Thursday, September 6, 2012

"The fighting in this department is done."

Recently, I have been perusing the New York Civil War Newspaper Clipping Files, a project of the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center. I have been reading through the files of New York units that served in the 19th Army Corps, an organization that saw much service in Louisiana. The item below consists of snippets from three letters written by an officer in the 175th New York Infantry and documents soldier life near Donaldsonville, Louisiana, in the summer of 1863.
The following is taken from New York in the War of the Rebellion, 3rd ed. Frederick Phisterer. Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, 1912 according to the Newspaper Clipping File:
FROM CAPT. MCCARTHY'S COMMAND IN LOUISIANA.—We have before us three full and interesting letters from a Captain of the 175th regiment, a native Trojan. The first is dated Donaldsonville, Louisiana, July 16th, whither they had went from Port Hudson, after the surrender, on a report that a large rebel force had collected at the former place, for battle, in order to continue the blockade of the Mississippi, and as a natural result of the withdrawal of the federal force stationed there in consequence of the drunkenness of the colonel in command, Col. Morgan, 90th New York. From this blunder resulted the ordering down of all the available troops at Port Hudson and other points. Prior to the war Donaldsonville must have been one of the most beautiful and wealthy towns of the South, but on arriving in it a scene at once impressive, instructive and destructive suggested itself. It is about 75 miles above New Orleans, on the West side of the river, on an elevated plain. At present it is a ruin—its most costly and magnificent buildings and beautiful residences are leveled with the ground, and their debris scattered in wide disorder over the site on which stood many comfortable houses and tasty gardens. The place has been shelled on two occasions by our gunboats, and the confused intermingling of brick, mortar, burnt timber, barren walls, and isolated chimnies [sic], speaks in language not to be misunderstood, and with what terrible effect! Its condition reminded me forcibly of the appearance of Troy subsequent to the great fire of the 10th of May, 1862. The place was a sort of headquarters of the rich planters and moneyed business men in this particular section of the State of Louisiana, and contained, I should judge, in the neighborhood of 6,000 inhabitants. There are left some public buildings of imposing appearance, as if to indicate the wealth and grandeur which once existed there. Such has been the fate of several similar places in the South. On our arrival the enemy had left—retreating on our appearance. From present appearances it would seem that our army is going into camp at some healthy locality near New Orleans.
The second letter is dated the 20th, from the same place. The time of the men was spent between scratching and hunting—it was so hot that one felt like taking off his flesh and setting in his bones. Captain McCarthy is commanding officer of the regiment (175th)—he has very easy times of it, and has nothing to do but ride out, read and write during the day. Many of the officers are sick, or pretend to be—they should never have left their mothers—none of the Troy boys or their officers are included in the "dead beat" list.—Many of the men of the regiment are sick with the fever and ague, and many of the others would be if they were not too lazy to shake,. Mails from the North are irregular and uncertain—we have not received a mail in a month. "I have grown two inches on the result at Port Hudson, Vicksburg and Gettysburg—were our immortal Twenty fourth participators in the glory?
The third letter is dated at the same place on the 22d. All the Cohoes boys, except Taylor, who died, are getting along finely, and will be all right. Corporal Cowden never lost a day's duty on account of the shock he received. Tom O'Donnell who I forgot to mention in a previous letter, is nearly well, and I expect to see him every day reporting for duty. As to the report that has been published of the blundering and bloody attack which took place on Port Hudson, on the 14th of June, ult., it is a matter of mirth and ridicule to all who are familiar with its details. If the correspondents who pretend to report for the 19th Army Corps, had leagued and formed a conspiracy against truth, they could not have misrepresented the facts more than they have done. To my certain knowledge there are men who have been arrant cowards on the field, who are praised for bravery on that occasion. But let it pass. True manhood shrinks with disgust from obtruding itself upon public notice. And as Pope says: 
" More true joy Marcellus exciled feels, 
Than Caesar with a Senate at his heels."
When I read of our regiment being "in Gooding's brigade, and attacking on the right," on that occasion, and of "the removal of Colonel Bryan's remains by our colored brethren, from the battle field," I felt as though if such men as those who reported such falsehoods for the Press were to speak well of me, I should feel guilty of some act of meanness and cowardice, unworthy of true manhood, and a disgrace to a soldier's reputation.—As far as I can learn, the reporters in this Department desire to do the fair thing, but they rely on the reports of ambitious Generals and conceited aids, who as a matter of course are not particular about stretching the truth when they can do so in their own favor. I could write you a volume on this subject if it were worth the powder, but it is not. As a sample, however, I will notice the correspondent of the Irish American, whom we all recognize as Capt. Edward Gorman of New York city, who resigned from the regiment and went home when there was fighting to be done, and than whom a more complete humbug and coward there does not exist on earth. Pay not the least attention to what you see in the papers in regard to army movements, and anything in relation to myself do not believe unless from myself or a member of the Company. My health is excellent, and we are enjoying exceedingly easy times here. The boys are all well.
N. B.—After the above was in type we received a fourth letter from the same correspondent dated at Doneldsonville the 25th. The writer appears to have been "sadly exercised" by the riots in New York, &c. He will feel better if he waits a little longer. So extravagant an idea did he have of our difficulties, that he implored his "big brother" to spend his evenings with his mother for safety.—He says his brigade is going to Baton Rouge before many days to summer quarters. "The fighting in this department is done. My health, as usual, is good. Some of my boys have the fever and ague, but that never killed anybody, and it doesn't scare us." There is in this letter no other news of importance.

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