Personal Experience of a Union Veteran
About the middle of April General Butler
learned that Farragut
's fleet had crossed the bar and was ready to proceed up the Mississippi
Six regiments and two batteries were immediately embarked on sailing transports and started for the front.
On the eighteenth—although about sixty miles away—we heard the gentle voice of Porter
's fifteen-inch mortars.
Then came the cheering account of Farragut
's passing the forts—Jackson and St. Philip
—and later the landing of General Butler
in New Orleans on the first of May.
Other troops were sent forward as transportation could be furnished, till early in May the Thirteenth Maine
only was left on the island.
‘Many are called, but few are chosen,’ was my comment at the time; and we were the chosen few. Some of the boys regarded this as punishment, but punishment for what?
No adequate answer was forthcoming.
We had been inspected by General Butler
himself, and very recently by a regular army officer, who pronounced the Thirteenth Maine second to no regiment in the department.
Until the forts below New Orleans were captured, Ship Island
was the only approach to the city held by Union troops, and it was of the last importance that it should be garrisoned by reliable troops.
Of course we exercised a soldier's prerogative, and grumbled and chafed at our seemingly inglorious assignment; and yet we were performing a most important military duty.
As a relief from the monotony of our service here, we occasionally
sent expeditions to the Mississippi
shore to afford protection to known Union men against bushwhackers, and to show the rebels generally that we were ever on the alert.
As a matter of fact, we had reason to believe that we were liable to receive a visit from the rebels at any hour, day or night.
July 8 brought the pay-master, and orders.
One company was ordered to Fort Pike
, on the Rigolets, and one to Fort Macomb
, on Pass Chef Menteur, these being the entrances to Lake Pontchartrain
. Three companies were ordered to Fort Jackson
, and one to Quarantine Station, about five miles above the fort.
A few days later two companies were ordered to Fort St. Philip
, leaving two companies, and regimental headquarters, on Ship Island
These several transfers, you will notice, carried the entire regiment to guard all the water approaches to New Orleans, save the river above the city, and Farragut the Superb
was competent to attend to that approach.
According to the repeated statements of the commanding general
, ‘the Thirteenth Maine regiment held the posts of honor
in the Department of the Gulf.’
On the twenty-eighth of April Colonel Dow
was promoted to brigadier-general, and Lieutenant-Colonel Rust
succeeded to the command of the regiment.
Shortly after our arrival on Ship Island
, I was detailed in the adjutant's office.
was promoted to captain and assigned to General Dow
's staff as acting assistant adjutant-general.
was promoted to adjutant, and I was ‘warranted’ to rattle around in the office vacated by him. And I found it no sinecure, for during the absence of the adjutant on several occasions, the entire duties of the office devolved on me.
When the three companies were transferred to Fort Jackson
, I was detailed as acting adjutant of the post.
Later I served in the same capacity at Fort St. Philip
and in New Orleans.
The post—Forts Jackson
and St. Philip
—was commanded, for a short time, by Brigadier-General Neal Dow
Here altogether new responsibilities were thrust upon us. Vessels, and crafts of every description, passing up and down the river, were required by department orders to ‘heave to’ and obtain the permission
of the boarding officer before they could proceed to New Orleans or to sea.
The many bayous leading to the rear of Fort Jackson
were always a source of anxiety, for this whole section seemed to be cursed by or with guerrillas; and it was our fortune to capture and disperse several gangs of these wretches.
Within a few weeks after our arrival, the Hartford
dropped anchor off the forts.
It was Admiral Farragut
's first and only visit after the capture, and as he remained over night, the garrisons proceeded to burn powder and send up rockets in his honor, and in various other ways demonstrated to the illustrious hero that his name and record were as dear to us as they were to the blue-jackets, and I may add that his visit was a God-send to us. At 9 o'clock the next morning the Hartford
went to sea. The echo of our guns fired in salute had hardly died away, when the signal gun brought every soldier to the parapet.
Then a solid shot went whistling across the river, and then another.
Every gun in both forts was trained for business.
At this juncture ‘H. B. M. S. S. Rinaldo
’ rounded to, and with loud protests and threats (!) her commander demanded of the boarding officer ‘by what authority he was fired upon.’
He was courteously informed ‘by what authority,’ although he was already informed as regards General Butler
's orders in general and particular.
, flying the admiral's flag, was amenable to this particular order.
Luckily for this irate Englishman, he had level-headed New England
men to deal with.
Had we observed strictly the letter of our orders, the Rinaldo
would have been knocked into kindling wood.
The commander was kindly earned in regard to his future behavior while passing this outpost and I am sure that the boarding officer indulged in no ambiguous language.
At this time the notable General Order No. 28
had been in force about four months, and had become of almost international importance.
Rebels and their sympathizers, foreign as well as American, were using their utmost endeavors to bury its author under a world of obloquy.
The world now knows that General Order
No, 8 was productive of good, and only of good, to all
within the limits of the Department of the Gulf.
No soldier ever misconstrued the significance of the order.
I can't believe that any rebel ever did. The order executed itself while General Butler
remained in the department.
It is my belief that General Butler
spoke advisedly when he said ‘there were more paroled rebel soldiers in New Orleans than there were Union troops within fifty miles of his headquarters,’ because he had caused a census to be taken, and was thus enabled to locate
every man and woman in the city.
The Thirteenth Maine was put to a cruel test by being placed, in our already weak physical condition, in the malarial swamps of Southern Louisiana
, in mid-summer, and kept there for more than a year.
too, too many heroic souls sleep beneath the soil that once echoed to the tread of millions of human slaves.
But we never forgot that we belonged to the ‘Lord
's Country’—never forgot who we were, and what.
Even when, one foggy night, Sentinel Swaney
shot the quartermaster's mule because it would not obey his challenge to halt, it was credited to his vigilance.
And when a soldier tumbled off the draw-bridge into the moat among the alligators, it furnished amusement for the entire garrison—his little dog barking in unison.
A few days later the pet dog was ‘gathered in’ by an alligator.
I apprehend that no troops scanned the orders of their department commander more critically or with more complete satisfaction than did we during all these months when the saintly sinners in New Orleans were devoutly praying for the advent of yellow fever, while we, from the head of the roster to the foot, were prayerfully working
to render its approach impossible.
In New Orleans General Butler
organized a brigade of ‘contrabands,’ prisoners, and the odds and ends of every nationality, armed with picks, shovels, hoes, brooms, and mule carts.
which, under competent officers, proceeded to remove inches, and in some localities feet
, of the accumulation of a century of fever-breeding material from almost the entire surface within the limits of the city.
I do not know that the natives had a vision of a new heaven, but I am sure that there dawned on their Astonished
sight a new earth
, of which, perhaps, they never had even dreamed.
The streets and alleys of the city had been the theatre of many an upheaval; but I question if New Orleans, as a whole, ever before, or since, got into such a scrape
, or had so happy an issue out of a deplorable condition.
Of course the gallant action of our fleet in forcing its way past these forts, and dealing with the rebel crafts above, was a theme on which it was our delight to dwell, and from which we gathered inspiration.
The gunboat Varuna
sunk or disabled six of her antagonists before she received her mortal wound; but the gallant Captain Boggs
ran his sinking ship to the bank and tied her to a tree, and saved every soul aboard.
The trucks of the bow gun-carriage were under water when the gun fired its last shot.
When I climbed to her half-submerged deck a few months afterwards, I instinctively took off my cap in salute of the flag that once proudly floated
at her peak, but was not
hauled down in token of surrender
. But the tangible reminder of all the gallant deeds performed in connection with the capture of the forts rendered our inaction more and more irksome.
Then came the rumor—through rebel sources (sources, by the way, through which we received much information of the doings in Washington
）—that General Banks
had been ordered to relieve General Butler
On Sunday, December 14, 1862, General Banks
and his fleet of transports passed the forts.
,’ so ran the rumor, ‘are to be annexed at once.’
We hoped to be included in the annexation business.
But the programme was materially modified.
About three months later I received a letter from General Dudley
's adjutant-general asking me to come to Baton Rouge
immediately, for he and other officers had recommended me to Colonel Paine
, of the First Louisiana Regiment, who desired an adjutant familiar with the duties of the office.
By reason of lack of transportation, a week or two passed before I was able to report; and then I found the army all ready to move out towards Port Hudson
The colonel had been obliged to detail one of his own officers, and it was too late to make any change.
I housed my disappointment and resumed my duties at Fort St. Philip
July 8 Port Hudson
was ‘annexed,’ in spite of my nonattendance at the ceremonies, and another chunk of conceit was knocked out of me. Previous to this date, several officers and enlisted men, disgusted at being cooped up in garrison, had sought and obtained promotion and transfer to other regiments.
Let me say here, parenthetically, that at least two brigade commanders—regular army officers—made application to have the Thirteenth Maine Regiment assigned each to his brigade for the Port Hudson
In August the regiment rallied around the flag in New Orleans, where we performed provost guard duty.
This change of station and re-assembling of the regiment afforded some relief, but it was not the sort of relief we most desired.
And we soon found that, under the existing administration, General Order No. 28
, before spoken of, had become less operative.
Officers, and even enlisted men, were subjected to gross insults by the women of the city.
Late one afternoon the orderly at our headquarters hutriedly entered the office, saying, ‘Adjutant, General Banks
is on the sidewalk, and he desires to see you.’
As I presented myself, the general put his arm through mine and invited me to take a walk with him. His ‘walk’ took us out to Canal street, and up that fashionable thoroughfare for several blocks, the general meanwhile talking in his easy, familiar fashion-I, wondering what in the world was the object of this promenade.
Suddenly the general halted, dropped my arm, and then said: ‘Adjutant, will you please take the number of this mansion?
As I was riding with some of my officers this afternoon, I was grossly insulted by some women on the balcony of this house.
I will teach these women that they can't insult me or my officers with impunity.
You will place a guard here and allow any one to go in, but no one is to be allowed to come out.’
Again taking my arm, the general accompanied me to our headquarters on St. Charles street, talking on subjects entirely disconnected front army affairs.
A suitable guard was immediately placed as ordered.
In due time a court-martial was convened.
was tried and found guilty of the charge preferred and specification, and sentenced to spend her vacation months on Ship Island
The spirit of General Order No. 28
became operative from that hour.
The virtues of ‘the lightning-rod,’ as the boys called Order No. 28
, were again to be tested.
The fact that our colonel was then on detached service led me to believe that the Thirteenth Maine was destined to remain on duty in New Orleans for an indefinite period.
in our regiment), who had been assigned to the Twentieth Regiment Corps d'afrique, then stationed at Fort Macomb
, had, a month or two before, without my knowledge, appointed me captain in his regiment.
Having served so long in the Thirteenth Maine, I had become so strongly attached to it that it seemed almost like disloyalty to withdraw from it. But I thought I saw a prospect of getting into more active service; therefore, with some misgiving, I finally accepted the commission and joined my company at Fort Macomb
The post commander (Buck
) and all the officers of the four companies stationed here were promoted out of the Thirteenth Maine Regiment.
Although we regarded ourselves as ‘would-be fighters,’ we yet constituted a happy family.
The Twentieth Regiment Corps d'afrique—so re-named by General Banks
—was organized by General Butler
from the First and Second Regiments, Louisiana Native Guards, which left the rebel service and disbanded when the Union
troops first occupied the city.
This regiment was composed of free colored
men, men of much intelligence, good soldiers, and keen on the scent after smugglers.
Furthermore, the regiment contained many good mechanics.
Courts-martial were unknown in my company.
During more than two years service, I had occasion to discipline but one man—this for lying.
While I was proud of my command, it was a grievous disappointment to be assigned to garrison duty, of which I had had more than enough.
Patrolling the lakes and bayous, day and night, in an open boat, was not ideal yachting.
And when I learned that the Thirteenth Maine was booked for the Red River campaign
, I concluded that the government didn't need my services, anyway,—surely not at the
However, if we were not at the front, we held the rear with a firm grip; and I never heard of more than two cases of even yellow fever getting by us.
After nearly a year of this sort of service (and by a process of evolution
having become known as the ‘Ninety-first Regiment, U. S. C. I.’), a corps of schoolmasters was sent down to us to ascertain how much or how little we knew about war. There were twelve of us to appear before this ‘weeding-out committee,’ as in reality we knew it to be. I catalogued myself as a weed gone to seed.
It took a colonel, major
, captain, and lieutenant about one hour to find out how much the eleven officers really chose to know.
Some of them knew they wished to leave the service—and their wishes found favor at headquarters.
I sat in my quarters shivering, although the thermometer registered about 100 in the shade, till the orderly brought the message that the ‘Board’ would like to see me. My temperature suddenly became normal, and I thought that if it took the ‘Board’ sixty minutes to dispose of eleven cases, it could dispose of my case in four minutes; that is to say, I thought I could tell them all I knew in that length of time.
But I woefully miscalculated the staying qualities of those four officers.
As the clock struck eight, the first question was fired at me. When it struck twelve, the president declared the examination closed.
The last half-hour, however, was passed in a delightful talk.
Two propositions were made to me. The colonel proposed that I be recommended for promotion and assigned to staff duty.
The major—a regular army officer—said he would like to have me transferred to the regular service.
I was profoundly grateful for their proposed recommendations, and I frankly told them so. I protested that I was not lacking in ambition; but my ambition was to remain in the volunteer service till the close of the war; that my desire for peace was so intense that I was ready and willing to fight for it. The temptation to yield to their several arguments was great, but I believe that I decided wisely.
Shortly thereafter came orders consolidating the Ninety-first Regiment with the Seventy-fourth Regiment—headquarters at Ship Island
All surplus officers, including all the field officers
of the Ninety-first Regiment, received an honorable discharge.
, on assuming command at Fort Macomb
, told me that the company to which I had been assigned at Ship Island
was under orders to proceed to Mobile Bay
, where Admiral Farragut
was making preparations to attack the forts.
The astonished major said, ‘What!
are you that
anxious to have your head knocked off?’
‘Oh, no, not that,’ I answered, ‘but I have a consuming desire to lead these boys where we can get a wholesome whack at this edge of the diabolical rebellion.’
My orders directed me to proceed to Ship Island
via New Orleans.
On arriving at the latter place, without stopping to even tighten my belt, I hastened to the office of the quartermaster of transportation to secure passage to my post, explaining the urgency of the request.
By way of answer, the officer said that ‘he had sent every sort of craft that could carry a major-general or a bag of oats to Mobile Bay
, and he didn't expect any boat would return within a day or two.’
‘But I've got
to go,’ I protested.
‘Have you got a sailboat, yawl, or pirogue, for I am as much of a sailor as a soldier, and I can manage anything that will float?’
The quartermaster became interested, thinking, perhaps, that the applicant was a lunatic.
Discovering that there was method in my madness, he courteously said, ‘Captain
, call here to-morrow at 10 o'clock, and if a boat comes in I will send you to Ship Island
forthwith if I have nothing but a bale of hay for freight.’
I do not know what else the boat carried, but I have a vivid recollection of the fact that she bore me, freighted with anxiety, hope, and expectation, to my destination, just in season to learn that what should have been my company had already gone to Mobile Bay
, and I had been assigned to Company ‘K,’ which was composed in part of the ‘surplus men’—odds and ends—of the ‘consolidated regiment,’—a company at least one-third larger than any other in the regiment,— and every man at the post, white
, was an entire stranger to me. I was the victim of a situation and a condition.
I might have said O. K
. at the outlook, but I didn't. I said nothing
, but went to work
. After a few days the colonel did me
the honor to call on me and read me a letter from General T. W. Sherman
, ordering him to ‘detail an officer to act as ordnance and artillery officer.’
‘None of my old officers,’ he said, ‘have any knowledge of ordnance or heavy artillery.
You, I have been informed, are well up in these branches, and I have instructed the adjutant to make out an order detailing you, with your company, for this service.’
To have him whose fame as a battery commander was a household word throughout the United States
(and the so-called ‘Confederate States of America
,’ as well) for my superior officer caused me to forget my Mobile Bay
On my first inspection I found two 100-pounder Parrott guns, and five eleven-inch Dahlgren
guns, all mounted in sand batteries, and all save the Parrotts practically unserviceable.
As for ordnance stores, the post lacked almost everything.
I immediately made out a requisition for such stores as I deemed essential, and referred it to the colonel, who said, ‘The war will be over before your requisition will be filled.’
‘On the contrary,’ I replied, ‘it will be filled by return boat, or Sherman
will give me a cursing that will be heard in Washington
The first steamer from New Orleans brought every article for which I had made requisition—not omitting the garrison gin and gin-sling, which were not brought in bottles.
‘I guess old Tom Sherman
knows you,’ was the colonel's comment as the stores were landed on the wharf.
‘I apprehend he will know
me before he is done with me,’ I replied, ‘for I have a report on the condition of the batteries which I would like to have you sign and transmit to the general by this boat.’
The report was forwarded.
It came back, with a Shermanese double-shotted letter.
In language that didn't look well as written nor sound heavenly when spoken, the general ordered the colonel to send the fool captain where he belonged, and detail the best officer he had, as he was originally ordered to do. The colonel was somewhat scared.
I was happy.
‘Please leave the report with me,’ I said, ‘and I will trump the general's trick.
Since I have been kicked by a government mule, I don't shy at trifles.’
The second report proved sufficient to bring the inspector-general
of the defences of New Orleans down upon me about five o'clock one
Saturday afternoon. Before going to headquarters, the inspector, Colonel Smith
, with whom I was well acquainted, called on me, and in his peculiar way informed me of the object of his visit.
‘You and I,’ he began, ‘are in the same boat.
The general alleges that you falsely report that the five Dahlgren
gun-carriages are liable to collapse at the first or second discharge of the gun; that the plank gun foundations of the batteries are rotten and unsafe.
The general is mad at you, and he is wrathy with me for saying to him that I knew you personally, and that you were not capable of making a false report.
My reputation as well as yours is involved.
To-morrow morning at nine o'clock we will demonstrate that you know your business.’
Battery No. 1, near my quarters, was the first one tested that Sunday morning. The gun-carriage collapsed utterly at the first discharge.
‘I have seen enough,’ said the inspector; ‘if you will allow me, I will spend the rest of the morning in your quarters, while you proceed with your work of destruction.’
At 12 o'clock I reported ‘one
gun-carriage demolished at the first
carriages at the second
, and one
carriage at the third
‘You have redeemed your promise; and it is the best Sunday job I have ever seen,’ was the inspector's comment.
In recognition of my Sunday's work of destruction, General Sherman
sent to our post the Second Ohio Light Battery.
And I served as ordnance officer till the regiment was mustered out of service.
Although my second tour of duty on Ship Island
was of rather a sober character, yet we occasionally had somewhat stirring times.
Armed boat expeditions along the Mississippi
shore, and to some of the islands, served to remind us that even our
military service was needed still in this waiting-to-be-blest section.
Finally the general before Mobile
sent an order for our two 100-pounder Parrott guns.
The colonel told the officer who brought the order that the guns were about a mile from the wharf, and that, for lack of facilities, he could neither dismount them nor transport them to the wharf.
‘But we must have
The general's orders are imperative,’ insisted the officer.
The colonel sent for me to corroborate his statement.
The two officers chanced to be Americans
by brevet, as it were.
After some little discussion, I said, ‘Gentlemen, I am a Yankee, and I beg you will allow me to retire to my quarters and do a bit of thinking.’
I found my room crowded with officers curious to know what was up. ‘Gentlemen,’ I said, ‘please ask me no question, but leave me alone for ten minutes.’
My lieutenant sprang to his feet and said, ‘Boys, get out of here.
The captain's got something in his head.’
Laughing at tile lieutenant's drollery, they all retired.
In less than ten minutes I had solved the problem—thanks to my habit of seeing things
and remembering what I see. I sent a detail of twenty men to the lower end of the island to dig out two old ships' gun-carriages that were nearly buried in the sand.
Another squad went to the magazine for the garrison gin and all the rigging pertaining to it. The third squad was ordered to bring fifty or more boards to the upper batteries, where the entire company would report for duty.
Having adjusted everything to my satisfaction, I dismissed everybody from the battery to man the ‘fall.’
Some one here made the reassuring remark that my ‘rigging wouldn't sustain the weight of the gun.’
‘It must,’ I replied, as I anxiously noted the stretching of the ‘sling,’ and the nervousness of the legs and pry-pole of the gin as the weight of the gun began to get in its work.
As the trunnions left their bed, out of the darkness (we were working by night) came the warning, ‘Captain
, come out of the battery, or we'll have a funeral.’
‘Only one,’ I said, for I would allow no one in the battery with me. I will admit that I laid my hands very gingerly on the huge gun as I swung it into position to lower it into the trunnion beds of the old ship's gun-carriage placed on the parapet to receive it. All chatter had ceased.
As gently as a sleeping infant would be placed in its crib, this ‘Parrott
’ was lowered to its improvised carriage and eased down the slope of the sand battery and on to the board track on which it was to be transported to the wharf a mile away.
Now a question that had been put to me a hundred times, ‘What are you going to do with those old boards?’
was answered by the screaking trucks of a resurrected gun-carriage, as a jolly set of boys seized the dragrope
and walked away with the gun, while ‘boarders were called away’ to shift track.
At eleven o'clock at night (we began at seven), when I dismissed the company, one of the guns was on the wharf; the other one was resting half way on the road.
At ten o'clock the next morning the two guns, with 100 rounds of ammunition, were on the way to Mobile
; and not the slightest accident or hitch had interrupted the work.
And ‘what couldn't be done’ was thus accomplished, chiefly by less than half a hundred black boys, and during a night as dark as their faces.
That afternoon the engineer officer
in charge of the work on the fort called on me and asked me if I was an engineer.
I told him that I was simply an up-and-down, out-and-out Yankee
; and that my chief occupation was growling at my ill luck.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I know you seem to think that you are a misfit here, but, judging from what I saw of your performance last night, I believe that Providence
has placed you here; and if you will allow me, I think you had better stop grumbling.’
‘I didn't see you at the batteries,’ I said.
‘Well, I took special pains that you shouldn't see me,’ he replied.
‘But I have come to congratulate you on the handsome manner in which you have undone
some of my
It took me three weeks
to roll one
of those guns to the battery.
You have dismounted and shipped the two guns in less than six hours, and the chief part of the work was done by night.
With the facilities I have, by the time I could ship the guns they wouldn't be needed.’
And yet, the suspicion that I had been guilty of doing anything out of the ordinary hadn't entered my mind.
The rebuke for grumbling, however, I took to heart for use in all the future.
At different times we had received ‘distinguished guests’— for safe keeping.
After the capture of Mobile
, there were several thousand homeless rebels who sought shelter under our hospitable hospital tents, a large number of which we were able to command for their special benefit.
And I question if they ever before during their term of service fared so sumptuously.
My second lieutenant
was ‘commissary of prisoners,’ and 1 had ample opportunity to observe the manner in which they were entertained.
Indeed, I had the honor of receiving them on
their arrival at our post, and escorting them to their Union quarters.
Later I was detailed, with a guard of fifty men and an officer, to conduct about 300 commissioned officers, ranking from colonel to second lieutenant, to New Orleans for exchange.
I am free to confess that this service was infinitely more congenial to me than shooting them would have been.
My sympathy came quickly to the surface when the ranking officer seized my hand, and with quivering lips thanked me for the solicitude I had manifested for their comfort during the night trip to New Orleans; adding ‘that it was a continuation of the uniform kindness and consideration that had been extended to them on the island.’
According to a provision in Jefferson Davis
' ‘Proclamation,’ if captured, I would have been ‘reserved for execution
That ‘Proclamation’ of Jeff. Davis
, promulgated on the twenty-third day of December, 1862, is a piece of the most villainous writing that has ever been brought to my notice.
And I believe it to be an historical fact that the author of it died ‘without a country.’
By a singular fatality, the close of the ‘War of the Rebellion
’ found me, after many changes of location, on duty on the desolate island where I first landed more than three years before.
But in our department there were still loose and ragged ends of the rebellion that required special attention; and the ‘well-seasoned’ Seventy-fourth Regiment, U. S. C. I., was one of the regiments retained to perform duties with which it had become familiar, and for which no regiment was better equipped.
Patriotism, loyalty are words which were not flippantly spoken by the men of my command; but by their devotion to duty they exemplified
their loyalty and patriotism most happily.
With strangely mixed emotions we read our orders to ‘proceed to New Orleans and prepare for muster-out.’
The sands of Ship Island
were not watered with my tears.
But when, on the twenty-first day of November, 1865, we received our honorable discharge from the service and our final pay, and I had performed my last official duty—distributed about $200 company savings, giving each man his share—and then took each man bv the hand and said a last good-by, something snapped.