Letter from Lt. Cushman K. Davis
During Gorman's Expedition up the White River, Arkansas
The Waukesha Freeman
February 3, 1863
The 28th Wisconsin
An Interesting Letter from
Lieut. C.K. Davis.
A Diary of Events in Arkansas
The military movements in Arkansas, are a source of much interest to the people of our State, in consequence of the large number of Western men now operating in that Department – but to none is it more so than to the people of Waukesha county the flower of whose young men are there battling to uphold the old flag. We are indebted to Mrs. Lieut. C. K. Davis, for the following interesting sketches from a private letter from her husband, dated –
HEADQUARTERS, DISTRICT OF
Jan. 12, 1863
At the Mouth of White River, on board Steamer Kenton.
Yesterday morning we received orders to strike our tents and be ready to march. In the midst of our preparations Col. Lewis asked me if I would like the position of aid-de-camp to Gen. Gorman (Brig. Gen. Willis Arnold Gorman - ed.), who commands the District above mentioned. I assured him that such a position would please me. He went to the General’s headquarters and in a short time returned gave me a note to Gen. Gorman, and directed me to report to him. I went directly to the General’s headquarters and handed him the note of introduction. The General, who is about 50 years old, read it, explained the business, asked of me if I was a lawyer, and several other questions. He then told me to go and get a horse. I proceeded to the Government stables, and drew a horse and equipage. Having obtained my steed I rode back to our camp; and paid an able-bodied negro to tote (as they call it here) my baggage to the General’s headquarters. You will see there is a radical change in my business; I do not know how long it may continue; it may be temporary, and may last some time.
I like the appearance of Gen. Gorman very much. He is the ex-Governor of Minnesota. He is a short man with black eyes, rough of speech, but kind of heart. There are about eight with myself in his staff; two of his sons are among the number. I am not much acquainted with them, but they all seem to be gentlemanly fellows. So you understand my status.
We left Helena last night about dark on an expedition which, as appearances now indicate, is up the White River to place called the Arkansas Post. We are conveyed by a fleet of steamers thirty in number and I should think there are 18,000 troops in the expedition. There is some cavalry and several batteries; the 29th Wisconsin is along. There was a prospect of a fight, but now it looks rather slim.
Gen. Gorman was told that the fight took place yesterday; to which he replied; “Our troops have probably taken the place; we are going up the river to see what we can find.”
I have had no letter since we left Columbus, except the one brought by Capt. T. I should like to hear from home, and you must keep writing – some time they will come altogether, and furnish me the pleasure of reading them for a whole day. The weather is most beautiful; the air is soft and balmy;
On board the steamer Lucretia,
20 miles up White River,
We came up this river 5 miles on the steamer Kenton, which was a stern wheel boat and very hard to manage. The old General spent most of his time in swearing at the Pilot. Last night this steamboat came to convey the General and staff, and the General is good-natured again.
Before detailing any of the events which have occurred, I must explain to you a very curious phenomenon. You will see by the map, that at a distance of five miles from the mouth of the White River, the Arkansas and White River run very close together; the Arkansas taking a southeasterly direction and empties itself into the Mississippi at Napoleon. At the point where the rivers run so close together there is a natural canal from one stream to the other, called the ‘Arkansas cut-off.’ It is about five miles long, and during the time of high water a navigable stream runs from one river to the other. When the White river is swollen, there is a current setting toward the Arkansas; and when the latter river rises the canal is filled with a stream setting toward the White river; and when the Mississippi rises, the backwater up the White river fills up the canal, and sends the superfluous water across into the Arkansas.
Arkansas Post was taken yesterday, with 4,500 prisoners. We did not go up the Arkansas river, so we did not do any fighting there. You will undoubtedly have the news before this reaches you.
We arrived at St. Charles last night. The rebels vanished two days before. I went up and examined their for’, but it does not amount to much.
This morning we started on our winding way up the river, and I assure you it is winding enough as a glance at the map will show you. During the night our pleasant weather became among the things that were, and we were visited by a most terrific snowstorm.
I do not know how the imagination can conceive of a more dreary and desolate region than this along the White River. On both sides the shores are flat, overgrown with canebrake, vines and heavy timber. At the present stage of high water, the
banks are overflowed as far back as the eye can see into the forest. Occasionally we can see a miserable log hut set up on piles, but that is all. The snow has settled on all the undergrowth along the river, rendering desolation more lonely
than ever. No sound breaks the stillness except the puffing of the boat. It does not seem that man had ever penetrated into this region before. I have been whistling the Arkansas Traveler ever since we left the ‘cut-off,’ and thinking of home. We are accompanied by two gunboats, which we towed up the river; they are ugly looking customers – each carrying thirteen 8 or ten inch guns.
The 28th were left with a company of cavalry and battery at St. Charles; they are in no danger of attack. The boys are comfortably quartered in log houses, built by the secessionists and abandoned by them.
I like my present position very much. I have adopted a patriarchal negro named ‘Abraham’ who takes care of my horse; he is a true delineation of the darkey.
My health is good – we are out of money, but that is an inconvenience which we will overcome soon, no doubt.
We are above Clarendon, headed for Duval Bluff, where the enemy are said to have entrenched themselves. I do not think we shall find them there; I presume their force – which is small – has skedaddled. There is a lady with us, wife of Capt. Cameron, of Chicago.
186 miles up the White River, Jan. 17.
I don’t know when I shall have an opportunity to mail this letter, but will keep writing until I do. I presume at this moment you are wondering why you do not get a letter from me; but the mere fact of not hearing often is out of the question, for when we go out on an expedition we go into the wilderness indeed.
Last night we arrived at Duval Bluff; as we came in sight, around the bend in the river, a score or two of Butternuts could be seen getting out of the place in a hurry. Immediately upon our arrival cavalry were thrown out in every direction. An examination of the place, about the landing, showed that the enemy had fled with great precipitation, the six pounders which they carried with them were left by the railroad station, unspiked; many of the tents were left standing, and some 70 or 80 new Enfield rifles were thrown away in their hasty retreat.
Soon after we stopped, an old man and his daughter, and a Mrs. W., wife of a rebel captain, came on board. Mrs. W. said “she should like very much to have her husband home, and would like to have the war ended by compromise, as it would never end by fighting – for when the last man was killed the women would take it up.” We offered her some coffee and a Chicago paper. She said she did not want any coffee, she had done without it so long, and as for papers they were the results of visitants.
Toward evening the cavalry brought in 25 rebels, and a more downcast, wretched, pitiable looking set I never saw. They said but little, and have all been paroled – two, I understand, have taken the oath of allegiance.
The rumor is, that Gen. Fisk’s brigade (in which are the 28th) have been ordered to join McClernand, for the purpose, it is supposed, of making another attack upon Vicksburg. I do not know whether I shall be ordered back to join the regiment or not. I close this letter in great haste, to send by dispatch boat. I think our mission here is ended, and we shall return to Helena or Napoleon. I will write you from there.
C. K. DAVIS
SOURCE: The Waukesha Freeman newspaper of February 3, 1863. Transcribed by Bruce Laine of MG John Gibbon Camp #4, Dept. of Wisconsin, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and printed in the February 2004 "Messenger" newsletter.