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Civil War letters of
Lt. Col. Charles Whitaker

Two weeks prior to the regiment's departure for the South, Lt. Col. Whitaker received word that his wife had died. There being no relatives of either parent in Wisconsin, his eight children were left in the care of their teacher. Eventually Lt. Col. Whitaker resigned his commission and returned home to care for his family.

This is a letter written onboard the steamer Diana, Coldwater River, Mississippi dated March 4, 1863, while participating in the Yazoo Pass Expedition. The letter is addressed to his daughter Katy (12 years old and the oldest of the children).

My dear child Katy,

I wrote to you on the 27th ult, last Friday a long letter telling you how we left Helena, (Arkansas) and came on board this Boat, and how slowly we were pushing along through a crooked and narrow stream called the Yazoo Pass. I have not heard from any of you since I acknowledged Miss Hill's letter of the 15th of February. So you see it has been a long time since I had news from you little ones, ------- Perhaps you will not get this letter because there are no Post offices here, and our letters have to be sent to and brought from Helena when boats come down or go up.

We get along very slowly indeed in consequence of the river being so crooked and narrow and overhung with great trees. We only traveled about two miles yesterday. We got out of the Yazoo Pass on Monday with our boat into another narrow and crooked river called the "Coldwater" and there we laid all day waiting for other boats of the fleet to join us. More gunboats and mortar boats have also been added to the expedition. When we get into the Tallahatchie River, into which this stream empties about fifty miles from here, we shall be able to go fast, for it is widerand free from the obstructions we meet with now. The rebels had cut down hundreds of trees along this river and the Yazoo Pass, which wehad to chop away and drag out before our boats could go down. I have not much to tell you of our journey sofar, it has been very tedious indeed, with very few incidents to amuse or entertain us.

The weather for the last few days has been very fine and warm, the trees are putting out their leaves, and at one house we passed I saw peach trees in blossom. A cold wind from the north came yesterday and I venture to say that you had a severe snow storm last Sunday with very cold weather this week. Tell me if I have Judged correctly. I saw a little while ago a large flock of beautiful green birds as large as pigeons. They are parrots that live in the south. We see very few houses or people. I believe we have passed within sight of only three houses snce we left Helena.

One was a large and beautiful mansion surrounded by evegreen trees, amongst which I noticed the "weeping willow" in full lead with large yard tastefully laid out and embellished with shrubbery. There was the appearance of elegance, taste, and wealth and a visit made by some of the officers proved all that the exterior indicated. It is owned by a General Alcorn, who owns there four thousand acres of land in one plantation. He has 150 negroes. He professes to be a Union man, and he did really all that his influence could do to prevent his state from seceding.

The officers who visited him say they were cordially received by him and they spent a very pleasant evening at his house. There were three charming young ladies there who gave them music on the piano of which there were two good ones. But they would not sing any but rebel songs. Our officers, one of them was Capt. (Herman) Meyer of Waukesha, and who plays on the piano and sings beautifully, then played and sang our old patriotic and new Union songs. As my boat passed the house I caused our Drum Corps to strike up and they gave them "Yankee Doodle", "Star Spangled Banner", "Dixie", "Battle Cry of Freedom". The sight of our large fleet, and the visits of our good looking and accomplished officers must have been a novel and pleasant incident in their life.

Colonel Whitaker asked about his children and if the little ones remember him and asks his young daughter not to let the little ones forget Mama or me.

Your Affectionate Father,

Chas. Whitaker
Lt. Col. 28 Regt. Wis. Vols

Information contributed by: John F. Ivory Jr.