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1864 February 6: Letter From the 11th Wisconsin Describing Their Trip to Texas

February 11, 2014

The following letter was printed in the February 6, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  It is reprinted from the Madison (Wis.) State Journal and was written by an unknown member of the 11th Wisconsin Infantry in Texas.

From The 11th Wisconsin.

Correspondence of the State Journal.

DECROW’S POINT, Texas, Jan. 4th, 1864.

You of course know of all our movements, still, as travel is always accompanied by incident, I will revert to our changes since the date of my last letter.  We left New Iberia on the 8th of November and arrived at Berwick on the evening of the 9th, having marched 51 miles in two days.  We crossed the Bay at Brashear City and arrived at Algiers on the 17th, embarked on the steamer Thos. A. Scott on the 19th, and sailed from New Orleans at noon on the 20th.  While at Algiers we got back our camp equipage that had been in store at New Orleans ever since our departure from Carrolton, but it was in such condition that we hardly valued what was left of it.  It appeared to have been free plunder for everybody, there was hardly a knapsack that had not been opened and rifled, very few of the officers trunks or valises had anything left in them ;  more indiscriminate plunder of property can hardly be imagined.

We had as fellow travellers [sic] on board the Scott, General Hamilton,¹ Military Governor of Texas, and his staff ;  Gen. Tolbert, a Texan, and Gen. Cortes, a Mexican, with his interpreter.  It is well enough to travel in distinguished company on some occasions, but in the present instance the Generals and their retinues occupied all the berths with the exception of three, and these were left for the accommodation of about forty officers, so that I think we all wished the Generals in some other company.

The narrative of a sea voyage, like a tale of wooing, has been so often told that it would be strange if any new feature could be gleaned from one short trip.  Of course the great event is sea sickness, but this in  a large crowd like ours, (600 men) is only a questionable evil, for miserable as the sensation is, it is known to be so insignificant in comparison with the more serious ills a soldier’s “flesh is heir to,” that it is always regarded as food for merriment, and even the poor unfortunate might between spells find consolation in the knowledge that he had afforded amusement to a large number of his comrades.

Passing one distressed-looking individual, who in better days I had known as a very different looking man, he wiped his forehead, and, with a desperate effort to rise superior to his fate, remarked, “I wish that the man who wrote ‘Life on the Ocean Wave’ was on board this ship, I’d throw him overboard.”  We anchored off Brazos de Santiago about noon on the 23d of November.  The Scott drew too much water to pass any of the bars, we were therefore entirely dependent on light draft boats coming out to take our cargo.  In the evening Lieut. Col. Whittlesey² with about one hundred of the Eleventh were transferred to the steamer N. P. Banks by means of small boats, the sea being too heavy to allow the steamers to lay alongside.  During the ensuing night a norther came up, and the Scott rolled so dreadfully at anchor that we were obliged to put to sea again.  About noon we were hailed by the dispatch boat Leviathan and ordered to Aransas Pass.  We arrived there about noon next day, and at once commenced transferring to the Alabama.  Imagine, if you can, transferring freight from one large vessel to another in a sea that alternately elevates and lowers each ship from six to ten feet.  We had about twenty horses.  Col. Harris² had those belonging to our brigade put on board a schooner very successfully, but Gen. Hamilton would have his put on board the other steamer.  They had to be slung over the side of the Scott and pulled into one of the ports of the Alabama.  I have seen a good many things in the service, but this handling of horses in a heavy sea was a little different from my past experience.  The best horse was dropped overboard and put out to sea on his own responsibility, and was picked up by the boats’ crew of one of the gunboats lying off the bar and became their prize.  Of course a large quantity of property was lost overboard, and the wonder is that some of the men were not.  Early in the gale that drove us to sea from Brazos, a man fell overboard ;  the ship was rolling awfully ;  a rope was promptly thrown out, which the man caught, but as the vessel rolled he had to let it go ;  this he did three times ;  at length a slip-noose was thrown over him and he was hauled on board, having taken as close a look at “Davy Jones” as a man can do without being actually stowed away in his locker.  For the benefit of those inexperienced in crowded travel, I will mention a contrivance very successfully adopted by some of our officers in their efforts to crowd themselves on the cabin floor.  It was to lie heads and tails, each buttoning his comrade’s feet in the breast of his coat ;  by this contrivance two men can lie very much like a couple of sardines, and very little space is wasted.

On Friday, the 27th, Col. Harris wiih [sic] the  balance of the 11th and half of the 22nd Iowa landed at Arkansas City, on St. Joseph’s Island, leaving all their luggage at Mustang Island on the other side the bay, having no transportation, and every man from the Colonel down shouldered his haversack and blanket for one of the bluest looking marches that can be well imagined.  Blue was the prospect, the realization left it far behind.  The march of sixty miles to Saluria occupied nearly five days, (the greater part of the first being occupied in cooking rations for the march) during three of which a fierce north wind swept across the islands, carrying the sand into our faces with the cutting sensation caused by facing a heavy hail storm in the North.  At night it was bitter cold, the ice formed an inch thick ;  not a tent or shelter of any kind, sleep could only come from sheer exhaustion and was but fitful drowsiness at best.  The water procured on the march was very brackish, the idea of quenching thirst with was out of the question.  May such experience seldom fall to the lost of Uncle Sam’s soldiers ;  I could not wish such luck even to the Rebs.  We arrived at Fort Esperanza Saluria, on the 1st of December.  This fort is one of the neatest I have seen.  It is said to have been constructed by a Polish engineer and to have cost the Confederates two millions.  It mounts eight guns, viz: six old fashioned, long twenty-fours, one old twelve pounder and one long 130-pounder—all smooth bores.  The large gun called the “Rebel” seemed to have been quite a favorite with the “corn-feds” and to it they devoted special attention, throwing solid shot.  If they had been wiser they would have used their smaller and better guns and have thrown shell, but I suppose such soldering is necessarily incident to “the depression of an unholy cause” as Gen. Washburn [C. C. Washburn] replied to a flag of truce from Magruder [John B. Magruder].  Our old Vicksburg soldiers did not try to stop any of their solid shot, unless the fact of an Indiana man having had his shoe torn by one of them without serious injury to his foot, can be construed into such an attempt.

We had advanced to within good range of the fort and had thrown up cover for riflemen and deployed a party to get into their rear, when the explosion of three of their magazines,  in quick succession, told the story that they fort had been or was about to be evacuated ;  the former proved to be the case, and we took but few prisoners ;  the first use made of them was to have them dig up night torpedoes which had been buried for our especial benefit.

The Alabama arrived on the 6th bringing Lt. Col. Whittlesey, the balance of the 11th, and all our camp and garrison equipage.  The day following we crossed the bay to this point went into camp with such poor equipage as we have, and made all haste to rid ourselves of the filth accumulated on ship-board, for until now not a man had even a clean shirt to put on.  Quite a number of us took a sea bath—a novelty to Wisconsin men on the 7th of December.

The climate is generally very fine, but these “Northers” have such a smack of old Wisconsin (though they are said to originate much farther South) as to be very unwelcome visitors ;  especially as in the miserable condition of our tents, &c., instead of the “wind” being “tempered to the shorn lamb,” we poor old sheep are shorn so that the blast feels as cold as ever.  Night before last the ice formed so thick that the pickets on their return to camp walked over the frozen ponds ;  but if we had good tents and stoves we should care very little for the weather.  We have found a large quantity of sheep on this peninsula.  Yesterday  a brigade returning from taking the dimension of three regiments of rebel cavalry, drove in a flock of three thousand.  Some of the mutton is rather poor but it is much better than no fresh meat.  What few horses and mules we have here seen as hard fare as ourselves ;  we have had so little forage that they have had to subsist almost entirely on the grass or rushes that forms about the sole vegetation, but we are now unloading some grain and look for better times in this respect.  The only wood to be procured is that has been washed ashore, and we now have to go seven or eight miles to procure a good armfull [sic].

The 23d, commanded by our old friend Major Greene [sic],³ landed here on the 1st.  They are rather a small regiment now, but still number many of our old friends, and whenever, after having been apart some time, we come together again, it is almost like meeting somebody from home to fall in with the gallant 23d.  We are now encamped about one-quarter of a mile apart.         CHARLIE.

1.  Andrew Jackson Hamilton (1815-1875) was a lawyer, and a member of the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas State Senate. During the Civil War, Hamilton sided with the Union, and he was named the military governor of Texas (1862-1865) and then the provisional civilian governor of the state (technically the 11th governor of Texas), serving 1865-1866.
2.  Luther H. Whittlesey from Mineral Point. He started service as the captain of Company E and was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 11th Wisconsin on June 7, 1863, when the previous lieutenant colonel (Charles A. Wood) resigned.
The colonel of the 11th Wisconsin was Charles L. Harris, from Madison.
The only person from our area that we could find in the 11th Wisconsin Infantry is Joseph Green, from Hudson, who was a 1st assistant surgeon. If you know of any others, please let us know.
3.  Joseph E. Green, from Madison, was commissioned major of the 23rd Wisconsin Infantry on August 29, 1863. Before that he had been the captain of Company D. At this time, Major Green was in command of the regiment because Colonel Joshua J. Guppey (from Portage) had recently been wounded and Lieutenant Colonel Edgar P. Hill (from Portage) was in Wisconsin.

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