The Civil War Journal of
1st Lieut., Co. G, 28th Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers
Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Typescripted from the original holograph by
The year was 1864 and major events of American history were being forged in a war of a nation not yet one hundred years old; a nation at war with itself. The record of those events having been written in blood are somewhat less faded than others by the annals of time and rightfully so. Many of the campaigns and battles of the War between the States were considered "glorious" by those who were there to recount the tales, but only by those who lived. The glory of these events was in the cause and the victory, but not in the price paid for those achievements. A greater achievement to the individual may have been the mere survival of those hard and desperate times, further compounded by war.
The journal of Lieutenant Seymour Gilbert is the true story of a survivor. A very moral young Union Officer, the Wisconsin-born Lieutenant Gilbert chronicled his day to day life and thoughts while in the service of his nation. The manner in which he lived, his moral and religious convictions and his complete devotion to family may have been the keys to his survival, moreover they are the pillars of honor.
After more than a century, this personal diary has been wrenched finally from the encroaching dust of oblivion. May other lost chronicles of the history of our forefathers also emerge someday.
This shall be known when we are dead,
A part of the 5th Kansas started for home in the morning by way of the Rock, and they took our mail. I wrote a letter to my wife, but it was not in time for the mail. Everything went on as usual in camp. Col. Gray was making a great effort for his defense when his trial should come on before the Court Martial, but I understood that his trial was to come off at the Rock, instead of the Bluff.126th Ill. Infantry. I wrote Melinda a long letter, and did some other writing. I went to the Presbyterian Church in the afternoon and heard a sermon from the Chaplain of the 126th Ill. I had never seen nor heard him before. He was a rough looking sort of man, with unshaven face, but he seemed to be a man of kindly feeling, and he preached quite a good practical sermon from a text in Corinthians - but I could not remember whether in 1st or 2nd Corinthians - nor what chapter or verse. I understood that he was a Presbyterian, but some one that heard him in the evening, told me he thought he was a Universalist. He mentioned at the close of his sermon that he was to attend the funeral of one of the members of his regiment that evening, and that it was the third case of mortality in the 126th within a week. I could not help contrasting it with our own regiment for it had been some time since we had lost a man. Blanchard of our Company being the last that I could call to mind. We had Dress Parade at 5 P.M. but being excused by the Doctor I did not have to go out. There were but few men and only five officers - including the Adjutant present and Captain Tichenor being the ranking officer, acted as Colonel and conducted the parade for the first time since the regiment was formed. There was no further news in regard to going to the Rock, and matters at the post were entirely quiet. I felt real well, and the ague seemed to have left me, and I certainly thought it about time. The day was quite warm, and the night the warmest we had for some time, and there was considerable rain not far from midnight.
The day was cloudy, but warm and pleasant and in the night we had a very heavy rain accompanied by a heavy wind. I felt real well all day, there being no signs of a return of my ague. I wrote short letters to my wife and Myron - sending to the latter as complete returns of the election as I could obtain that night for I knew that he would want to hear as soon as possible. We received notice about 8:30 in the evening that the mail would be taken to Post Headquarters in half an hour, and Jake Heaton took ours down to the Post Office. At night I could not help thinking how much depended upon the result of that day's election and how irrevocable was it's decree. I believed that the fate of the nation was suspended upon it, and I could not help feeling anxious, though I was confident that Lincoln would be reelected. I knew that the story was told, though no one knew the result. It really seemed strange to me that any could manifest such indifference as some did - and I could only account for it on the ground of ignorance or lack of ordinary good sense. I felt that a great responsibility rested upon me as one of the many upon whom the responsibility of a choice of President rested, and I tried conscientiously to meet that responsibility. In voting for Abraham Lincoln I believed that I did so, and I would not to save my right hand, have voted for Geo. B. Mc Clellan. Most of the other troops at the Bluff were from Illinois and were not allowed to vote. They thought pretty grinding, and I did not blame them.Vanderpool came and got it on election day, so we could not keep a fire in our stove, and our quarters were anything by comfortable. Mose and Donaldson tried to find an elbow somewhere, but without success. The Captain and Lts Coates and Bingham were on picket, Lt. Kowing was on forage with 30 men of our regiment. Our Captain was General Officer and another Field Officer of the Day - and, 90 men and 15 Non-Commissioned Officers were on picket - making almost the entire regiment. In the forenoon we heard that our forager train had been cut off by the Rebels - some 20 miles or more down the river, and Colonel Erskine of the 13th Illinois Cavalry was sent out in command of what cavalry could be raised as a reinforcement, and even General Clayton went out himself, so anxious was he. There was considerable excitement among the boys, and I heard some of the "K" boys saying that their Lt. Kowing was gone up. But Clayton had not been gone long before he returned with the news that the train was safe, and had not been attacked, the bridge that he heard was destroyed, being a different bridge from the one he thought. The advance guard of the train came in about sunset, but the train did not come in until 9 O'clock in the evening. The boys reported that about 36 Rebels were seen, but that the train was not fired upon at all, though two of the 13th Illinois who were out foraging for beef were taken by the Rebels. They reported the roads in a terrible condition, and expressed the opinion that another loaded train could not be taken over the same road, as they had to lift and pry wagons out of the mud almost constantly.
There was a report that old Price had been whipped again up near Dardanelle and 400 prisoners captured from him, but I could not learn that the report came from a reliable source. There was still talk of the 28th going to the Rock, and the opinion seemed to prevail that we would go and that the 29th were only retained at the Rock until the fate of Price could be definitely known. On account of the excess of duty at the Bluff, and more especially on account of the foraging duty, I rather preferred to go. The idea of going out 25 or 30 miles foraging every few days, to be gone two or three days, was anything but pleasant, the weather cold and stormy, and the roads almost unpassable on account of mud, and all the time surrounded by rebels, and liable to be attacked by a superior force. In fact almost any change seemed preferable.
I was afraid all day, that I should be detailed for forage for the next day, but when the details came around at night, and none came for me, I began to think that I should escape though I was afraid the 106th Illinois might fail to fill their detail, as it would be their day for picket. I had been to bed but a short time, and had just gone to sleep when the Adjutant's orderly brought me a detail, sure enough, ordering me to report at the Pontoon Bridge a 4 O'clock the next morning. I dressed again and in the first place went and presented my order for a horse to the Q.M. Sergeant and then went and notified the hostler that I should want the horse at 3:30 in the morning. I then let Old John know that I should want something to eat early in the morning, and something to carry along to eat while away. By that time it was quite late, and I was glad to get back to bed again, so as to be fit to start out early in the morning. It was just one year from the time we came to Pine Bluff, and a good many of the boys spoke of it.62nd and 126th Illinois already there. Each Regiment had 50 men, making 150 Infantry besides Cavalry. Captain Brown of the 13th Illinois Cavalry who was to have command of the train commenced to cross. The 62nd took the front wagons that crossed the river and the 126th the rear wagons and our men crossed the river and took the Post wagons, so were in the front after all. When our boys learned that they were to have the front of the train, they raised a regular shout, as they much preferred being in the front. We got an early start, and finding the roads much better than we anticipated, we were up to the corn (we went up the river) 22 miles from the Bluff, as Captain said - only a little after noon. The corn was standing in the field, and we had to pick it from the stalks. We distributed the men regularly among the wagons, and they went to work with a will, and in a short time all the wagons were loaded except six or eight in the rear of the train. I went for some of my men, and we had them, the six or eight wagons filled from the crib, the standing corn not holding out. While we were still loading them, some officers and others that started from the Rock with a train a couple days before, came up with us, and passed on toward the Bluff. We started back about the middle of the afternoon, and that end of the road was so good that we got back to within ten or twelve miles of the Bluff before sunset, and went into camp near the Widow Alcorn's place. Captain Brown so arranged it that there should be three Infantry picket posts, and he ordered each Infantry Regiment to take one, and station 25 men or half his command at his post. I had the advance post on the road, and sent out 25 men. He afterwards required me to furnish eight men to guard the Widow Alcorn's house. I took care of my horse, ate a supper of bread and meat, and coffee with nice milk in it, and the lay down in what had been a little Negro house, with a nice fire place in it, and slept until three O' clock the next morning. We had a splendid day and night and everything passed off well, except that the other Regiments fired at hogs a good deal especially in the night, so much that the Captain told me some Negros from the Rean Plantation came riding up, armed, thinking we were having a fight, their purpose being to assist us. Captain Brown told me he thought he should arrest the Lieutenants in command of the 62nd and 126th Details for not restraining their men. 7th Missouri Cavalry stealing chickens, and just as I had halted him, and was inquiring who he was, Captain Brown came up, and arrested him. I was glad that I found him when the Captain was by, as it helped to clear our Regiment who might easily have been accused of doing the mischief, they being camped nearest the out buildings. Long before daylight the train was in motion - 50 wagons - and by 9 O' clock we were once more in time, having had a very pleasant trip. Before noon the mail train was in from the Rock, and we had our mail. I received two letters from my wife, a letter and a paper from Myron, and a letter each from Sarah, Helen, and Mary Nash and Philena Evans. Mira and Baby were real well, but Mrs. Nash was very sick, having given birth to another boy the 20th of October. I was very glad to hear from home again and to learn that all my little family were well - that being the most welcome news I could possibly hear. Philena wrote a good sensible letter, and showed that she followed her mother's teachings in politics rather than her father's. Mary and Helen were getting along well at Appleton, and seemed to like their school very much. Sarah's letter was written on the 23rd and 25th of October and she wrote that the corn was all husked and potatoes dug, and Pylranus was plowing every day. The news of the defeat of Price and the capture of his artillery and train - and of Generals Marmaduke and Caball with a large number of men, and the wounding of Fagan was confirmed in the papers. I took a good bath in the evening, and was glad to get another good nights sleep in a comfortable bed - at least a comfortable bed for the army. 106th Illinois Infantry, 1st Lieutenant R. C. Kenyon 1st Arkansas Light Artillery and myself. We met as ordered, and were instructed to proceed to the store of Hough and Co. and obtain what evidence we could in relation to the matter. Captain Bowman acted as President, and I as Recorder, and we examined three witnesses - Packard, Hough & White, and ascertained that the amount of nails taken was 140 lbs and that the cost of the nails here was $14.50 per cwt. We then adjourned until 2 O' clock P.M. the next day in order to obtain the evidence of Sergeant Hoag of Company "F" who was clerk in the Q.M. Department when the nails were taken by Post Q.M. Hillyer. It took me all the evening to make out my report as far as we had gone as I had to make out triplicate papers. It rained nearly all the evening, but before morning it cleared up, and became real cold. Chaplain Peake told me that Captain Stevens received a letter from Colonel Benton of the 29th Iowa, giving a description of their barracks, and saying that they would keep their barracks in good condition for us, and requesting us to do the same with ours - as it was definitely settled that the two Regiments were to change places. I was by no means sorry for the prospect of a change. 5th Kansas Cavalry Volunteers a. a. g. m. Post of Pine Bluff, for the use of the U.S. but he knew nothing more about the matter and I did not take his testimony. After returning to my quarters I wrote Mira a short letter, writing to my wife and friends being by far the pleasantest employment I could find. I did not know what I should do if it were not for hearing from all my little family in her letters, and though I had never seen our baby, I was always anxious to learn that our little Melinda Almira was well and doing well. The name, though not a fanciful one by any means, was nevertheless my choice, as it combined the names of my wife and one of my sisters, the name reading the same as hers - Melinda A. Gilbert. It was a fancy of mine to have her thus named - though it may have been and odd one, and an evidence with some of decidedly poor taste in such matters. But neither one has an ordinary or common name, and I thought enough of both the persons bearing the names to be willing that our child should be named after them - to be anxious that she should receive those names, because belonging to those persons. Mira proposed naming her after her Mother and my mother making her name Catharine Elizabeth, but for some reason I preferred Melinda Almira. I afterwards thought that I ought not to have stated any preference, but Mira was anxious that I should, so I did it - but really with reluctance. At 2 O' clock P. M. Captain Bowman and Lieutenant Kenyon came to my quarters, and we proceeded to complete the business commenced the day before. We determined the quantity of nails taken from Messrs Hough & Co. to be 140 lbs and fixed the price of the same at $ 0.16 per lb. Before sunset our business was finished and the papers completed and signed. I employed the evening in talking with the Captain and in doing some writing. There were no news and matters in Camp remained the same as usual. There was no Dress Parade, on account of 90 men, 15 Non-Commissioned and 3 Commissioned Officers being on picket. The river commenced to rise again, and we began to hope we might still go to the Rock by water instead of land. Captain Stevens, stating that there would be a meeting of an officers' class at his quarters at 7 O' clock in the evening. The Captain and I went there at the hour, but no lesson was recited, the meeting or class simply adjourning until after Dress Parade the following day. While there, Captain Stevens read a letter from Thomas H. Benton Jr. Colonel of the 29th Iowa stating that the 29th had just purchased a regimental bakery which was in good running order - with new pans etc., and which cost $125.00 which they would like to exchange with us for one of equal value, in case we had one - and the Regimental Board decided to use enough of the Regiment Fund to purchase it, we having none to exchange for it. We had Dress Parade at 4:30 P.M. and I for the first time acted as file closer - as a Commissioned Officer. There was some talk that Major Carroll of the 13th Illinois Cavalry and Captain Kenyon of the 28th would have charges preferred against them for being drunk while out in charge of a forage train, a Lieutenant of the 126th Illinois Infantry having told Lieutenant Hartwell that he should prefer charges against them. Before Captain Kenyon came into the U. S. Service, he was a very religious young man, but his religion did not seem to be made of the right stuff, as it did not last him until he left Camp Washburn. Well, the army is a place that tries men and determines of what stuff they are made - and it requires stern stuff to resist its' temptations, and retain ones manhood. But observation proved that quite too few possessed the requisite force of character. I paid Old John $5.00 more, making $25.00 in all, and I commenced boarding on the 22nd of September the time I stopped boarding at Mrs. Buck's. 126th Illinois came to relieve us at 9 O' clock. I did not go through with the ceremony of presenting arms etc., not thinking that it paid - such bad rainy weather. It was about 10 O' clock when the Captain and I went to Old John's for our breakfast and after that I made my report concerning the General Officers of the Day, and Donaldson took it and the Captain's over to Post Headquarters. The Annie Jacobs was expected to go out some time during the day, so I wrote a short letter to my wife, but the boat started without it after all. Just as we were going to supper she was starting out, and Higley went out on her. We were looking for a boat from the Rock, as they were expecting one down at Post Headquarters, but none came. An escort from Little Rock came in the evening, and reported that a boat started about the time they started, which was some time in the morning.
We had and Officer's class at 4 O' clock P.M. which passed off very well, though not as I thought, as well as it might. Lieutenant Seymour was there at first somewhat intoxicated but Kendrick came and blurted out - "They say you are drunk Seymour, how is it?" It made Seymour mad and he left. In the evening Seymour, Collyer, Bennett and I presume other officers, got on a great drunk, and were raiding around most of the night. I could see more and more plainly every day, that I could not be one of the officers of the 28th as far as association was concerned, though I did not allow the existence of the fact to trouble me much. Bennett and I were mustered at the same time, but I could not shut my eyes to the fact that he was a good fellow, among the other officers, one of them, in fact. I was nobody among the drinking officers, was hardly ever appealed to in a pleasant way by them. - as they addressed each other, was seldom addressed by Colonel Gray, except in the commonest way though treated well by all of a different character. Well, their habits and company were doubtless as distasteful to me, as mine to them, and they probably thought that I kept aloof from them as much as I thought they kept aloof from me. At any rate I did not flinch from the plan that I had adopted, of marking out my own course, without too closely patterning after any one. In the evening I was detailed as Officer of the Day to report at Regiment Headquarters at 9 A.M. the next morning for instructions, and still later we received an order from Post Headquarters to furnish men and officers to run the picket line the next day, because Lieutenant Colonel Hurd of the 106 Illinois was dead, and the Regiment were excused from duty to attend his funeral. Hurd had been Court Martialed a few days before, and it was said that his sentence was to be dishonorably dismissed from the Service. His disease was said to be Brain Fever, and I thought that quite likely, his trial and the result might have had much effect upon his disease, being perhaps one of the chief inducing causes. The weather was cold and damp, and my limbs felt like the ague but otherwise I felt well. It was just 2 years and 3 months since my enlistment and the next day would be two years and eleven months since I last saw family or friends.
Later in the evening, very unexpectedly to us the old Steamer Cadot came down from the Rock, bringing us quite a respectable little mail. I received one letter from Mira written from the 6th to the 9th and two from Alvarus, one written at home on the 6th and the other at Waukesha on the 10th. The county had given a Copperhead Majority - of 160 or 170 on the home vote, but it was thought that the soldiers vote would overcome it. General Paine was between 600 and 700 behind on the home vote, but no doubts were entertained that the soldiers would bring him out all right. Myron was 29 behind on the home vote, but our majority of 81 for him made him all right, if the returns were made in proper shape, and went through all right. The previously received rumors of the reelection of old Abe by an overwhelming majority - were fully confirmed and we heartily rejoiced, because we believed that it ensured the salvation of the country. Mira's letter contained the welcome news that she and Baby - and all our friends, so far as she knew were well. I was too sick to read the letters that night, but left them until morning.
In the P.M. I wrote to my wife, Alvarus and Alex Mc Neill. In Aleck's letter I enclosed a note for the $40.00 he sent men a short time before, it being written "On Demand" and payable to himself or Order. The note bore date Nov. 24'/64/
It was Thanksgiving Day, and I celebrated it by sending sown by Walton for 25 cents worth of apples, and eating them - three in number. I judged that some others celebrated the day in a different manner, as I saw them staggering across the Parade ground in quite a Bacchanalian style. How strange it seems that men will thus desecrate the days that are set apart for grand and sacred purposes! The Cadot went up the river shortly after noon, but she did not take the mail, as there was not enough to pay for the trouble. There were rumors that our Regiment and the 9th Wisconsin were to be consolidated, but I gave no credit to them.
The river still remained quite high, and in the forenoon a fleet of five Transports came up the river. The names of the boats were St. Cloud, Eclipse, Emma No. 2, Live Oak, and Tempest, all quite respectable in size and appearance. They had on board, besides Government Stores - a quantity of green apples and potatoes, and a considerable amount of Sutler goods. The first three started up for the Rock the same day, as the May Duke, under her Captain Sam Houston. Higley intended to take the mail up on one of them, but they were too quick for him, and he and the mail were left. I had a number of letters in it, as it had been some days since the mail had gone out. Just at night we learned that a dispatch had been received from Headquarters at Little Rock, ordering our Regiment there as soon as the weather should become settled, after the arrival of the 62nd Illinois Veterans - and as they came upon the fleet, we supposed it could not be long before we should receive and order from General Clayton to start. It was understood that the 62nd were to occupy our quarters, and that we were to have none at the Rock until we built them ourselves - so the prospect was anything but a flattering one to us. I looked upon it as an outrage upon American Soldiers, to order us out of our comfortable quarters in the worst possible season of the year, without any apparent good reason whatever. A good deal of suffering would be unavoidable before comfortable quarters could be erected, and doubtless a number of deaths would be part of the result. But for myself, I was rather pleased with the idea, for I considered the Rock a healthier place than Pine Bluff, a point by no means to be overlooked.
I felt quite well most of the day, but at night after going to bed, I felt miserable again and it must have been past midnight before I could get to sleep at all, and then I could only sleep a few minutes at a time, when I would wake up in a cold sweat. I never spent nights much more miserably than that and one or two preceding it. My sleep seemed to do me no good at all, and I could not tell the reason of it, but I resolved to consult the Doctor and if possible ascertain something about it.126th Illinois took them from the boat and loaded them into the wagons. The sacks were large and the boys had to carry them up quite a steep muddy bank, and it was decidedly hard work for any one and especially for men not used to work. The Forage Master said the sacks would average 145 lbs and the Detail carried off about 1800. I did not feel very well, so I did not go back for my breakfast, but went without until noon, preferring to do so, to returning through the mud for something to eat. On my way up to dinner I bought three apples for 25 cents and on my way back I bought one for 10 cents. It was pretty dear eating, but I felt real hungry for them, and I thought they did me good. We quit work a little before sunset, and I was glad to put on some clean clothes and settle down for Sunday, I had not been on Fatigue Duty on Sunday in a long time before, but it was one way of spending the Sabbath in the army, and whether we liked it or not, we could not help ourselves. In the evening it was stated that Company "O" had been relieved from the Steam Saw Mill, and Company "F" from Provost Guard, and it began to look very much as though we might be on our way to Little Rock soon. The river kept falling, and I was afraid we should have to foot it up through the mud. I felt better at night than I had for a week before, and slept first rate. Captain Stevens being the inspecting officer. It was said to be preparation to going to the Rock, but no one could see any reason for it on that score. I had nothing to do with it, being excused by the Doctor. Lieutenant Hartwell was relieved from working on the fortifications in the forenoon, at his own request, on the ground that he needed time to settle up his affairs previous to going to the Rock. He had been on that duty for three months, and was as sick of it as a person well could be, and he was as pleased as a boy at being relieved. He was a person of ordinary abilities, but more than ordinary energy and self reliance, and he made a pretty good officer. He had a fair common school education, and was a person of fair, though not superior intelligence, and he had taught a common school one or two terms. He was quite young, and cast his first vote after entering the army. I concluded that he had had a pretty good bringing up at home, but he did not always have strength of character to resist evil influences, and he used to drink too much once in a while. He was anything but well behaved at table, and his vulgar talk and ungentlemanly conduct at Old John's table used to cause him a great deal of trouble. He always treated me well, and I took him to be a good hearted, clever fellow. There was no coward about him, and no shirking.
Doctor Smith said that he asked General Clayton to give him permission to put some things on the boat, as he might have another opportunity, and he might not, to send them to the Rock. Clayton told him not to be in a hurry, as the 28th had not gone yet, so we were as much in suspense as ever. I wrote to my wife, supposing that the mail was going out, but it did not go.13th Illinois thinking I might exchange with him, and obtain the right size, but I failed, and then I got Jake Heaton to fix up one of my old Government quaints that was in a bad condition, for the purpose of marching in them. I also tried to find a pair of shoes large enough for Mose, but failed, and we were afraid he could not march through with us as he was nearly barefooted. In the evening the Captain and I packed our things, I using Daw's box and my own valise, and the Captain using his trunk and valise, and the Company Field Chest. We were expecting a boat and a mail from the Rock, but none came. I was real glad that matters had at last come to a focus, as we had been in suspense long enough. The boys were selling off one thing and another during the day, chairs, tables, stoves etc., and even windows. General Clayton came to the camp and bought a stove of Company "K" paying $15.00 for it, when it was not actually worth $3.00 - and it made quite a laugh among the boys. One of our Messes sold a stove for $15.00 that did not cost them anything, and the camp was crowded with buyers all day. Many citizens expressed their regret that we were going away, and I did not doubt that their regrets in many cases genuine, as our Regiment had always been very peaceable and well behaved. For our last supper in Pine Bluff, Old John had stewed Kidd - and it was the first Kid meat I had ever eaten. 7th Indiana Cavalry who rode in advance of us for two or three miles. We went about 8 miles in the forenoon, when we stopped from 12 till 1 for dinner. We found that all Old John had for us to eat was bread and meat, and we were all dissatisfied. Our Company were Rear Guard and after seeing what Old John had, I went back and ate with the boys. In the P.M. we went about 9 miles, and camped on a high ridge near what were called Rock Springs our camp ground being the site of a large hotel which our boys - some of the Cavalry had burned some time before, because it was a notorious rendezvous for Guerrillas. Coal and some partly burned timbers still remained. All the country over which we had passed was quite heavily timbered with pine and oak, and Demby's house, inside our lines at Pine Bluff, was the last house we passed containing any inhabitants. Old John's dinner was repeated for supper, only his fresh kid - the first I ever ate, was older and not so good. I lay down on the ground with the Captain and slept tolerably well though it was quite cool toward morning. Lieutenant Hartwell was Officer of the Guard, and posted the pickets and made the Grand Rounds.