On Board St'r. St. Louis Near
Mouth of the Tallahachie River,
Miss., March 12, 1863
The past few days have been full of excitement. On Monday we came up with a gang of rebel cotton burners who had destroyed the cotton on all the plantations we passed that day, and as night set in, the heavens were all aglow with the 'funeral pyre' of King Cotton--It was estimated that we saw not less than a half million dollars worth of property being consumed. They would take the cotton out of the ginhouses and put it in a pile and then apply the torch. In some instances they did not stop to do that much, but burned the valuable buildings in which the cotton was stored. I thought if the rebels could afford such an expensive luxury, we ought not to grumble.
This course is not strengthening the rebel cause. The inhabitants were given to understand that the Federal soldiers were going t burn not only their cotton, but also their houses over their devoted heads. In short, they believed that we approximated as near to barbarians as themselves. But when the women and the few men that are left in the country saw us--as we are--an army of civilized and enlightened men, they were astonished if not confused.
We took all the cotton that was needed for barricading the transports (some 400 bales) before overtaking the cotton-burners. On Tuesday our gunboats drove ahead as fast as possible, in order to overtake the rebels. About 2 o'clock P.M. on that day they crowded so close to two rebel boats loaded with cotton that they set fire to the largest one, containing about 2,500 bales, and left it--the crew going aboard of the other boat and escaping down the river.
We came up with the burning boat and cargo about sundown, and passed down beyond some three miles, where we tied up for that night. All this distance the river was covered with burning cotton balls making decidedly the most expensive illumination I have ever witnessed. Our Wide Awake, torch light processions were nothing in comparison. It was literally a river of fire for miles--a sight such as I never expect to look upon again. During the day we passed many splendid plantations, most of them deserted by the white people, and left in the sole possession of the 'colored' population, who greeted us with every demonstration they could think of--waving of hats and handkerchiefs, jumping up and down, clapping of hands, shouting, &c.--In some instances there were the whole black populations of a plantation standing upon the bank, with their bundles, a mule or two, a bale of cotton which they had succeeded in saving from the rebels, expecting to be taken aboard. With what joy and hope they first hailed us, and with what bitter disappointment were their hearts filled, as we steamed slowly by them, can only be appreciated by an eyewitness. But we could not afford them any relief in that way.
Yesterday morning we dropped down the river to where we now are. Here we find the enemy strongly fortified. Our regiment was ordered ashore, and started down the bank. After going about a mile they came upon the rebels, and drove them across a slough into their fortifications--The 28th were under the fire of the rebel artillery, and stood it like old veterans.--Two or three shells burst in close proximity to Col. Lewis, but not a man of the Regiment was hurt. The Regiment slept on their arms that night within 400 or 500 yards of the enemy's lines, and assisted in erecting a land battery.
This morning, while standing at this battery, (which is within 500 yards of the rebel fort) in company with Gen. Rose, Salomon and Fisk, the enemy fired two guns at us. The balls made merry music among the limbs of the trees over our heads, and sent us all back to the rear in 'double quick time', I assure you.
I took a look at the rebels and their fortifications through the field glass of Gen. Salomon. You may have some little curiosity to know how I felt so close under the guns of the enemy. I thought but little of the danger we were in at the time. We supposed our battery was not yet discovered by the rebels, it being masked and in quite heavy timber. Now, as I think of it, I am a little surprised that I did not shake in the knees. In fact, I am, at the present moment, more scared than I was this morning.
I am called off to attend to official duties, so I must close.
Yours, as ever,