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1862 May 3: “We arrived safe and sound at the levee at this place [New Orleans] on the first day of May”

May 3, 2012

The “original” letter is in the Frank D. Harding Papers (River Falls Mss AB), University of Wisconsin-River Falls University Archives & Area Research Center.  The “original” in this case, however, is a photocopy.  It is much larger than normal (13½ x 11 inches), written on some sort of ledger paper rather than stationery.  As usual, Franks punctuation and capitalization leave a lot to be desired by modern readers.  We have tried to add punctuation where it made sense, but have not changed his capitalization.

Be warned that the letter relates incidents about slaves that the 4th Wisconsin encountered and Frank uses the vernacular of the time when referring to them.

New Orleans May 3d 1862

Dear Father
You have doubtless heard before this of the surender [sic] of this city.  I will not attempt to give you the details of the bombardment for you will see the whole account of it in the newspapers, but I will give you an account of our trip up here.

In the first place we left Ship Island on the 15th and sailed to the S.W. pass of the Mississippi. There we laid for over a week awaiting the action of the gun boats.  On the 28th we were ordered to weigh anchor and proceed to the rear of Forts [Saint] Philip & Jackson and there debark and march to the forts and make an attack.  We arrived there the next day and part of our troops had landed when the news came that the forts had surrendered and we were ordered back to the S.W. pass and there await farther orders.  Well we started on our back track and arrived there that same night, in the morning there was a boat came down from New Orleans and took part of us on board and away we steamed for this place.

Our passage up the river was very pleasant.  We enthusiastically cheered by the negro’s but scarsly [sic] saw a white person.  For the first time in my life I saw a gang of field hands to work, they were hoeing sugar cane, had an Overseer over them with his long whip (a negro by the way).  as we passed they looked [at] us very wishfull [sic] but did not dare to say or do any thing [sic].  I noticed one little nigger however get behind a large bush and there wave his hat like fury.  As we passed different gangs where the overseers were away the niggers would point to the Stars & Stripes and wave their hats, all too once some old fellow would throw his hat on the ground an put his foot on it pointing all the while to our flag.  For a long time we couldn’t make out what they meant but finaly [sic] a negro on board said they that meant to tell us that they were glad that the old flag had come back and that their masters wouldn’t dare to use them so bad.  When we would see a gang to work we would run the boat very near the shore and the band would strike up some lively tune then you should see the hoes fly.  They would throw them as far as they could and then join hands and the way they would hoe it down was a caution.  I often thought if you could have been along you would enjoyed  yourself as well as you ever did in your life.  I think that I laughed more that day than I shall for a  year to come.  [paragraph break added]

Forts Phillip [sic] & Jackson were badly battered.  We had one of the prisonors [sic] with us, he said that he helped tie Col Hawkins and that he was mightly [sic] glad that we had got along.  I asked him how he came to enlist, he said that he was out one Evening with some fellows and an officer  asked them to drink, that was the last he recollected for three days when he found himself in the forts, and that he said was the way of more than half of the troops in the Southern army.  He said when the bombardment commenced that the officers cut away the briges [sic] and locked the gates of the fort so that no one could get out.  At first when the shells came they would strike in the mud and water and go out, but finaly [sic] they got to coming so fast that they dried up the mud and would burst killing them—the rebbels [sic]—in every direction.  This man told me that if the firing had been kept up one half hour longer the first night that they would have had to surrender.  But as the fireing [sic] ceased they held out, but finaly [sic] when the gun boats began to pour in the canister & grape they tried & gaged [sic] their officers and then made a run of it.  The prisoners that were taken were arranged in a line and asked if they would take the Oath of Aligiance [sic] they said they would so it was administered, just then our boat came up with a large flag flying.  One of their Sergeants stepped out of the ranks and said now boys three cheers for the old flag, we’d never again desert her.  [paragraph break added]

Well we arrived safe and sound at the levee at this place on the first day of May.  We were hissed and groaned at but after arresting a few they have become quite peaceble [sic].  Gen Butler1 is quartered at the St Charles Hotel.  Last night the Mob got around the house and commenced groaning and hissing.  He sent up for our Regt, we went down double quick and the way they traveled was a caution.  Our Band went into the House and played our national airs.  While they played the Red White & Blue and the Star Spangled banner the crowd was quite but when they struck up Yankey Doodle there was a great commotion in the crowd.  I heard one man say that he had rather given one thousand dollars than to had that d—d [damned] tune played in the City.  When we landed our boat at the wharf we threw a line out expecting some of the crowd to catch it but not one would touch it.  Our Maj. told one fellow to catch it but he wouldn’t and commenced saucing him.  As soon as the Maj. got on shore he went up to him and licked him like (as the fellow said) the d—l [devil].  The stores here are all closed, and they won’t sell any thing [sic] to the d—d Yankeys, so the d—d Yankeys want any thing [sic] they take a [sic] axe and break in a store and take what they want.  Our Regt is quartered in the Costom [sic] House a large stone building which occupies the whole of one block.  they have been thirteen years in building it and it is not half done yet.  They used the lower part of it for the manufacture of gun carriges [sic] and when we came they had a great quantity of them on hand, but had set fire to them as they were of oak they would not burn very good so we have them.

On the morning after we arrived some of the boys in hunting about found a lot of liquors & wines stowed away, you can imagine how they had to suffer.  I had for my portion twenty bottles of Champaign [sic] and one doz. of porter.  We also found great quantities of postage stamps.  I shall send you some and you can give them to your friends.  I will also send you some of their money, they say it is good as gold here but still no one will take it.  Scince [sic] we started on this expedition I have been in the Quarter Masters Department and at the present time we have a first rate room which one week ago was used as the post Office.  It looks odd now to see it piled up with Barrells [sic] and boxes.  Monday next our Western Regts are to go on an expedition up the river, at what point we shall strike is not known as yet.  I rec’d a letter from you yesterday, it was forward[ed] from Ship Island.  You must write me often I am sure to get all your letters for the future direct your letters to Washington as they will be kept as to our whereabouts. I met at Ship Island.  You must write me often.  I am sure to get all your letters for the future, direct your letters to Washington as they will be kept posted as to our whereabouts.  I met at Ship Island Warren Lillie, Bob White, the Putnam boy, also Coxall.2  They are all now with the exception of White here.  Now I will bid you good bie [sic] for the present, give my love to Mother & Diantha & believe me

Your Dutiful Son
Frank D Harding

1.  Benjamin Franklin Butler (1818-1893)  was a lawyer before the Civil War and a politician after the War who represented Massachusetts in the U. S. House of Representatives (1867-1879) and as the 33rd Governor of Massachusetts (1883-1884). During the War, he served as a major general in the Union Army where he earned the nickname “Beast Butler” from Southern whites who hated his policies. The Wikipedia article on Butler states, “his policies regarding slaves as contraband, his administration of occupied New Orleans, his ineffectual leadership in the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, and the fiasco of Fort Fisher rank him as one of the most controversial political generals of the War.”
2.  Frank Harding was from Brooklyn, Connecticut, and his father still lived there. Warren Lillie was with the 12th Connecticut Infantry at Ship Island, Robert White with the 11th Connecticut, probably William Putnam of the 12th Connecticut, and Henry E. Coxall of the 9th Connecticut.

Frank Harding letter of May 3rd, 1862, from the Frank D. Harding Papers (River Falls Mss AB) in the University Archives & Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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