Letters to Vermont: From the Civil War Soldier Correspondents to the Home Press

Letters to Vermont: From the Civil War Soldier Correspondents to the Home Press

by Donald Wickman (Editor)


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Letters to Vermont: From the Civil War Soldier Correspondents to the Home Press by Donald Wickman

This is the second of two volumes in a collection of Civil War letters written by Vermont soldiers to their hometown paper, the Rutland Herald, while they served in the infantry, the artillery, and in Vermont's highly regarded cavalry regiment.

Included are tales of campaigns from Louisiana to Virginia, and from the Shenandoah Valley to the Carolina coast. The soldiers garrison lonely bayou outposts, stand to their guns in defense of Washington, and ride to glory with George Armstrong Custer. The book is illustrated with 26 engravings and prints, 15 maps, and 22 historical photographs.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781884592164
Publisher: Images From The Past, Incorporated
Publication date: 11/01/1998
Pages: 265
Product dimensions: 6.80(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Donald H. Wickman, who compiled and edited the two volumes of Letters to Vermont, has an M.A. in History from the University of Vermont, was Archivist/Librarian at the Woodstock (VT) Historical Society, and is a regular contributor of historical articles to the Rutland (VT) Herald.

Read an Excerpt


Eloquent Writer of the 7th Vermont


John Q. Dickinson, 7th Vermont Regiment

No one could have ever guessed Vermonters would be serving in the region of the Gulf of Mexico and among the bayous of Louisiana. But serve they did, and they suffered for their duty as disease exacted a toll higher than ever expected. The 7th Vermont witnessed service the furthest distance away from the Green Mountains and almost the longest length of duty in Federal service of any Vermont regiment.

John Quincy Dickinson traced his heritage to one of the founding families of Benson, Vermont. The son of Isaac and Cornelia Dickinson, he was born on November 19, 1837. He received his early education in the academies at Poultney and Castleton and entered Middlebury College in 1855. He graduated in 1860 and found immediate employment with the Rutland Herald as the Montpelier correspondent. During the 1860 and 1861 legislative sessions he sent the paper daily reports about the state legislature. He was described by a Herald editor as "one of the readiest and spiciest writers that ever penned letters from the capital." Other state newspapers copied his columns not only for the detailed accounts of legislative action and pending measures but for his "ready wit and local hits at the peculiarities of the members of both houses."

In October 1861, Governor Erastus Fairbanks announced two more infantry regiments were to be raised in addition to the five three-year regiments already in Virginia. These two regiments were intended for theGulfCoast.

Dickinson immediately answered the call and assisted enlisting soldiers in a company from Middlebury designated to be part of the 7th Vermont Regiment. Upon his return home after enlisting, Dickinson remarked, "I have committed myself for the war be it longer or shorter."

The company was organized by January 15, 1862, under the command of Captain Henry M. Porter. On February 12, it was mustered into Federal service at Camp Phelps, the name given to the Rutland Fairgrounds, in honor of General John W. Phelps. The Middlebury company was designated Company C, and Dickinson wore the shoulder straps of a second lieutenant.

On March 10, the 7th Vermont departed from Rutland to New York City, where water transport awaited.

March 15, 1862
Letter from the 7th Regiment

Ship Premier, New York
March 13, 1862.

    Nothing of interest has occurred on our passage from Camp Phelps to this city. Upon our arrival here we were marched to the Park Barracks, where a dinner was in waiting for the entire command. After partaking of the bread and meat, the right wing under Col. Roberts, marched on board the ship Premier, and the left, under Lieut. Col. Fullam, on board the ship Tamerlane. We sail at twelve o'clock to-day. Should an opportunity occur at sea, I will send you a line. The only incident of interest to us in New York has been the presentation of a beautiful sword to Captain Kilburn by the members of Co. D. The presentation was made by Lieut. Thrall, as follows:

    "Capt. Kilburn, allow me in behalf of the members of Co. D, to present you with this token of their affection, and esteem, and to say to you that their only wish is, that you may ever be to them the same that you have been heretofore. They, sir, ask nothing more."

    As the thing was entirely unexpected to Capt. Kilburn, he seemed much affected, and replied as follows:

    "Lieut. Thrall, and the members of my command. This is to me one of the proudest moments of my life. The officer who has the confidence and esteem of his command can rely upon them to follow and to obey in time of trouble and danger, and this pleasing incident shows most forcibly that such are the relations we bear toward each other. I thank you, officers and men of Co. D, for this pleasing tribute of your feeling toward me, and [I] will only add that while we remain together my endeavors will be your comfort and happiness."

    J. D. G.

The twenty-two-day voyage south was long, especially for a regiment of Vermontèrs who were not familiar with saltwater travel. It was surely an experience most wanted to forget.

May 16, 1862
Letter from Ship Island

On board Ship Premier,
Ship Island Harbor April 5.

    My last communication (off Sandy Hook), was to the intent that we were "all well and in good spirits," I should have added as far as heard from, like Fred Snarl when stepping on the gallows. Scarcely had we weighed anchor, when everybody took a strange antipathy to an imaginary Jonah, situated somewhere in the region of the stomach. Sea-sickness was the prevailing disease, and it was amusing to see the suddenness of its attack, and the varied but useless efforts to ignore its symptoms. Some would go to their meals with dauntless bearing, urging their lop-eyed friends to do the same; but before they had eaten two mouthfuls perhaps, the small white spot would appear on the cheek as certain and cumulative in its results as the clouds the size of a man's hand seen by the Prophet. Another would abuse some one with a faint stomach, and only desist when warned of the wrath to come by the lightness of his own.

    Sea-sickness has a mysterious under-surface influence like the undertow of the tide, which takes one away from his fellows when he least expects and throws him up in spite of himself, after it has whirled him about long enough. Some with cadaverously earnest countenance would insist that they were not sea-sick, and labor to convince you that it was the pickled onions, fried potatoes or rice and molasses they ate for dinner the day before; but a drunken man might as well preach the inevitable "all right"; for this scourge of the gods has a brand for the brow as unmistakable as that of Cain's. The physician's skill avails nothing, and our Surgeon peered over the bulwarks for sharks as often as any of his patients. There are to be sure, some general safe-guards, but they are mere generalities. Major Winthrop laid down two rules to be observed by the soldier anywhere:

    1st. Trust in Providence

    2nd. Wear easy shoes.

    This, at least is the substance. To these, for soldiers aboard ship, I would add: — Maintain a temperate, nutritious diet — for this only will [?] which we have to do. A peculiarity of the epidemic is, that those who boast loudest of the fact, receive the warmest and most lasting embrace at its hands. And this, by some law of contrast, leads to mention that the very first man that was sea-sick was____________, no, I forbear to mention the name, for he lives too near Rutland. For fully ten days, king and cobbler were on a level sympathizing in the same affliction. It seemed, however, like three-quarters of the voyage. Our first sight of land after the Jersey shore faded from view on March 28th. It was the South-east corner of West Abaco, where the ocean has a passage, through and under the Island, leaving a natural bridge over which wheel never rolled. This was an era. The men forget their peculiar troubles in noting the novelties of the countless isles of the Bahamas, of which Great Abaco is the largest and farthest North. From this point our course was through the North-west Providence channel into the Florida channel keeping close to the Great Bahama bank all the way, to avoid the current in one channel and the Gulf Stream in the other. This bank has a regular border of coral reefs along the North and West sides, sometimes magnified into islands and again degenerated into isolated rocks. If Secesh had not put out the lights on the Florida coast we might have crossed the Gulf Stream to Florida Keys and Key West. Instead of this we were obliged to keep down the East side of the Stream past the Bahamas and Cay Sal (Salt Key) bank. Both the above banks seem to have been formed together, delta-like, at the outlet of the Gulf by the unnatural opposition at this point of the great Equatorial current and its offspring the Gulf Stream, the former carrying the sediment thrown out by the great heating reservoirs of the Atlantic farther to the North than its outlet alone would [have] done. As the bank became larger it formed a hindrance to the course of the Equatorial current, especially to that portion of it which is crowded into the the Gulf Stream without ever entering the Gulf, and it has forced its way through the bank, cross-lots, thereby forming Santeran Channel which flows between Cay Sal bank and Great Bahama bank. The reefs along the Northwestern side of Cay Sal bank are very similar to those of Great Bahama bank in formation and show that they belonged originally to the same line. They are more regular, however, and smaller. They are called Double Headed Shot Cays, from a fanciful resemblance to a row of buck shot. I think I should have named it Grasshopper Windrow for the recurrence of these rocks: both frequent and regular enough hay-cocks to exact counterpart of the row to be seen in our meadows in the Lake towns of Rutland County, summer before last.

    For leagues we pass along within half a mile of this straight row, raked up and decided by millions of minute workmen from the bottom of the sea. Presently they assume the form of hay-tumbles-shortly after they look like the same article tumbled up by a lazy boy in a hot afternoon; and finally, if the imagination wasn't determined to make them fragments into windrows, they begin to be cays or islands. At the largest of these, Elbow Cay, where the bank makes an elbow nearly to the south, we should have crossed the Gulf Stream to Key West, only there being almost a dead calm, the captain feared to enter the Stream lest we be entirely becalmed and drift back to New York. So we kept down still in the edge of the Stream till the evening of Sunday, March 30, when we found ourselves in latitude 23:40; longitude 80:10 about fifty miles from Havana, within just a York shilling of the Torrid Zone. At this point a breeze sprang up and we struck across towards Key West. We came just by the edge of the Gulf Stream all along the Florida channel, and could see to within ten feet generally of the line which separated it from shoal. This, to be sure is owing in part to the reflection of the sun from the white sand bottom of the shoal, giving the water a delicate light blue appearance, but in cases where the shoal did not exist their difference was always clearly perceptible. There is a Spanish aristocracy about the water where the Gulf Stream originated that preserves its pride of birth, though dissipating and reduced in the most distant climes. We did come in sight of land off Key West or the Tortugas, and we were soon fairly sailing in the great Gulf of the Sarga, as the Portuguese first called it. Our course was northwest directly to Ship Island, and such the compass indicated, but the deceptive efforts of the embryo Stream which drives eastward along the northern part of the Gulf were again demonstrated by bringing us to the land at the Island of Petit-Bois, forty miles east of Ship Island. Petit-Bois is one of a range of long narrow Islands extending from Mobile Bay to Lake Bourgne, between which and the main land is Mississippi Sound. It is the farthest east but one, and Ship Island the farthest west but one. We came in sight of it at sunrise, April 5th, and now, at eight and a half o'clock P.M., we are at anchor in the harbor at the northwest corner of the island. Col. Roberts has reported himself to Maj. Gen. Butler, but when we land, Red Tape must decide and nothing finite. The island is simply a heap of white sand, seven miles long and a mile wide at one point, but will average only about a half mile in width. The tents are of the same color as the foundation on which they stand, and to our view as we approached, two miles of the west end was covered with ant hills, with any number of uncles running around between them. The left wing of the 8th Vermont, on the Hovey, arrived here this morning, and the right wing, on the Wallace, is just now coming to anchor in the offing, having hoisted a signal for a pilot. The Great Republic, with a Maine Regiment and 300 horses aboard, arrived yesterday. All these started a week before us, and the Tamerlane with our left wing has not yet appeared. We have made the quickest and (we think) the pleasantest passage of any sailing vessel this winter. Nothing could exceed the politeness of Capt. Gilvery, master of the Premier, for his care for the comfort of sick and well. The commissioned officers held a meeting last night and passed unanimous resolves, expressing to Capt. Gilvery their appreciation of his kindness and gentlemanly bearing towards them and the men in their command. He will hereafter have friends in Vermont if we all return, and we are in hopes the return will be as prosperous as the outgoing, and eke by the same conveyance. Frank Price of Co. I, a native of Vergennes, died April 1st, from an accidental wound received in New York which partially severed the femoral artery. When about ten days out, secondary hemorrhage occurred during a storm, when he was asleep, and it was impossible to raise him. It is a coincidence that the 8th's left wing lost a man from Co. I also on their passage. I will write you again when we get ashore if I have leisure and permission to offer anything of interest.

    J. Q. D.

* * *

The 7th Regiment soon landed on Ship Island. The object of Butler's force was New Orleans, the largest city and busiest port of the Confederacy. Blocking the Union advance were two strong forts located seventy-five miles downstream of the city: Forts Jackson and St. Philip had to be rendered ineffective before the Union troops could advance. Commodore David Farragut and the Union navy accepted that assignment.

May 21, 1862
Our Army Correspondence

Letter from Ship Island
April 27, 1862.

    Five minutes ago I stepped off the Saxon from the scene of all excitement here, "The Passes." I learn that a mail is to leave for Boston by the Wild Gazelle in twenty minutes. I have time to give you a sketch of events transpiring in that place.

    The bombardment of Forts Jackson and Phillip commenced April 18th at nine A.M. Porter's fleet of twenty-one mortar boats, threw in or at the forts, between that time and sundown, one thousand shells, setting Fort Jackson on fire. The contest was renewed vigorously on both sides the next morning at seven o'clock, and kept up without intermission till the afternoon of the 22d, when both forts ceased fire. The chain which protected the forts from being stormed from below by the fleet was cut during the night of the 22d, and the bombardment kept up on the 23d by our fleet, though they got not an answer from their friends of the fort. At two o'clock on the morning of the 24th a grand attack was made by all the force of the fleet, and sixteen out of eighteen of our fleet passed by the forts and now remain in the river, cutting off communication with New Orleans.

    Gen. Butler's force has not yet been engaged. He is to land them from the Gulf of Mexico in Quarantine Bayou, about seven miles above the forts, on the side of St. Phillip. From this fort to New Orleans is a carriage road on the levee which will be estopped by this movement. The first lighter left the transport Mississippi, taking the 26th Mass. Regiment to land, at five o'clock last night, just as the Saxon left for this place. Quarantine Bayou runs in to the marshy district above the forts, just behind Sable Island and a little way north of Isle au Breton. About four thousand troops will be landed here. The plan is to starve out the forts. The passage of the fleet by the forts is in many respects a coup-de-main without a precedent. About sixty on our side were killed and three hundred wounded. Rebel loss not known. Our fleet had one mortar boat and one gun boat sunk, and most of the fleet were more or less injured. We sunk eleven for them. Will give you particulars soon if possible.

    J. Q. D.

Dickinson's more "particular" letter followed shortly thereafter. It is most descriptive concerning the bombardment of the Confederate forts and the ensuing advance by the navy past the fortifications to anchor off New Orleans. The Rutland Herald printed the account in its entirety, consuming three columns of the newspaper. Dickinson might have used his former position with the Rutland Herald to be permitted to accompany General Butler. With the forts bypassed and isolated, New Orleans had little choice but to surrender, which it did on April 25, 1862.

June 17, 1862
Our Army Correspondence

Letter from Ship Island
May 1, 1862.

    Doubtless your readers have received the particulars, more or less accurate, of the bombardment of Forts Jackson and St. Phillip, and the position of affairs on the highway to New Orleans. Having the advantage of being an eye-witness, however, I may be able to offer some statements at least different from those that have reached you, if not more reliable, and possibly may offer some facts of later occurrence than you have yet received account of. By the kindness of the Postmaster here, who delayed the mail a few minutes, I was enabled to give you a few staccato dottings of what has passed up to April 27th, and will now repeat the same more specifically.

    These forts are about 32 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi, and about 80 miles from New Orleans. The general course of the river here is south-east; but just above the forts, a bend in it gives it a north by east direction, which it continues till at about a mile below the forts. Its natural bent restores its south-east course. Fort St. Phillip, (on the left bank,) is perhaps 80 rods further up the stream than Fort Jackson, and yet comes just in sight to one sailing against the current on account of the bend in the stream. Both forts are brick.

    Fort St. Phillip is an irregular, seventeen sided structure, with all its guns en barbette. It has two attached batteries, one bearing up and the other down the river. It has a wet ditch surrounding the works 6 feet deep and 17 wide—and one around its shore batteries. The scarp walls are strengthened by relieving arches, pierced for musketry defense.

    Fort Jackson, the stronger work by far, is a regular pentagonal structure, 25 feet above the river at low water mark. The river now is six or eight feet higher than usual. Two of its fronts bear on the river and have eight casemated guns each. The three faces that bear on the land are not casemated. A 6 foot wet ditch extends quite around the fort 150 feet wide on the land fronts, and from 25 to 40 feet wide on the river fronts. Fort Jackson has one shore battery surrounded by a wet ditch 6 feet deep and 30 wide. These shore batteries of both forts are 14 feet above the river. The bastions are arranged for musketry defense only, and the parapet is carried across their gorge, so that there is no flank parapet defense. The three land-fort batteries have a glacis and covered way. A chain fastened to schooners just below the forts and extending across the river, cut off all approach from below.

These forts are commanded by Brig. Gen. Johnson K. Duncan. He graduated at West Point in 1849, the 4th in his class — was ordered to Eastport, Maine, and afterwards to Texas. He resigned his commission, and afterwards figured in Gen. Wool's command in New Mexico, and in Gen. Quitman's enterprise. He was clerk for Maj. Gen. G.W. Smith when he was superintendent of construction of the Marine Hospital at New Orleans and at the end of nine months, when Gen. Smith was ordered to Washington, he succeeded him. He was President of the vigilance committee in New Orleans in 1858 — afterwards State Engineer of Louisiana, and ("how are the mighty fallen!") next heard of as one of the Secesh magnates and warriors. He is a native of Pennsylvania. This position is the Ultima Thule, as the ultima spes of the Confederates. It was built by the Government as a sea-coast defense, and really is so, though our geographies place it thirty miles up the river. The fact is, the river itself is merely a flume lately built by itself for its own use. I never before recognized anything real in the verse of Dream Land:
"_________________________toppling evermore,
Into seas without a shore"

    but I find here is a real river "without a shore," excepting the shores of the Gulf. An occasional bog on either side of the channel (at the present high tide) is all that separates the salt and fresh water and this is true even above, on Fort Jackson's side. This Fort is built in a marsh cut off from all land communication, and Fort St. Phillip (built as an adjunct to it) is at the end of a narrow strip of land or rather levee, on which is a carriage road to New Orleans. It was the intention to aid the bombardment of those strongly fortified posts by landing a portion of the artillery and infantry, but a slight examination showed this would be about as feasible as to march on Norfolk via Dismal Swamp. The expedition for this purpose left Ship Island on the evening of the 16th of April, but owing to some difficulty in getting over the bar into the river, did not arrive at the head of the Passes till 11 A.M. April 18th. I was fortunate enough to be on board Gen. Butler's flag ship, the steam transport Mississippi. This should not be confounded with the steam frigate of the same name (one of Commodore Farragut's fleet) especially as we have a state, river and city close by of the same name also. All the fleet anchored here as fast as they arrived, but the Great Republic never arrived, having got aground on the bar. The P.C. Wallis also never has nor will appear again. She broke in two in the gale of the 20th, off Isle au Breton, and sunk in 20 fathoms. The men were all saved by the Saxon, that was by chance in sight.

    The Passes are about 18 miles below the forts, and Major Strong went aboard the Saxon to communicate with the flag officer of the bombarding fleet. I was lucky enough to be one of a number that was allowed to take passage, and very shortly we came up near enough to the shower of shot and shell to have some of the big drops fall about us. We were not quite in time to witness the beginning of the conflict, for it commenced at nine o'clock A.M. It is a strange fact that we could not hear a gun until within five miles of the forts, and not till after we had smelled powder for some time. We had seen the smoke of the firing while down in the Passes, and I have since learned that they heard the cannonading distinctly at this place though fifty miles distant in a straight line, the direction of the wind favoring them here and opposing us.

    The convex shore from Fort Jackson down is fringed with trees fifteen or twenty feet high, and behind these and below the bend the mortar fleet was anchored close to the shore in single line, the nearest a distance of a mile and a half and the farthest two miles and a quarter from Fort Jackson, by a straight line. The masts were all trimmed with "twigs of the wilderness," so that Secesh must have been at a loss to know where their enemy was. I should have said that this was the final disposition of them, for the experiment was made of placing one division (seven mortar boats) on the opposite shore the first day; but it was found that this was too good a mark, though at a distance of two and a half miles. Most of this division was hit by their shot, but none of them disabled, and they rejoined their companions during the night. The flag ship of the mortar fleet was at the foot of the line, and the flag ship of the whole fleet near the centre of the stream, a little below the centre of the line of mortar boats. The six men-of-war lay between the flagship and the mortars and the gun-boats all about the flagship. The mortars were expected to do the heavy business of the bombardment, as I intimated in a previous letter. Five or six gunboats were detailed each day to attract the fire of the forts from our mortar boats. These gunboats would sally up to within three quarters of a mile of the enemy, deliver and receive broadside after broadside; and a wonderful Providence, or the luck that always attends bravery, rendered them invulnerable. For the first day and a half not a shot struck one of them. Among those that attracted admiration in these maneuvers was the Oneida. At one time I counted fifteen shells that struck all about her within the space of a minute, and all striking the water within twenty rods of her. A few minutes afterwards, having fallen back behind the trees of the shore to within fifty rods of our vessel, a ten inch round struck her in the port quarter, smashing the gun rail, and upsetting one of her eleven-inch guns, and wounding seven men. It hindered her only thirty minutes, and she was again among the foremost, inviting the enemy's particular attentions. Her smoke-stack was afterwards hit, killing the boatswain and three men.

    The Owasco has the honor of opening the bombardment. The firing lasted the first day till sundown, and just as the last shots were fired, a heavy explosion was heard at Fort Jackson, and shortly after a column of flame shot up so as to be seen from the decks of the vessels. It was thought to be the magazine within the fort, and it was greeted with a volley of cheers from the fleet. It had been arranged that the mortars should cease firing at sundown the first day, and after resting that night, should night and day during the bombardment. Commodore Porter was urged to continue the fire, and not give the enemy time to recover from their evident confusion; but he being a sympathetic man would not break his established plan, any more than some tailors will depart from the universal style of cutting a garment to fit a particular case. It is still thought by many, that if they had continued to fire the fort would have been obliged to surrender. The fire lasted two hours and subsided, and the next morning the firing was as energetic as ever from Fort Jackson, as though she had been purified.

    None of our fire was directed against Fort St. Phillip the first day, though our mortar boats on the left bank suffered most from it, and throughout it was treated like a dependent that must fall with its superior.

    Saturday, the 19th, saw the best firing, and the most determination on both sides. It being the second day, the range was well determined, and there was great hope among our men that the position would be taken before night.

    The gunboats Oneida, Pinola, Sciota, Owasco, Kineo, and Itasca, that by appointment figured as shell magnets, were the principal objects of notice, and amid the continuous roar of mortars from their mud foundation, all was silence to the sharp accent of the eleven Dahlgrens, and their skillful and lively evolutions were followed by every eye.

    By the way, I see little suggestive in the wild, aboriginal names of those gun boats, if we judge alone by their bold manner of warfare. I think they should change names with the sullen line of mortars, ambushed and decorated with a craftiness that would have done honor to the Last of the Mohicans, and firing over the tree tops at their enemy with true Indian caution. There was something festive too, in their appearance, with their gaily trimmed masts, that made me soon forget the scene of carnage I was amid, and changed it to a Fourth of July celebration. The eager swarms too, of the unemployed that covered the ropes and the mast-heads like parasitic animals, added to this fancy. Perhaps your readers may be in sympathy with this idea, for if the mails continue as they have been, I judge they will read this article just about the Fourth of July.

The numerous little incidents of the fight that interested me most I can not relate, for like Walter's proposed Life Drama, they would
"___________fill a tale of earth
By way of episode and anecdote."

    The same plan of operations was kept up for six days and four nights, and strange as it may seem, became monotonous in the extreme to me. The fire rafts that were sent down every night to be sure did not fail to be objects of exciting interest, but they very soon ceased to be objects of terror. These rafts are simply the Pennsylvania coal scows, from thirty to one hundred feet long, which come down the river to New Orleans and after discharging their loads are sold for lumber, being too cumbersome to tow back for another load. These crafts are pried high with roots, pitch pine, cord wood and logs, and an occasional barrel of turpentine, and sent adrift for our benefit below. And in very fact they are made to benefit us. The fleet is mostly anchored on the right bank, and the current at this bend naturally carries these rafts down the other side entirely clear of the mass of the fleet. Besides, the gun boats specially designated for the purpose grapple them and tow them swiftly past and run them ashore, where they are put out (unless too far gone) and serve as fuel for some of our steam transports. The most grand picture I ever saw was that of one of these floating incendiaries that was run ashore on the night of the 1st, and allowed to burn just opposite our vessel. It came drifting down about midnight with its waving spires of flame deeply reflected in the stream, multiplying the number of the fleet, and causing a myriad of phantom ships to glide along the current of the woods behind the fleet up stream, as if dodging this messenger from the fiery world.

    I went on board several of the mortar boats, and my first impression was rather unpleasant. Just as I was stepping aboard the mortar was fired, and not understanding that I must jump up and open my mouth, I received a shock that made my side ache and my head feel as though it was the identical shell fired. Use of a superior physical organization makes some men insensible to this shock, for I noticed some of them, whose watch was off, would sit flat on the deck and play euchre, not seeming to be stirred up in mind or body by the thundering discharges. In fact it is impossible to remain very highly excited for a long time in such an engagement. The enemy is at such a distance you cannot conceive it is the result of aught but accident that shot strike anywhere in your region. Besides, every one stands in a charmed circle of security, though he can see that his near neighbor is in imminent danger. The word courage should be struck out of military dictionaries as no longer needed. When battles were fought cominus with no weapons but spears, there was some use for it, since there was a chance for the exercise of personal bravery. When Shakespeare spoke of seeking

"the bauble reputation
Even at the cannon's mouth,"

    doubtless the cannon, before which his imagination placed the soldier, were those of the enemy. But in modern times, instead of taking a disagreeable journey to find the mouth of an antagonist's cannon, they seek this same bubble by mathematical calculations before the touchholes of the own. The very complicated and delicate cast of distance, curve and power of projectile that the gunner knows by experience must be made, makes him skeptical of the enemy's power to harm; and warfare is being gradually but surely reduced to a prize contest in the study of tactics and parabolic curves. Davy Crockett was simply a few years ahead of his age in arriving at a pitch of skill, in the use of his rifle, such that whatever game he drew sight upon would instantly come down without his firing; saying "hold on; it's no use; if it's you Davy, I'll come down." But enough of this.

    The idea of reducing the forts was abandoned, and the plan of making a grand sally with the full force, and passing thence attacking New Orleans, was entertained. The chain of the several efforts was quietly unshackled on the night of the 22d, and on the morning of the 24th, at 2 A.M., the signal for advance was given. The fleet was divided into three columns. One, consisting of the six men of war, was to pass up to Fort Jackson and attack it. Another, consisting of six selected gun boats, was to pay similar attention to Fort St. Phillip, and the remaining six gunboats were to constitute a reserve column for special orders. Of these eighteen, ordered to New Orleans, sixteen finally passed and constituted the fleet that moved on the Crescent City. The mortar boats, with the five gun boats Harriet Lane, Westfield, Miami, Jackson, and Sachem, appended to the mortars as a kind of body guard, remained in place below the bend and continued the bombardment as before. This arrangement of passing up the river, doubtless saved a good many lives and boats for us, as the forts had taken range to command the centre, which was avoided, at least the vortex of the cross fire. All the boats were in line at midnight, and commenced moving up the river at half-past two on Thursday morning. Gen. Butler and staff, Col. Gooding of the Mass. 31st, Mr. Slum of the Philadelphia Enquirer, and your correspondent, went on board the Saxon to witness the fray. The Saxon fell in at the foot of the third column and steamed slowly up that stream. As we rounded the bend, the moon just corning up opened a vista between the forts full of silence that was dreadful because pregnant in our imagination with so much of tumult and carnage. It was nearly as bright as day and not a breath of air disturbed the mirror surface of the river. For three-quarters of a mile we could see the vessels fairly creeping along, while skulking in the water beneath each was its own inverted ghost like a supernumerary ready to take its place in case of a fatality. No human voice broke the stillness—at least, on our vessel. This was the trying time, and now, Mr. Editor, if you'll just bend down low so that I can whisper, I'll take back all I said about courage, and admit that I needed a little of the article just then. But the opening gun from Fort St. Phillip brought a sufficient supply in its wake, and fear gave way to excitement for want of room. Fort Jackson echoed a broadside, and from its old seat answered each mortar boat whose "iron car was yoked in wrath and thundered from afar."

    As yet none of the advancing fleet had fired a gun. But now came the tug of war. At the signal, the first and second columns opened on the forts with shell that yelled like demons. A cloud of black smoke rolled up, shutting out from sight everything but the paths of the fused shells, which marked it full of vanishing parabolas like flourishes of phosphorous on a dark cellar wall. We followed slowly till we found ourselves within six hundred yards of the forts, then fell back a little and took position on the left shore. The mortars poured over a shower of shell continually into the fort at the rate of fifteen a minute. I counted eleven at one time in the air and some of the party counted more. The enemy started two or three fire rafts but they were destroyed before they came near us, or even in our sight, except as we caught glimpses of them through openings in the smoke, when their light looked like liquid flame. Any attempt to describe details is useless. One hundred black cats settling a deadly feud in a Vermont thunder storm would present a similar field for description. They fought desperately for two hours, when daylight began to appear, and the fleet had passed and were still battering with some gunboats above the forts. Eleven gunboats and a Hollins' ram were sunk on the Confederate side and only one sunk and one disabled on our side. The Varona, commanded by Capt. Boggs, was sunk after sinking three rebel boats, one of which was the "Yankee" that they took from us. The gallant captain continued firing as his boat was sinking and the last gun spoke death to some rebel just as the gun carriage was going under water. The men took to their boats and gave three cheers for the Union before it went entirely down. The Portsmouth, a sailing sloop of war, was disabled and obliged to fall back. It was the only fighting sailing vessel in the whole fleet, except the mortar boats. The number of rebel killed was 160, only five of whom were killed in the forts. Their wounded we can make no estimate of. Our loss was sixty killed and two hundred and fifty wounded. Commodore Farragut, after driving all the gunboats up stream that he did not sink, proceeded up to the Quarantine grounds, seven miles above the forts, took five hundred prisoners, and released them on parole. This was necessary, for he had no room nor force to keep them with. The fleet being above the fort, it remained to get the troops there to co-operate with it in cutting off communication between the forts and New Orleans and in reducing the city. It was impossible for the transports to get by the forts, and the next best thing was to take the men around into the Gulf opposite the forts and land them there. The levee above Fort St. Phillips is only a little more than a mile wide, and Gen. Butler immediately put his fleet in motion down stream to reach this place. On account of the shallows about these banks, it took two days for the transports to come to the nearest point possible (six miles from shore), and Saturday night, April 26th, he began to land the troops in lighters that could go within one mile of shore. The landing was effected in Quarantine Bayou near Sable Island and Isle au Breton.

    The line of communication once cut between [hem both, New Orleans and the forts were ready to negotiate a surrender on as good terms as possible, for the last hope of the city rested in these defenses, now defenses no longer. Gen. Lovell pretended to be unwilling to give up the city, but the citizens demanded it as the alternative was that the city should be burned. Forty-eight hours were given them to meditate on an unconditional surrender, and at the end of time they were in favor of it. 'Tis past, and the "hated Yankees" to the number of 6000 parade the street of King Cotton's capital, and guard the strongest approach to its gates. After the forts surrendered, as much of the fleet as could be spared went up the river to co-operate with Commodore Foote. At this date we have no news from them, but expect soon to see the whole Mississippi opened, and this great artery of the Union, again, as Nature's God evidently ordained it should, with an unbroken circulation.

    The bombardment of these forts has in many respects no parallel, especially in the amount of iron thrown. I have made some little estimate of this. Ten thousand and fifty shells were thrown into or at Fort Jackson by the mortars alone. Each shell weighs 213 pounds. A little mathematical calculation will show that Com. Porter has been heaping coals of fire on the heads of the rebels to the quiet amount of over 1000 tons. It takes an average twenty pounds of powder to fire a mortar at the range taken. At this rate it took over 200 tons of powder to perform this neighborly act. The expense for ammunition in the bombardment will exceed a quarter of a million dollars. And yet so strong were these fortifications, it is probable the enemy would have held out for another week under the stone fire. The citadel within the fort was burned to the ground, but the soldiers took refuge in the casemates, and to drive them out of these, might be beyond the power of powder and ball, if they had the determined bravery of the heroes of Sumter. Gen. Lovell with his force has retired to Camp Moore, twenty-six miles back from Madisonville, which is situated on the Northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain. This is the only rebel's nest known in Louisiana of any amount. It is current here that they are about to evacuate Forts Pike and Wood commanding the Rigolets [River] between Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain. Doubtless these will be occupied by our forces soon. I enclose a list of Gen. Butler's expeditionary staff. As leisure offers, I will give you the items of interest pertaining to our regiment.


* * *

Forts St. Philip and Jackson surrendered the day after Dickinson posted his letter. The garrison actually defied their officers and mutinied, electing to lower the flag rather than be starved to death in a siege by the superior Union forces.

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Richard Ketchum

...an extraordinary job of piecing together a haunting record of Vermonters in the Civil War.

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