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

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

December 19, 2012

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

Dec. 19.—In camp, within the memorable town of Baton Rouge. My clerkship at New Orleans was short-lived. I found my associates were to be very coarse men. I was to rub constantly with commissioned officers (many young and thoughtless, many of them high in rank), among whom, in my position, it would be hard to feel independence; and I might be subjected to treatment hard for a man of any spirit to endure, however Christian he might endeavor to be: all this in a strange city, with not a soul to go to for congenial companionship. I slept at night in a room appropriated to the head-quarters’ clerks, half filled up with a litter of confiscated furniture. Rising early, I packed my knapsack, and saw my superior as soon as possible; not to report for duty, but to tell him I preferred to remain with my regiment.

New Orleans I found a pleasanter city than I expected. Many streets have fine blocks, and a few buildings are really handsome. The business of the city must have been immense; though now, in thoroughfares lined with stores, and once, evidently from the look of the pavements, thronged with passers, one’s foot-step echoes hollow from deserted buildings. I was treated with invariable politeness when I came into contact with the inhabitants; though I wore my loaded revolver under my coat, and slept with it under my pillow, not knowing what might occur. On St. Charles and Canal Streets, I saw some of the ladies of the city, — at least, so I judged from their dress and faces, — but there was nothing insulting in dress or manner; and I was informed that demonstrations of that character had long since ceased. Many of these ladies were in deep mourning, probably for relatives killed in the Confederate service.

One needs to have a long purse in New Orleans. I believe this is always the case, but especially now, when, the river being closed, the city depends solely upon its environs and the sea for its supplies. Even the fruits, which we expected to procure very cheaply, cost as much as in New York, though orange-trees and the banana, with its heavy plume-like leaf, grew in almost every garden.

I proved it to be true, that there is no loneliness like that of being alone in a great city, full of strangers; and was as happy as I care to be, when I found I could depart. The “Illinois” had left, and, as I found out, had gone with the regiment still further up the river, — to Baton Rouge. I was to take a river-steamer, the “Iberville,” chartered by the Government, and about to carry up the river the famous Second Massachusetts Battery, Capt. Nims, which first became noted at this very point of Baton Rouge, in the battle of August, 1862. I bought some oranges, got my knapsack off with the help of a brother-corporal of the battery, and took my seat on the forward deck, just over the hubbub of the embarkation, to see the polished pieces, the fine stout horses, and the heavy caissons of ammunition. In this battery, the orders all are communicated by the bugle; whose call, horses as well as men understand.

I sit on deck beneath a June-like sun. A crowd have assembled on the Levee; in large part, of contrabands. Boys cry the papers with Gen. Butler’s farewell. My oranges are delicious; more sweet and ripe than we get them North. Behind me, in the river, lies the “Hartford,” with Admiral Farragut on board; the “Mississippi,” “Pensacola,” and the smaller gun-boats. In the distance, down stream, lie the two French warships, and the “Rinaldo ” flying the cross of St. George. Up stream lies a steamer with the flag of Spain, — swarthy watchmen on the paddle-boxes, the space over the forecastle crowded with sailors of the same hue. There are but few merchant-ships, and little appearance of commercial bustle. Big artillery-men (artillery-men always look strong), Boston boys in red-trimmed jackets, wheel the light cannons aboard the ship. These shining pieces are no dainty holiday affairs, that never go out of arsenals except on Fourth of July or after an election, and then only belch harmless discharges. Each one, on the average, has probably killed its score of men, and wounded perhaps two or three times as many. Smooth, elegant, polished, quiet, they stand on deck like elegant French swordsmen I have read of, who go with dainty rapiers, almost plaything-like, soft as silk, but dangerous as death.

By sunset, horses, men, and all, are aboard. Callighan and O’Toole are safe at hand, glad as I am to go to the regiment. The boat swings out just as Gen. Banks is leaving the “Hartford” from a visit of ceremony. His boat shoots forth rapidly, rowed by eight skilful oarsmen; and from the ports of the “Hartford,” now one side, now the other, roars the appropriate salute of thirteen guns, the tremendous report making the light scantling upper works of the steamer I am on quiver like jack-straws.

We are moving rapidly up stream, the city under its guard, the closed stores and crowd of negroes going rapidly behind, while sugar plantations on both sides come into view above. Battery-men tell stories of the Baton-Rouge fight, — how this one had a horse shot under him, and that one had a man killed at his side. As evening closes, the horizon before and behind is lit up with immense fires, consuming the dried and crushed stalks of the sugar-cane. Pat Callighan and their ” co-r-r-poral” sit under the stack on deck, the evening being cool; while an Irish sergeant of the First Louisiana, who has served in India, tells stories of the skill of the Sikhs at Sobraon and Chillianwallah.

Before daylight, the boat is at Baton Rouge. I roll out of my blankets on the cabin-floor, and go ashore. Climbing up the Levee, and finding there Company D just finishing breakfast, having slept on their arms all night, I feel happy enough to be once more among the fellows; and throw my knapsack down by Ed.’s, in one corner of a tent, with much more satisfaction than I should have taken in a carpeted parlor in New Orleans.

I hear of the warlike experiences of the day before. It seems that the transports (several of which were in company after leaving New Orleans) followed one another in close line, protected by gun-boats. During the night, which soon fell, word went out, that, the next day, there would probably be fighting. The rifles were got out of the boxes in the hold, loaded, and each man supplied with forty rounds of cartridges. There was some anxiety in the regiment (for we are almost entirely lacking in musket-drill), but, I believe, no unmanly fear. By morning, the ships were opposite Baton Rouge, held by a body of the enemy. The famous iron-clad “Essex” appeared, to re-enforce the squadron. Some twenty shell were fired, mostly by the “Essex;” the Fifty-second, for the first time, having the opportunity to hear the booming of guns of large caliber and the whistle of projectiles. The enemy retired immediately; whereupon our troops were at once landed from the transports, and posted within certain old intrenchments. These were thrown up last summer by Gen. Williams, and run zig-zag through the town, without respect to buildings, streets, or graveyards.

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