History of Buchanan County, Iowa 1842 to 1881"
Transcribed by Tommy Joe Fulton and Peggy Hoehne
LETTER NO. CVI.
[The following letter was doubtless written by one of the officers of the Twenty-seventh regiment, but for reasons which will be obvious upon a perusal of its vigorous arraignment of those in authority, was at the time published without a signature.-E. P.]
HEADQUARTERS TWENTY-SEVENTH IOWA, CAMP REED,
NEAR JACKSON, TENNESSEE, February 3, 1863.
FRIEND RICH -There has just been sent to these headquarters an order of which the following is a copy:
HEADQUARTERS SECOND BRIGADE, DISTRICT OF JACKSON,
TENNESSEE, CAMP REED, February 3, 1863.
Special Order No. 7.
The commanding officer of the One Hundred and Third regiment, Illinois volunteer infantry, and the commanding officer of the Twenty-seventh regiment, Iowa volunteer infantry, will forthwith make a detail of ten men from each of their respective regiments to make rails and rebuild the fence south of their encampment, and owned by Mr. Parkman, which has been destroyed since the encampment of these regiments in their present locality.
This detail will be made as far as possible from those who destroyed said fence, if they can be ascertained; if not, from the different companies equally.
By command Of
C. L. DUNHAM,
Colonel commanding brigade.
To Colonel JAMES J. GILBERT,
Commanding Twenty-seventh regiment, Iowa volunteers.
JOHN R. SIMPSON,
Acting Assistant Adjutant General."
The italics are as in the original. This order involves the splitting of about three hundred rails by the two regiments, and the building of some forty panels of fence. The labor is nothing, but the principle is what grinds. The facts are these: Our brigade moved out to this camping ground January 13th, and after moving and putting up our tents and clearing the ground, it was near night. During the night it commenced to rain and rained twenty-four hours, when the rain turned to snow, and it snowed twenty-four hours, making in all forty-eight hours of storm. After the storm it came off very cold. During this time the regiments used about three hundred rails. We were encamped in the woods and had nothing but green wood to burn, and had to make our fires and cook out of doors. Nothing has been said by Cyrus L. Dunham, of the Fiftieth Indiana, who was and is in command of the brigade, until to-day, when we received the foregoing order. What enviable notoriety the aforesaid colonel thinks to gain by such a course, is hard to imagine. What rule of warfare, or order, or reason, authorises him to issue the same, is more than I am able to tell. It would have been much more to his credit, and at the same time raised him in the estimation of the soldiers, if, during that storm, he had sent a man to appraise the fence and other rails in the vicinity, and receipted for them, and had them hauled to the regiments and used for fire.
Another thing would add immortality to his fame, if, having the power, he would exercise it by taking from the rebels and traitors in this vicinity some of their fat cattle and hogs for the use of his men, who are compelled to live on tainted meat. Here we are, in the heart of rebeldom, where there is plenty of everything necessary to the health and comfort of the men, and yet they are often furnished with rations unfit for use. It was a maxim with Napoleon, and with all good generals, that the soldier was to be well fed and well clothed. But in these latter times a general in the field, or a colonel commanding a brigade, in violation of the letter and spirit of the laws of Congress, and the general orders from the War Department, compel their soldiers to live on food unfit for dogs, while they guard the stores of their enemies; and to cut green wood, even during inclement storms, to cook this said meat with. And the aforesaid colonel, or general, or both, live in fine houses, with servants to wait upon them, and receive presents from the rebels in and about this place, for which we give them protection.
This is the reason we are so long in putting down this rebellion. If it had been, or was now, the policy of the generals in the field to use every means in their power to hunt the rebels, and in an authoritative manner take whatever there is in this country to subsist our armies upon, and then keep them moving in the direction of the enemy, it would he far better for our cause, and much more to the injury of the southern confederacy.
Our trip into Mississippi demonstrated the fact that the people of the south, where they have not been overrun by the enemy, have enough to live upon. Twenty thousand men in a body could, by using due precautions, subsist upon the rebels, and move from Corinth to Mobile.
By such a course we could destroy the communications between the rebels in the east and in the west; and with thirty thousand men in the rear, and our ships of war in front, we might capture the rebel stronghold in a short time. This would hurt the rebellion in more ways than one, and would at the same time give heart and vigor to our men. As it is, men and officers are disgusted and discouraged with the inactivity that we are now undergoing. They came here with the hope of doing something to put down the rebellion. They want to be set to work to crush it out. They want to do it now, and return to their homes, their families, and their avocations.
But we are apt to think that splitting rails to repair secesh fences, living on spoiled pork in a country that abounds in plenty of good cattle and hogs, lying inactive in malarial camps until more fall by disease than on the battlefield, is not quite the treatment that patriots had a right to expect.