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

Post image for Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton.

Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton.

June 8, 2015

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

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

Dear Sister L.:—

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

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

Dear Sister L.:—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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