1864: Charles E. Thompson to Friend Ellen

This letter was written by Pvt. Charles E. Thompson (1845-1864) who enlisted at age 19 in Co. G, 114th New York Infantry. He was killed in action at Opequan Creek (otherwise known as the Third Battle of Winchester) in Virginia on 19 September 1864 and is buried in the Poolville Cemetery.

Charles was the son of Elihu Thompson and Phebe S. MacComber Hamilton, Madison county, New York. He was born in Bennington, Vermont, but the family relocated to a farm in Hamilton, New York, sometime about 1848.

Extracts from a couple of letters written by Pvt. Thompson to his home town and published in the period newspapers can be found on the following website: 114th Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry Civil War Newspaper Clippings.

TRANSCRIPTION

Alexandria, Louisiana
March 27th 1864

Dear Fried Ella,

I received your letter of the 6th last night and was very glad as I always am to hear from you, and as we expect to march again tomorrow, I will try to give you a little account of our march from Franklin. We marched from there the 15th and had very pleasant weather and nothing to stop us until we got to Washington. We had then marched five days and made over 15 miles per day. May of the boys in the new regiments were completely tired out so we layed over one day and on the following started again. Our cavalry — 15,000 strong — started from Franklin one day ahead of us and of course cleaned the rebs out so we had no double quicking into line to do on the way. Gen. Walker with a brigade of Texans was at Washington when our cavalry advanced on them and he sent to Gen. [William] Mouton who was then at this place for reinforcements. Mouton went down with division and a lot of artillery drawn by oxen for they are ashore for horses excepting these little mustangs.

Well Mouton got there one night and next morn at two o’clock commenced retreating and just saved himself from being entirely cut up by a portion of our cavalry which had gone around them. They got about 400 of Walker’s men but the rest escaped. They also took three pieces of Mouton’s heavy artillery which he ran into the swamp at Holmesville ¹ because oxen would not draw them fast enough thinking that our cavalry would not notice it.

We stopped at Holmesville one night and some of the boys who were out shooting hogs in the swamp discovered about 200 barrels of the nicest sugar that I have seen in the state and you can bet that we made a requisition for some right straight. Nearly every man in the division went in for a haversack or rubber blanket full of it and next morning when we came away, the ground was covered with piles of sugar. The old man who owned it tried to get Franklin to put a guard over it but Franklin said he could not send any guards into the swamp but if he had left his sugar in his store house he would have guarded it. Some of the boys mistrusted that there was liquor in some of the barrels so they burst open every barrel and wasted the whole if it.

We had a rainy, muddy time from Washington up but came through in five days and arrived here day before yesterday pretty well tired out and the mud half way to our knees. I think this is rightly called the Red River country for the land has the appearance of red clay. The river is also full of it and looks as red as the land. It is the prettiest country I ever have yet seen between here and Cheneyville. One plantation belonging to Widow Flowers ² is said to be the best and handsomest in the state. This place is about as large as Hamilton [New York] though I think not half so pretty.

Old Commodore Porter is here with a fleet of 20 gunboats — mostly ironclads and the queerest looking things I ever saw. Some of them are after the monitor fashion, some like the Old Merrimack, and many of them have a shape which would be difficult to describe. Two of them are rams. They are all painted black and look rather tedious with the noses of 300 lb. Parrott guns sticking out through their sides. They are waiting for the river to raise so they can pass the falls or rapids above here. Then we are in for Shreveport, I suppose.

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Porter’s Fleet on the Red River (1864)

The rebs had one little fort [Fort Taylor] about 60 miles below here mounting nine guns which some of the western cavalry surrounded and took while a gunboat attracted their attention in front by shelling. Our loss was but about 20, I heard. A few nights since, the western fellows got the rebel countersign and relieved their pickets around a fort two miles above here with their own (western) men. They they went in and took them asleep. I think that is the best trick that I have ever heard of being played off on them.

A part of the 13th Army Corps which came up from Franklin with us passed up here yesterday morning and last night as they were going into camp, a lot of guerrillas pitched into them and killed and wounded about 30 of them, I hear, but they scattered them soon after they got their guns in their hands.

But I must close this as I have a great deal to do between now and tomorrow morning. Please excuse this miserable writing. Give my love to all our school mates and write soon. I am well as usual and have never enjoyed myself better than on this last march. I begin to believe that I shall like it yet if I keep at it long enough. Since I commenced this, Lt. [Jerrie P.] Allis has arrived starched up worse than I ever dreamed of seeing him. ³

From your friend, — C. E. Thompson

P. S. Lt. [Homer W.] Searle gave me another letter the other day which had been written to George so I will send it in this. I have sent two or three before. — C. E. T.


¹ It was on the Epp’s plantation near Holmesville, Louisiana, that Solomon Northup — a free Negro spirited away from the North and sold into slavery — resided between 1845 and 1853. Readers may remember him as the author of the book, “Twelve Years a Slave” which was recently turned into a feature film.

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Inglewood Plantation House

² The “widow Flowers” was Clara Hope (Sprigg) Flower whose husband Charles died in 1858. Charles Flower purchased the land that became the Inglewood Plantation sometime before 1847. After his death, Clara and her four young sons were left alone on the plantation and during the Red River Campaign in 1864, they and the Sprigg family were hospitable to the Union troops. As a consequence, when the departing Union troops burned Alexandria on 13 May 1864, they spared the Sprigg and Flower Plantations from destruction.

³ Thompson’s description of 2d Lieutenant Jerrie P. Allis as “starched up” (drunk) differs considerably from the biographical sketch in a regimental history which states that he was “a man of correct habits, honorable, and upright. He always received the highest respect of his superiors, and the love of those under him.” One can only assume that Lt. Allis’ bender was not habitual.

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