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1863 December 26: Chasing the Rebels Around Mississippi

February 2, 2014

The following letter from someone (“W.”) in the 12th Wisconsin Infantry, reprinted from the Madison State Journal, appeared in the January 30, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  Edwin Levings tells the same story as this letter writer, in much less detail, in his December 24, 1863, letter.

From the 12th Regiment.

Correspondence of the State Journal.

NATCHEZ, MISS., Dec. 26th, 1863.

Again has “the marching Twelfth” tried its capabilities for traveling, and again it has succeed in getting over considerable ground in fine style and short time.  Again has it sought a “foeman worthy of its steel,” and again it has been disappointed ;  the redoubtable “graybacks” most unaccountably getting wind of our approach, getting up a grand skedaddle and leaving for parts unknown with such vigorous effort that we failed even to get a dissolving view of their rebellious rears.

But to particularize :  At noon on the 21st Dec. orders were quietly issued to be all ready to march at 1 o’clock p.m. with “40 rounds of cartridge, 3 days rations of bread and groceries, 1 day’s meat, and salt enough to season 2 days’ rations of fresh meat.”  Several companies of cavalry went out on the Pine Ridge road ;  and about 2 o’clock  p.m. the infantry force, consisting of the 29th and 32d Ills., with “ours,” and four guns under Capt. Rodgers, the whole under command of Brig. Gen. Gresham [Walter Q. Gresham], moved out on the Washington road, reaching the village of Washington, 6 miles out, just at dusk.  As the principal portion of the inhabitants were looking from their doors at the unusual military display, Col. Proudfit,¹ of “ours,” with a delicate perception of their wants, which does him honor, in order to complete the glorious pageant, and gratify their prejudices, requested the field-music to play that good old tune, “Old John Brown,” which was accordingly performed in an effective manner, judging by the paid insertion of aristocratic fingers into feminine ears, and the sudden disappearance of sundry fair ladies within the grateful barriers of doors and walls.

We crossed Washington Creek on a very good bridge, which spanned a wide bayou, now nearly dry, but at times holding water enough for gunboats to manœuver in.  Here we halted and rested, filled our canteens, and prepared for further adventures.  Some companies of mounted infantry under Col. Farrar² of the 30th Missouri, moved to the front as an advance guard, and to act as “investigating committee,” in case of opposition being offered to our progress.

Crossing St. Catharine’s bridge, and another little run, now nameless and bridgeless we marched on some 101 miles by moonlight, bivouacking in a corn-field on the banks of Holt’s creek, about 12 o’clock p.m.  As the ground was very thoroughly water-soaked, our rest was not of the most comfortable character, but we cared little for that, seeing that we were “stealing a march” upon our traitor-foe.  A party of the miserable scamps had been visiting at Washington and retired at our approach, eating supper at the house of the owner of the field where we were staying, but again fell back before our arrival, to their main body beyond Fayette.

At daylight we were again on the road, crossing Holt’s and Evan’s creeks, proceeding in peace and quiet to within two miles of Fayette, where we halted for dinner.  At 1 o’clock p. m. we again stated, but this time on the back-track, it having been ascertained that Wirt Adams, the rebel commander, had declined the honor of a Christmas visit from our forces, broke up his encampment and was on his way to Christie’s Springs, 90 miles from Fayette, on the “double quick.”

We marched back several miles and cooked supper, during which we learned that the Marine Brigade had landed at Rodney and had been fighting the rebels back towards Fayette, and had driven some 150 Mounted Infantry through the town since we had started back, and if we had remained there they would have fallen into our hands.  A Lieutenant and some four or five privates were brought past us under guard, and we were informed that the Marine Brigade had got some fifty or sixty more prisoners, the product of several skirmishes along the road to Fayette, and its vicinity.

It being cloudy and threatening weather, it was decided to fall back to the west side of Holt’s Creek, as it has the reputation of getting “high” on very short notice, and keeping in that condition for an unreasonable length of time without paying the least respect to any person’s necessities.  During the very last rain, it had gone on a regular “high old time,” and drowned a rebel Lieutenant who was attempting to cross with a small scouting party.  We traveled along rapidly, an occasional shower besprinkling us, until we crossed the creek, and bivouacked in the woods by the side of the road about 9 o’clock P. M.

At daylight we again fell in and started along—the old 12th leading the column—reaching Washington about 10 A. M.; our field-music ravishing the ears if not the hearts of its population with the melodious strains of “Yankee Doodle,” safely arriving at home about 2 o’clock P. M., an event that gave unbounded satisfaction to many a sore-footed hero, as their cheers abundantly testified.

Since leaving Natchez for Vicksburg, we have received a visit from Mrs. Harvey [Cordelia A. P. Harvey], thro’ whose interposition, it is alleged, the regiment has received a set of new wedge tents, in which we are now snugly esconced [sic], bidding defiance to rain and storm, a condition we have often wished for during the past year, but with only faint hopes of ever obtaining.  You may be sure that Mrs. Harvey has lost no friends in this regiment by her kindness.

Our regiment is in a most healthy condition, not more than one to three having been in the hospital at any one time for weeks past.

There is considerable excitement among the troops here on the subject of re-enlistment, and many are coming forward to sustain the honor and preserve the glory of our noble country.  It is supposed that this regiment will soon be entitled to go home and reorganize, on account of their re-enlisting so freely.

The weather is quite mild and open yet, and although we have frosty nights occasionally, we enjoy it exceedingly.

The military of this Post have been enjoying Christmas hugely.  Balls, dinners and parties have been the order of the day, and tipsy uniforms might be seen upon “their winding way” at all hours of night.  Arrests, of course, have been plentiful, but then as “Christmas comes but once a years,” everybody goes in for enjoyment, and laughs at trouble.

W.

1.  James K. Proudfit, from Madison, became the lieutenant colonel of the 12th Wisconsin Infantry on July 30, 1863; he will become the colonel on November 21, 1864. George E. Bryant was still the colonel at this point.
2.  Bernard Gaines Farrar (1831-1916), from St. Louis, was colonel of the 30th Missouri Infantry. He led Blair’s brigade in the siege of Vicksburg and subsequently at Natchez, Mississippi, where he became commander of the District of Natchez. In August 1863, while assigned to the post at Natchez, he recruited a regiment of African-American soldiers, which became the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery.

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