Ordered to New Orleans - Embarking for Texas - Trip Across the Gulf - De Crow's Point - Dog-Tents - Distributing the Amnesty Proclamation - Planting the Flag in Texas - Skirmish Drill - Fishing and Gathering Shells - Short Rations - Cold New Year - Veterans - Ordered on Board a Condemned Vessel - Return to New Orleans - Re-enlisting - Veteran Medals - Promotions.
DECEMBER 7th, we received orders to proceed to New Orleans. We left that day and arrived at Berwick the 10th, crossed the Bay at 2 A. M. the next day, and reached Algiers by rail at noon. Here we learned that our Division was on its way to Texas by way of the Gulf.
On the 13th, the 48th, with the 130th Illinois, embarked on the steamer "Continental" for Matagorda Bay, Texas. The passage down the river from New Orleans to the Gulf was delightful. On either side could be seen broad plantations, with their elegant residences, surrounded by orange groves, the homes of the wealthy planters. The weather was delightful. The sun was shining from a clear sky, and the only breeze was a gentle wind from the Gulf, which made the voyage a very pleasant one until we reached the Gulf at 5 P. M.
Both Regiments were on deck, enjoying a ride on the "ocean wave," when suddenly the bottom seemed to have dropped out of the Gulf. The waves ran high, and in less than an hour the majority of the men had gone below, feeling very unwell! During the night, the groans of the sea-sick could be heard, interspersed with a comic speech or song, from those whom the voyage had not affected. The next day it turned cold, and we encountered quite a storm. By this time the band of singers had decreased very rapidly and sea-sickness had increased correspondingly.
On the 15th, after a stormy passage, the ship was nearly blown on shore off Matagorda Bay. The ship cast anchor, which broke during the night, and we were at the mercy of the waves, until the ship was again anchored.
Our vessel being too large to cross the bar at the mouth of the bay, we were compelled to wait for a calm in order to reship on a smaller vessel, which did not occur until the evening of the 17th, when we were transferred to the steamer St. Mary's. Crossing the bar the next morning, we disembarked on De Crow's Point, Texas, which is the headland of the peninsula, situated between Matagorda Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It is from a fourth of a mile to a mile in width, and about fifty miles long. Being elevated only a few feet above the level of the Gulf, it is completely submerged during high water, which frequently occurs during a severe storm. A few years after the war, during one of these storms, the Peninsula was thus submerged and all on it perished in the Gulf.
The peninsula is almost a barren sand-bar, but little vegetation of any kind, except wild grass, rushes and a few cactus, which grow to a very large size. Along the beach next to the Gulf, large hills or reefs of sand are formed by the wind and tide. Although we were almost surrounded by salt water, we obtained excellent fresh drinking water by digging holes two or three feet deep in the sand.
Shortly after landing, we had our first trial of our new shelter-tents, consisting of a small strip of canvas, about four feet wide and seven long, better known as dog-tents. They were scarcely large enough for one person. They took the place of the Sibley and Bell tents, which were turned over to the Quartermaster.
President Lincoln issued a proclamation on the 8th of December, 1863, in which he offered to the Southern people one more opportunity to lay down their arms. In the proclamation, amnesty and restoration of their property (excepting slaves) were offered to all persons, excepting officers above the rank of Colonel, all civil officers of the Confederate States, and officers of the United States at the beginning of the war, who had entered the Confederate service. Raids were made in January, 1864, by the troops on the coast of Texas, in which this proclamation was scattered along the route, but if any Texans accepted the amnesty in that part of the State, we never heard of it.
In August, 1863, Gen. Banks received instructions from Washington to plant the flag at some point in Texas without delay, in order to prevent foreign complications. A naval expedition was sent to Sabine Pass, in September, with part of the 19th Corps, under Gen. Franklin, but the navy failed to reduce the fort, and lost several vessels in the attempt. Gen. Banks then attempted to reach Texas by land, by way of New Iberia and Opelousas. (Our Division took part in the campaign, but did not get farther than New Iberia.) But he found the bayous lower than they had been for fifty years, and the country nearly destitute of supplies. The expedition was abandoned, and a descent was made under Gen. Banks, in person, on the coast of Texas, at Matagorda Bay, and at the mouth of the Rio Grande. Our Division was then sent to DeCrow's Point, Texas. This will explain the complicated movements of the army during the fall and winter of 1864, in the Department of the Gulf.
The army mule, that had stood by us in all the vicissitudes of the war, and who was always cheerful, even amid disaster and defeat, whether on half-rations or no rations at all, was, when landed at DeCrow's Point, after his ocean voyage, a most distressed and pitiful-looking object. He was completely subjugated, but in a few days he had rallied, and his familiar voice was again heard as loud as ever. The voyage seemed to have given him a renewed appetite for the wood-work of the old army wagon.
When we first arrived, our duties were comparatively light; our time was chiefly spent in skirmish-drill by bugle signals, gathering shells, bathing and fishing, with seines borrowed from the navy. In addition to the excellent fish caught, it was rare sport for the Regiment to haul out the mysterious-looking animals from the briny deep. From some unexplained cause, after our arrival we ran out of rations, but fortunately the peninsula was well stocked with sheep, which we butchered, and lived for eight or ten days almost entirely on mutton.
During cold or rainy weather, and on occasions of extra fatigue, or guard duty, the soldiers were generally supplied by the commissary department with regular rations (one gill) of whisky, but by some oversight, or "forethought," more whiskey had reached us than hard-tack, which was the only time during our service, in which the Quartermaster drew more whisky then crackers; but, thanks to "kind-hearted" army contractors, it was diluted to such an extent that it was entirely harmless as a beverage.
January 1st, 1864, was the coldest day since leaving Arkansas Post, the ice freezing one inch thick in our tents, and covering the beach with the frozen spray. A soldier was brought in from the picket-line in an unconscious condition, from the effects of the Norther. During the day, the Regiment unloaded a schooner at the landing, and suffered severely from the terrific gale, that swept over the bay and dashed the waves at times over the vessel. In the North this day was known as "the cold New Year."
In the latter part of the month, Adjutant R. A. South resigned, and Lieut. Montgomery was detailed to take his place. The Government had offered a bounty of $400 to all who had served over two years, if they would enlist for another term of three years, and in addition they were to receive a furlough for thirty days, and the Regiment be entitled to the name of "Veterans." In the latter part of January an effort was made to re-enlist the Regiment, and it would have been successful had the Commanding General consented to give us our thirty days furlough immediately; but this he refused to do. Nevertheless, quite a number reenlisted.
Lieut. Col. Parker obtained a leave of absence during the siege of Vicksburg, which was construed by Gen. Grant, in an order to Col. Sullivan, as his resignation. This order was forwarded to Columbus, Ohio. Capt. J. W. Lindsey, who was at home on furlough at the time, was promoted to the vacancy. In the meantime, Col. Parker obtained from Gen. Grant a revocation of the order accepting his resignation, stating that it was issued by mistake. He rejoined the Regiment at De Crow's Point, and was placed in command of the brigade. Shortly afterwards, he received his dismissal from the service on a charge of absence without leave.
He obtained a recommendation from the Regiment to be reinstated, and proceeded to Washing ton, D. C., where he had the order of his dismissal revoked, and obtained a special order to be mustered as Colonel of the Regiment. He rejoined the army after the battle of Sabine Cross-Roads.
February 1st, orders were issued for brigade-drill at 2 o'clock P. M. every day, and "grand review" twice a week. Military maneuvers in that deep, fine sand, were very fatiguing, and were not relished by the troops. To add still more to the discomfort, an order came to our Regiment, that had always worn caps, to dispense with them, and appear on drill and "grand review" with the tall regulation hats. The men growled, and General "Red Tape" came in for a good share of abuse.
Feb. 22d, we were ordered on board the steamer "Albany," a small vessel that was built for the New Jersey coast-trade, but before embarking we were informed that she was unseaworthy and would probably founder in the first gale. After this became known, the Regiment refused to embark. When Gen. Ransom, who commanded the detachment of the 13th Army Corps, heard of our refusal, be sent for the commander of the Regiment and demanded the author of the report. Upon being informed that Maj. M. C. Garber, A. Q. M., was responsible for the report, he sent for that officer and gave him a severe reprimand, and ordered Capt. Bering to take the Regiment on board without delay. There being no remedy but disobedience of orders, we embarked that evening. Our fears were well grounded, for since the war the writer met Maj. Garber, and referring to that report, he remarked that it was his duty to examine each vessel. When he inspected the "Albany" he condemned her as being unsafe for the transportation of troops, and had we encountered a storm the vessel would never have reached port.
On our trip to De Crow's Point, in December, the weather was cold and stormy, and sea-sickness so universal that we did not enjoy the voyage to a very great extent, but on our return trip the weather was mild and warm. The sun rose and set during the entire voyage in a cloudless sky, and the beauty of a "sunset at sea" was very much enjoyed by the Regiment, who lay all day on the deck, enjoying the balmy atmosphere of the Gulf. The endless variety of the finny tribe, sparkling in the waves and following in the wake of the ship, was a never-ceasing object of interest. Two species of sea-birds, the stormy petrel, which runs along the surface of the waves with great rapidity, and the sea-gull, a large, white bird, hovered around our vessel until we arrived in sight of land.
Early on the morning of the 24th, we crossed the bar and entered the Mississippi River, arriving at New Orleans that night, and disembarked the next morning at Algiers. On arrival, we had an opportunity to cross over the river to New Orleans, to lay in such supplies as we were in need of. The unusual military preparations then going on in that city, foreshadowed what soon followed - the Red River expedition. The colored brigade, composed of former slaves, made quite a formidable appearance in drill, as well as discipline, as they marched through the streets to the landing to join the expedition, and was in great contrast to the signs of "Slave Depot - Slaves Bought and Sold," that were still to be seen on the buildings where the daily auctions of the chattels were formerly held. We took the afternoon train the same day for Brashear City, where we arrived in the evening.
The plantations along the line of the railroad were far advanced in their spring work, and some of the crops were already well under cultivation.
The next morning, the 26th, we crossed the bay, which is three miles wide at that place, and camped on the west shore at Berwick City, which was rather a high-sounding title for a few empty houses and an old cotton shed. Nature had placed natural barriers against Berwick becoming a city more than in name. To the south were the Gulf marshes, and on the west an impenetrable, gloomy cypress swamp, into which the sun never penetrated, intersected by sluggish bayous and mud sloughs. It was the paradise of alligators and venomous reptiles, that grow to enormous size in that pestilence-breeding atmosphere.
Lieut. Col. Lindsey, and the ten sergeants who left for Ohio in December, rejoined the Regiment at Algiers, on its return from Texas. The Colonel brought the following commissions from Gov. Brough, for members of the Regiment: Capt. John A. Bering, promoted to Major; Lieutenants J. R. Lynch, Geo. W. Mosgrove, C. P. Bratt, A. M. Cochran, Thomas Montgomery and R. A. South, promoted to Captains, (the latter had resigned); and W. J. Srofe, H. W. Day, J. K. Reed, J. M. Kendall, Joseph Stretch and C. Burkhart, promoted to First Lieutenants.
Col. Lindsey found it very difficult to obtain recruits for our Regiment while at home, for several reasons. One was that before he reached Ohio, the Regiment had been sent to Texas, which would require a journey of over two thousand miles* to reach us; another was the hot, sickly climate and dread of the yellow fever. While other regiments, stationed in Tennessee and Virginia, were in a healthier climate and not so far away, therefore the new levies wisely - and for which they were not to blame - selected regiments stationed nearer home.
The time to re-enlist as veterans would expire with the last of the month, but the Regiment still refused to re-enlist in a body, unless they could get the thirty days furlough immediately after re-enlisting. Our Commanding General refused to comply with this request, until nearly the last moment, when Gen. McClernand, who had again assumed command of the Thirteenth Army Corps, with headquarters at New Orleans, gave the desired promise to Lieut. Col. Lindsey. In a few days nearly the whole Regiment re-enlisted, and were sworn in for another term of three years on the 29th of February, 1864.
March 1st, Lieut. C. Burkhart was appointed Adjutant, and Sergt. W. A. Pratt promoted to Sergeant-Major. On the 3d, Capt. Cyrus Hussey, of Company A, in charge of ten sergeants, left for Columbus, Ohio, to obtain recruits for the Regiment from the drafted men. The Captain and one of the Sergeants, Harvey Cashatt, soon after their arrival at Columbus, were detailed in the Provost Marshal's office, where they remained until mustered out of the Regiment.
The following is an extract from the report of the Adjutant General of Ohio, (Gen. Cowan) for 1864:
"General Orders Nos. 191 and 305, series of 1863, from the War Department, provided for the re-enlistment of soldiers then in the service, having less than one year to serve; such re-enlisted men to be known as 'Veteran Volunteers.' The offer of large bounties and a furlough of thirty days may have facilitated these enlistments; but the stern determination on the part of the brave men who had been for more than two years battling for the cause of their country, not to lay down their arms until the enemy was subjugated, was the greatest incentive to re-enlist. They had undertaken the task of conquering the rebellion, and were unwilling to lay down their arms while an armed enemy was in their front. Large bounties are no compensation for the untold hardships, privations and dangers of a soldier's life, and no considerations of personal aggrandizement could have induced the noble sacrifices they made; nothing but the highest feeling of patriotism could have sustained them.
"While the non-veterans of our three years regiments have done their duty to their country, and retire from the service with the imperishable laurels of true and faithful soldiers, the veterans are entitled to a larger measure of praise, for having done more than they were expected to do, and having manifested in so practical a manner, their unwavering confidence in the final success of the Federal arms. All honor and praise, then, to this noble band, that is standing in the front as a cordon of triple steel, and closing steadily around the gigantic enemy of the Nation's life. More than twenty thousand of the soldiers of the State of Ohio re-enlisted as veterans, and are to-day fighting the battles of the Republic, or sleep in honored graves on the bloody field where they fell."
In 1866, all veterans in Ohio regiments received a medal, accompanied by the following order:
"STATE OF OHIO,
"ADJUTANT GENERAL'S OFFICE,
"COLUMBUS, June 1st, 1866.
"SIR: - This medal is presented to you in accordance with the following Joint Resolution of the General Assembly of Ohio, as a slight testimonial of the high appreciation by the State, of your devoted patriotism, in entering upon a second term of enlistment, without any hope or expectation of large bounties, and actuated only by the purest love of country.
"None are entitled to this medal excepting those who, being already in service in Ohio Regiments, re-enlisted for an additional term of three years.
"Resolved, by the General Assembly of the State of Ohio, That the Governor procure, or cause to be procured, for each veteran volunteer who re-enlisted from this State under General Orders No. 191, of 1863, a bronze medal, one and one half inches in diameter, containing upon one side in bold relief, the following or some similar design, to-wit; Ohio personified, crowning one of her soldiers with laurel. Emblems - wheat sheaf; eagle perched on shield, bearing State arms. In the background, a steamer and tented field; springing from the wand which supports the liberty cap, a buckeye leaf Clasp - a plain bar, on which shall be raised the buckeye and laurel; the swivel of the clasp in form of a monogram U. S. Upon the reverse side to be engraved the name of the recipient, with his regiment, battalion or battery, surrounded with a laurel wreath. The medal to be suspended by a piece of tri-colored silk ribbon, and in its artistic features to be equal to the 'Crimean medal.'
"B. R. COWAN"
* From Cincinnati to New Orleans
by steamboat 1,550 miles. From New Orleans to DeCrow's Point by ocean steamer