1863 December 20: “Uncle Sam has some rascals in the Commissary, who make it a practice to steal about 2/5 of our rations and sell them, pocketing the money”
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 20th 1863
My Dear Parents,
A fortnight has passed and no letter from you. We think you must have written and that the letters are delayed. I suppose you are having considerable snow and cold weather now, and the river being closed, the mails must go by stage. We hope to hear from you in a few days at most, and a little oftener.
When I last wrote we were quartered in some old cotton store houses, awaiting orders. We have since drawn new tents (wedge shaped) and gone into winter quarters — have quit scouting and concluded to let the rebels come after us, if they want to fight. This is the third time we have gone into winter quarters and if we are not jerked out of them in three weeks, and moved a hundred miles or more, and back again, I shall think it strange. It is all right, no doubt, but we don’t have much success, for our pains. As you say, our experience with the rebels is like the paddy’s with his pig — when he got where he was, he wan’t there. We are camped just outside the fortifications in the edge of town, and have got things comfortable again. Could you witness the pains soldiers are at to fit up their quarters, and how soon they are obliged to leave them, your first thought would be how uncertain is life in the Army or, perhaps, I should say comfort. You would think too, soldiers had large patience. Now I will tell you what we have done — where we live and how we live. There are 4 of us, — Jones, Bowers¹ and our two selves — and we have dug a hole in the hard clay 3 feet in depth and boarded up on foot from the surface of the ground. Over this our little cloth house is spread, and on the back side are our bunks, one above the other, nice and warm. A nice brick fire place & chimney in one corner, and writing table, seat &c in another. No water can run in, as it is well banked up. Can you see how it looks? It is the only one in the Regt. [paragraph break added]
The Co. is is now in messes of 14 — have an abundance of rations now — not always the case though. — Uncle Sam has some rascals in the Commissary, who make it a practice to steal about 2/5 of our rations and sell them, pocketing the money. This Regt. has been basely cheated in this way often. I have seen the men go on picket many a time with but a few hard tack & coffee, who had to depend on what they could steal or buy of citizens at fabulous prices, or go hungry. This is a hard confession, but true. But you will ask how is it we have a plenty at one time and a scarcity another. A[_]. During the hot season the system did not require a full allowance — many were sick—, consequently full rations were not issued. The balance was appropriated by the shoulder strapped thieves. This custom was Regt. up till the men recovered their appetites which was about two months since, when a general complaint was made by all the Companies to their officers, persons who always have enough. They went to the Commissary about it then & since, as a general thing, we have not wanted, except when circumstances prevented the transportation of supplies. There is rascality, in the army. Officers, many of them, are careless in their attention to the men, many secretly contrive how to take advantage of military law, or connive at the ewindling practices of others, or are incredulous to these complaints. They hate to investigate, it is so hard in military cases many times to get a verdict of guilty. It is not as in civil cases. There a man for an offence can pay costs, while in military cases, if he can prove nothing against a man, the punishment which he intended for him, reverts on his own head. There is pretty good reason that much of the stuff sent by the Sanitary Committees to sick soldiers meets a similar disposal. I could tell you more, but fear to weary your patience. [paragraph break added]
I presume you would like to know whether we have any idea of reenlisting in the Veteran Corps. None at all. As far as I am concerned, I shall not bind myself down for 3 years longer, till I have been a citizen again & once more at home. $403.00 is no temptation to me at present. If I ever enlist again, it will be in the Artillery. That branch of the service is much easier, — no picket, always ride, no knapsack to carry. If I ever get home I think likely I shall want to be in the ranks again, after a few months, if the war is not ended. But at present I would like to see a few more of those nice young chaps up there hauled in the ranks. I notice H. Stone, Griffith, A. Childs, F. Hart, & Rollins² are drafted. Good! Good! Good! Me thinks some more will have to come after the 5th January. [paragraph break added]
To-morrow we shall be at work on the fortifications. Our duty at present is quite heavy. 15 or 20 men detailed for fatigue & picket daily. Sergt Libby³ is somewhat sick in the Regt’l. Hospital. The rest of the boys are quite well. I must now stop writing. Let us hear from you all soon, & often.
. . . . . . . . . . .E. D. Levings
1. John D. Jones, from Marinette, transferred from Company H; he will desert May 1, 1864. Henry Bowers, also from Marinette, also transferred from Company H; he will be killed in action July 21, 1864, at Atlanta.
2. Although slated to be drafted, none of these men seem to have served in a Wisconsin regiment.
3. Warren Libbey was from Hammond and enlisted September 23, 1861.