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´╗┐Title: Reminiscences of two years with the colored troops - Personal Narratives of events in the War of the Rebellion, - being papers read before the Rhode Island Soldiers and - Sailors Historical Society. No. 7, Second Series
Author: Addeman, Joshua M. (Joshua Melancthon), 1840-1930
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Reminiscences of two years with the colored troops - Personal Narratives of events in the War of the Rebellion, - being papers read before the Rhode Island Soldiers and - Sailors Historical Society. No. 7, Second Series" ***


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    | This e-book contains archaic spelling which has not been  |
    | modernized. To avoid confusion a list has been provided   |
    | at the end of this document.                              |
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The circumstances attending the organizing of a colored regiment in
this State are well remembered. In the summer of 1863, white men were
no longer eager to enlist for a war the end of which none could
foresee; but nevertheless the war must be prosecuted with vigor;
another draft was impending and the State's quota must be filled. With
difficulty Governor Smith obtained permission to organize a company,
and, as this rapidly filled, then a battalion, and finally a full
regiment of twelve companies of colored men for heavy artillery duty.
In common with many others I did not at the outset look with
particular favor upon the scheme. But with some hesitation I accepted
an appointment from the State as a second lieutenant and reported for
duty at Camp Smith, on the Dexter Training Ground, in this city. After
serving here for some weeks in the fall of 1863, in the organizing of
companies and forwarding them to Dutch Island, where the regiment was
in camp, I successfully passed an examination before what was known as
"Casey's Board," and after some preliminary service with a company of
the third battalion, was assigned to the command of Company H of the
second battalion, with whose fortunes my lot was cast till the close
of our term of service. On the turtle-backed crown of Dutch Island we
remained amid fierce storms and the howling winds that swept with keen
edge over the waters of the Narragansett, until the 20th of January,
1864, when, as I was about to make a visit home, the transport, Daniel
Webster, appeared in the harbor and orders were issued to prepare for
embarking on the following day. At the time appointed, we were on
board, but the sutler's arrangements were not completed until early
the next morning, when we got up steam and were soon out of sight of
our familiar camp.

The incidents of the voyage it is not necessary to recite to any
comrade whose chance it was to make a trip in an army transport, which
had long since seen its better days, and which had been practically
condemned before Uncle Sam found for it such profitable use. The men
packed like sheep in the hold, the officers, though far better off as
to quarters, yet crowded too much for convenience and comfort, the
inevitable sea-sickness, the scanty rations, and what was worse, the
extreme scarcity of water, were annoyances but the counterpart of
those endured by many brave men who preceded and followed us to the
scene of duty. But in the main the weather favored us, and on the
hurricane deck we spent the hours off duty, gazing far across the
illimitable waste of waters, as day after day we approached a warmer
clime with its glowing sunshine and glittering waves and the deep blue
sky bending down in unbroken circle around us. The rebel cruisers were
then in the midst of their destructive work and it was natural, as we
caught sight of a distant vessel, to speculate whether it was a
friendly or a hostile craft. When we were in the latitude of
Charleston, a steamer appeared in the far distance, then a flash, a
puff of smoke and a loud report notified us that it was sending us its
compliments. It approached nearer, a boat put out and officers from
the gunboat Connecticut came on board, examined our papers and soon
allowed us to proceed. The weather rapidly grew warmer and our winter
clothing proved very uncomfortable. The steamer's supply of water was
exhausted and we had to depend on sea-water, distilled by the vessel's
boilers, for all uses. The allowance of an officer was, I think, a
pint a day. Warm and insipid, its only use, as I remember, was for our
morning ablutions, which were more a matter of form than of substance.
In rounding the coast of Florida we bumped one evening on a sand bar
or coral reef. I was very unceremoniously tumbled over, and the game
of back-gammon, in which I was engaged with a brother officer, was of
course, ended at once. Rushing on deck we found ourselves clear of the
obstruction and again on our way. But the breakers, in plain sight,
gave us assurance of the peril we had so narrowly escaped.

In the early morning of February second we crossed the bar and noted
well that line stretching far to the right and left of us, drawn with
almost mathematical exactness, which marked the demarcation between
the clear waters of the Gulf and the turbid waters of the Mississippi.
In going up the river the buckets were constantly dropped into the
muddy stream, and their contents, when allowed to stand for a few
minutes, would soon furnish an abundance of that luxury we all craved
so much,--clear water, cooled by the ice and snows of the far north.
Reaching the inhabited portions of the river, we saw the planters busy
with their spring work, and though the air was chilled with the icy
breath of northern climes, the orange trees in blossom and the green
shrubbery on the shores, gave indication of the semi-tropical climate
we had reached. Arriving at New Orleans in due season, our senior
captain reported for orders. I must not pause to speak of the strange
scenes which greeted our eyes in this, the most cosmopolitan city of
our land. A delay here of two or three days proved almost as
demoralizing as a campaign, and I, for one, was glad when the orders
came to move. For reasons that afterwards transpired, we dropped down
the stream some fifteen miles to a point called English Turn. It
derived its name, as I remember the tradition, from the fact that as
the commander of some English vessel was slowly making his way up what
was then an unknown and perhaps unexplored body of water, he was met
by some French explorer, coming from the opposite direction, who gave
him to understand that all the country he had seen in coming up the
river, was, by prior discovery, the rightful possession of the French
monarch. Though no Frenchman had perhaps seen it, yet with his facile
tongue he worked persuasion in the mind of the bluff Englishman, who
at this point, turned about and put out to sea--hence its name,
English Turn. We found here relics of very early times in the form of
an old earthwork, and an angle of a brick wall, built, when, and
whether by French or Spaniard, none could tell. Here we soon selected
a site and laid out our camp. The time rapidly passed in the busy
occupations which each day brought, in little excursions into the
surrounding country, in conversations with the colored people whose
sad memories of the old slavery days recalled so vividly the
experiences of Uncle Tom and his associates in Mrs. Stowe's famous
tale. Nor were the days unvaried by plenty of fun. Music, vocal and
instrumental, we had in abundance. The mimic talents of our men, led
to the performance of a variety of entertainments, and in their
happy-go-easy dispositions, their troubles set very lightly on them.
Their extravagancies of expression were by no means an unremarkable
feature. When I at first heard their threats to each other, couched
sometimes in the most diabolical language, I had deemed it my duty at
once to rush into the company street and prevent what, among white
men, I would suppose to be the prelude to a bloody fight. "Oh,
Captain," would be the explanation, "we'se only a foolin'."

While here, we had a little flurry of snow, which reminded us of what
we had left in abundance behind, but which was a startling novelty to
the natives, few, if any, of whom, had ever seen anything like it
before. Their explanation was that the Yankees had brought it with
them. In the course of a week or two, an assistant Inspector-General
put in an appearance and gave us a pretty thorough over-hauling; but
what astonished him the most, was to find us in so healthy a
condition; for it appeared that because of a few cases of measles on
board ship, we had been represented as being in very bad shape, and it
was for sanitary reasons that we were sent to English Turn.

We now began to hope for some change. The place was decidedly
unhealthy. Our men were dropping off rapidly from a species of putrid
sore throat which was very prevalent. The soil was so full of moisture
that we had to use the levee for a burial ground. Elsewhere a grave
dug two feet deep would rapidly fill with water, and to cover a coffin
decently, it was necessary that two men should stand on it, while the
extemporized sextons completed their task.

Washington's birthday was duly celebrated, and foot-ball, wheel-barrow
and sack races, among other sports, furnished fun for the whole camp.
Even the inevitable greased pig was provided, but he was so greasy
that he got over the lines into the swamps and--freedom.

Our battalion commander, Major Shaw, arrived on the third of March,
and on the following day, it was my good fortune to witness, in New
Orleans, the inauguration of Gov. Hahn, who, by some form of election,
had been chosen the chief executive. The unclouded sky, the rich
foliage and the beautiful atmosphere, combined to make a glorious day,
and the spectacular arrangements were in keeping. The place was
Lafayette Square. Flags of all nations waved in the breeze. In seats,
arranged tier above tier, were five thousand school children of the
city, dressed in white with ribbons and sashes of the national colors,
while many thousands of the citizens were gathered as spectators.
Patriotic songs were sung by the little folks; five hundred musicians
filled the air with sweet sounds, and in the anvil chorus which was
sung, fifty sons of Vulcan kept time on as many veritable anvils;
while some half dozen batteries of artillery came in heavy on the
choruses. These were fired simultaneously by an electrical
arrangement; and the whole was under charge of P.S. Gilmore, a name
not now unknown to fame in grand musical combinations. An elaborate
address by General Banks, then commanding the department, was an
interesting feature of the occasion.

Our life at English Turn, was varied by little of special interest. Of
course there was no enemy at hand except those foes which a hot
climate breeds so rapidly. A mysterious order came one day, to detail
one hundred men "to join the expedition," and we were notified that a
steamer would call for them on the morrow. Details of picked men were
selected from each company. Five days' rations and forty rounds of
ammunition, were dealt out to each, and in light marching order they
waited several days for the steamer to appear. It was in vain,
however, and we reluctantly gave up the prospect of some little
excitement. We came to the conclusion that somebody at headquarters
had forgotten to countermand the order, or, like Mr. Toots, had deemed
it of no consequence.

We discussed the varying prospects of change, sometimes coming as a
rumor that we should be ordered to Texas, where was the first
battalion of our regiment; sometimes that we should join the Red River
expedition, which was then forming, or the expedition against Mobile
which was in contemplation. But after six weeks delay at English Turn,
we received orders to move up the river to Plaquemine, a point some
one hundred and twenty miles above New Orleans, a few miles below and
on the opposite bank from Baton Rouge. This town was at the entrance
of the Bayou Plaquemine, of which Longfellow makes mention in the
story of Evangeline's search for her lover; a description which gives
so good an idea of the bayous by which Louisiana is intersected, that
I quote it in this connection.

    "They * * * entering the Bayou of Plaquemine,
    Soon were lost in a maze of sluggish and devious waters,
    Which, like a network of steel, extended in every direction.
    Over their heads the towering and tenebrous boughs of the cypress
    Waved like banners that hang on the walls of ancient cathedrals.
    Deathlike the silence seemed, and unbroken save by the herons
    Home to their roosts in the cedar trees returning at sunset,
    Or by the owl, as he greeted the moon with demoniac laughter."

Here we relieved the Forty-Second Ohio, and went into camp. As we
marched through the streets of the village to the site of our camp,
the scowling looks of the white spectators, sufficiently indicated
their sentiments and especially their wrath at being guarded by

We found the state of affairs very different from the tranquil
neighborhood we had just left. The surrounding country was infested
with guerilla bands, and in the jail were a number of rebel prisoners
who had been captured in recent raids. The latter received from the
town's people very gratifying evidences of sympathy, and in their
comparatively comfortable quarters and abundant supplies, afforded a
vivid contrast to the treatment received by our boys at Libby and
Andersonville. Intimations were quite freely expressed by the
prisoners, that it would soon be their turn to guard us, and we were
cautioned by friends and from headquarters, to be on the alert against
a sudden attack.

In the evening of the day after our arrival, we were startled by a
steamer approaching the landing, all ablaze from stem to stern. The
entire heavens seemed illuminated, and it was light enough to read
with perfect distinctness. The vessel was loaded with some three
thousand bales of cotton, and in landing at a point above us, the
sparks from the torch--a wire basket filled with pine knots, and used
after dark to light the loading and unloading of the steamer,--had set
the cotton afire. The motion of the boat and the perfect draft from
her construction, peculiar to nearly all the river craft, of course
spread the fire with great rapidity, and only time sufficient to
rescue the passengers was permitted. The vessel had a large freight of
live stock, some of which escaped to the shore, but most of them
perished in the flames, filling the air with their piteous cries. Our
particular attention was devoted to our magazine, which was an
ordinary store-house and exposed to some danger. Its contents we could
ill afford to lose, and their explosion would have made a sensation
much more lively than even the destruction of the steamer.

At Plaquemine an earth work had been begun by our predecessors. It had
four bastions, one of which was assigned to each of our companies. The
work was in a very incomplete condition, and except for the protection
its parapets afforded, would have been of little service. In the
threatening aspect of affairs, it became necessary at once to
strengthen our defences, and under the direction of an engineer,
details of men were set to work, and rapid progress was made.

In April parties of guerillas and rebel cavalry began to operate
actively in our neighborhood. At Indian village, a few miles distant,
they burned a large quantity of cotton which had been sent in by
planters or collected by speculators and was awaiting transportation.
About the same time mysterious signals attracted our attention, and
soon afterwards, we learned that a body of two hundred cavalry had
crossed the Grand River for the purpose of attacking us. The men slept
on their arms, but no attack was made. A week or two afterwards, I had
occasion to visit New Orleans on business, and while there, heard a
report that Plaquemine was "gobbled up" by the rebs. I was very much
relieved on my return to find everything in _statu quo_. A raid
shortly afterwards on Bayou Goula, a trading station a few miles below
us, resulted in the destruction of considerable property, but no
captures of prisoners.

On the twenty-fifth of May the gunboat 54 was sent to cruise on the
river in our neighborhood, and it was a welcome reinforcement to our
meagre numbers. On the twenty-eighth of May the cavalry of General
Banks' army, on their retreat from the Red River campaign, passed
through our post, remaining a short time in our vicinity. Among them
was a portion of our Third Rhode Island cavalry, and no hospitality
ever gave greater mutual pleasure than that which it happened to be in
our power then to grant. The record of that expedition has been made
up, but there was a refreshing vigor of opinion expressed by our
comrades on the conduct of the campaign. It seemed very lonesome when
they left us with their commander,--a true Rhode Island son, General
Richard Arnold.

Orders came within a day or two from Baton Rouge, announcing a change
of commanders of the district, and exhorting us to get everything into
fighting trim. It will be remembered that flushed with victory the
rebels followed close on the heels of our retreating army, and were
only stopped by the lack of transportation to cross the swift and deep
Atchafalaya. Of course we presumed that they would make one of their
raids down the coast and attack our post, and that of Donaldsonville,
some twenty-five miles below us, which constituted the principal
defences on the river above New Orleans. With the exception, however,
of capturing some of our cavalry pickets, we had no trouble, though
frequent alarms kept us on the qui vive. The beating of the long roll
was almost a nightly occurrence; but this I should not mention to
soldiers, except to refer to an instance that now occurs to me in
illustration of the rapidity of the mind's movements, at times. About
the time of the raids on our northern frontier, I was dreaming one
night, that we were ordered home to proceed at once to some point on
the border. All the movements incident to our departure and to our
arrival at Providence, were before me. As we were halting in Exchange
Place, with arms stacked and men at ease, I obtained permission to go
home for a few minutes to see my family, to whom our arrival was
unknown, when the roll sounded and we were ordered to fall in at once
to take the train. Of course my momentary disappointment was great,
but awaking at once, I heard the drums beating in reality, and
jumping into my outer clothing and equipments in a hurry, was shortly
at the head of my company. The first beat of the drum had probably
started the long train of the incidents of my dream.

In the midst of these rumors of attack, in the early morning of August
sixth we were visited by a body of mounted men. They dashed upon our
pickets who made a bold stand for a short time, and then scattered for
shelter. The rebels had caught sight of the officer, Lieutenant
Aldrich, who was in command, and while a part of them made diligent
search for him, the remainder dashed into the town, and breaking up
into parties raided through the various streets, firing somewhat
indiscriminately, but more particularly at what contrabands they saw.
The companies gathered in their respective bastions in the fort and we
expected a lively brush. As I stood on the parapet and got a glimpse
of a portion of the enemy, I ached to let fly a shell, but the danger
to innocent parties was too great to warrant it just then. I remember
how amused I was at the appearance of the gallant commander of our
post, as with his coat and equipments in one hand, and holding up his
nether garments in the other, he was "double-quicking" from his
quarters in the town, to a place of security in the fort. After that
he selected quarters nearer us. The prospect of being "gobbled up" was
not particularly gratifying, especially to a "nigger" officer, who had
Fort Pillow memories in mind. As the rebels did not appear to be
coming to us, a strong detachment under command of Adjutant Barney,
was sent out to exchange compliments with them. They gave us no
opportunity for this but soon retired, taking with them three of our
pickets and one cavalry vidette, whom they had captured. We
understood, the next day, that our men were shot in cold blood.
Lieutenant Aldrich and the men with him, escaped through the friendly
protection of an osage orange grove. Others swam the bayou and thus
escaped certain death if captured. I think our casualties were,
besides those taken prisoners, one man killed and a few wounded.
Several of the rebels were said to be killed or wounded. One of the
latter, as I remember, fell into our hands and was taken into our
hospital where he received the same treatment as our own men.
Subsequently we learned that the raiders were Texans who boastfully
declared that they asked no quarter and gave none. In consequence of
the barbarous treatment of our men who were captured, some
correspondence passed between General Banks and the rebel commander,
but I am not aware that it amounted to anything.

On the eighteenth a scouting party of our cavalry was captured at
Grand River and others in our nearer vicinity. We had two companies of
the Thirty-first Massachusetts mounted infantry, who were used for
vidette duty. Being more exposed than our own pickets they suffered
occasionally from guerilla raids. One party of them, were surprised,
probably in consequence of a little carelessness, and were taken
prisoners with the exception of one man who was killed. He had been a
prisoner once before and fought to the last, rather than again be
captured. On some of these occasions the attacking parties were
dressed in our own uniform.

All through the country back of us, a constant and merciless
conscription was going on, sweeping in all able-bodied men between
fifteen and sixty years of age. Of course many refugees and
occasional deserters came within our lines.

During the fall of 1864 we received from time to time re-inforcements
of several companies of colored engineer troops, who continued the
work on the fort which we had begun. Though not comparing with the
arduousness of field service, our duties were by no means slight. It
must be remembered that we were in a semi-tropical country, where to
an unacclimated person the climate was itself almost a deadly foe. The
extreme heat produced a lethargy that was depressing in the extreme.
In a few days of dry weather, the surface of the ground would be baked
like a brick. Then would come most violent storms, converting the soil
into a quagmire and covering it with water like a lake. At this time,
there was no small danger of falling into the deep ditches with which
the fields were intersected, for drainage. In this way I lost one man
of my company. Of course it will be understood how productive of
disease would be the malaria from the soil and the adjacent swamps.
Our men with all their buoyancy of disposition, had not the resolute
will of white men, when attacked by sickness, and would succumb with
fatal rapidity. As captain of a company, my most arduous duty, when
not on special duty or detached service, was as field officer of the
day. This necessitated the visiting occasionally during the day and
night, our videttes and picket posts which were stationed on the roads
into the country, and at intersecting points in the fields; and also
crossing in a skiff the Mississippi river, to visit the troops
stationed to guard a telegraph station on the other side. This station
was in the vicinity of a famous duelling ground,--a path not far from
the river bank,--to which in former days the young bloods of the town
and vicinity would resort to repair their wounded honor, according to
the rules of the code. As we were too short of horses always to
furnish a mounted orderly, the officer of the day would at night, have
to make his rounds alone. There was a picturesqueness in those rides
in the solemn hours of the night, a portion of the way over deserted
plantations where the weeds would be as high as one's head on
horseback, the path at times fringing the borders of swamps where the
moss hung in festoons from the stately cypress trees, past lonely
negro cabins, where sometimes I heard the inmates in the midnight
hours, singing some plaintive melody in tones the most subdued.

In addition to our routine work, our officers were largely detailed
for staff, court-martial and other duties. The frequent attempts at
smuggling contraband goods through our lines, also necessitated
military commissions for the trial of these as well as various other
civil offences,--on which duty some of us were always engaged. As a
consequence, we were always short-handed, and tours of duty came as
often as was agreeable. The fall months of 1864 were marked by
occasional raids in our vicinity, with orders, at times, to sleep on
our arms. The capture of a large supply of revolvers, which were
surreptitiously landed near us, indicated the necessity of strictly
guarding the lines, and at the same time, furnish those of us who
needed them, an ample supply of that weapon.

During this period, we organized schools for the instruction of our
men. While some of them were comparatively well educated and were very
serviceable in various kinds of clerical work, a large proportion of
them were destitute of the most rudimentary knowledge. Through the
Christian Commission, of which Ex-Mayor J.V.C. Smith, of Boston, was
in our department the efficient agent, we were amply supplied with
various kinds of books and utensils, embracing primers, arithmetics,
slates and pencils, besides a liberal allowance of reading matter. Our
men were eager recipients of these and made good use of them. We tried
to stimulate their pride in every way possible, and the great majority
of them learned to sign their names to our rolls instead of making
their mark. I had some pride in having my rolls signed by the men
themselves, but I remember one of my men, however, whom I
ineffectually ordered to do this. He admitted to me that he could
write, but in consequence of some trouble he had in former years, got
into by the use of the pen, he had made a vow never to write again, or
something to that effect. My impression is that it was some kind of
forgery he was engaged in. It is possible he may have been an
unfortunate indorser; if so, his determination would not seem so

At the same time, we were trying to make a permanent improvement in
the way above indicated, we were troubled by difficulties, which were
incident to army life at all times. Liquor, of course, would make
trouble for us, and I think I never knew of any stimulant more
demoralizing, in its way, than Louisiana rum. This fiery fluid would
arouse all the furies in a man when it had him under its control.
Gambling was another vice against which we labored with more or less
success. Sometimes, after taps, I would make a raid on some of the men
who were having a quiet little game. When winter came, we had replaced
our worn out tents with shanties built from the materials of
confiscated houses. These would be darkened, and in voices hushed to
the lowest whisper, the men would indulge in their favorite pastime.
On one occasion, I remember that suddenly forcing the door open, I
dropped, most unexpectedly to them, on a small party of gamblers. As I
scooped in the cards and the stakes, one of them remarked that it was
no use to play against the Captain, for he got high, low, jack and the

In the preparations that were making against Mobile in the winter of
1864-5, we anticipated an opportunity to change our comparatively
inactive life. But General Sherman (T.W.) said he could not spare us
from the important post where we were stationed, and it was with
regret that we were deprived of a share in that brilliant affair which
has been so well described in a former paper. During this winter, the
rebel forces in Western Louisiana, under command of General Kirby
Smith, were comparatively inactive, though raiding parties gave us
occasional trouble. Towards spring they began to move, and attacks on
parties of Union cavalry were not infrequent. Unpleasant rumors of the
capture of the Third Rhode Island Cavalry reached us, but proved to be
unfounded, except that several couriers were taken. Some rebel
prisoners were captured by the scouts, who were encamped near us, but
our freedom from attack, was probably largely due to the inundated
condition of the country. Owing to the neglect of the levees, the
river at its high stage in the spring following broke through the
embankment above and overflowed a large tract of country west of us. A
raid contemplated by the rebels, which would have given us sharp work,
and a force which would have been large enough to annihilate us,
unless in the meanwhile reinforced, were prevented by the condition of
the intervening country, from giving us trouble.

As an illustration of the disastrous effect of this overflow, I am
tempted to give a brief description of a trip I made through a
portion of the country that suffered in this way. Before the waters
had subsided, I was ordered by Brigadier-General R.A. Cameron,
commanding the district of La Fourche, in which we were located, to
report at his headquarters in Brashear City, for duty on his staff.
Taking a steamer to New Orleans and then the train at Algiers, which
is opposite New Orleans, I proceeded very comfortably to a place
called Terrebonne, where steam travel came to a sudden stop. A
hand-car for a mile or two furnished transportation and then we found
the railroad completely washed away by the flood above named. The
General's quartermaster and myself secured a boat and with a crew of
colored soldiers, we rowed some twelve miles to a place called
Tigerville, on the Alligator bayou. Our route lay over the bed of the
railroad, the track washed to one side of the cut, and a stream of
water several feet deep on top of the bed. The road had been built
through what seemed, most of the way, a primeval wilderness. The rank
growth which skirted both sides of the stream, with no sound to break
the silence, save the measured stroke of the oars, for even the birds
which occasionally flitted across our path, were songless, though of
brilliant plumage; the sight of an occasional moccasin or copperhead
snake coiled on the stump of a tree, and not infrequently of an
alligator sunning himself on a log, were features of a situation that
must be seen to be fully realized. The few small settlements through
which we passed, were drowned out. Some of the houses were nearly
under water and large quantities of debris were afloat on the slowly
moving current. Through the long weary hours of our boat ride, the
sun poured its rays upon us with unmitigated fervor. Reaching
Tigerville, we found an ugly little stern-wheeled boat tied up in
what had been one of the thoroughfares of the village, and which the
quartermaster at once ordered to take us to Brashear City. The
captain of the craft, incidentally remarked that his boiler was in
bad shape and might blow up at any time. The quartermaster was
willing, however, to take the risk, and getting up steam, we were
soon on our way. But with the remark of the captain in my mind, as I
looked at the stagnant bayou with its waters black as ink, and gazed
off upon the interminable swamps on either side, and thought of the
monsters from which it took its name, I concluded that the extreme
bow would be a little the safest place, and taking passage on an
empty water cask I found there, I lighted my pipe and tried to feel
as tranquil as the circumstances above suggested would permit.
Through the winding bayous, we pursued our way and sometime after
dark, we safely reached Brashear City, or that portion of it which
was visible above the waste of waters. Speaking of the bayous, it
would be difficult to give a clear conception of their peculiarities.
Equally strange are the people who inhabit those solitudes. Time
would not permit me to describe the "Cajans"--corruption of
"Acadians,"--descendants of the exiles who early settled the
territory of Louisiana, but who have been driven from their first
places of settlement by those more ambitious and unscrupulous.
Living in isolated communities, with their artless and unambitious
characteristics, their simplicity and exclusiveness, they would
furnish material enough for an elaborate paper.

Many reminiscences occur to me in connection with my service on
General Cameron's staff, but any attempt to detail them would
transgress the proper limits of a paper. In spite of the surrender of
Lee and Johnston, a show of hostilities was kept up in the
trans-Mississippi department, it being supposed that Jeff Davis was
making his way in that direction to still retain a semblance of power
in a country which had not felt the severest ravages of the war. Upon
his capture, however, the rebel army in western Louisiana, rapidly
crumbled to pieces, and while the rank and file were seeking their
homes, the officers were continually coming in to our headquarters, to
make their peace formally with Uncle Sam. Having occasion to remove
our headquarters from Brashear City, to a place called Thibodaux,
probably not more than fifty miles distant by rail, we were obliged,
by reason of the overflow, to take a steamer and make a circuit of
some four hundred and fifty miles, going up the swift flowing and
extremely crooked, Atchafalaya, much of the way through a very
desolate country, then down the Red River and the Mississippi to
Algiers, and thence, by rail, to our place of destination. On our
journey we had the company of several rebel officers, some of high
rank, who availed themselves of the General's courtesy to reach the
Cresent City. In a few weeks the General was mustered out, and soon
afterwards, I returned to my company, which, with the battalion, had
in the meanwhile, been ordered to Donaldsonville. Among the duties
here assigned to me, was service as Provost Marshal of the Parish, an
office which combined as varied a responsibility as can well be
imagined. In certain civil cases I had, as judge, jury and executioner
of my own decisions, plenty of employment. With an occasional call to
join in matrimonial bonds sundry pairs of hearts that beat as one, I
had much more frequent cause to settle disputes between planters and
employees, where neither party was disposed to meet the other halfway.
Vexatious and varied as my employments were, and anxious as I might
be to do justice, I was liable to be overhauled by headquarters from
misrepresentations made by angry and disappointed suitors. One event
in my administration of the office, caused quite a sensation for the
day. In the presence of a crowd of whites and blacks, I heard a case
in which a colored woman, who had till recently been a slave, was
plaintiff and principal witness, and a white man who was defendant,
and gave judgment in favor of the former. This may seem to you a very
simple matter, but it was evidently no ordinary occurrence in that
place, and I presume this was the first occasion in the experience of
many of the spectators, in which the sworn testimony of a negro was
received as against that of a white person. I seem now to see the
glaring eyes of one indignant southron as he scowled upon the
proceedings with the intensest malignity. It was not difficult to
guess at his opinion of the changed order of things, while to the
colored people, it was evident that the year of jubilee had come at
last. Thus with comparatively tranquil incidents, the summer of 1865
passed away. Peace with all its attendant blessings, had come. But
disease laid its hands heavily on some of us, and death was not an
infrequent visitor to officers as well as men. From one scourge of
that climate, we were fortunately exempted. Thanks to the thorough
policing, on which our commanding officers insisted, "Yellow Jack,"
who in former seasons had been master of the situation, gave us no
trouble. But many of our number, particularly those of us who, during
the summer, were on court-martial or other duty in New Orleans or its
vicinity, had some uncomfortable experiences with the "Break-bone
fever," a species of malarial disease, whose name is sufficiently
indicative. The services of our regiment were sufficiently appreciated
to delay our muster-out till the second of the following October. The
three battalions were consolidated at Carrollton, and a few days after
we embarked for home on the good steamer North Star. Some of our
officers who took passage in the ill-fated Atlanta, lost their lives
by the foundering of that vessel. In the fearful storm, the beginning
of which we felt as we passed the Jersey shore, more than a hundred
vessels were wrecked on the coast, and among the number was the
'Daniel Webster,' which took us from Dutch Island to New Orleans: In
New York we made a parade which was witnessed by crowds of people with
apparently hearty demonstrations of favor. On our return home, we
received a cordial greeting from the authorities, and in a few days
our regiment was disbanded at Portsmouth Grove and ceased to exist
except in history.

It had endeavored to do its duty, and by those who knew it, I believe
it had been fully appreciated. General Banks complimented it in
orders, and so strict a disciplinarian as General T.W. Sherman,
pronounced it a noble regiment, which, from that source, is no small
praise. But though most of its officers had served in former
organizations during the war, and our lieutenant-colonel was also a
veteran of the Mexican war, and with many of his associates brought to
the discharge of their duties, the advantage of enlarged experience, a
reputation for courage and a high degree of skill, it was not given to
the regiment or its several battalions, to participate in any of those
engagements or campaigns, some of which it has been the pride and
pleasure of comrades here to describe. It was, however, from no
hesitation or unwillingness of theirs. The call was hopefully
expected but disappointedly unheard. Yet, may they not fairly claim to
share in the glory of the result, and to them may not the words of the
poet justly apply,--

               "They also serve who only stand and wait."

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    | Archaic spelling not corrected in text:                   |
    |                                                           |
    | statu quo                                                 |
    | guerilla                                                  |
    | Atchafalaya                                               |
    |                                                           |

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*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Reminiscences of two years with the colored troops - Personal Narratives of events in the War of the Rebellion, - being papers read before the Rhode Island Soldiers and - Sailors Historical Society. No. 7, Second Series" ***

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