1863 May 6: Edwin Levings Mentions the Battle of Grand Gulf and the Chancellorsville Campaign
Edwin Levings, with Company A of the 12th Wisconsin Infantry in Tennessee, mentions two battles in this letter. The first is Union General Ulysses S. Grant attacking the Grand Gulf batteries. The Battle of Grand Gulf was fought on April 29, 1863, when Grant’s forces and Union naval forces under Admiral David D. Porter led seven ironclads in an attack on the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, downriver from Vicksburg, Mississippi. Although the Confederates withstood the Union bombardment and prevented infantry from landing, the defeat will be only a minor setback to Grant’s plan to cross the Mississippi River and advance against Vicksburg.
The second is Union General Joseph Hooker crossing the Rappahannock and whipping the rebels. Unfortunately, Ed has only seen the earliest accounts. What became known as the Chancellorsville Campaign began with the crossing of the Rappahannock River by Hooker’s Union army on the morning of April 27, 1863, and concentrated near Chancellorsville on April 30. On May 2, Confederate General Robert E. Lee divided his army, sending Stonewall Jackson’s entire corps on a flanking march that routed the Union’s XI Corps, and led to Stonewall Jackson’s death by “friendly fire.” Ed surely would have mentioned Jackson’s death if he knew about it. The fiercest fighting of the battle—and the second bloodiest day of the entire Civil War—occurred on May 3, something else one would expect Ed to perhaps mention. The final outcome—which had not even happened yet—of the seven-day battle was a victory for the Confederates.
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.
Memphis, May 6th 1863
The last letter from you postmarked the 27th ult. [last month, April] came to hand four days ago. I have no special news to write, but guess I can find something that will interest. But first to some other matters, — you ask what you shall do with the money sent you, whether you shall put it at interest, speculate with it, or get some breaking done. As to the best manner of using it, we are both perfectly willing to confide in your judgement, for you know better than we, but we wish you to understand the money is yours, and hope you will use it as you choose. Money at interest is a good thing, yet speculation might pay better. If you see a good change to speculate with profit and consider it safe, why “dip in.” I presume, though, your choice would be to get some breaking done. This is my choice and Homer’s also. I think it would pay first rate, better than anything that now occurs to me. Jack and Kelsy [sic: Wallace Kelsey] think it would be the best investment; besides it would put the farm in a shape to sell, which it can not do readily, as it is, at any time. There would be a clear profit in it. Suppose you should get 20 acres broken,—it would cost $5.00 per acre. The seed (that is, wheat) $25.00. And if you give your own time and that of your horse, as you doubtless would, the rails and fencing would be $20.00, perhaps,—putting in the crop, $15.00—harvesting, $20.00. Estimating the yield at 500 bushels, & the threshing, at 4 cts. and the help at $15.00. The threshing would foot up to $35.00, that is, from the shock. Other expenses say $10.00. The whole outlay stands $225: Should wheat bring 90 cts. 500 bushels would give you $450. Deducting expenses, and there would be the handsome profit of $225. Should the yield be but 20 but bushels per acre and wheat but 80 cts., there would be a profit of $100. or more. This may not be correct, but shows whether it would pay or not.—But you know best what to do, and you must do as you choose.
The news this morning was Grant has attacked and gained possession of the Grand Gulf batteries & captured 1500 prisoners and that his gunboats and transports have passed rebels up the Big Black River. The Vicksburgh [sic] rebels are beginning to tremble in their rags. Our Cav. have penetrated to the rear of Jackson and destroyed the bridges & other property rendering escape or reinforcements not easy, if possible. Hooker is across the Rappahannock and has whipped the rebels. We await further news with impatience. No fears of him, nor of Rosecrans [William S. Rosecrans] and I have more confidence in Grant than ever. The secesh here look gloomy enough and evidently think their cause hopeless. No trading with people living outside the lines is allowed. They try in every imaginable way to smuggle goods through the lines to the rebels, and the utmost vigilance is required to prevent it. The orders from the Gen. are to the pickets, to search every person, male or female that passes them, and it is done. You don’t believe it, do you? [paragraph break added]
Well, Dr. Jones of Hudson is here on a visit and will see you he says, if he goes through R.F. [River Falls] he can tell you more than I dare. The women are respectable as any Southern women and are worse than the men. A while ago a map of the fort & fortifications, locations & numbers of troops was found on one of these women. The other day two women were attempting to pass the pickets, their petticoats filled with quinine & tea. Revolvers have been found on them. Think of finding quinine under in a saddle sewed up, ammunition in an old dead horse being dragged out of town. When down in Miss. The other day, I came across a letter of the 29th March 1863 written by a lady. She complained bitterly of the rigor of the Federal troops, said she had been to Memphis, but they would not let her bring away a single article unless she took the oath of allegiance & that she would not do, so she was sent out of the lines & so utterly disgusted was she at the little Yanks that she said she never wanted to see Memphis again, till their troops got possession of it, a hope she never will realize.
The weather to-day is rainy, cold and chilly and we have to have a fire in the tent. We have got some dried apples & peaches & butter, the former 12 cts, the latter 40 cts, high enough. We are comfortable enough, healthy, and have but little to do. How are you? Let us know what you are doing, how you like the horse, how many cows you keep. Have you made the garden? [paragraph break added]
Ryder and Wilson¹ are detailed from the Co. for Pioneer² duty, two men from each Co. in every Regt. Are detailed & are quartered near the Gen. It looks as though we might go somewhere by and by. There will be stirring news from Vicksburgh [sic] soon, Banks [Nathaniel P. Banks] is playing out rebels in La. [paragraph break added]
I must stop. Write soon, all of you. Yours affect[ionately],
1. Haskell Ryder, or Rider as the muster roll says, was from Ontonagan. Robert Wilson was from Prescott.
2. A Pioneer is usually a soldier used to perform engineering and construction tasks. It can also be a small assault force. The term comes from the British Army.