Sunday, June 2, 2013

May 31, 1863

May 31, 1863

---Siege of Vicksburg, Day 9

---Siege of Port Hudson, Day 4

---The Hartford Courant, of Connecticut, reports a story of a Confederate Army captain who enters Union lines outside of Savannah, Georgia, who offers news of conditions in the South:

His accounts of the failure of food at the South corroborate the numerous statements from other sources already published. For some time the army in Virginia has subsisted on quarter rations of bacon and flour. The existence of such an article as beef has become almost traditional. Luxuries like tea and coffee have almost wholly disappeared. Further South the scarcity is less pinching. Yet in Savannah flour sells for eighty dollars a barrel. Board for a laboring man is ten dollars per week. Georgia is nearly exhausted of meat and there is no young stock coming on to supply future necessities.

The railroad lines are rapidly wearing out. A governmental order has been promulgated prohibiting all trains from running faster than ten miles per hour. . . . If the war continues much longer, the great source of Southern resistance—the power of rapid concentration at threatened points by means of the interior lines of communication—will fail.

Of the temper of the confederates he speaks fully. In Lee’s army the soldiers are tired of the war, and ready to welcome peace on any terms. Convinced of the impossibility of wearying out the North, they desire that the North may finish the war by conquering them. On the contrary, the people at home are still as determined as ever. . . .

Their notions of the peculiar institution are as sublimated as ever. In fact, the subject of slavery constitutes the burthen of Southern thought and the chief topic of Southern conversation. They believe in the divinity and perpetuity of the system, and are resolved in the adjustment of peace to compel the United States to sign a bond to return all fugitives. The colored soldiers who have dug trenches, built fortifications and fought battles for the Union, must all be sent back to servitude. This smacks of the habitual modesty of the rebels.

Under the changes of war, the rich are growing richer, and the poor poorer. Planters with products to sell have “heaps” of confederate paper, which is now at a discount of seven hundred per cent in Savannah. They take advantage of the necessities of the needy to buy up their Negroes, &c., which these are obliged to sell to procure the means of subsistence.

---Sergeant Alexander G. Downing, of the 11th Iowa Infantry with Grant’s army near Vicksburg, writes in his journal of the raiding expedition his regiment is part of, and the emphasis, apparently, of destroying civilian property:

Sunday, 31st—We camped by the river last night, and early this morning started for Haines’s Bluff. We marched along some fine cornfields. We reached Haines’s Bluff in the afternoon, and went into bivouac to the south of that place. We were as far east as Mechanicsville, forty-two miles from Vicksburg. On this raid we burned some fine plantation houses and other improvements. I saw only one residence left standing, and that was where the family had the courage to remain at home. The weather has been hot and the roads dusty.

---Osborn H. Oldroyd, a young officer in the 20th Ohio Infantry Regiment, in Grant’s army, writes in his journal of his experiences on the same raid through the Mississippi countryside---which includes a somewhat surprisingly frank observation about the attractions of being a slave owner:

MAY 31ST.—We were aroused by the bugle call, and in a few minutes on the march again. Halted at noon on a large plantation. This is a capital place to stop, for the negroes are quite busy baking corn-bread and sweet potatoes for us. We have had a grand dinner at the expense of a rich planter now serving in the southern army. Some of the negroes wanted to come with us, but we persuaded them to remain, telling them they would see hard times if they followed us. They showed indications of good treatment, and I presume their master is one of the few who treat their slaves like human beings.

I must say—whether right or wrong—plantation life has had a sort of fascination for me ever since I came south, especially when I visit one like that where we took dinner to-day, and some, also, I visited in Tennessee. I know I should treat my slaves well, and, while giving them a good living, I should buy, but never sell. . . .

May has now passed, with all its hardships and privations to the army of the west—the absence of camp comforts; open fields for dwelling places; the bare ground for beds; cartridge boxes for pillows, and all the other tribulations of an active campaign. Enduring these troubles, we have given our country willing service. We have passed through some hard-fought battles, where many of our comrades fell, now suffering in hospitals or sleeping, perhaps, in unmarked graves. Well they did their part, and much do we miss them. Their noble deeds shall still incite our emulation, that their proud record may not be sullied by any act of ours.

Camped at dark, tired, dirty and ragged—having had no chance to draw clothes for two months.

---John C. West, a Texan serving in the 4th Texas Infantry in Lee’s army, writes in his journal of his regiment’s move, which indicates how Lee begins to move his army, division by division, west and north in his planned invasion of the North:

Sunday, May 31st.

This morning about daylight we received orders to be ready to march at 8:30. All is bustle now getting ready. I have been to the spring for water and have just returned; have read the 52nd chapter of Isaiah, and 35th Psalm; am now about to pack up.

Sunday evening at sunset.—We have marched about fourteen miles to-day—a hot dusty march. Nothing of interest occurred. We are now bivouacked in a pine grove twenty miles from Fredericksburg, with our arms stacked with orders to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. The march has not fatigued me anything like as much as many hunts I have taken at home. Some friend of the soldiers has been kind enough to send us a number of religious papers, and I am now enjoying the “Christian Observer,” published at Richmond.


  1. I have two comments. The first comment deals with the first passage. It would have been hard to fight a defensive war. The South lost a lot of resources to the Northern invasions. You do have to give the South credit for their willingness to fight for four long years. During those years, they were watching their home towns being destroyed by the North. It is true though that war makes the rich richier and the poor poorer.
    It would have been hard to stay motivated in very harsh conditions. Also, it is interesting to learn about how the North destroyed southern homes and cities. I understand that it is a military tactic, but it just seems really cruel to attack your neighbor. I understand that if the North didn't destroy the southern resources the war would have probably lasted longer.
    When fighting a war, it is important to hold standards. I think that some Union regiments and divisions lacked respect for the South.

    Jory Johnson

    1. Often, they were. And yet most Northern troops completely respected property and so on. Often, the tone was set by the commander of your unit---whether he would allow or even encourage looting and marauding.

  2. Osborn H. Oldroyd's journal entry gives insight into the mind of southern soldier. He makes the observation that only few slaves are treated like humans by their owners. He also hints at feeling guilty for the way he may have treated his slaves in the past. Perhaps the trials of war had a humbling effect upon all those who participated.

    1. Well--except that Oldroyd is a Northern soldier, and he is fantasizing a bit with the idea of owning slaves, and living the Master's sort of life. He believes that he could control the brutishness that absolute power would create in a man, by telling himself that he would be a benevolent master: "I know I should treat my slaves well, and, while giving them a good living, I should buy, but never sell. . . ."
      Selling ones' slaves was frowned upon, but it happened all the time.