings near, which we had been able to see so plainly, were shattered in every way; and hardly a square foot could be found upon their timbers not marked by a bullet. The surface of the earth was ploughed and seared; the sand-bags on the breastwork, that I have looked at so often from our cover, were pierced and powder-stained; and, in the old rifle-pits, bloody sacking told where there had been killed and wounded men. It was very interesting to look over toward our approaches and hiding-places. Here ran our sap, touching at last the parapet; there rose the outside of the towering cavalier; there was the pile of cotton-bales, protecting an exposed part of the military road, behind which I had often crept; and there (how very close and plain!) was the prostrate tree where Cyrus Stowell was shot. I must have stood in the very tracks of the riflemen who did it. It was a little melancholy to think of the haunts as abandoned that had held so much life; where, for twenty-five days, we had undergone peril and hardship. We found the rebels had had no better cover than we, and that our fire had been more sharp and deadly even than theirs.

The preparations the rebels had been making against our third assault were in plain view here. We knew they had been hard at work. Mysterious sounds had come over into our sap; and a pickaxe or shovel would occasionally be thrust up into view, over the parapet. Where the breach was to have been made, a space of ground was thickly planted with hard-wood stakes, sharply pointed. A second parapet, for riflemen, had been constructed, and a cannon posted to throw grape. In the ground were buried enormous shell, ready to be discharged. The wires connecting with these ran near our feet, and we were forced to step with care. Had Heaven been a little less kind, it would have been our fate to charge at this very spot.

The “Citadel,” at the southern end of the intrenchments, was the goal of an excursion on the day following. It was a walk of a mile and a half. Here the siege operations had been of greater magnitude than at our approach. The effects of the enormous artillery of the fleet appeared as they could not be seen elsewhere. Here, too, the rebels had placed along the bluff their most formidable guns,—the mouths that had spoken so thunderously the doom of the ” Mississippi,” stranded on the shore opposite there, that night in March, when we listened in the woods. We found great cavities, where the large bombs had exploded. If the earth was soft, it is not exaggerating much to say that these were large enough for cellars to small houses. If the earth was hard, they were large enough to make rifle-pits for a soldier. We came to smooth, round holes, a foot or so in diameter, bored down into the earth out of sight. I thought, at first, they were ventilators to some deep bomb-proof or subterranean passage of the enemy; but they were too numerous and too irregularly disposed for that. They were made by descending shot. Presently we found some projectiles,—gigantic bolts of iron, — two feet long and eight inches thick, and cone-shaped at one end. We could not begin to lift them, nor many of the fragments of the exploded shells.

The shells were the missiles whose wonderful flight I had watched so often, alone, at midnight, from the top of the slope above the ravine of the color-guard. The southern horizon would light up with the wide-spreading glare of the discharge; then came the majestic planetary sweep of the ascending bomb, revealed by its revolving fuse, far into the zenith, —the deep, swinging roar, the stern music of the rushing sphere; then the awful fall from the perihelion of its tremendous orbit, and the earthquake crash at last! In such manner, once perhaps, a circling world, with fire-charged heart, burst into the asteroids!

As we approached the southern defences, we found them to be evidently of older construction and more formidable character than the defences we had before seen. The citadel was an outlying work, in front of a double or triple line of parapets. Less than an eighth of a mile opposite, across a depression, was a seventeen-gun battery of ours, which had added its force to that of the fleet. From this battery, toward the river, ran a trench, perhaps forty rods in length. Opening from the trench, a zigzag sap approached the citadel, — so dug that troops could come up to its walls without exposure. The approach touched the hostile parapet, and ended in a mine, which was nearly completed at the time of the surrender; and ran — a deep resounding cavern — far under the feet of the defenders. It was designed, by means of this, to blow this whole part of the fortification into the air.

The clash of the hostile forces here had been tremendous. It was impossible to think of the Northern power, except as a terrible fiery tide, which, responding to some tempest-breathing of God, had hurled itself upon this outpost. I came when the storm was gone, and could see the mark of the sublime impact. The sea had torn its ragged, zigzag way through the bosom of hill and plain, —dashed against battlement and cliff, and roared at the base, until it had hollowed out for itself deep-penetrating channels. Everywhere it had scattered its fiery spume. Within the citadel lay siege-guns and field-pieces, broken and dented by blows mightier than those of trip-hammers; wheels, torn to bits; solid oaken beams, riven as by lightning; stubborn parapets, dashed through almost as a locomotive’s plough dashes through a snow-drift, — these, and the bloody garments of men.

A photographist was quietly taking pictures on the parapet; one or two soldiers were strolling about: but the storm was gone, — the sapper gone from the mine, the gunner from beside his cannon-wheel, the rifleman from his sand-bag, still smutched from the muzzle of his piece. Then, as we came back, we saw the fierce, gray-headed old colonel, now our prisoner, who had commanded here, and breasted all this infernal force.

July 12. —In Port Hudson at last! There was no false alarm. Vicksburg really fell on the 4th inst. On the 8th, down went Port Hudson; and the particular work for which we came here was at last accomplished, just as our term of service expired. Glory be to God!

I write on the bold Port-Hudson bluff, within a step or two of the precipice, which descends seventy feet to the water’s edge. My back is resting against the earthwork which protected one of the great cannon of the rebels. Before me rolls the great river; the bluff here commanding a splendid reach of it, five or six miles up toward Vicksburg. From the water and the green woods that fringe it comes a cool breeze. Our work is done; our time has expired; and now we only wait for the sick of the regiment to be assembled, for the baggage to be collected, and for the arrival of the transports to take us North.

I am weary and worn with the siege and hard fare; but the experiences of the last few days have been so interesting, that I must make some record of them.

As I have written, before daybreak, the morning of the 8th of July, the major went into the rifle-pits to stop hostilities, as the conference of the commanding generals was about to begin under a flag of truce. About sunrise, I hurried down the military road, and through the obstructed pathways, to the position of the regiment. The ravines were empty. I climbed up past the forsaken booths and caves to the outer picket-posts, and found the men were all out in front. There was no need, this morning, of crouching. The rebel works were only a stone’s-toss off; but the rebels themselves were walking and standing in the plainest sight, and free communication was going forward between the two armies.

A most complete entente cordiale had just been established between Company D and the Alabama and Arkansas men who have been posted opposite to us. It was rather embarrassing, at first, to come face to face with the chaps, who, for a month back, have been shooting at you night and day: but I wanted to study the live “reb,” and determine the category in natural history under which he should come,—whether “gorilla,” as some claim; or “chivalry,” as others; or something between.

I passed out from behind an uprooted tree, the grass near the stump yet pressed down, where the body of Stowell fell as he was shot; then pushed on for a hollow, about half way to the rebel works, having an uncomfortable sense of insecurity as I walked upright; for it had become second nature to us to crawl and stoop. It was only a few steps. Here they were, the real truculent and unmitigated reb, in butternut of every shade, from the dingy green which clothes the unripe nut, to the tawny brown and faded tan which it wears at other stages,—butternut mixed with a dull characterless gray. There was no attempt at uniform, yet something common, in the dress of the whole company, — a faded look, as if the fabric, whatever its original hue, had felt the sun until all life and brightness had wilted in the web and been killed out of the dye. Still the clothing was whole; and, upon closer inspection, looked strong and serviceable, though very coarse.

A group of rebels were gathered in the hollow and over the parapet others came jumping, coming in a straggling line down the slope. I am bound to say, they seemed like pleasant men. All were good-natured, and met our advances cordially. They straightened up as we did. It was good to be able to stretch up once more to the full height: they had not been able to do it for a month. Several were free-masons; and there was mysterious clasping and mighty fraternizing with the brethren on our side. Some had been in Northern colleges, and were gentlemen; and even the “white trash” and “border ruffians,” who made up the mass of them, were a less inhuman set than I should have believed.

The officers, sometimes, wore a uniform of gray; the rank being indicated by badges upon the collar. Sometimes there was nothing to distinguish them from privates. They were brown and dusty; though no more so than we, who, like them, had lived in burrows, on our backs and stomachs, for a month. We really thought, that in condition they went ahead of us. The climate and hard marching had sallowed and dug into our cheeks and shaken us on our pins; whereas they were, though not fat, by no means gaunt and emaciated. Still they hinted at rats, mule meat, and other hard matters, they had been forced of late to come down to.

“Here comes Old Thous’n Yards!” said they, as a broad, tall Arkansian, with a beard heavy as Spanish moss on an oak, and a quick, dark eye, came swinging down from the parapet. They all made way for him with some deference. He was “Old Thous’n Yards” with every one, and turned out to be the great sharpshooter of that part of the works. I inquired about him, and found he was a famous backwoodsman and hunter, who, with a proper rifle, was really sure of a bear or buffalo at the distance of a thousand yards. He came forward rather bashfully. On both sides, the rifles were left behind; and “Old Thousand Yards” seemed to be as much troubled to dispose of his hands as a college freshman at his first party. His left arm would half bend into a hollow as if to receive the rifle-barrel, and the right fingers work as if they wanted to feel the touch of the lock. I borrowed a chew of tobacco, and won the perennial friendship of “Old Thousand Yards” by bestowing it upon him. Then I bought his cedar canteen to preserve as a souvenir of Port Hudson and its sharpshooter. I fear more than one of our poor fellows has felt his skill; but, for all that, he was a good-natured fellow, with a fine frame and noble countenance, — a physique to whose vigor and masculine beauty, prairies and mountain-paths and wild chases had contributed.

For the most part, these men of the Forty-ninth Alabama and Fifteenth Arkansas seemed like honorable fellows, firm to their cause; disposed to be good-natured, but declining to give communications likely to help us; and, although owning to great hardship, apparently ready to fight on. They complimented our sharpshooting. It killed and wounded far more than our shells had done; though our shells had burned stables here, a camp there, houses elsewhere, and dismounted many guns. They told us their rifles were Belgian, Enfield, and Springfield. They had no “target,” or Kentucky rifles, as we had imagined. They evidently respected us, and we did them, — so brown and strong: some of them, indeed, with lack-lustre eyes, soap-locks, and lank frames, according to the conventional type of the Southerner; but plenty of them hearty, bright, and frank.

I came back at last to our covert, took a drink of rebel water out of “Old Thousand Yards'” canteen, and found my hostility to these fellows much mitigated. I could see why commanders generally frown on this sort of communication. It is likely to establish relations altogether too brotherly for the purposes of war. The great principle involved is liable to sink out of sight before the personal friendship.

Meantime, the generals conferred. At noon, a hitch was rumored, and we feared the re-opening of the tedious and terrible siege; but in the afternoon came better news, and at sundown the regiments began to gather from dens and caves, from thickets and ravines, —far and near, — and burnish up a little for a triumphal entry on the morrow.

The morrow came. We left the woods; the filthy little brook whose banks had been covered with the cooking booths of whole divisions of men, and which we had daily drunk almost dry; the graves and the rifle-pits, the half-completed saps, and dreary ovens in which the sun had baked us so long. We left them; henceforth, through long generations probably, to be objects of historical interest, mementoes of the great war. With the old flag, in Wilson’s hands, spreading its soiled and tattered fragments to the breeze, a sick and diminished company, we marched through the gate, over tracks marked out by our shell, through riddled camps, past carcasses of horses, and new-made graves of men; then drew up in line, at last, on the brink of the bluff, with the great, liberated river rolling before us toward the sea.

“We were but warriors for the working-day:

Our gayness and our gilt were all besmirched

With rainy marching in the painful field.

There was no piece of feather in our host,

And time had worn us into slovenry;

But, by the Mass! our hearts were in the trim.”

July 8.—The drama of Port Hudson I imagine to be pretty much played out. Yesterday our company had come out from the advance to rest. Suddenly an orderly passed through a group of us sitting near the colonel’s quarters, hurrying with despatches to the different commanders of the brigade. McGill rushed out, and read the despatch as he carried it in his hand. It was, “Vicksburg surrendered on the Fourth! ” Every pale, haggard face lit up with a wonderfully jolly light. Presently the brigadier hurried into the trenches; and a soldier, on duty at the mine, by his command, threw the news over among the rebels. At noon, we had a great firing of salutes. This morning, before light, we heard that a conference of the generals was to be held to agree upon the terms of surrender, and that a truce was to begin at once. The major went off through the dark to order the sharpshooters to stop firing; while we rubbed our eyes, wondering if the day had really come, — if our cause had really gained this great success, and we could go home with credit.

July 6.—The interest of campaigning I find to be of a spasmodic sort, — a few days of excitement and intense labor, then long periods of tedious inactivity. The interval since the skirmish near Jackson has been an uninteresting period, because its experiences are of a sort to which we have become accustomed, and of which we have grown tired. Our life is a monotony of perilous exposure. The regiment remains in its advanced position, constantly under fire, and occasionally losing a member, killed or wounded. Meantime, the engineers have been pushing forward their work. What would have become of us, if the work of siege had fallen to us to do, I do not know: or, rather, it is easy to see what would have become of us,—hundreds and hundreds in hospitals, or silent under brown mounds; mounds which, as it is, have become numerous on hillsides, and wherever the ground is open and at all easy to the shovel.

Sambo, however, has saved us many lives. These big black fellows, with arms like our legs almost, and with muscle piled in great layers about rib and back, have done the main work. The soil through which the sap runs is very hard, —a tough, unyielding clay, upon which a shovel makes but little impression.

Almost every crumble of it, it has been necessary to hew out with a pickaxe. Sambo, however, is equal to it. He has the courage to stand close to the rebel rifle pits all the time, and the strength to handle this unyielding earth.

Every morning and every night, the long fatigue-parties from the black engineer troops relieve each other; and day by day, as we look out from our hiding-places, we can see that the line of our sap runs farther and farther. Two “cavaliers” have also been constructed. These are elevations, built up of hogsheads, tier above tier, designed to give sharpshooters a position from which they can fire well within the parapet. The brunt of the work the negroes do. There are white overseers; and fatigue-parties, too, are detailed from white regiments: but, for the most part, we have had it for our work to keep sharp watch from our cover, and never allow a rebel head to appear above the opposite parapet, without a pointed leaden hint to withdraw, insinuated without ceremony through a loophole.

We keep hearing of the new assault. The army began to prepare for it at once, after the 14th of June. It was then supposed it would take place almost immediately; but it has been deferred. Tuesday evening, June 30, I had been for an hour or two at the camp, in the woods back from the front, where the convalescents of the regiments are quartered. Returning to my post about sunset, I found the road full of troops. A division had assembled to hear a speech from the commanding general. The gloss of military show had all worn off. The men were brown, — attired as they chose to be, — shaggy and stained with their bear-like life in ravines and behind logs. There were no flags or music, no shining brass or glossy broadcloth and lace. If glory lies in these things, “Ichabod” was written in deep, emphatic lines on the whole company.

But these were the stout Fourth Wisconsin, and Thirty-first Massachusetts, and other decimated regiments, that had faced rifle-muzzles in the two previous deadly assaults, and had all the heart in the world for another. If glory lies in that, every tanned and uncombed platoon abounded in it. Presently there was a stir, and the general rode up, iron as ever, in rough, serviceable dress; the gray moustache on his upper lip cropping out like a ledge of the metal, almost pure. He made a speech: —

“We were close on another assault. It was sure to be successful, if the army would do as well as it had done. Then would come rest, and the campaign would close in light.”

Still we wait. A day or two after that, I walked down one branch of the sap to Duryea’s battery of regulars, — seven twelve-pounders, — which had been dragged in through the narrow trench to an advanced point, where they threatened the rebels close at hand. As I went along, a rebel shell exploded in the air overhead, the pieces falling here and there into the bushes and into the dust. In the air where the shell burst, a halo of white, compact smoke floated for a minute or two, — a round, perfect ring, from which depended a fringe of less compact vapor, that floated longer and longer, and swayed to and fro, beautiful as a bridal veil hanging from a crown. The battery lay behind its embrasures, silent. Before each piece, the embrasure was hidden by a plate of iron, in which was a hole of the size of the muzzle of a gun, temporarily covered with a sand-bag. A rain of rifle-balls was being showered on the spot. I did not stay long; for that morning the battery-men told us they had lost three. They were waiting and waiting, with their cartridges at hand, and their fierce shells in piles, ready for their deadly flight.

Another day, I went through another branch of the sap to the mine. The passage was guarded against all but workmen; but, fortunately, I met the colonel near the sentry, and he passed me in. I went through the zigzag passages, passed piles of fascines, and a pontoon bridge which lay ready to be put together across any ditch, when the day shall come for the charge.

At last I came to a turn, and found the parapet straight ahead. The sap ended in the mine, — a hole about four feet square, where a party of men were burrowing under the enemy’s earthwork. I stooped, and looked in at the mouth. Negroes, on their knees, were working there by candle-light, excavating a place in which are to be put kegs of powder. With these it is designed to blow the parapet into the air, leaving a passage for our troops. It was a perilous place. The workmen all spoke in whispers, as they do in powder-mills. Sometimes the rebs toss over hand-grenades. Capt. Morton, with a squad, was at work there, placing sandbags. A short time after, in this very place, his lieutenant and some of his men were marked for life by the explosion of a hand-grenade.

Still the days pass, and no order is given. We imagined 4th of July would be the day; but it was not. Nor was it Sunday, the day following; nor Monday, to-day. The regiment is growing blue. This week, our time is out; and the idea is spreading, that there is no going home for us till the place falls. There are some insubordinate threats; but many of us feel as if our personal honor is concerned, and are determined not to go till the place falls, no matter when it happens. To-day, Port Hudson seems more impregnable than ever. The space within those stubborn banks, gullied by the rains and baked by the suns, so terribly edged with fire, as yet is unapproached and unapproachable.

To-night, Company D have all been in tears. Cyrus Stowell, the “pleasant corporal,” so called for his unfailing amiability, on duty on our middle picket-post, thrown out upon the very mouths of the rebel rifles, suddenly, just at sundown, was shot through the head; his pure, sweet young life swept off in an instant. We dug his grave late this evening, by the light of tapers dimly burning, on the brow of a hill crowned by the old rifle-pits of the enemy, out of which we had forced them. Overhead was the clear light of stars.

On the horizon a tempest was gathering, — swelling accumulations of thunder-charged cloud lit up each moment from within with sudden luminousness, and rumbling with coming storm. Close at hand, through the agitated air, hurtled the constant roar of the siege. The body could not be brought out till after dark, as it was necessary to pass several exposed places.

It came at last, late at night, upon a stretcher borne by his comrades. We wrapped his young, tall figure in his tent, and laid him to rest. As we stood uncovered, during the service, close overhead swept the rifleballs, until we thought there would be some new victim to be buried beside him.

June 25.—The next day, — Sunday, — when we found life enough to open our dust-filled eyes and crawl about a little, we found the engineers, during the previous twenty-four hours, had been pushing matters. Just by us here is a bank, covered with trees and bushes, and really very much exposed to the enemy’s fire. We often venture to pause, however, in the brush, and look at their earthworks, which can be seen from this point to advantage. Here I stopped on Sunday, and saw to my surprise, on a hill just opposite the enemy, that a deep, broad trench had been run within a few rods of them. In the sap were negroes digging it on still closer; and a company of infantry, returning, close at hand, the fire of the rebs. While I was taking my observations, suddenly Bivins turned up at the foot of the bank, cutting poles to pitch his shelter-tent with; and from him I learned that it was no other than our old Company D that I could see loading and firing; pushed up, to say the least, among the very whiskers about this old lion’s active and well-armed jaws.

You shall go with me into this outmost sap, and know what sights and sounds it is our business now to be familiar with. Into this sap I am obliged to go three times a day for my rations, out of the retreat of the colors. First we must creep out of our ravine, through the top of this prostrate tree, whose boughs catch our clothing; then up by the charred trunk, the feet slipping in the mud. Your head now comes within the range of riflemen in the trees over there. Sometimes they are in the trees, though not always. A few steps more, and we come within full range from the parapet; but do not stop to look. Stoop as low as you can, and run. This stump will shelter you; pitted with the striking of balls against it, as if it had the small-pox when a sapling. When you have caught your breath, run for that trunk. It is an ugly one to get over; for it is breast-high, and one’s whole body has to come into the enemy’s view. Once over this, and the road is smoother. We soon gain the cover of the woods, and are comparatively safe. The other day, I was twice shot at while passing the space we have just been over. I do not know how near the bullets came; only the first seemed as if it were sweeping my legs off at the knee with its sharp rush. I stooped, and labored through the brush; when the second came cold along the length of my spine, just above the vertebrse. We are to have a better road, however. One of Company E has just been shot through the head — dead in an instant — here, and we are to have a protected passage-way.

Down this little gully, and we enter the beginning of the sap, at the end of the military road. Behind the angle, just back there, is the station of the ambulance-men. They wait there, day and night, with stretchers ready. These stretchers are now all blood-stained. Three or four a day, out of the brigade and working party, are carried out. The ambulance-corps is made up largely of the musicians: but music! we never hear it now, not even the drum and fife. It is too stern a time for that.

We pass out into the sap. Here is the most dangerous point of all, just at the entrance, where the first man from our regiment was killed the day of the assault. You see how the rebel parapet commands it. We are going considerably nearer to it; but we shall be better sheltered. ‘Tis just in front, with an old shot-pierced building behind it, and white sand-bags lying on top of the tawny slope. That old building might be a ruinous mill, and those bags might be grist, laid out there along the wall until the miller was ready for it; but, every bag or two, there is a sharp-eyed Mississippian with his rifle pointed through some chink. Let us” go at a good pace, so that no one of those fellows will have a chance to draw a-bead on either of us. The trench goes under a large trunk, stretching from bank to’ bank; and from here we are tolerably safe. Only tolerably: for the other day, close by here, one of our company was hit in the face by a glancing ball; and Sergt. Bennett, of Company K, was mortally wounded by a fragment from one of our own shells, which flew back into our lines from over the rebel parapet, where the shell exploded. We are coming close, you see. Climb a steep pitch now, and we reach the station of Company D. The sap is here about six feet wide and four deep, dug out of the hard soil, the dirt being thrown out on the side toward the enemy; forming a bank rising about five feet from the surface, and therefore about nine feet above the bottom of the trench. Here now are our boys, the few that are left, —barely twenty. Along the top of the ridge of earth, logs are placed; into the under side of which, notches are cut at intervals of three or four feet; leaving, between the earth below and the timber above, a loop-hole, four or five inches in diameter, for the men to fire through. McGill has just sprung down, after discharging his piece. Before he loads again, let us climb up, and take a view of the world through the hole. Carefully! Lay your body up against the steeply sloping bank, resting the feet on the edge of the sap. By all means, take care that the top of your head does not project above the narrow timber. Your face is at the hole now. From the outside, a groove runs along the top of the thick bank; then comes the open air; and opposite you, within call easily enough, is the deadly ridge; the two or three tents behind it; the old, ruinous chimneys, the one or two shattered buildings, — so near, you can plainly see threads and bricks and splinters. Do not look long. Every yard, perhaps the intervals are less, behind the sand-bags, there is a rifleman. Mellen, of Company F, has just been shot while aiming his piece through one of these holes. The ball entered through the hole, hit the band of his gun, then the lock, splintering wood and steel, then crashed in through his chest.

McGill is capping his gun. Try one more look before he jumps up for another shot. Can you see any one? No head, I’ll warrant; for, though they are brave enough over there, they are not often careless. The most you will be likely to see will be a hand put up for a moment, with a ramrod, as the charge is pushed home; or a glimpse of butternut as a fellow jumps past some interval in the sand-bags. Now let McGrill and Buflum and Wivers and the others, whose place it is, blaze away at whatever they can see. Little Gottlieb offers me his piece to try a few shots: but I am not anxious to kill a man; and, so long as it is not in my place to fire, I decline it.

You duck your head now as the balls whistle over. It is a nervous sound; but you would soon get over that here. They go with a hundred different sounds through the air, according to the shape, size, and velocity of the projectile. Two strike the bank. It is like two quick blows of a whip-lash. That went overhead, sharp as the cut of a cimeter; another goes with a long moan, then drops into the earth with a “thud.” It comes from some more distant point, and is nearly spent. A shot comes from some great gun in the rear, — an earthquake report; then the groaning, shuddering rush of the shell, as if the air were sick and tired of them, and it was too much to be borne that they should be so constantly sent.

Sit on the edge of the trench now, with your feet hanging down, and your back leaning against the pile of earth. The boys have built shelters of boughs, just on the other side, to keep off, a little, the intolerable sun. A line of men goes along the sap, each carrying a fascine. Then comes a party rolling hogsheads filled with cotton. These are built into the bank beyond to give it strength. Steve and Tom, the cooks, come up with dinner, which is cooked back in the woods to the rear. Coffee and stewed beans to-day. There! — a shower of dirt falls over us, dinner and all, from a ball that hit near the loop-hole: but to dirt and balls alike we are growing indifferent; so we only laugh.

But let us go out to the end of the sap. We pass the young captain of engineers, who is in charge here; a pleasant, active young fellow, who nods back to us as we give him the salute, make several turns, and presently are at the end. Negroes are making the trench here wider. We push through them to the cotton-stuffed hogshead at the extremity. They roll this forward a foot or two, then dig out behind it, and so on. A lieutenant of engineers, and a negro, have just been shot here. From this crevice we can get a peep. Is it not near? You can easily throw a hard-tack across. Looking back on to a side-hill, we can see some of the old wreck of the assault, — a rusty gun or two, mouldy equipments, and there a skeleton. Some regiments got very near on the 14th. Close by runs the little, disused path, among weeds and wild-flowers, along which, before we came, the garrison used to go from their works to the road. It looks innocent as the path up Pocumtuc; but what a way of death it would be to him who should get out of the sap, and try to walk in it! Our boys in the sap here have distinguished company. Almost every day, Gen. Banks comes through, — sometimes with quite a retinue, sometimes only with Gen. Stone.

“Well, boys, how do you stand it?” said he, the other day, to our men.

“Arrah, now, your honor,” said Pat O’Toole, “we’re most dead intirely for the want of whishkey.”

We wait and watch. When night comes, I climb out of the ravine on to the hillside, where the air is fresh. There is a bright moon now, and my vigil is sure to be well lit. I am often there at midnight; and on the rebel side, faint and far along distant roads, I hear the low rattle of wheels, and call of drivers; and the sound of the active mill too, whose location the batteries are crazy to know, that they may seal its doom.

Though we are sick and worn, the general is determined we shall work while we remain. Early, Saturday the 20th, just before daylight, word came to us to march; whither, we knew not. We stole out quietly, so as not to attract the attention of the enemy; and marched to the general’s head-quarters, some three miles in our rear. It turned out that a train of one hundred and forty wagons was going into the country for forage. We were to be its escort; and, while we stood in line, two pieces of light artillery and a body of cavalry came up, who were to help us.

On any large map, a short distance from Port Hudson, to the north-east, you will see a little village called Jackson. It was near that village that we halted at noon. Here two well-travelled roads crossed each other, near which were situated the two plantations from which the forage was to be taken. The colonel rode out to see the barns, and to post his guards to prevent surprise. We stacked arms near the crossing of the roads, and went into the shade close by to eat our scanty dinner. We found we had come to a pleasant region. The land rolled up into fine swells, which had been cleared of forest in great part, giving place to wide-spreading corn-fields, where the corn was already tall, and with ears large and well filled out. The landscape had a rich, cultivated aspect; looking not unlike a farming region in New York in August.

The colonel soon made his dispositions. Half a mile to the left, half the train of wagons waited their turn to load up; their white tops in plain view across the intervening fields. To the right, about the same distance from us, the remainder of the train stood upon another farm. We had just begun to open our haversacks, when “crack, crack!” we began to hear a heavy volley of rifle-shots. The Philistines were upon us. In an instant came the summons, “Battalion!” and we flew to our pieces. Pickets came galloping in from the outposts. The story is, that two rebel regiments and a body of horse bivouacked the night before at the farm on the right, where the teams are loading. The artillerymen are at their pieces; and all over the field, to the skirts of the distant woods, squads of cavalry are seen on the gallop, — most of them Grierson’s famous men. Presently the wagons come back in the wildest confusion, pell-mell, helter-skelter. The mules are in full gallop, some with, some without drivers; over ditches and fences, crash through groves of young pines, over logs and stumps. Sometimes the body is jarred off the wheels; sometimes one mule has broken loose, leaving three behind, with the broken harness dragging about them. The negro-drivers yell, and brandish their whips. All is perfect uproar and panic.

The enemy appear in considerable numbers, swarming about the house and barns of a plantation. From a little knoll, close by our position, the artillery open a brisk fire of shell upon them, which does them great damage, and throws them into as much disorder as the wagons they have sought to seize. Two of our companies, thrown out as skirmishers, keep up a firing of rifles,—the colonel, meantime, on the knoll, close at hand to the battery, and the main body of the regiment, which is supporting it, is surrounded by cavalry-men and officers, who gallop up and away every instant. His face has as cool and pleasant a look as ever, — the calm and undisturbed spot in the midst of the panic. We stand leaning on our pieces, ready for any thing that may turn up.

Wouvermans, the old Dutch painter, used to take battles for his favorite subjects. I have looked over plates after his pictures; and this scene was precisely one of Wouvermans’ skirmishes, — the same confusion and panic, a similar landscape, a lovely summer’s day, and the encounter in the midst; infantry skirmishing, cavalry charging with drawn sabres, the snap of rifles from the distant woods, the rush of animals and fugitives to get out of danger. It was soon over. Some eight or ten fell on our side among the cavalry; and we have heard that a considerably larger number of the enemy were slain by the cannon. These were extremely well served, and probably saved us from being overpowered by a superior force.

The colonel judged it prudent to return at once. A few of the wagons had had time to load; some were broken, some had gone galloping on toward the Federal camp. The outposts were recalled, and we took up a backward line of march. We had proceeded five or six miles; when suddenly it was “halt” again, and word came back that the column was beset front and rear. Of the infantry, four men were detailed for a guard to each wagon; while the cavalry and cannon hastened forward to the front, from which we began to hear firing. It looked critical. Our term of service was within three weeks of its expiration, and we were all in danger of being taken prisoners. The imperturbable colonel rides along with cavalry and battery officers. “Can we not get a courier in for re-enforcements?” I hear one say. “We shall be enough for them, I guess, if we can only concentrate.” We all feel confidence, make sure of our guns, put on fresh caps, and leave the hammer at half-cock. Then we go forward, and that is the last of it.

In the evening at ten o’clock, after we are in the camp once more in a grove of trees, I hear the colonel give results. It seems the rebs did capture some sixty of our wagons in the last attack. Their drivers were frightened, and had not obeyed orders. Moreover, the cavalry were unmanageable; and mules and wagons fell an easy prey, when a smart body of rebs dashed out of an ambuscade, and swept like a whirlwind through our long, straggling line. They had nothing to match our cannon. If it had not been for them, we might all have been on the way to Richmond.

Tired to death, almost worn out to start with, covered with a paste of perspiration and dust, it was hard to be waked up at midnight, just after we had fallen asleep, and be marched right back again into the trenches and rifle-pits, to press on the siege.

June 17. —We are still in the front of the advance, living in dens and caves of the earth, maintaining our incessant skirmish, and occasionally losing men from the regiment. We go unwashed, uncombed, unshaven, creeping and stooping, with no baggage but the clothes on our backs, and they torn everywhere by brambles, and sometimes by shot. My only portfolio now is my cartridge-box, where I find room for a few sheets, and my pencil, among my sixty rounds, writing my record upon its broad leathern flap. This afternoon, there has been a flag of truce; during which they have buried dead, and even removed wounded men, who have lain on the field since Sunday! It is now Wednesday. Company D has assisted in burying a hundred and fourteen corpses. I have just seen Cyrus Stowell, who tells me a terrible story. The decomposition of the bodies was so advanced, that the flesh slipped from the arms as our men tried to raise them, the heads fell away from the trunks sometimes, and the worms crawled from the dead upon the hands of the living! Unspeakably dreadful!

The rebels now use little artillery against us, but mostly rifles. Tremendous fellows they are. During the flag of truce this afternoon, plenty of them have been in plain sight—slovenly-looking butternuts—about the few tents and clumps of old buildings inside their parapet, and, indeed, in the open space between the two armies.

I have written about the assault of the 14th inst. Never come to a private soldier to pass judgment on a military act; for his horizon is too circumscribed to comprehend the circumstances. But the judgment of us, the rank and file, upon the matter, is this, — let it go for what it is worth, — that the men did their part: they showed willingness and bravery, but it was misdirected. Our men could see the charging regiments begin their rush, way back by an old chimney to our left here, — too far, too far, by a long distance, considering the difficult nature of the ground to be traversed. We heard the poor fellows’ cheers as they started; but the rebs heard it too, and could be seen rushing to the point of their works, against which the assaulting regiments were to dash. Their attention was attracted by our unnecessary demonstrations, and our men received more terrible volleys. The result was, about fifteen hundred lost to us, by the last accounts.

We advanced in the battle as skirmishers, as I have written; and when the roar and heat were over, and the tide of Federal energy and valor had ebbed again from off the field, —leaving it wet with red pools, and strewn with bloody drift, — it was given to our brigade to stay in our steps, to hold the tangled ravines and slopes we had conquered, under the daily and nightly volleys of the Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas regiments, who, we hear, hold the breast-work in our front. Now and then we lose a man, killed or wounded; but we believe our loss would have been quadrupled, were it not that our colonel has handled his command so prudently and skilfully.

So far, my hands have no stain of human blood upon them. Our rifles are always close at hand, loaded, to be ready against any sortie, or if we should suddenly have to charge. The regiment, generally, have practised much against the sand-bags and loop-holes of the enemy’s parapet; but we do not fire until some hostile hand seems likely to get the flag out of Wilson’s grasp.

Until within a day or two, my situation has been hard. I draw my rationswith Company D, and they have been posted at some distance from the ravine of the color-guard. I could not always go for my food at the right time, — sometimes could not go at all: at any rate, it was always at a risk; for the only path was the obstructed, bullet-swept track leading from our ravine to the woods in the rear. Irregularity in eating, abstinence, exposure to the heat of burning days and the night-damps, have rather affected my condition. To the sights of war we have all become used, and can see the worst without sickening. Every day, gaping wounds and mangled death are borne past us, on stretchers, out of the rifle-pits and trenches. The surgeons and chaplain remain at the old camp in the woods which we left the midnight preceding the assault, and that has become a city of refuge for the sick. One tired boy after another has gone there, from the heat and damp at the front, until the companies have grown smaller than ever. The march from the Courtableau to Brashear City brought down numbers. Numbers have fallen sick here, so that our company has scarcely more than twenty on duty; and other companies are nearly as much reduced.

June 16.—I write in a corner of a ravine, close within rifle-range of the works at Port Hudson. The Fifty-second Regiment are holding an advanced position here, and, ever since daylight of the morning of the 14th, have lived in the midst of a rain of rifle-balls. At the bottom of the little ravine, I am secure; but if I should put my head up to the surface, climbing up the bank six or eight feet, I should be in the midst of flying bullets, and a fair mark for the rebel sharpshooters who are close at hand. Our brigade is thrown out into the very teeth of the enemy, on ground our troops have never before occupied. This little corner is occupied by the color-guard. If I go to the company, I must go stooping or crawling on my stomach; I must run from a stump to a trunk, and from that to a clump of bushes, and hear all the time the “zip” and “hum” of the rifle-balls.

We have had a battle. Not quite a week ago, we began to hear of it. Some of the regiments which were to be engaged were told of it; and Gen. Paine, who was to have an important command, made speeches among his men, and instructed them in the use of hand-grenades. In the woods, parties of men were busy, cutting fascines; and bags of cotton, as large as a man could comfortably carry, were piled up near the approaches to the enemy’s works. We knew nothing certain, however, until Saturday. (It is now Tuesday.) Toward the end of that afternoon, the explicit orders came. The assault was to be made the next morning, and our regiment was to have a share in it. We were not to go home without the baptism of fire and blood.

Before dark, we were ordered into line, and stacked our arms. Each captain made a little speech. “No talking in the ranks; no flinching. Let every one see that his canteen is full, and that he has hard bread enough for a day. That is all you will carry beside gun and equipments.” We left the guns in stack, polished, and ready to be caught on the instant; and lay down under the trees. At midnight came the cooks with coffee and warm food. Soon after came the order to move; then, slowly and with many halts, nearly four hundred strong, we took up our route along the wood-paths. Many other regiments were also in motion. The forest was full of Rembrandt pictures, — a bright blaze under a tree, the faces and arms of soldiers all aglow about it; the wheel of an army-wagon, or the brass of a cannon, lit up; then the gloom of the wood, and the night shutting down about it.

At length, it was daybreak; and, with every new shade of light in the east, a new degree of energy was imparted to the cannonade. As we stood at the edge of the wood, it was roar on all sides. In a few minutes, we were in motion again. We crossed a little bridge over a brook thickly covered with cotton to conceal the tramp of men, and noise of wheels; climbed a steep pitch, and entered a trench or military road cut through a ravine, passing some freshly made rifle-pits and batteries. We were now only screened from the rebel works by a thin hedge. Here the rifle-balls began to cut keen and sharp through the air about us; and the cannonade, as the east now began to redden, reached its height, — a continual deafening uproar, hurling the air against one in great waves, till it felt almost like a wall of rubber, bounding and rebounding from the body, — the great guns of the “Richmond,” the siege-Parrotts, the smaller field-batteries; and, through all, the bursting of the shells within the rebel lines, and the keen, deadly whistle of well-aimed bullets. A few rods down the military road, the column paused. The work of death had begun; for ambulance-men were bringing back the wounded: and, almost before we had time to think we were in danger, I saw one of our men fall back into the arms of his comrades, shot dead through the chest. The banks of the ravine rose on either side of the road in which we had halted: but just here the trench made a turn; and in front, at the distance of five or six hundred yards, we could plainly see the rebel rampart, red in the morning-light as with blood, and shrouded in white vapor along the edge as the sharpshooters behind kept up an incessant discharge. I believe I felt no sensation of fear, nor do I think those about me did. Wilson and Hardiker carried the flags, and their faces were cheerful and animated. I thanked God that Sunday morning that I was in perfect strength in every limb for that day’s most solemn service, — service not to be rendered in any peaceful temple, but amid grime of powder, and sweat of blood: nevertheless His service, and that which should bring about for Him the acceptable things.

Our brigadier is with us at the front; and now, calling the colonel, the two soldierly figures climb the bank of the ravine, and take a narrow survey of the ground. In a moment, the order comes. We are to move up this rough path to the right, then advance out from the shelter of the trees into the open space before the fortifications; deploying as skirmishers meanwhile, and making our way through the fire to a closer position. We climb up the path. I go with my rifle between Wilson and Hardiker; keeping nearest the former, who carries the national flag. In a minute or two, the column has ascended, and is deploying in a long line, under the colonel’s eye, on the open ground. The rebel engineers are most skilful fellows. Between us and the brown earth-heap which we are to try to gain to-day, the space is not wide; but it is cut up in every direction with ravines and gullies. These were covered, until the parapet was raised, with a heavy growth of timber; but now it has all been cut down, so that in every direction the fallen tops of large trees interlace, trunks block up every passage, and brambles are growing over the whole. It is out of the question to advance here in line of battle; it seems almost out of the question to advance in any order: but the word is given, “Forward!” and on we go. Know that this whole space is swept by a constant patter of balls: it is really a “leaden rain.” We go crawling and stooping: but now and then before us rises in plain view the line of earth-works, smoky and sulphurous with volleys; while all about us fall the balls, now sending a lot of little splinters from a stump, now knocking the dead wood out of the old tree-trunk that is sheltering me, now driving up a cloud of dust from a little knoll, or cutting off the head of a weed just under the hand as with an invisible knife. I see one of our best captains carried off the field, mortally wounded, shot through both lungs, — straight, bright-eyed, though so sadly hurt, supported by two of his men; and now almost at my side, in the color-company, one soldier is struck in the hand, and another in the leg. “Forward!” is the order. We all stoop; but the colonel does not stoop: he is as cool as he was in his tent last night, when I saw him drink iced lemonade. He turns now to examine the ground, then faces back again to direct the advance of this or that flank. Wilson springs on from cover to cover, and I follow close after him. It is hard work to get the flag along: it cannot be carried in the air; and we drag it and pass it from hand to hand among the brambles, much to the detriment of its folds. The line pauses a moment. Capt. Morton, who has risen from a sick-bed to be with his command, is coolly cautioning his company. The right wing is to remain in reserve, while the left pushes still farther forward. The major is out in front of us now. He stands upon a log which bridges a ravine,—a plain mark for the sharpshooters, who overlook the position, not only from the parapet, but from the tall trees within the rebel works. Presently we move on again, through brambles and under charred trunks, tearing our way, and pulling after us the colors; creeping on our bellies across exposed ridges, where bullets hum and sing like stinging bees; and, right in plain view, the ridge of earth, its brow white with incessant volleys.

Down this slope, and it will do. The color-guard is some rods in advance of the company, and may pause. I hear cheering. A ridge hides the space in front of the works from which it comes; and I tell Wilson I must creep up, and see the charge.

“Better not,” he says. “We will go where our duty lies; but we had better run no risk beyond that.”

He is wiser than I. While he speaks, I have partially raised myself to climb forward to the point of view. Balls are striking close by me. I have become a mark to sharpshooters in the trees, and lie down again to be safe. The color-guard are under orders not to fire, except when the colors are especially threatened. My piece is loaded and capped; but I can only be shot at, without returning the discharge. Down into our little nook now come tumbling a crowd of disorganized, panting men. They are part of a New-York regiment, who, on the crest just over us, have been meeting with very severe loss. They say their dead and dying are heaped up there. We believe it; for we can hear them, they are so near: indeed, some of those who come stumbling down are wounded; some have their gunstocks broken by shot, and the barrels bent, while they are unharmed. They are frightened and exhausted, and stop to recover themselves; but presently their officers come up, and order them forward again. From time to time, afterwards, wounded men crawl back from their position a few yards in front of where we are, — one shot through the ankles, who, however, can crawl on his hands and knees; one in the hand; one with his blouse all torn about his breast, where a ball has struck him, yet he can creep away. Looking up toward the top of our little ravine, I had seen Company D climbing forward; the well-known heads and faces coming into sight for the moment as they climbed over an obstruction, then going down again into the bushes, — Wivers active as a squirrel; McGill with his old black hat pulled down about his ears, as if it were a snowstorm he was out in. They disappear; but soon I see the head of Bivins making rapid way backward.

“What is the matter, Bivins?”

“Sergt. Rogers is shot.”


“No: through the thigh, well up; but, we think, not fatally. I am going for a stretcher.”

“Look out for yourself meantime!” I shout to him; thinking of his bright young wife and little boy, who would come to sad grief enough, if that honest head, appearing and disappearing among the tangled thickets, should be brought low by a rebel marksman.

It is now noon and after. The sun is intolerably hot, and we have no sufficient shade. That, however, is nothing for us who are unhurt; but we hear of poor wounded men lying without shelter, among them Gen. Paine, whom the ambulance-men cannot yet reach on account of the enemy’s fire. We begin to know that the attack has failed. Toward the end of the afternoon, at considerable risk, I make my way to Company D. They are on the brow of an eminence, on a flat plateau, just even with the rebel gun-barrels, almost without shelter; all lying flat on their backs and stomachs, the flying balls keeping up a constant drone and hum just above them. Rogers ventured to stand up, and was shot almost at once. The men told how they had looked over the hill-brow, and seen the charge, — the fruitless dash at the impenetrable obstacles,— the volley from the breastworks, the fall of scores. We know nothing certainly. There are rumors, thick as the rifle-balls, of this general killed, that regiment destroyed, and successful attempts elsewhere. The sun goes down on this day of blood. We have lost several killed, and several more wounded, and have done all we were called upon to do. The colonel tells us we have been cool, prudent, and brave. We have not been as much exposed as some other regiments, and our loss has not been large. The fire, however, seemed very hot, and close at hand; and the wonder to us all is, that no more fell. Darkness settles down; shots are received and returned, but only at random now; and, ever and anon, from the batteries goes tearing through the air a monstrous shell, with a roar like a rushing railroad-train, then an explosion putting every thing for the moment in light.

At dusk, I creep back to the ravine, where I am to sleep. I have been awake since midnight, and almost every moment since has been one of excitement; first the anticipation, then the reality, of a pitched battle. What a day for these remote plains and woods! The little frightened birds I have seen fly to and fro, painfully shaken, I must believe, in their delicate frames by the concussion of the air during the cannon volleys; for I have felt it sensibly. So the green, harmless lizards, whose beauty and lithesome movement I have loved to watch, —these I have seen to-day, when I have looked up from my covert, peering about curiously, and running to and fro to find out the occasion of this uproar and jar, so suddenly come to disturb their haunts. For food to-day, I have had two or three hard crackers and cold potatoes. We have no blankets: so down I lie to sleep as I can on the earth, without covering; and, before morning, am chilled through with the dew and coldness of the air.

The Wolf at Bat.

Our brigade is thrown forward, as Gen. Banks says, “upon the threshold of the enemy’s fortifications,” and have it for their duty to maintain an incessant skirmish, day and night, with those sharp-eyed fellows just opposite.

Monday the heat is intense, and we have but little shelter. I fare hard; for I must draw rations with my company, and yet must remain with the colors, which are still in the ravine. Toward the evening of Monday, I work my way out to our cooks. One must go cautiously, stooping and creeping, and, when the balls whistle sharp, hiding till the riflemen look some other way. I gain, at length, the shelter of the woods behind, where lie unburied dead from the field, and piles of stretchers yet bloody with their burdens of wounded men. Each one of the color-guard tonight must watch. My watch is at midnight. I profess to love Nature, and in that love “hold communion with her visible forms.” “For my gayer hours,” I have indeed found that she has a “voice of gladness.” Tonight, my musings are darker. Certainly, O outer world! with a smile and deep eloquence of beauty do you glide into the soldier’s musings, and steal away their sharpness.

I climbed up from the ravine, and sat alone, upon the hill on the field, under the starlight. It was a sweet night, and only once or twice came to my sense the taint of unburied slain. For the rest, all was pure. In a half-comic way, the whippoorwill changed his song into “Whipped you well, whipped you well!” I will never believe the bull-frogs that night croaked any thing but “Rebs, rebs!” and the jeering owls hooted out from the tree-tops, “What can you do-o-o?” All about the horizon, fringing the starlit space of blue, a storm was gathering; and behind the black clouds shook the lightning, like the menacing finger of an almighty power threatening doom to this obstinate stronghold. ‘Twas like that, and ’twas like the vision seen, in days of romance, by King Arthur, — the sword “Excalibur” brandished by the phantom arm out of the lake.

(Port Hudson)

June 11. —We feel perfectly at home now in these woods. We were here some days, once in a while shifting our camp to avoid the shells; then came the episode of the march to Clinton and back. I do not mean to write much about this; for the readers and the inditer of these notes have had enough of hard marching. Let these few words suffice. A body of our cavalry had been attacked, and very roughly handled, in the neighborhood of this place of Clinton; and Gen. Paine was sent out with a force to catch and chastise this body, if possible.

The force, consisting of regiments detached from this and that brigade, with some artillery and a large body of cavalry, left camp in the forest here about four o’clock one morning. How hot and dusty it grew! We began by taking the wrong road, which gave us extra distance of five or six miles; then, in the end, we went by the longest route. The first day, at noon, the heat became perfectly intolerable. Several were nearly killed by its power, and we were forced to halt until night. Thenceforth we marched for the most part at night; but the dust was deep, the nights hot, and the water often poor. At length, at dawn one morning, we halted within two or three miles of Clinton, to hear from the cavalry in advance that the foe had fled. Back we came, therefore, dragging wearily into our old camp through all the dust and heat, tired in every bone, every fibre of clothing soaked and resoaked in perspiration; having, in the course of four days, gone some fifty or sixty miles. We hope it was our last march. God send it may be so! for it is too much for men.

After our return, we gave a day or two to grateful rest. Abundant rations were drawn, among them a quantity of soft bread,—nothing but dry and rather sour flour-bread; but how we jumped at it!

We are waiting now in the woods for something else. The sound of guns is constant to us here; and, at the “front” (a short walk from us), scarcely a minute passes without a report: for there you can catch the cannonade of the fleet, and that from the other approaches of the army. In the evening, from every quarter, can be seen the dropping of shells into the rebel works, — the fuses of the bombs whirling through the air, — and the sudden lighting-up of the explosions.

A formidable battery of ship’s guns has opened, within a few days, not far from us. My first visit;-to it was in the evening. Bivins and I slung our Canteens (for we never miss an opportunity of going for water), and started down the blind, obstructed cart-track which leads out of the woods. Every few minutes came in the heavy crash of the Dahlgrens we were going to see; that and the lighter reports of guns farther off. We were soon out on the plain, where the battery is placed. To the right of it ran a hedge; behind which, screened from the rebel riflemen, lay a regiment, stationed there to protect the guns against a sudden dash of the enemy.

It is now quite dark; but, in the starlight, we can see the outlines of the sand-work, behind which the guns are ranged. The rebel intrenchments are, from quarter to half a mile away, in front of us. We can see three or four large fires burning within them. Volumes of flame and smoke roll up among the trees, and the soldiers about us think they can make out the figures of men standing by the glare. As often as once a minute, from the east, where lies a huge New-York battery; from the right, which Weitzel holds; or over on the opposite side from us, where lies the fleet in the river, — as often as once in a minute, like heat-lightning, flashes a cannon; then, in a few seconds, comes the roar; then another light within the fortress, as the shell explodes.

Now a “Dahlgren ” in our battery here is discharged. How fierce and sullen! I must have a nearer view: so I make my way in behind the earth-work itself, and stand with the sailors, who are detached from duty on ship-board to manage these great fellows. Each gun stands on a broad platform, sloping from rear to front to prevent the recoil of the piece from sending it too far back. They are part of the broadside of the “Richmond;” and have already done good service at the taking of the forts, and the running of the Port Hudson batteries in March.

“Ready there at No. 2!” says the officer in charge. The crew of “No. 2” stand back, and I brace myself for the concussion. A sailor jerks a lanyard, and it is done. It is no light field-piece, remember; but one of war’s grimmest monsters. Clash go my teeth together, my bones almost rattle; then follows the hungry, ravening shriek of the shell, which breaks forth like a horrible bird of prey to devour the whole world. It sweeps hoarsely toward the enemy’s line; then I hear it go “thud-thud!” through some obstruction. In a moment, the air beyond is lit up with its bursting; and the sound roars back to us, — to us, now enveloped in the sulphurous cloud that wraps the whole neighborhood.

The rebels now very seldom answer our artillery. Before we went to Clinton, occasionally they opened on us with shell. If we lighted fires at night, betraying our position in the woods, presently we could hear the shells come humming toward the light like great dor-bugs of a summer-night. Hum-m-m! then a burst, and a dash of heavy iron, “thump” upon the ground in the midst of the camp. Lately, however, there has been no firing, except by their riflemen.