History of Buchanan County, Iowa 1842 to 1881
Transcribed by Tommy Joe Fulton and Peggy Hoehne
LETTER NO. CXXIV.
CAMP DODGE, NEAR CORINTH, MISSISSIPPI, June 24, 1863.
FRIEND RICH: - Never was there a more truthful expression uttered by man than the oft repeated one, "This is an educating war." And in no place and among no class of people can you find this truth more thoroughly demonstrated thin in the army and among the officers and soldiers composing it. Here we are at Corinth, Mississippi, raising regiments of colored men to help crush out this inhuman, wicked and causeless rebellion. I have been told that when the first regiment was organized, there were one thousand five hundred applications for positions in the regiment; and if the men who obtained positions are specimens of the whole, I believe they applied because their hearts are in the work. Now I venture to say, that if their friends had told them, when they enlisted, that within two years they would be seeking positions, from colonels down to orderly sergeants, in a negro regiment nine out of every ten of them would have felt grossly insulted. Yet here we are, and here are the colored men learning the art of war. Now the question comes, will they make good soldiers? I believe they will, and for many reasons. First, they have been taught from infancy the most important lesson of a soldier's life, and that is implicit obedience to orders. You let an order come from the colonel of a white regiment, just entered service, to fall into line, at an unusual hour, and you will see the men running to the orderly, to the captain, and even to the colonel, to know what is wanted. You tell a company of colored men to fall into line, and they fall in, expecting that they will find out what is wanted soon enough. Obedience, then, we have to start upon, and drill on that point is for the most part saved. The next question is, can they learn? To this I will answer - the First Alabama was organized, that is, its officers were appointed the Eighteenth of May last. At that time there were, I think, three or four full companies, and two or three parts of companies. At least three companies had not a man in camp. It was not until the first of June that the ten companies were made up and commenced drilling, and to-day the First Alabama infantry can execute the common manoeuvres in company and battalion drill as well as several regiments I have seen which have been in service several months. Their drill in the manuel of arms elicits praise from all who witness them, yet they have but about four hundred muskets in the regiment for nearly nine hundred men, and have only had these about ten days. The next question is, are they patriotic? I answer, many of these men have travelled all night, and some of them for several nights, hiding in the swamps by day, to get inside our lines. Ask them what they come for and they will tell you: "I comes to you all, to fight dese yar rebels. Ise heered dat Massa Linkum done said we might come, and here I is." "Well, sir, what do you want to do? Do you want to drive team?" "No, sab, I don't want to drive no team, I wants to tote de musket and be a soldier, dat's what I wants." "But if you are a soldier the rebels will shoot you or hang you, if they catch you." "Well, Massa, I'll jis tell yer; I can't die but once. I'se been a slave all my life, and I ain't much 'count no how. Praps I can do you some good. I'se got a wife and chil'ern, and I want's them to be free. I'de like to be free wid 'em mighty well, but some's got to die to save the rest; an ef I can save dem, I'se satisfied." If this is not patriotism, it is something just as good. The next question is, will they fight? Could you see the eagerness with which the black man learns the use of his gun, going out as soon as the sun is up to work all day, and then drill with shouts of joy after dark; could you hear the vim with which he hopes he may be able to square accounts with his oppressors; could you see him as I have done, after he himself was safe within our lines, go back, ten miles if need be, to the plantation of his master who had threatened to shoot him if he joined us, to get another child, I think you nor no man will question their bravery. They will fight. They have proved it on several bloody fields, and are anxious to prove it on many more. There are here nearly three thousand, men, women, and children. There are about one thousand soldiers in both regiments, Government has a large field cultivated by the old men, women and boys. There are about three hundred children going to school. The chaplain of the First regiment has charge of the school, with his female assistants. He says three months ago there were not six in the three hundred who knew their letters; and now, if he cannot pick out one hundred who can read intelligently and readily in the New Testament, he will forfeit a year's pay as chaplain.
Sergeant James C. Glass and myself are recruiting for the Second regiment. We have fifty-three men. We have three other companies forming here in the camp, and I understand that there are one or two others forming elsewhere. It is not as easy filling the Second regiment as it was the first, for the first took nearly all the able-bodied men near here, and we have to depend on expeditions going out into the country. In my next I will give you an account of the presentation of a flag to the first regiment, and also speak of one or two of the colored orators here.
E. P. BAKER.