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1862 July 21: “We have been carrying out the Confiscation Measure”

July 21, 2012

A letter from Edwin Levings covering a variety of interesting topics. The original letter is in the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO), in the University Archives and Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Humbolt [sic] Tenn. July 21st/’62

Dear Parents:

                           Yours of the 14th was received on the 19th and I will now try to answer it.  I was glad you wrote, Mother for it is ever a pleasure to us to read your letter, but I wish you would write oftener.  Two papers were received the same day.

I presume you are particularly desirous to know what we are doing at present, so I will tell  you.  For the last week we have been carrying out the Confiscation Measure1 and without any extraordinary effort, have made quite a haul of cotton, sugar and molasses, estimated to be worth $ 25,000.  We have also discovered a lot of secesh tents and some merchandise, which will probably meet a similar fate.  We shall doubtless find more sugar and cotton belonging to these secesh.  Teams are passing me at this moment, going out to the country after this kind of property.  They must be expecting to make a big haul, as all our teams, about 25,  are going out and there is one Co. of our Regt. and another of the Ill.  Cav. with them as guard.  Our corn for the mul[e]s & horses is in part confiscated.  A receipt for the pay is given to those only who have been loyal.  How would you like that kind of business for awhile?  It makes the secesh squirm and scowl and the darkies tell us that their masters curse furiously when we are out of sight & say we will be driven out of here ere many days.  There are no class of soldiers in the army so good at ferreting out the genuine, rampant secesh as the Jayhawkers.  They have found large sums of money secreted and other valuable property.  The negroes tell where it is & laugh & grin right heartily to think we are giving it to their masters so.  Any information we desire they gladly give.  If a man has been loyal, be he the owner of slaves or not, they say so, & what man’s property is sacred.  They do  These loyal men make no complaints if the boys want a want a few apples &c, they are entirely welcome to them.  They do not come in the first day to take the oath just to get protection as these secesh do.  [paragraph break added]

But I must speak of another thing that will interest you more.  You are aware of the recent guerrilla raids that have been going on east of us.  It  is well known that if the rebels had proved victorious at Richmond as they expected, it was to be the signal for a strong uprising in Tenn & Ky among the rebels to sweep the “invaders” back.  They are in a great strait for they see they are hemmed in, and that to retrieve their misfortunes, they must act on the aggressive, and that is what they are doing, and they see too that they must strike, and strike fiercely, before the volunteers called for can get into the field to meet them.  Therefore the apprehension is strong here what they will make an assault on us here and in considerable force.  Something is brewing at any rate, for we have a strong picket guard out all the time — perhaps 100 — up & down the R. R. for 2 or 3 miles and out in the country.  The cavalry are on the move continually.  One night the Regt. slept with loaded guns and uniforms on, ready to spring at a moments warning.  I loaded my Belgian2  but rather distrustingly, but this war has known it to be policy to prepare for danger in times of fancied security. [paragraph break added]

The 8th Wis. Battery was ordered down here from Trenton the other night in the hardest rain storm I have seen in a long time.  You must remember this country is all woods & that there are no troops except along the R. R[o]ads, so what if any enemy is lurking about his presence would not be so readily known, but we can not be surprised.  There are 1500 Cav., a Battery & our own Regt. here and if any trouble occurs we shall be ready.  I understand more troops are coming here.  The rebels could do much mischief here if strong enough.  A loyal woman told me it makes that secesh of the place mad to see these trains of cars passing by every day.  You ought to see the am’t. of cotton that goes north on every train,—but a very small portion of it has been burnt.  There are a thousand bales at the depot now.  A bale weighs 500 lbs & is worth here $100 dollars; take away slavery and there is no business that would be so remunerative as the growing of cotton. [paragraph break added]

We do fare pretty well that’s a fact & draw our extra rations besides.  I was on picket the other day 2 miles down the R. R.  My companion was Lease.3  We had baked bread, coffee & sugar, meat & beans, potatoes & onions, cake & milk & apples.  We bought the cake but st__e, no, not exactly.  We extracted the milk from the cows belonging to a secesh.  They brought this war on & got us down here to kill us & destroy the country, now they must help support us.  What do you say?  Well, we constructed a nice little shelter opposite the trestle work we were to guard, out of logs, poles & shakes, & were enjoying ourselves finely down there in that swamp, but in the night the water drove us out wetting us completely.  The water was soon as foot deep where we were, so we had to “get up & dust” & “grin & bear it.”  But that is nothing.  We don’t mind such things.  We can stand anything & feel proud & thankful we can.  Some of those little bottles of medicine have got broken & their contents lost or about used up.  I wish you would send the following named bottles of medicine with the labels in some papers, in some such way as I did the pictures.  Arsenicum, Chamomilla, Colocynthis, Mercurius, Nux Vomica, Sulfur, Aconite.4

We are well.  Write me soon.  We will not be slow about keeping you posted.

Yours aff. [affectionately],

1.  Congress had just passed the Second Confiscation Act on July 17, 1862. The Act declared that Southern rebels convicted of treason were to be imprisoned and fined, and “all his slaves, if any, shall be declared and made free.” Also, that slaves taking refuge behind Union lines were captives of war who were to be set free.  More specific to what Ed and company are doing here, the Act further stated that the Army could seize “all the estate and property, money, stocks, credits, and effects of the persons hereinafter named in this section, and to apply and use the same and the proceeds thereof for the support of the army of the United States.”
2.  Ulysses S. Grant mentioned in his memoirs that about one-third of his troops still had smoothbore Belgian muskets in 1862. He claimed “they were as dangerous to the shooter as the target.” (Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant: In Two Volumes, New York: C. L. Webster & Co., 1886-1886, UWRF Archives special collections E 672 .G76.)  Also in 1862, in Kentucky, William Tecumseh Sherman complained about the substandard Belgian muskets that had been issued to his men. The broad term “Belgian musket,” however, could refer to scores of different arms, so we can’t tell from this exactly what rifle Ed was carrying and whether he loaded it distrustingly because he was wary of the rifle or wary of attack.
3.  John N. Lease, from Point Douglas, Minnesota, also of Company A.
4.  These are all traditional medicines made from plants, what we today would call homeopathic medicines. Aconite, for example, is also known as monkshood and wolf’s bane, and was used as a local anaesthesia, to slow the pulse and reduce heart palpitations, and to reduce fevers and treat colds, pneumonia, croup, etc., the latter probably being the reason Ed wanted it.

Edwin Levings letter of July 21, 1862, from the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO) in the University Archives & Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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