History of Buchanan County, Iowa 1842 to 1881
Transcribed by Tommy Joe Fulton and Peggy Hoehne
LETTER NO. LXXXIX.
IN CAMP ON HURRICANE CREEK, MISSISSIPPI, December 7, 1862.
FRIEND RICH: - I, have just returned from General Grant's army and the Fifth Iowa; more especially, though, to company E. There were faint rumors in our camp at Wyatt that the Fifth are some four or five miles from us, up the river, with Grant's corps. It was a rainy day and I did not start out to find them. But that evening, Waggoner Frank Noble, and several of the boys of the Fifth, came into our camp and did not leave till morning. So I mounted Sam and went over with them. When we arrived where they were, they wern't there; but had started for Oxford. I thought the best way was to follow them, and see whether Grant's army made a better appearance on the march than we did.
Where the railroad from Holly Springs crosses the Tallahatchie, the rebels had prepared for a very obstinate defence. They had earthworks on both sides of the river, pierced for several guns, and rifle-pits sufficient for twenty thousand infantry. They had destroyed the railroad bridge across the Tallahatchie, as well as the road bridge. The railroad from the river to Oxford, fourteen miles, had been nearly repaired and several new bridges put in. They were compelled to leave so suddenly that they had not time to destroy the railroad. A lady in Oxford told me that there was but an hour between the leaving of the rear guards of Price's army and the arrival of the advance guard of Grant's army at that place. Our cavalry took between two and three hundred prisoners a short distance from Oxford, whom I saw on the march for Holly Springs.
I found Lieutenant Marshall, who is adjutant of the regiment, and Colonel Matthias, both looking remarkably well. We met them laboring through the mud on the wagon road, while the troops were marchiug on the railroad. I was anxious to see company D; so Marshall and myself took our way across the woods to the railroad; but found only straggling soldiers. We could not find out by them whether the Fifth was ahead or behind, but concluded to go on and get into the railroad some miles ahead and wait.
We rode through the woods, jumping fences and ditches, over bogs, and through swamps for some miles, until we came to a point where the wagon road and railroad were close together. Here we halted, and in a few minutes they came up. Captain Lee looks as tough and hearty as could be expected. His hair may be a little whiter and his beard a little longer than when he left Independence; but otherwise he looks no older. Tom Blonden is the same gay and festive young man he was at home. C. F. Putney looked a little thinner in the face, but as rugged as ever. Mr. Bunce, of Hazelton, is with his company again and looking well. Dick Whait is "the same old coon." All the boys looked well, and seemed to enjoy war as one of the necessities of life, if not one of its luxuries. I stayed with the Fifth till the next day. On returning through Oxford I saw between eight hundred and a thousand rebel prisoners that our cavalry had taken from the rear of Price's army. They report also a large number of prisoners that have not yet arrived at Oxford. One thing is certain; they are worrying Price very much. Report says that Steele is at Grenada, south of Price, but this is not authenticated. If it is true, the rebel army of the Mississippi is in a "hard row of stumps."
Grant has about fifty regiments of infantry with him, mostly old regiments, well drilled, and of course good fighting men. They are now encamped around the city of Oxford, which is pleasantly situated, laid out with much taste, and contains many fine residences and some nice public buildings.
I saw on my return to camp that our wing of the army had taken possession of a fine steam mill, which they were using for grinding corn for the men. We expect to be fed on corn bread for a few days, by way of variety. The darkeys of the secesh planters were compelled to husk and load the corn, drive it to the mill, and, in short, to perform all the labor necessary to furnish meal for our men. Around this mill, which I judge also contains a cotton-gin, lay several bales of cotton, and a large pile unbaled. On almost every plantation in this vicinity there is a large amount of cotton. Some of it is unpicked, some picked and unginned, some in rail pens, and some lying around loose. It seems a great pity that so much valuable property should go to waste. But such are the incidents of war. Our army, so far as fresh meats and forage are concerned, subsist entirely upon the enemy. Salt and sugar are also taken when found in sufficient quantities to pay the quartermasters to bother with it.
The rebels, when they left this part of the county, felled trees across the road through the swamps, so as to impede our progress as much as possible; but they could not have had much of an idea of Yankee perseverance if they hoped thus to stop the army of the Mississippi. The other day, as we were marching along, with our army extending about five miles, an old darkey that had stood a long while by the road watching the columns pass, finally broke out:
"O Lord! bress Moses! Massa, where all dese folks cum from? O Lord! I never see so many folks afore, since de Lord let me live. Where you cum from Massa?"
Here he broke out in a big laugh, such as only a full blooded Ethiopian can give. I asked him where his master was.
"O Lord ! he's done gone dead long ago, long afore you all come."
"Where is your mistress?"
"She's down to her father's."
"Don't you want to go along with us?"
"Yes, massa, but I'se got two little chillun heah, and I reckon I better stay with them. I think it'll all come right by'n by, don't you?"
"Don't your mistress treat you well?"
"Yes, massa, but I reckon I can do better by myself massa, and when you all goes back norf, I guess black folks all go too."
This is a fair specimen of the feeling existing among the slaves, so far as I have seen. They think they could do much better if they were free, and they all long to be free. Some of them dislike to leave their wives and children, but not one I have met yet objects to leaving his master.
Where we are to go, or when, is a thing not revealed to your humble servant.