History of Buchanan County, Iowa 1842 to 1881
Transcribed by Tommy Joe Fulton and Peggy Hoehne
LETTER NO. XCII.
HEADQUARTERS TWENTY-SEVENTH REGIMENT,
CAMP THIRTY MILES FROM MEMPHIS, November 29, 1862.
FRIEND RICH: - . . . The scenery of the lower Mississippi is perhaps as interesting, but not half as beautiful, as that of the upper portion which we saw on our northern expedition to Mille Lacs. The water is changed from a lively, sparkling clearness, to a muddy, pool-like appearance. There are fewer and less inviting islands, and the bold and rocky cliffs have dwindled away into the level marshes. The canebrake, the misletoe, and the cypress, appear in the place of the stately oak, the graceful cedar and the stately pine. So far as evidences of thrift are concerned, it is precisely as I have always heard; a slave country cannot compare with a free one. The towns along the river side are vastly different from those in the free States. They are small and built without regard either to taste or economy. The landings, as they are all called, usually consist of a clay hill, on which stands an irregular shaped, dilapidated building, whose front is half covered with a sign, of which the letters are as varied in size, as in shape and decipherability. This morning we passed the famous Island No. 10, where so many days of hard fighting gained the well-earned price - victory. The island is not so formidable by nature as I had expected, nor was it so large. An old gun-boat lay at anchor near it, while various wrecks were scattered along the shore. A little after we passed New Madrid, a little town, of no importance seemingly, but long to be remembered by the Guardian and its friends. As we move along,. and the air became warmed by a southern sun, the scenery seemed more inviting. Some places along the river in Tennessee present naturally a thrifty appearance. Occasionally there is a farm-house which resembles some of the better class of northern ones. The river, at some points, spreads out into a lake-like width, almost equal to lake Pepin in the north. We received no cheers, with one or two exceptions, save from the colored people, who swung their hats and danced for joy. Some fear was felt lest we might be fired upon by rebels concealed in the thick woods, but we met with no hostile demonstrations.
At night we lay under cover of Fort Pillow, a naturally strong defence. There is no fort, but the earthworks are extensive and evince military knowledge. They could not have been stormed without an immense sacrifice of blood and treasure; and happy is it for our Army of the Southwest that the rebels evacuated it. The second day of our downward trip, we passed nothing of special interest. At one point some fine hills rose by the river side, and then we passed the blackened ruins of Fort Adams. The weather was fine, and we reached Memphis in good time on Saturday, finding the troops that had been detailed on the Vicksburgh expedition awaiting orders. Two extra men from each company were detailed to accompany the expedition.
Memphis is a magnificent city; the location is most beautiful, and the place is said to be healthy. At present it is teeming with military life. I rode back and forth through the streets, viewing the fine buildings, public and private, and if Tennessee was a free State, I see no reason for not being anxious to live there. At the time we landed there, at least seventy-five thousand troops were in and around the city. The people of this State are of doubtful loyalty. Some are doubtless true to the old Union, while others, intimidated by the presence of the Federal army, cover their secession fangs with a garb of loyalty. Soldiers are shot almost daily by concealed rebels.
The next morning after our arrival at Memphis, we marched out into the country some three miles to the southeast, and encamped. The day was quite warm, and many of the boys became much wearied. On that march we passed some very elegant houses, surrounded by very beautiful grounds. Such lovely evergreen trees as they have there are enough almost to call our affections from the bleak prairies of the north to this sunny clime. While you shiver in the northern blasts, we can sleep in perfect comfort in the open air, uncovered save by our blankets. Not only the climate, but the fair homes, call on us for an unflinching struggle to redeem them from the blight which threatens to fall upon all that is fairest and best.
There is a building hard by our encampment said to be the home of a rebel general. It is reported that this man, at the breaking out of the war, gave two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for its support, sent two sons into the army, next hired two soldiers, and lastly went himself. The house is now confiscated property. It is by far the most magnificent place I ever saw. The house is a fine, substantial brick structure. The grounds, which are extensive, are elegantly laid out and splendidly decorated. At each front corner of the house there is a fine statue, representing some character in ancient mythology. Such a place as this in a free land, a land inhabited by a race of true freemen, the wealth of the half of Buchanan county could not purchase.
We were brigaded in that camp, and it was our good fortune to get into General Lauman's brigade. The people of Iowa were proud of him as a colonel, and they expect him to maintain his high character in a higher rank and in his present capacity as commander of a brigade in the field, already in the advance. Our sick who were out of the hospital were left in the care of Captain Miller and Lieutenant Donnan. Like all other movements of the army, no one could tell of our course or destination but those in the highest authority. We marched over a good road down into Mississippi, thence in the direction of Holly Springs, travelling about fifteen miles each day. When we came to the enemy's land, our boys put the confiscation act in force to its full extent. They confiscated potatoes, chickens, turkeys, geese, mules and negroes. Before we reached General Sherman's headquarters, we had in our brigade, I doubt not, a hundred mules and half as many negroes. They also burned many buildings by the roadside. If the privates had their way, I believe they would devastate the whole country. When we reached the major general's headquarters, he declared the officers should be arrested; that captains should be held responsible for the acts of the companies; and that there was but one way to confiscate property, and when confiscated it should be done by legal forms. We arrived here and pitched our tents last evening, six miles from Holly Springs. Our camp here is supplied with the best water we have had since we left Minnesota.
How long we shall tarry here, none of us know. It is reported that we are to move in the morning to reenforce Grant, and that he is to offer the enemy battle with fifty thousand men. We have in this brigade the One Hundred and Thirtieth and One Hundred and Seventeenth Illinois, Thirty-third Wisconsin, and Twenty-seventh Iowa infantry, and Rogers' battery. In this army corps there are thirty regiments of infantry, nine batteries, and one regiment of cavalry. In all probability we shall soon see a fight, and Iowa's host, in high position and in low, will, as their hero brothers have done heretofore, strike effectually for the Union.
C. H. L