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

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

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

May 2, 2013

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

May 2.—We begin to see the wisdom of our rapid marching. We not only prevented the enemy from making a stand and fortifying, but we completely demoralized and dissipated his force, taking a large part prisoners. This chain of narrow bayous too, and shallow lakes, which we must hold unobstructed for navigation, if the country is to be held, could never have been gained but by our hasty marches. A night’s intelligent work, by a few score of men, would put obstacles in the channels, which could not be removed for a long time; but, so rapid and overwhelming was our rush, there was no time to accomplish even this. Then, too, there was no time for the destruction of property; so that steamers now can come from New Orleans and Brashear City to this remote landing, bringing supplies to the army, and go back loaded to the water’s edge with cotton and sugar. These products are found in great quantities, stored everywhere. A mountain of bales is piled up on the river-bank, to which hundreds of teams are continually adding. We are stationed here, with two or three other regiments, to serve as a guard while this property is being gathered. Is this hard? It is the Government policy, and would be thus defended. The owners of all this are rebels, who have fled at our approach, not waiting to take the oath of allegiance. It is right, therefore, to confiscate their property. It is a hard thing; but it seems much less hard when you think that the wealth thus taken was accumulated by the unrequited labor of negroes. I remember the axiom at the foundation of the science of political economy, — that the basis of wealth is human work and sweat. Who should enjoy the benefits of the wealth, but those who work and sweat? It is right to take this, and use it in defraying our expenses in this war; for in our triumph is coming the time of jubilee to these unpaid blacks.

Great barbarities, however, I fear have been committed. They say ear-rings have been torn from the ears of women, and brooches from their bosoms, while they sat with children in their arms. At Opelousas, an order of Gen. Banks was read, speaking of the conduct of the stragglers as bringing the deepest disgrace upon us,—disgrace so deep as almost to cancel the glory of the success. Of these enormities, I myself have seen but little. They were committed by stragglers; and except on one occasion, when I remained to take care of Sergeant Grosvenor, I did not spend a night away from my place in the regiment.

I have spoken of the fine mansion just this side of New Iberia, out of which Toussaint brought the handsome tapers. I did not go in; but men came out telling of the smashing of mirrors and furniture, and other ruthless vandalism. The destruction upon the Swayze Estate I saw after it was accomplished. I am glad that our regiment cannot be held guilty of any thing of this sort. There is a public sentiment among us which reprobates such acts. There are a few in each company, perhaps, who might take advantage of an opportunity, and be savages; but they do not represent us. Any thing necessary to our support we did take, and with the permission of our leaders. The wagon-trains were often far behind: we could not carry much in our haversacks; and, at any rate, coffee, hard bread, and salt pork, were pretty much the only food furnished. To support our exertions, we needed more abundant and palatable food. We made free, therefore, with herds, hen-coops, and plantation-stores, which were going to waste. Let me own up frankly to pillaging, — to having stolen onions in the Swayze Garden; to having assisted in the robbing of sugar-casks; to having held the candle while a lot of purloined cattle were being butchered. All this, however, I claim, was unavoidable; and it was certainly permitted. For the other unnecessary robbery, I disclaim, for the Fifty-second Massachusetts, all connection with it. It is bad enough; but I believe it is foolish to call it unparalleled, as some do call it. I have read enough of war and siege, — of Magdeburg, of Badajos, of San Sebastian and Crimean outrages, —to know that such things are only the usual accompaniments of a great struggle. But how dreadful is war! how inexcusable, except when it is the only way to maintain goodness and refinement and truth against aggressive barbarism!

Our camp now is beautiful. Who is it (one of the Brontes?) who is so eloquent about her love for midsummer, with its white, opulent cloud-masses and superb verdure? This is the weather we have. Glorious heavens, and a glorious earth in forest and plain! and all night long the moon walks in splendor, transfiguring the soldier’s brown face as he lies with his tent open to the wind, and his burnished weapons at his hand.

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