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1864 February 20: “We are on the eve of a most important expedition”

February 24, 2014

Another letter from the 12th Wisconsin Infantry, reprinted from the Madison (Wis.) State Journal in the February 20, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  Company A of the 12th was the Prescott Lyon Light Guards, which included the Levings brothers.

What they are preparing for is Sherman’s Meridian Campaign [William T. Sherman].  Most of the Army of the Tennessee’s 17th Corps had remained under McPherson [James B. McPherson] at Vicksburg, and most of the 16th Corps under Hurlbut [Stephen A. Hurlbut] was at Memphis.  In early 1864, Sherman organized from those  two corps (two divisions from each corps) an expedition of 20,000 men to move into central Mississippi to break up Confederate rail communications and other infrastructure, solidifying Union control of the Mississippi River.  In February, after concentrating at Vicksburg, the force marched approximately 330 miles from Vicksburg to Meridian, Mississippi, and back.  Hurlbut led the left column, and McPherson, the right.


Correspondence of the State Journal.

CAMP LEWIS, rear of Nicksburg [sic]
Jan. 26th, 1864.

Again I am chronicler of the movements of this restless regiment, which, in all its past history, has been a “moveable column,” or a “column in motion,” and has in the near future a series of prospective movements, which may form the basis of a “moving tale” and which may verify the old saw that “three removes are as bad as a fire” to our traitor foes.

Ever since our arrival at Natchez the tenure of our stay has been of a very uncertain character.  Going on a scouting expedition, it was deemed necessary to disembark in order to repel a threatened , and we have been expecting to leave at an hour’s notice, all the time.  The long expected order came on the evening of the 22d to be ready to leave camp at 5 o’clock next morning, and accordingly next day saw us embarked, the 12th, on the steamer W. L. Ewing ;  the 32d Illinois on the Diligent, and Gen. Gresham [Walter Q. Gresham], with his staff on the Pringle.

About 4 o’clock P. M. we left the levee amid the cheers of a drunken officer of the 28th Illinois, and the waving of handkerchiefs of a few disconsolate females, whose military swains, were leaving with us, for “fresh faces and fresh fields,” regardless of “the girl I left behind me.”¹

We had a pleasant trip up the river, without any incident worthy of special notice ;  the heat during Sunday being felt severely on the hurricane deck, the night being rather cool.  We arrived at the levee of Vicksburg about 4 o’clock P. M. Sunday evening, the 23d inst., unloaded our wagons and part of our baggage and staid² on the boats until morning.  All sunrise on the 25th, the column was set in motion, and we marched out of town, through the lines, and then “over the hills and far away”3 some 8 miles to our former camp near Clear Creek, and now occupy the same ground we abandoned when we started for Natchez, and which has been named Camp Lewis in honor of our worthy Governor [James T. Lewis], whom we all respect and honor, looking upon him as the “soldiers friend,” who will protect and defend us in all our rights, procure us every privilege we are entitled to, and be a guardian to our loved ones at home.

We are on the eve of a most important expedition to the east of Vicksburg, judging from the forces preparing to take part in it.  At Chickasaw Bayou, Gen. Hurlbut is disembarked with the 16th Army Corps, while the 17th to which we belong are all on the quivive [sic],4 and the bustle of preparation is visible on every hand.  Pontoons are building, supply trains are loading with 20 days rations, the railroad rapidly pushed to completion from Black River to Jackson, and everything indicates movements of a most extensive and effective character.  I am not at liberty to be more precise or statistical in regard to the number of men to be used on this occasion, but the “old 12th” will be there, in all probability ;  in respect to our destination, however we shall be apt to see the east side of this miserable State, before we return.

In my last, I told you that some 550 of the 12th had re-enlisted.  I am credibly informed that 580 would better express the number of “veterans” now to be found in our ranks.  As far as can be ascertained, this makes our regiment the largest, and a great many think, the best veteran regiment in the United States service.  We ought to have been mustered out of the old and into the new term of service long ago, and should have been had not the Commissary of Muster for the 3d Brigade misunderstood his orders, and kept us waiting for new rolls, when none were needed.  We are to be mustered in this week, before leaving here, and upon our return from the proposed expedition, we shall start for home as soon as we can get ready, a period of say 50 days, or about the middle of March.

The 17th Wisconsin are expecting to leave here next Thursday for home, to re-organize and, we understand, the 16th now at Redbone Church, will soon follow.  We would have been at Camp Randall ere this reaches you, if it had not been for official blunders, but we are to have all straightened out now, so that there may be no delay in the future when we can be spared better, to hinder our coming home.

By the bye, I believe we have a good claim on the State for the banner promised to the largest veteran regiment of her soldiers, and if so, we shall be pleased to receive it, and proud to bear it during our veteran service.

There is not a better regiment in the field to my knowledge, than the old 12th, or one that has been better managed.  As proof of this, witness our numbers after two years service, and enduring the siege of Vicksburg and Jackson, and our weary marches through Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi ;  and no better proof can be given of the estimation in which the officers are held than the fact of such large numbers re-enlisting to serve under them for three years longer ;  not a single company but what over three-fourths have re-enlisted and some have only three or four men to be “left out in the cold.”

The weather is quite pleasant just now, warm days, as warm as in May in “Old Wiscons,”5 with cool nights.  There has not been any snow fallen with us during the winter, and no ice to last over two days.  People at Natchez have been making gardens for the past two weeks, and many barrels of potatoes have lately been purchased for seed there.

The health of the regiment is good, not more than one or two in the hospital, and eight or ten convalescents.  There have been some cases of small pox, but all have recovered, and in fact,  we all feel pretty well.  Some “shaking” has been done, and some have thought the weather “chilly,” but quinine rest, and pleasant weather are abolishing all these disagreeable sensations.

You shall hear more of the expedition when we get back, if able to write them.
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     ..     .     .  .W.

1.  “The Girl I Left Behind Me” was a popular folk song from the late 18th or early 19th century. The song was popular in the U.S. regular army.
2.  “Staid” is an old-fashioned was of spelling “stayed.”
3.  “Over the Hills and Far Away” is another song, this one a traditional English song that dates back to at least the late 17th century. There have been multiple versions of the lyrics, but here he is just using the title.
4.  Qui vive (two words) means on the alert, on the lookout, vigilant.
5.  “The Old Wiscons” was the title of a Wisconsin River lumbering song.

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