History of Buchanan County, Iowa 1842 to 1881"
Transcribed by Tommy Joe Fulton and Peggy Hoehne
pages 172 - 173
LETTER NO. LXXXII.
TWENTY-SEVENTH IOWA VOLUNTEERS,
CAMP DEFIANCE, CAIRO, ILLINOIS, November 17, 1862.
FRIEND RICH: - After a separation of nearly four weeks, the Twenty-seventh regiment is once more united. Our six companies, returned from the Mille Lacs expedition, left Prairie du Chien Tuesday afternoon last, by railroad, for Cairo. We came by the way of Madison and Chicago, travelling mostly in the night, so that we saw but little of the country. We pitched our tents in Camp Defiance, Friday morning, November 14th. The weather has been perfectly delightful until last evening, seeming more like June than November. Last evening it commenced raining, and, this morning, the boys say that each man carries his farm with him on his boots. For one, if I were called upon to choose, I would rather stay here in the mud than spend the winter in the Indian country. But I do not think we shall do either. There are several hundred rebel prisoners a short distance west of our camp. Some three or four hundred came up the river, under convoy of one of our gun-boats yesterday. They are a motley-looking crew, clad in all sorts of dress. Some are well dressed in every day citizen's rig; some are ragged and dirty; some few have military overcoats; but I have not seen a man yet in uniform. Some of the prisoners are hard looking customers, and as mulish as you please; while others have, from their manner, seen better days. Some say they are tired of the war, and that they never will fight again in the rebel ranks; others declare that they will fight us as long as they live, and curse us when they die. There are also several hundred contra-bands in the place, some at work in various ways, and the remainder living in a camp constructed for them. I passed their camp yesterday as they were cooking their dinner. Nearly all I saw were women and children. Cairo, it is sufficient to say, is just such a city as one would expect to find in Egypt. Several gun-boats are lying in the Ohio opposite to us. They are formidable looking monsters with low slanting, iron-clad sides, pierced by thirteen heavy guns. When next they pay their compliments to the foe it may not be impossible that we may "be there to see." Day before yesterday I paid a visit to the far famed mortar boats. There are twenty-one of them lying near the shore in the Ohio, about a mile above town. I boarded one of them; and, to get a proximate idea of its dimensions, measured it with a stick. I made it sixty feet long, by twenty-five wide. Two heavy pieces of timber pass entirely round the boat, making a breastwork about two feet high. Iron-plating, half an inch thick, fastened to the outside of these timbers, rises about seven feet above the deck, forming a complete defence against any rebel sharpshooters from the shore. These plates are pierced by thirty-two holes, evidently for sharpshooters stationed behind them. The mortars are mounted npon a heavy platform near the centre of the boat. The one I examined weighs seventeen thousand one hundred and sixty-eight pounds, and was cast at Fort Pitt in 1861. The bore is thirteen inches in diameter, and the casting is fifteen inches thick. I tried to lift one of the shells, but did not succeed. The boys are generally in pretty good health, and are anxious to move down the river.
E. P. BAKER.