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 27, 2015

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

Brazos de Santiago, Texas,
June 27, 1865.

Dear Sister L.:—

By this time you will think I should be able to give you something of a description of this strange country. If you look at a map of Texas you may see down at the mouth of the Rio Grande, the name of Brazos de Santiago. There is a little strip of sand about ten miles long, dignified by the name island, and on the northern end of the island is the village. The village is a row of small wooden houses put up by the government for store rooms and offices, with a few occupied by sutlers.

There is a wharf and shipping. These form a very small part of the scenery—the rest is sand. There is not a spear of vegetation growing within sight of my tent. There is not a tree within fifteen miles. Just across the narrow strait is the Isla del Padre, another sand strip, seventy-five miles long. At the mouth of the strait is the bar and a dangerous one too. There is only about seven feet of water and the breakers roar and tumble over it so that at most times a small boat could not live ten minutes. The ships anchor outside and are unloaded by little sloops called lighters, which, with the Spanish names, Bonita, Dos Amigos, etc., and their Mejicanos crews are funny crafts. They rendezvoused here when cotton ran the blockade, and loaded and unloaded the ships, and now that their occupation is gone they come to Uncle Sam for employment.

I told you, I think, that our regiment was ship-wrecked when they came ashore. It was only such a peril as one likes to tell of when it is past, for no one was lost. The schooner though, lies high and dry on the beach. We have had terrible times for water. There is none on the island fit to drink—all salt. Two condensers are in operation, but they would not begin to water all the troops. Our men have gone nine miles up to the Rio Grande after water and got back the same night, rolling barrels of water all the way. Just think of that for getting your water. It don’t rain here, or we might get rainwater. Now that all the troops except our brigade have gone up the river we hope to get water enough.

The sun is terribly hot. At noon it is directly overhead and if it were not for the constant sea breeze we could not live. The wind commences to blow from the southeast every morning about nine o’clock and blows till nearly daylight next morning, so that in the shade of a tent it is quite comfortable. The hottest time of day is from sunrise till nine o’clock when there is no breeze. About four p. m. it is comfortable walking and we go to bathe, keeping an eye out for sharks.

You must be well on in the summer now, and it is almost the Fourth. What glorious celebrations there will be this year!

Many officers are sending in their resignations, but none of them in this corps are accepted. I think I shall stay through the summer pretty well contented and see what turns up then.

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