1862: James Scott to Family

These letters were 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.

Scott’s letters 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.”

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.


On. board the Ohio Belle
January 5th 1863

We are on the backward at present but how far will go I can’t tell. We started from Milliken’s Bend yesterday afternoon where we all fell back to on the 2nd 15 miles above the mouth of the old river. It took some time to get the boats all in their proper position after coming out of the Yazoo for they all got out just as they could get out. There is different stories in regard to where we are going. Some say to Little Rock, Arkansas, some to Helena, Memphis, Columbus, Cairo, Nashville, and a number of other places. But I guess that no one knows where we are going for certain. I think we made a very narrow escape in getting away from Vicksburg as safely as we did although it cost the Government an immense sum of money and a great many lives in the four days fighting. There must have been between killed, wounded, & missing, not less than 1,000 and some say more and some less. I have no correct way 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, this 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 (the old boat shakes so that I can hardly write at all.)

I had a letter from Wes day before yesterday and he said you sent on some Christmas fixings. I am sorry you did for even if we go as far back, they will all be spoiled before we get them. I should really like to [have] had them for we spent a hard Christmas & New Years. He said in his letter than Lycan wanted to buy my work bench and for me to let him know what I would take for it. I would take 3½ or 4 dollars for the bench and the old screw. That would pay very well for it and if he can get that, he had better sell it, or if he wants both screws, it will be 50 cents more. I would like when you write again to let me know if father got that money from Hodson or not. The few lines I got from Wes day before yesterday was the first I got since the 15th of December. His was dated 22nd so I think you are not very punctual is answering or there is some letter behind. I think the Fayette & Wyota Co. is having a good time in the North. I should not like soldiering very well in a cold country. It has never seemed like winter at all to me so far.

Tuesday, January 6th.  We are still working our way North and I can feel the difference in the atmosphere. The air this morning is clear and cool—more invigorating than it was down in the swamp near Vicksburg. I should not like to be in there in the summer for I think it must be very sickly for the short time that we were in it made several of the boys sick and some of them, I think, is dangerous sick. We have not now more than 46 men that is really fit for duty. Capt. Warring is very sick now and has been for some time and I do not think he will ever get so that he can stand this kind of business. He is not the right temperament for a soldier and there was some taken away very sick when they heard the firing the first morning we were in the swamp. Well it was tolerable scary for fellows that never heard anything of the kind before.

We are making rather slow progress this morning for we are towing the gunboat Cincinnati—one of the best gunboats we have. She carries 13 guns and some of them 9-inch bore and I find it makes considerable difference in our sailing.

Wednesday morning, January 7th.  We are tied up for wood this morning on Mississippi side a short ways below Gaster’s Landing. There is no more light on the subject of where we are going or what we are going to do than when we first started back. We are getting up the river very slow. It is very difficult to get wood along the river. They have to take teams off the boats and draw it out of the swamps where it is corded up and the boat uses about 20 cords a day. If ever the war is settled, wood chopping will be good business for these expeditions are clearing up all the wood that was chopped.

The talk is this morning that part of the fleet will go up White river and the rest up the Arkansas river but whether it is so or no, I can’t tell. We hear all kinds of stories in regard to where we are going and what the rebels are doing but nothing that we can rely on. I should like to go back to Memphis to see if we could get that box of stuff you sent. I expect the things are rather old by this time but I should like to get the butter even if it is old. This backward move has discouraged the boys considerable. They all talk as if they would be willing to settle on almost any terms. Things look rather dark at present. The whole army of the South West is moving back and not without considerable loss and the slowness of the pay department is rather discouraging.

Thursday morning, January 8th 1863

We are laying at the mouth of White river. We got here about midnight. The whole fleet is here now. I do not know what it all means. Some say the fleet is to be divided here and part ogo up the White river and the rest go to Memphis but which course we will take is more than I can tell. It is raining and quite cold this morning but we are comfortable. here in the cabin of the Ohio Belle. I would just as leave stay here all winter as not for we have no duty to perform—only our cooking and washing. We got a mail this morning but I did not get anything from home. I don’t understand why I do not for Frank, Bob, and Asa all got letters this morning. I have seen some papers today and they come down hard on Burnside & Sherman and I think they deserve it all and more too.

I guess I shall have to send you another letter without being finished up as I should like for I have a chance of sending it this afternoon and I don’t know when we may have another opportunity for our mail is very irregular anymore. We may have a chance in a day or two and we may not for two or three weeks just as it happens. I mean to write some every day and send it off whenever I can and I want you to write and direct as usual till I tell you different. No more at present.

I remain yours truly, — James Scott

To Miss M. J. Scott


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