Having been repeatedly asked to write this letter to you, and especially to Company H boy's, who favored me by making me Captain, to you I direct this letter.
Comrades, early in the spring of 1862, when our flag was insulted and in some states nowhere to be seen, but in its place waved the palmetto flag of South Carolina, the hot nest of secession. At this time when the loyal people of the nation began to think it quite time to go to the front, you responded to the call of our grand, yet unfortunate old Gov. Richard Yates, and it was not long before our rendezvous was at Decatur at old Mother Hurls (and let me here say here she got every dollar from the government for boarding us, for some two or three weeks, some 60 or 80 boarders. You remember she called us, her boys. a grand and good woman.) From Decatur, we went into camp at DuBois Ill. as sickly, measly a place as I ever saw. And after we where ready for the front, we had orders to go somewhere, we did not know until we unloaded at Cairo. Then we went into barracks, if anything far worse than those we had left, and I well remember that we thought we would not get out of there alive, for diseases of every kind were claiming their victims by the hundreds daily, and yet when we consider the many sick in hospitals, there and at Mound City, just above Cairo, we could easily reconciled ourselves that it was not because of Cairo being sickly, but because the steamers were sent up the river loaded with sick and wounded. We afterward learned that the Ohio river was warm, while the Mississippi was much colder, and this accounted for a slight breeze which passed over the point from west to east. I presume you have not forgotten the wharf rats, they were enormously large saucy fellows. Do you remember the first inspection and drill? I shall never forget how green we were. But we were made glad that evening, at least Company H was made glad, in receiving orders to be ready to embark on the steamer Luella. The next morning at Eight A.M. sharp, we went to Pound City to take command of that post. Then came the rounds of guard duty, guarding arsenals, government buildings, and gun boats. We had some narrow escapes. The gun boat Eastport was fired on one night, after which we put on double guard. I presume you remember how the intoxicants flowed down the street at one time, how the pigs and hogs got drunk, in fact if I remember correctly, there were some of the boys very happy for several days. Thereafter they all drank from the same canteen and mudhole. Then there were the followers, I remember some eighteen or twenty were towed out into the Ohio river and the old barge was cut loose. we were told some few days thereafter, that they landed at Columbus, Ky. But it did no good for they were back near camp in a few days.
From Mound city we went to Jackson, Tenn., a beautiful place. Hospitals were full as well as the cemetery; some ten or fifteen of our Company had died by this time. Some three weeks after our arrival at Jackson, I was appointed Provost Marshal, and our company provost guards. we were stationed in the courthouse square, and a beautiful place it was.
One night while our Co. H. was on provost duty three of the boys found some turkeys, they had one each, but in getting over the fence, the guard dropped his gun and the old man was quite near, too near in fact, with a club, and in this way I happened to get an order from Gen. John A. Logan to come down to headquarters. When I saluted the General and asked what I could do for him, he simply pointed to the corner of his tent, and asked me whose gun that was, and I told him it was one of my guns. I think I sent Button Alsberry after it, and I think he took the General some turkey in exchange. Boys do you remember the first long roll you heard? it was just about or a little after the turkey scare. I remember I was not well, really sick, and Campbell was my nurse. But that long roll cured me, for I was with you as soon as I could get there and it was a dark night, and I heard as I thought the booming of cannon, but it was cotton bales being rolled and thumped about, by at least a thousand men. It is wonderfull how you can imagine such things, but it did sound like the battle was in full blast. That was the first cotton fort I saw and the last one.
Up to this time our duties had not been arduous, but when we took the line of march for Vicksburg, the fun began. Hard marching through mud and rain, and when we did stop, we had no tents. An army of 80,000 strong without tents, without food, save an ear of corn and a small cracker, or hard tack as we called it. Transportation was suspended, and no more rations, only as we picked it up from time to time while foraging. This was after we left Jackson, Tenn. About this time, one of our boys went crazy. If I remember correctly it was Samuel Batty. Poor fellow, it was thought he became so through fright. About this time I was ordered to go to Illinois on private work, and when I left, I left an order with Lieut. James Honselman, to make it a special business to look after this demented soldier, and no doubt you all remember several times a detail was made to go out and find him, when he would escape the guard. Well about the time the command got to Oxford, Miss. this poor Samuel Batty got away again and Lieut. Honselman took a squad out in search of him when they were discovered by Generals Grant, Logan, McPherson, and their staff officers. Then a very great injustice was done to one of the best soldiers in the regiment, you all know whom I mean, and boys we should never rest until we can have that made right. After this severe march, we at last arrived at Memphis. I was sent to the officers hospital were I remained some forty days. Finally I was detailed for duty on the military commission while the regiment was at Vicksburg. Not being able for field duty, on Nov. 20th 1863, I returned home broken down in health, and have learned that life is no more than a drill and dress parade. Guard duty, to guard against our evil propensities, to fight the battles of life, both temporal and spiritual; and often we have to go to the sick call, have the mire and clay of sin to walk through, and at last after the campaign is over, the last roll call is answered. The soldiers work is over and he is gone to be reunited with the comrades who no doubt are waiting and watching for us all. Comrades let us all watch and be ready, fully equipped, ready for that grand roll above.
I would be pleased to hear from one and all of you, when you
feel like writing to me, and I hope to meet you at our next reunion.
I started to write a short letter but I fear you are tired ere
this, and yet I have merely given a very brief sketch of our short
I am now engaged in procuring pensions and claims of all kinds against the government.
Robert J. Middleton, GG Grandson of: Corporal Benedict Middleton, Co. H. 63rd Illinois Infantry
Thanks to Robert J. Middleton for this information.
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