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1863 December 10: “We have been chasing rebels since I last wrote, in rear of Natchez”

December 10, 2013

In E. B. Quiner’s Military History of Wisconsin,¹ we find that the 12th Wisconsin Infantry “On the 4th of December, they again embarked for Natchez on a fruitless expedition after Wirt Adams’ cavalry,² from which they returned to Vicksburg on the 23d of January, 1864.”  Part of that “fruitless expedition” is what Edwin Levings is describing below.

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.

 Natchez Miss. Dec 10th /’63

My Dear Parents,

                             I have to write this morning with a pencil and with a tin plate for a table.  You are surprised, no doubt, to learn of our return to Natchez.  We have been chasing rebels since I last wrote, in rear of Natchez.  A force of 3,000 of them left Black River & were preparing to pounce on the city & get the Commissary stores.  The 32nd Ill., our regiment, a Cav. brigade & about a 1000 marines, with artillery left camp at Clear Creek on the 4th.  Took the boats at dark & reached Natchez next evening.  At midnight we marched quietly out to the picket lines.  At 10 o’clock of the 6th, we were in pursuit of the rebels, found where they camped the night previous.  We expected to have a battle that afternoon, but did not.  Gen. Gresham [Walter Q. Gresham] addressed a few words of explanation to us, told what he wanted, that we must whip the rebels or “go up the spout,” &c.  We marched 18 miles, camping south-east of Natchez.  [paragraph break added]

Next morning at 9 our Cav. began skirmishing with the rebels.  We hurried forward at at [sic] a double quick, across a wild, dashing brook then up a long winding hill, till we came in sight of the rebel position which was on a high ridge overlooking the country many miles,—a sort of Lookout Mountain.  The rebels had a battery on the hights [sic].  It was thought they had not seen our Infty., & we were immediately ordered to fall back across the creek & take a position for the purpose of drawing the rebels into a trap.  We did so.  The Cav. falling back for that purpose.  We had a splendid position, but Gen. Gresham was out[-]generaled here, I think.  We had only encountered the rear guard of the rebels & did not know it,—3 or 400, only.  Immediately on our withdrawal, they came down the hill and dashed up the bed of the creek to the Kingston road, to get us to follow them & not their main force.  We were a mile from them & in the woods.  Didn’t understand the game, then.  Knew nothing of the Kingston road striking the creek and so we were foiled.  They were not anxious to fight us & got away.  We tried to get around them, but failed.  Had we let alone strategy, and pitched right at them, we might have carried the hills and done something.  [paragraph break added]

The marines did not go with us — they went out on the Pine Ridge road.  We followed the Washington road till we came to another running south round the city, & at no time were we more than 12 miles from it.  Had the Infy. taken the Woodville road which is much shorter, we should have headed them off & got them bagged.  The Cav. lost a few killed and wounded.  The Gen. was a little chagrined, I guess, for when we camped that night, he told us to take anything we wanted outside the houses and we did.  We lived high the night of the 7th Dec.  Long shall we remember it.  Just think of it, Beef, mutton, turkey, chicken, fresh pork, sugar, molasses, milk, butter, honey, potatoes.  But Mother, as a certain woman said to her visitors, “We don’t live like this every day.”— Call on us to day and you will find us eating our regular hard tack.  [paragraph break added]

We got back from our chase day before yesterday, having marched 40 miles.  It is useless to set infantry after rebel Cavalry.  We came down here on a fleet of 8 steamers and somebody outside the city threw up a rocket in the night & let the rebels know that reinforcements had come.  So you see how our plans were defeated.  We may go somewhere else on a scout, but now we expect to stay here till our camp equipage arrives.

We hear Lee [Robert E. Lee] has been badly whipped.  Dale [Wilber Dale] is somewhat sick with chills and fever, though not dangerous.  We are both perfectly well.  We have received those stamps.  On the 3rd we got a letter from you & one from Cousin Dwight.  He had been home on furlough.  An order was issued permitting the N. Y. Convalescent soldiers and those not on duty to go home on furlough of ten days & vote.  By some Copperhead dodge the train he was on, was detained and he did not get home in time to vote.  Grandmother was well & wanted to hear from us.  We had written her & she had got the letter.  Has David Burr³ been heard from yet?  How are you all getting along?  Hope we shall soon hear from you and from Hattie and Louisa,4 too.  The weather is damp and chilly.  I must close now so good bye,

From Edwin
. . . . . . . . . . . .. . . .Dec. 10th 1863

1.  Military History of Wisconsin, by E. B. Quiner (Chicago: 1866), chapter 20, page 578. (UWRF Archives E 537 .Q56 1866; available digitally on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s website).
2.  William Wirt Adams (1819-1888) was a banker and planter in Mississippi near Jackson and Vicksburg. He served two sessions in the Mississippi House of Representatives. When the Civil War started, he formed the “Wirt Adams” Cavalry Regiment. They fought a rear-guard action in the Confederate retreat from Kentucky to Nashville, Tennessee, and subsequently to Corinth, Mississippi. Wirt’s regiment fought at the Battle of Shiloh, and were on outpost duty during the Siege of Corinth. After the fall of Vicksburg, both his regiment and the 28th Mississippi Cavalry harassed and skirmished units under General William T. Sherman. In September 1863, Adams was commissioned as brigadier general assigned command of a brigade composed of both his regiment and the command of Colonel Logan. In February 1864, he attacked General Sherman’s advance on Meridian, Mississippi. Near the end of the war, he operated alongside General Nathan B. Forrest in Alabama. He and his brigade surrendered near Ramsey Station in Sumter County, Alabama, on May 4, 1865.
3.  David C. Burr, from River Falls, was in Company F of the 1st Wisconsin Infantry. He was taken prisoner at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19-20, 1863) and will die in Danville Prison (Va.) on December 29, 1863.
4.  Ed’s cousins, Harriet Lucinda (“Hattie”) and Lucy Louisa Levings, daughters of Ed’s father’s brother, Alpheus Hall Levings.

Edwin Levings letter of December 10, 1863, from the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO) in the University Archives & Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Edwin Levings letter of December 10, 1863, 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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