1863 November 3: Letter from Captain Maxson with the 12th Wisconsin
The following letter from Captain Orrin T. Maxson, written on November 3, 1863, appeared in the November 21, 1863 issue of The Prescott Journal. Unfortunately, someone cut out an article on page two (the back side of our letter) that takes out a large section of this letter. Instead we are left to gape through the hole at what appears on page 3! The missing information appears to be more election results from the 12th Infantry.
A warning before reading this letter: toward the end, Captain Maxson recounts the story of how a slave owner was treating one of his “laborers” and the punishment the Union officials gave him. In relaying the account, Maxson uses the “N” word several times.
From Captain Maxson.
CAMP 12th WIS INF’TY. . . . . . . .
Natchez, Miss. Nov. 3d, 1863.
L. A. TAYLOR : Sir :—As election is one of the battles of our times which are to decide the fate of our Country and the question of Democratic Governments for this generation, I take it for granted you would receive the result of the day in the precinct of Natchez.
The 12th Wisconsin cast 510 votes for Lewis, 12 for Palmer, 40 for Young, 26 for Elwell; Winn, 24; Thayer, 20; Maynard, 14; Sands 5; Lauder, 5; Wilcox and Hatch each one.
[. . .] heads to another years’ stay in the ___.¹ Of such the 12th had 12.
We are now taking the world very easy, we have an important duty, that of keeping the Mississip [Mississippi River] free from guerillas [sic] for a distance of about seventy-five miles. This we do by frequent expeditions into the country each side of the river. We have built barracks for winter use, but winter does not come. One shuns the heat of the sun here now, as you would in the hottest days of July in Wis. The leaves are green, and gardens clothed with flowers, as in July. An iceberg from our Wisconsin homes would be grateful in our water pail.
We occasionally have a little fun with the old planters, who have been in the habit of treating their laborers with much more severity than they would their mules, as they did not fear the mules, while the everlasting nigger might get too high notions; consequently many believed they should beat them at least once a week to keep them good niggers. A case occurred here a few days since; a Dr. Wood, a man much the form of Dunbar’s clock man — well, for stomach, a good match for John Dale, with a decided pompous style, accustomed to command with iron rule, appeared at the Provost Marshall’s office with a complaint of insubordination against his chambermaid.
On investigation it was proven that the girl had made his bed, and the wife caused it to be made over. It still was unsatisfactory, and the girl received orders to re-do her work. She protested she could do it no different, when the Dr. knocked her down with his cane, and beat her, cutting her head severely, and desisted only when the cane was broken. She, being contaminated with the notions which the Blacks in general have received from the soldiers, fled, and the case came before the Provost Marshall [sic].—The Dr. claimed the girl; the girl claimed protection. After a hearing, the Provost ordered the Dr. to accompany a guard, to whom a commitment to jail was given. Both started, but as on leaving the court-house the guard led the way toward the jail, Mr. gold-headed cane man halted and asked where they were going. The guard told him to follow and he would learn, whereupon the Dr. refused, but being told he could take his choice, followed, or be followed by a bayonet, he concluded to make a philosopher of himself and submit to his necessity. As the boys say, we was left playing checkers with his nose in the grates of the jail window. The supposition is a few games will teach him that some folks have rights and feelings a well as others.
Hoping that the Union men will not only carry Wisconsin, but carry it by a crushing majority,
I am respectfully yours,
. . . . . . . . . . . . .O. T. MAXSON.
1. The top half of the letters making up this last word in the sentence are missing, victims of the cut-out article. It looks like it could be “herd,” but without more context it is hard to say for sure what the word is.