1862 July 3: “The firing of a mortar in the night looks splendid, and is equal to fire-works”
A letter from the 4th Wisconsin Infantry in Mississippi; the Hudson City Guards were Company G. This letter was published in the July 23, 1862, issue of The Hudson North Star.
Admiral David Farragut had just returned to Vicksburg with a flotilla in late June 1862. The bombardment on June 26–28 that Charlie describes in his letter failed to cause the surrender of Vicksburg. The Union will continue to shell Vicksburg throughout July and fight some minor battles with a few Confederate vessels in the area, but their forces were insufficient to attempt a landing. They will finally abandon attempts to force the surrender of the city in 1862 and will not take Vicksburg until 1863.
FROM THE HUDSON CITY GUARDS.
[FRANK B. CLARKE, Esq., very kindly permits us to make the following interesting extracts from private letters from CHARLIE ALLYN and HENRY A. WILSON.—ED.]
OFF VICKSBURG, ON BOARD STEAMER }
“LAUREL HILL,” July 3d, 1862. }
DEAR FRANK :—Doubtless ere this, you have been expecting a letter from me, and wondering why I do not write. I wrote Darling a long letter while in Baton Rouge, and told him that I would write you in a few days, which time found me quartered on the hurricane deck of this steamer, where we have been for nearly three weeks ; a place which I assure you affords anything but conveniencies [sic] for writing ; but to-day being cool, and having the good fortune to secure a flour barrel for a writing desk, I thought I would “spear in” and let you know what we are doing. Since I wrote Charlie, we have been participants and witnesses of exciting scenes. We pursued a regiment of rebels all one day, killed several, and took a number of prisoners, but did not succeed in capturing the main body ; have had no pitched battles as yet, but one or two skirmishes. At Grand Gulf in Mississippi, our transports were fired upon again, when Gen. Williams [Thomas R. Williams] gave us orders to burn the town which we did with a will, and it was one of the most magnificent sights that I ever beheld. Upwards of fifty buildings were burning at once ; some of which were beautiful residences, and among which was a large church.
We arrived here on the afternoon of the 25th ultimo [June 25], and during that time have seen the splendor and terror of a bombardment.—None but those who have been an eye witness, can have any idea of it. I almost consider my experience and the sights that I have seen on this river, worth my term of enlistment. On Thursday afternoon, the 26th, the Mortar boats having formed into line of battle, opened on the rebel works and continued until dark, when they having got a good range ceased firing.—On Saturday morning I awoke about three o’clock to witness a sight that any one would be proud to see. The whole fleet, consisting of seventeen Mortar boats, ten Gunboats, and three Sloops of War, opened a terrific fire of shot and shell on the works, which was vigorously replied to by the rebels. The smoke was so thick that we could only tell the position of the fleet, by the flashes from the mortars and cannons. This terrible bombardment lasted until six o’clock, when it was reported that the rebels asked time to bury their dead—the truth of which I am not prepared to vouch for. During the action two of the sloops and several of the gunboats run by the city, and are now above with Davis’ fleet.1 Since that morning there has been no severe engagement, but most of the time heavy firing, and several times while I have been writing I have heard the heavy peal of the Mortars. I guess that the Navy have a bigger job on hand than they expected. I have not the least doubt but that they can take it, but think that they are waiting for the land forces under Gen. Curtiss [sic: Samuel R. Curtis], to get into the rear so as to bag the whole force which is supposed to be about thirty thousand under Generals Bragg [Braxton Bragg], Pillow [Gideon J. Pillow] and Van Dorn [Earl Van Dorn]. I should not be surprised if one of the most bloody battles of the war was fought in the rear of Vicksburg. Capt. Todd,2 a brother of Mrs. Lincoln, has command of one of the batteries below the city. They are at work here making a canal across a point, which, if it works, will cut Vicksburg off from the river and which will give us possession of the river, even if we don’t take the city. We have over a thousand slaves at work, and if the water does not fall too fast, boats will be running through in a week.
I was over to Davis’ fleet yesterday. It is really a curiosity and is a very great contrast from Farrigut’s [sic]. The gunboats look like the roof of a house floating along on the water.—They opened fire from their mortars last evening, which I suppose was to get range, and I shall not be surprised if they celebrate the 4th by a general attack from both fleets. I also went up on the point and could plainly see the fortifications and guns, also the sentries walking their beats on the works.
The fireing [sic] of a mortar in the night looks splendid, and is equal to fire-works. First, we can see the flames shot into the air forty or fifty feet, then we can trace the shell which looks like a large star, and often see it burst into their works. We are about three and one-half miles from the Mortars, and at times the shock is so great that it jars the boat. The shell when loaded weighs 225 pounds, and they use, in all, from twenty-five to thirty pounds of powder per charge. We have a good view of the city being about five miles down the river.
My health continues good, not having been sick since I left the North. The health of the Company is very good what there is of them here. About twenty are at Baton Rouge in the hospital, none of whom are dangerous, but none were permitted to accompany the expedition who could not endure the great hardships which we have. Sergeant Green has been discharged, and several others are expecting to be, among whom are John Van Meter and John Comstock. Billy Dexter3 will be Sergeant and a good one too. Gus is still in the Commissary Department, and is well. He is on the General’s boat. Lieut. Wing4 is unable to do duty. I had a long talk with him yesterday. He is in low spirits, and told me that if he did not get better he would give some one the benefit of his position. Lieutenant Keefe is well, and is the only officer the Company has, as Capt. White is sick in New Orleans. Most of our “Band Boys” have been sick, and we was reported unfit for duty and did not play for two weeks, but are now on duty again.5
From your young friend, CHARLIE.
1. Charles Henry Davis (1807-1877) was a career naval officer. In November 1861 he was promoted to captain and in May 1862 was made Acting Flag Officer in command of the Western Gunboat Flotilla. On June 6, 1862, his ships had fought in the Battle of Memphis, which resulted in the sinking or capture of seven of the eight Confederate ships. In July, he cooperated with Flag Officer David G. Farragut in an attack on Vicksburg, Mississippi—the subject of this letter—but they were forced to withdraw.
2. Four of Mary Todd Lincoln’s brothers and half-brothers fought for the Confederacy. Mary’s only full-brother to serve was George Rogers Clark Todd (1825-1900), who was a surgeon in a Confederate hospital in South Carolina. Samuel B. Todd (1830-1862) died at the Battle of Shiloh on April 8, 1862. David Humphreys Todd (1830-1871) became a notorious warden of a Confederate prison. Alexander Humphreys Todd (1839-1862) will be killed during the Battle of Baton Rouge (Louisiana) on August 5, 1862. Alexander is most probably the Captain Todd referred to here.
3. Corporal William E. Dexter, originally from Boston, will die of “disease” on August 15, 1862, in New Orleans. He never became a sergeant.
4. 1st Lieutenant Isaac H. Wing, from Hudson, will resign on August 20, 1862. He will be replaced by 2nd Lieutenant James Keefe, also from Hudson, on August 24.
5. Charles H. Allyn, “Charlie,” from Eau Claire was in the 4th Wisconsin Infantry’s Band. You can see the full roster of Band members in the online Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers. Local “Band Boys” were: William B. Hatch, Jr. (Hudson), Joseph L. Jones (Hudson), F. C. Smith (Hudson), Henry J. White (Hudson), and William H. Winchester (River Falls).