History of Buchanan County, Iowa 1842 to 1881
Transcribed by Tommy Joe Fulton and Peggy Hoehne
LETTER NO. CXXXIV.
CANTON, MISSISSIPPI, February 27, 1864
We have been in the wilderness nearly one month, shut out from all communication with the northern world. You have doubtless been notified of our movements through the columns of northern and eastern journals. The expedition, not yet closed, will be considered one of the most important of the war. It has been successfully and triumphantly conducted by Major General W. T. Sherman. It was made up of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth army corps - the Seventeenth commanded by Major General McPherson, and the Sixteenth by Major General Hurlbut.
We left camp, in the rear of Vicksburgh, February 3rd, and began at once to contend with the difficulties and privations of the expedition. On the third we marched over a serpentine road, through a wooded country, to Deer creek. On the fourth we left Deer creek, passed the graves of some of the Buchanan county boys, who had been slain in the struggle in this State one year ago; crossed the Big Black river, a stream the size of the Wapsie; marched several miles, and, at a late hour, camped on the plantation owned by the mother of Jeff Davis. On the fifth there was sharp skirmishing between our advance and the rebel cavalry, under General Lee. Several of the Union troops were killed, and several wounded. The rebels were so hotly pursued that they were unable to carry off their dead and wounded.
In the afternoon the corps, which had previously been on different roads, formed a junction on a large plantation, with their colors beautifully flying. Shortly after, the rebels made a stand, and for the last time west of Jackson. A Union soldier was killed and several wounded at this point. Again we were advancing, and soon passed a rebel, cold in death, close by the side of his charger. A solid shot had passed through them both and produced instant death. The night of the fifth we encamped four miles west of Jackson, and the cavalry brigade that same night made a charge through the city. At 9 o'clock A. M., Sunday, the 7th, we moved into the city and halted immediately in front of the capitol.
Twice before has the Union army been here - twice before has the rebel army been driven away, and the stars and stripes carried in triumph in the midst of her haughty and aristocratic people. They do not love us - little children are sent to tell us that they "do not like the looks of our flag at all," while their proud mothers and sisters cast contemptuous glances at us, and wish their soldiers were powerful enough to annihilate us. Jackson was once a fine city, but its beauty is gone. 'Tis truly sad to look upon its ruins, for its grandeur has departed, and in the midst of its beautiful grounds are to be found only the blackened ruins of stately mansions.
Four days have we been en route from Vicksburgh. The woods, the houses, the cotton gins, and king cotton himself, all have helped to keep one continued blaze of fire - moving through the wilderness - a pillar of fire to which the oppressed of this land are eagerly flocking. We crossed the Pearl river on a pontoon bridge which the rebels had not time to destroy, and came into the pine woods. It is a muddy stream, and carries down about as much water as the Cedar; is deeper but not so wide.
From Jackson to Brandon, twelve miles, the country is good for the most part. Brandon, a fine little town of two hundred inhabitants, perhaps, was burned. Morton was the next town through which we passed. Here we took the advance of the Seventeenth corps, and marched until midnight. February 10th we passed through Hillsborough, which met the same fiery fate as Brandon. At this town there was skirmishing, and I saw one dead rebel, who was said to have joined the army but a day or two before. He was said to be immensely rich, and held the commission of major. On the eleventh we reached Chunky creek, and here the two or three teams, allowed each regiment, were left behind, and, on the twelfth, the army moved with all possible speed in the direction of Decatur, to capture the enemy's train. We reached Decatur, but the enemy had fled. The town was burned, and we pushed hastily on, camping that night eight miles out from Decatur. On the thirteenth we made a rapid march and drove the rebels out of camp among the great pine trees, and cooked our rations over their fires. Sunday, the fourteenth, we reached the great railway centre, Meridian. The enemy had evacuated it. It was reported that the infantry went to Mobile, and the calvary in all directions. Meridian is a small town. Its population, in its palmiest days, was not more than five hundred. There were no fine buildings, or gardens, or tastefully ornamented grounds.
As a railroad centre its occupation was of the greatest importance. We destroyed, in all, some forty-eight miles of railroad track, a part of the Mobile & Ohio, and part of the Vicksburgh & Charleston. We penetrated to within two miles of Alabama, and destroyed everything that could be of advantage to the enemy. Our army held Meridian and Marion until the twentieth, when the march was led backwards. An endless amount of cotton had been destroyed, large quantities of supplies had been gathered from the country, and negroes had flocked by hundreds.
The country, from Jackson to Meridian, is a very rich one, sandy soil, and abundantly watered. It is one continued pine forest, except where large and fruitful plantations are found. None of the Spanish moss, so abundant in other parts of the State, festooning the trees, is seen in these pine forests.
This movement of Sherman was evidently not expected by the enemy. On a high hill near Meridian, cotton had been hauled for the erection of a fort, but was abandoned on our approach. New barracks were also in process of construction. Here was the general hospital for Mississippi and Alabama. We returned by Union and Hillsborough to Canton. The Seventeenth army corps took their march on a road south of our line, until we reached Pearl river. The Iowa brigade laid an excellent pontoon bridge over which both corps passed. The country is exceedingly rich, and large quantities of forage are being gathered. Hundreds and even thousands of negroes are in the train here. They will be sent this morning to Vicksburgh, with the train which is being pushed out in that direction.
General Sherman started yesterday for the river. We shall remain here a few days, and, in the meantime, a train may meet us from the river. Our sick go to Vicksburgh to-day. Of the incidents of the trip I will speak in my next letter. The mail is about to close, and I wil1 send this, though a hastily written communication.
C. H. Lewis.