1862: James Scott to Parents

This letter was written by James Scott (1834-1912), the son of Irish immigrants Charles Scott (1804-1885) and Isabel Tennis (1804-1869). He was the oldest of six children, including Frank (1836-1908), Robert (1839-1863), Isabell (1842-1927), Margaret (1845-1935), and Charles Wesley (1849-1882).

Scott was born in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, but moved with his parents to Wiota, Lafayette County, Wisconsin, in 1851, where they farmed and he also found employment as a carpenter. He enlisted as a private in Company B of the 23rd Wisconsin Infantry on August 11, 1862. He saw action during Sherman’s Yazoo Expedition, Chickasaw Bayou, and the capture of Fort Hindman in Arkansas. He was discharged on 3 April 1863 at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, with a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability. After leaving the service, he returned home to Wisconsin, where he married Louisa Jane Welty (1843-1914). The couple had five known children: Ada, Beatrice, Lloyd, Maggie, and Prudence. James Scott died in Wisconsin on June 7, 1912.

In this letter, Scott provides a first-hand observation of the expedition into the interior of Louisiana from Milliken’s Bend summarized by E. B. Quiner’s Military History of Wisconsin (Chicago, 1866) in the following paragraph: “The Twenty-third [Wisconsin] reached Milliken’s Bend on the 24th [of December], and next day, with the First Brigade, marched twenty-five miles into the interior of Louisiana, and having destroyed the railroad buildings, several bridges, on the Shreveport Railroad, which they struck at Dallas, tore up the track, and burned a large quantity of cotton, cotton gins, and corn, and severed the enemy’s railroad communications with the interior of Louisiana, returned, on the 26th, to Milliken’s Bend, having marched upwards of fifty miles within two days, without sustaining any loss.”

Scott concludes his letter stating that the regiment is ready to move on down the Mississippi River. Little did he know that the “considerable fun” was about to end on the bluffs of Chickasaw Bayou north of Vicksburg. Writing a few days later of the slaughter at Chickasaw Bluffs, Scott wrote, “I think we made a very narrow escape in getting away from Vicksburg as safely as we did although it has cost the Government an immense sum of money and a great many lives in the four days fighting. There must have been between killed & missing not less than 1,000 and some say more and some less. I have no correct way of telling anything about it. I know from the way they kept firing the two days that I heard them, they must have done considerable damage to both parties. At any rate, the expedition has proved a failure as far as I am capable of judging and from all I can learn, the Union Cause is growing darker all the time.” [Source: Letter ‘On Board the Ohio Belle, 5 January 1863’]

James Scott (at right) with his family about 1900


On board the Ohio Bell
Gaster’s Landing
Wednesday Morning, Dec. 24th 1862

We have not left this point yet but we expect to start soon. We had considerable fun since we came here. The pickets during the night got some 6 or 8 rebels and 5 horses, one mule. I do not know what they are going to do with them yet. There is a large wharf boat here full of corn in as good as I ever saw in my life. I see now that the boys has commenced to carry it on board the boats. There is a negro boy on board now that says there is a large company of guerrillas [that] makes this their headquarters and that they have the corn here to feed the horses on.

Ten o’clock A.M.  The signal gun has just been fired for the boats to start and it is also the signal for the destruction of Gaster’s Landing for I can see the smoke curl up now from a dozen houses and the old wharf boat begins to smoke as bas as any of them and there must be over a thousand bushels of corn on board of it yet. I wish the corn was at home. It looks hard to see so much corn burning but I would rather it burn than to see rebel horses eating it. There was a large gunboat went on ahead this morning carrying 12 guns and towing a flat on each side with a large mortar in each and a good pile of shells stacked up by each of them. They are rather saucy looking fellows.

The sun shines as hot here today as it does there in May. I can’t hardly make up my mind that it is winter.

You will see that there is a offset in this letter of two days. On Thursday morning at 8 o’clock, we were ordered to march with two days rations to a town 25 miles out in the country by the name of Dallas on the Vicksburg, Freeport, & Texas Railroad to destroy a bridge. So at about 10 o’clock we were on the Sixth Regiment so they put us through on a forced [march]. We got there just after dark, tired and hungry, for we started on such short [notice] that we did not have time to cook any meat. So we went to work to tearing up the track and a hour or so [later] we went to bed wherever we could find one. The next morning we were called up early and went to work on the railroad again and by the time it was clear, we were ready for firing the place. We set fire to the bridge and in a hour it was down. The depot was full of cotton bales all marked C. S. A. They tried to get teams to haul it back to the river but could [not] get enough in time so we set it on fire and soon disposed of it. By 11 o’clock we were ready to start back. We tore up about 3 miles of the track and burned the ties and about 10,000 bushels of corn.

So we started back calculating to camp at Bear Lake, about half way back. But when we got there, it looked so much like rain they thought we had better go through to the boats. We burned at Bear Lake 3 warehouses full of cotton and two large gin houses with cotton in them and a lot of corn. So at 12 o’clock, we got back to the boats as tired a lot of boys as ever I saw. We done the rebels a great deal of damage. We took 200 head of cattle to the boats and 75 mules besides some contrabands that come along so we are ready to start down the river today.

I heard that there was a chance to send out some mail so I will have to close this time and give you [a] better description of our expedition some other time. I must close for fear I should miss the chance of getting this out.

No more at present. — James Scott

This sketch of the Ohio Belle was made by artist Alexander Simplot at Hamburg Landing, 4 miles below Pittsburg Landing. It was published in Harper’s Weekly on 31 May 1862 but the publisher intentionally removed the name “Ohio Belle” from the side of the steamboat in this engraving.

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