The army had nobly accomplished its mission, in freeing the Mississippi from Confederate rule. The troops with which Grant left Grand Gulf, on the 1st of May, had continued in the presence of the enemy for nearly three months, and required rest, which was secured to them in the various camps around Vicksburg. These were pleasantly located in the shade of the forest growth, and rendered as comfortable and healthy as the season would admit. Our camp on the Big Black, at Messenger's Ferry, was named in honor of him whose brilliant military genius was just beginning to be appreciated by the people, and whose popularity was rapidly increasing in the army, Major General W. T. Sherman It was then considered an honor to belong to the Fifteenth Corps, but it is doubly so now, when the conflict is at an end, and the history of that noble band of heroes, with whose fame the names of Sherman and Logan (p103) are for ever linked, is written in characters of blood and fire. This Corps had come into existence on the Tallahatchie, in December 1862, and was placed under command of General Sherman. In the events of the great campaigns now closed the Corps bore a conspicuous part, and now formed with its sister Corps, the Thirteenth and Seventeenth, a bright galaxy of noble spirits. To say that the commander of the Corps had the respect and confidence of the troops is but to speak half the truth. They had learned to admire and love him, and from the "Crazy Sherman" of the days of Cameron rule in the War Department, he had come to be the special confidant of the great leader of our noble armies, Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Henceforth we were to share in all the triumphs of this eminent commander; and frequent occasion for reference to him will occur in the future chapters of this volume.
In the campaigns now terminated so gloriously, many brave men had fallen, and their memory was enshrined in the hearts of a grateful people. Orders were issued granting furloughs to five per cent of the enlisted men, during the period of allotted rest. It was a proud privilege to a veteran from the field of conflict, so recently the centre of attraction to the entire nation, to return to the familiar scenes of home, and feel the beating of the public heart toward the nation's defenders. It (p105) was a dearly bought and fairly won honor, thus to return. In many a home circle gratitude filled, to overflowing, hearts that had long been borne down with anxiety for absent ones and for the success of the cause they served. Now they welcome home the husband, son, or brother, bearing the wreath of the conqueror on his brow. He comes to tell them of the honors and privileges which he has received, as the reward of all his toils, privations, and dangers It would be in vain to attempt a picture of those scenes which gladdened thousands of hearts and homes, during the brief period of rest preparatory to unknown labors. To those who shared them the memory is yet distinct and impressive. It may be joyful or sad, in the retrospect, for it may be that now the dear one is returned to enter the field of strife no more. If so, how pleasing the memory of that foretaste of the complete happiness now enjoyed. But it may have been the last visit on earth with the dear friend, who returned to die upon a distant battle field. If, how mingled the emotions of pleasure and sorrow awakened by the reflections upon that last meeting. The coming of the brave man was full of hope, for it spoke of a future coming, to return no more. but the parting, like all those scenes of separation which linger in the memories of unnumbered thousands, was attended with trembling fears, which have, alas, been fully realized. (p105)
If it is difficult to describe the pent up feelings of anxious hearts, whose dearest ones are exposed to peril, it is no less a task to portray the peculiar mingling of thoughts and emotions which crowd into the soul of an earnest and true man, who loves his wife and children with all the affection of a noble manhood, as he returns to greet them once more, to spend in their society a few brief days, and then turn his steps toward the field of strife, where duty and patriotism call him. Look at him; behold his self-control, as he looks in the faces of dear ones, perhaps for the last time. Hear him, as he speaks calmly and cheerfully to those who hang weeping upon his arm. Question him, as he waves the last adieu, and without an indication of sorrow, puts them all aside, and ask him if he loves his family. He will look reprovingly upon you. As him again, why he betrays no signs of weakness at the parting scene. Listen to his reply, ye dwellers at home, who never knew the full power of affection, because never drawn from the side of those most lived, to the scene of danger. "It is my love for them that makes me strong to resist the least tendency to weakness. My sympathy for them in their loneliness would lead me to weep with them, if weeping would strengthen them. But it would not only unman me, but add to the intensity of their sorrow. I purposely conceal my deep regrets at parting, that (p106) I may spare them. This I have learned to do through the influence to which I am subject in the army, the power to control myself under the most difficult circumstances. It is not more trying to my courage to fight a battle than to part with dear ones, but I have acquired the ability to do both with calmness. Yes, God knows I love my friends, for whose sake I also love my country, and seek to preserve, for coming generations, the birth right I have inherited from my ancestors, that I may hand it down unimpaired to my descendants." How noble is such a spirit of patriotism, and how fully has it been exemplified by multitudes of the most devoted husbands and fathers, sons and brothers that the land could boast. Would to God that the man who shrunk from the duty to which his country called him, upon the plea that he could not break the ties that bound him to his home, could read the deep thoughts of the brave soldier as he commits his family to the keeping of a gracious Providence, and rushes into the din of battle. It would shame the beholder, and teach him that, compared with such devotion, his boasted love of home is but selfishness.
"My husband thinks too much of his family to go to war," was the remark of one who prided herself on the enjoyments of a home far above those our brave soldiers had voluntarily surrendered that they might beat back the tied of desolation (p108) which a relentless foe would surely bring to their own threshold, did they refuse to heed the voice of duty. Strictly interpreted, this language implies an appreciation of home that would not defend it against danger till resistance would be of no avail. True courage ventures forth to meet the enemy on his own soil, compelling the assailant to suffer all the ravages of war; and true devotion to home and its interests stimulates to activity the courage requisite for the accomplishment of the desired object.
In accordance with the sentiment quoted in the preceding paragraph is that contemptuous spirit exhibited by some who professed to be loyal supporters of the Government. In the social circle, and in the exercise of the common civilities of life, the expression, "It is only a soldier's wife," has shut out a worthy woman from the sympathy and kindliness of feeling which none yet could so justly and reasonably claim. And yet the absent husband, engaged in deadly strife with armed traitors, for the vindication of his country's honor, may be the superior in moral and intellectual worth of those who thus take the uppermost seat in the assembly of the people. The time of his return to civil life has now come and he will surely dispossess those who esteem him and his friends so lightly, and they will begin, with shame, to take the lower seat.(p108)
It was curious to observe the variable scale of appreciation in which these quasi Unionists held the soldiers at different periods in the progress of the struggle. The presence of the man of noble deeds, and the occasion of his triumph were possessed of a singular power to impress these vacillating creatures with a sense of the respectability of a military life, while the absence of the person and the success of the soldier reduced the angle of vision, and gave diminutive form and dignity to his character and to the glory of his services. On the occasion of which we speak the visual angle was greatly enlarged, and none applauded more noisily the character and fame of the triumphant heroes, returned to their homes from Vicksburg, than the class of men referred to. Those who had vilified our brave men most, bowed lowest to do them reverence, vainly hoping to impress the generous hearts of the veterans with a sense of their ardent admiration for their distinguished services. This tendency became still more apparent, as the great conflict drew to a close, when all classes joined in bestowing upon the victors the chaplet of immortality.
In vain were all these efforts to deceive the watchful scrutiny of men long accustomed to vigilance in the face of the enemy. The least appearance of the true character, above the hastily constructed defenses erected for protection, drew the (p109) aim of an unerring judgment, with the same facility that the rifle was brought to bear upon the exposed body of an armed foe above the entrenchments, and a prompt decision was passed upon his character.
But to the loyal masses, whose hearts never failed to beat responsive to the demands of interest and duty, the temporary presence of the representatives from the army in Mississippi was a source of unmingled delight. The surprise they experienced equaled their pleasure, as they observed the evident improvement of these men in their general bearing, few of them being exceptions to this rule. That men exposed to all the evil influences of camp life, should be able to appear so well in refined society as to elicit the remark from those who had previously known them, that they were more refined and cultivated in their manners than when they entered the army, was a source of surprise to all classes. Yet it has proved generally true, that long absence from home and friends has tended to develop a manliness of character in many of those who were wholly inexperienced in the civilities of social life. It is not claimed for all, or for any large proportion of the army, that the service has had a tendency to influence the moral character and conduct of young men, aside from home influences and the comparatively limited moral and religious influence to which they have (p110) been subjected in the army. Neither is it claimed that the improvement of manners above mentioned is the direct result of military life, but rather the product of combined influences, emanating from home and enforced by the peculiar circumstances in which men find themselves placed, when separated from all the refinements of social life. Past lessons and privileges unite with present privations to induce a spirit of thoughtfulness, deepened by scenes of danger, which results in a conviction of the real value of those privileges and lessons. In the temporary possession of them, or during a brief period spent in the social circle, the consciousness of their worth gives a dignity of bearing which attracts the attention of the observer. This may be perceived in the crowded street-car, on the entrance of a lady, when the "boy in blue3" is first to rise and yield his place to one who represents his ideal of social excellence. The service has in this particular greatly benefited thousands of young men.
Yet it must be admitted that the forms of politeness may exist in connection with vicious habits. This apparent dignity of character is not limited to the citizen, but is shared by the soldier as well. Many are the victims of vice and folly, and exert a pernicious influence over others. But we here view them in their representative character. The generous treatment accorded to the soldier is to (p111) him an expressive token of the appreciation set upon his services by those whom he represents. According to his faithfulness he has been and will ever be rewarded by the respect and gratitude of those enjoying the benefits of his service. His personal character is to be considered entirely distinct from the capacity which he has acquired and exercised for his country's welfare.
The return of the brave men to the scene of their late triumphs was followed by many happy hours of reminiscence for themselves and those who had rejoiced in their presence. Subsequent events proved that the great work of subduing rebellion was not yet completed, and that an important part was to be assigned to them in the final drama of events. To some of them the visions of home were never again realized. In some of the numerous spots made sacred by the sleeping dust of our slain heroes, they were afterward laid to rest, or from some hospital, where they struggled long with disease, they were borne to their humble but honored graves.
But five per cent of the enlisted men was a very small part of the vast army resting around Vicksburg. On the return of those who left us early in August, others were allowed to go in their places, and thus nearly ten per cent of the army received furloughs. Large numbers of officers also received leaves of absence, and returned to their respective (p112) States. the flood of travel on the Mississippi, and from Cairo northward, was surprising, and it seemed that our whole army was in motion. Yet nine-tenths of the soldiers remained in camp during the entire period spent on the Big Black. The record of events occurring in the repose of summer quarters is monotonous, affording very few items of general interest, and the ordinary incidents of camp life would not repay the recital.
During the continuance of our stay at Camp Sherman, a long and interesting series of religious meetings was held by the various Chaplains, which was attended with valuable results. For fifty-three days, from the 6th of August to the 28th of September, these meetings continued without a single interruption. The attendance was good, and the most perfect order prevailed at all times; for in the army the respect paid to religious services, by those accustomed to attend, cannot be excelled by the regular congregations in civil life. The influence of these meetings continued to be felt in all the subsequent experience of Christian men in the various regiments composing our Division. In other camps a similar course was pursued, with satisfactory results.
It was during this period that we received our first supplies of religious reading matter from the Christian Commission Room at Vicksburg. This noble monument of Christian patriotism had (p113) been reared in the midst of the scenes of strife and carnage which the tyranny of sin had occasioned. Though receiving very few of the advantages of the organization, in consequence of the remoteness of our sphere of operations during the war, we saw sufficient evidence of its efficiency to indicate its inestimable value. In the spontaneous exercise of a lofty benevolence through the agency of those twin institutions, the Sanitary and Christian Commissions, the country has afforded a remarkable illustration of the genius and inspiration of civil and religious freedom. The people not only responded to the call for men to fight our battles, but added the contribution of millions for the relief of the suffering soldiers in the field, providing both for the body and soul of the sufferer, not in charity, but as a noble privilege and sacred duty. This record of philanthropy softens the stern features of war and shows the practical value of Christianity, the source of true benevolence.
The following promotions were made during this
Captain Elbert D. Baldwin, Co. B, to Major, vice Goodnow, promoted, September 12th, 1863.
1st Lieutenant Frank H. Aveline, Co. B., to Captain, vice Baldwin, promoted, September 13th, 1863.
2nd Lieuteant William H. Harrison, Co. B, to 1st Lieutenant, vice Aveline, promoted, September 13th, 1963. (p114)
Orderly Sergeant Alfred L. Stoney, Co. B, to 2nd Lieutenant, vice Harrison, promoted, September 13th, 1963.
The sad results of the campaign against Jackson and the hot season immediately following remain to be noticed. The prevalence of disease during the month of September was especially fatal, and large numbers died. The mournful music denoting a burial or the firing of the accustomed volleys over the grave indicated the rapid and extended work of death through all the camps. The following list embraces the names of all who died during this period:
August 13th -- John B. Boone, Company G.
August 16th -- John Ballinger, Company C.
August 24th --Edward Gerard, Company F.
August 25th -- William Doty, Company G
August 25th -- Albert Foster, Company B.
August 28th -- Samuel R. Bunnell, Company D.
August 30th -- Caleb W. Downs, Company C.
September 1st -- Henry C. Burnett, Company K.
September 3rd -- John Mishler, Company I.
September 5th -- John E. McNabb, Company E.
September 5th -- Henry H. Coshow, Company D.
September 6th -- Robert Stafford, Company E.
September 7th -- John Church, Company F.
September 8th -- William Wright, Company G.
September 10th -- Wesley Iba, Company B..
September 11th -- James Bowen, Company F.
September 11th -- David Brown, Company I.
September 15th -- Mahlon D. Mercer, Company I.
September 16th -- John Bowmaster, Company F.
September 21st -- John S. Gardner, Company G. (p115)