The 22nd Kentucky in the Vicksburg Campaign-Part One
Surgeons are not studied enough, in my opinion, when it comes to the great campaigns like Vicksburg. Also routinely left out of some studies is the interaction between men of the Union Army and Southern civilians. Dr. Benjamin Franklin Stevenson illuminates this topic superbly in the letters to his wife, written in April 1863. Stevenson, surgeon of the 22nd Kentucky Infantry, provides excellent insight into this Kentucky regiment through the letters he published in the years after the war. Stevenson eventually served as the surgeon-general of the Grand Army of the Republic in the 1880's and 1890's. In this post, I have included three of his letters just before the Army of the Tennessee crossed the Mississippi River to begin the task of taking Vicksburg. A follow up post will include the letters written during the actual campaign and siege.
April 10, 1863
Your favor of the 31st March came to hand this evening, and as it has to be acknowledged, I will at once follow the injunction of one of my Dutch patrons of Boone, who never tired in bringing out his apothegm, nor I in eliciting it. "When a thing has to be did, it had better did at once." Where will you find in the same compass more wisdom? Lay it to heart and be governed by it, and your life, rather your calling in life, will be an assured success. But let me say a thing is hard to "did" without materials out of which to "did" it.
I have nothing to write about, absolutely nothing of interest to you. To say that I am in the midst of a beautiful, fertile country, that is suffering all the hardships of war, is only to repeat what you already know. This village is the seat of justice of Madison Parish; it is twelve miles from the river; and is situated on what is called Roundaway Bayou, which I can describe only by saying:
It runneth north, it runneth south,
It runneth east, it runneth west,
It runneth around the cuckoo's nest;
and thence it runneth its way back to its source the "Father of Waters," not very far from its origin. May your life and mine be just as happy in their termini, "in the bosom of our father and our God."
I have beside me, a little testimonial of regard from one of the ladies of the town. I was called to vaccinate her children, and declined any remuneration for the service rendered; other than a kiss from the prattling innocents, and the mother in gratitude for the favor sent me this morning a bouquet of early blooming flowers done up quite artistically, and with it her compliments in a note, neatly and happily expressed.
Among the ladies of the town are some very bitter talkers, and one of them two days since exhausted all her resources in an effort to force me into a political talk, but I avoided it, by proposing to talk of something about which we could agree. She was from Kentucky twenty years back, and knew Uncle Edward well, and had often sat under his ministry as a member of the church in which he officiated as pastor. I was very careful, however, not to say to her that he sympathized with her in favor of rebellion. After an hour spent in comparing recollections of the dear old State, and when I was about to withdraw, she approached me and said very earnestly that she must shake hands with me on parting. Now was not that better than holding a heated political colloquy, and then parting displeased, if not angry with each other?
Allow me a word to say in regard to your health. Wear flannel next to your skin constantly; use a flesh brush freely, and a stiff one at that; be much in the open air; take exercise regularly in walking, running, jumping, skipping, dancing and making merry generally. Ea heartily whatever you can readily digest, and then you will do. There is no propriety in moping our life, a burden to yourself, and a source of solicitude and anxiety to all round you. When you next write I hope to hear you are improving and that your grandmother,father, mother, and sister are all well. Love to all,
April 11, 1863
Yours of 28th March came to hand this evening, and I will do you the justice to say that in it you have administered one of the neatest reproofs I have ever read, odne up in good style, an in the best temper imaginable. I am glad to have drawn it out.
You will have received your second formal note long before this reaches you, but I hope, formal as it was, there was in it something to clear up the countenance of a "sullen, sulky dame," in the way of material aid that will convince you that I care some for "wife, children, and friends."
I visited the "Bend" again yesterday intending to send two hundred and fifty dollars to you by Doctor Brashear, but on reaching the river, I found that he and Mrs. B--- had started up the day before. I entrusted the funds to the Adams Express Co., with orders to deposit in bank at Covington. I send their receipt.
I was not aware until your present letter so informed me that ---- had gone down into Dixie in pursuit of lost rights. I hope he may find them, and in future take good care of them. The death of ---- is not at all unexpected to me. In temperament he was impulsive and rash. If there be a God who rules the destinies of man (and I most solemnly believe it) the punishment was needed by some of the black-coated gentry of Boone, who are in a great measure responsible for his death. Anguish and remorse will gnaw at the vitals of their consciences if they are not dead to sensibility. I must close, and go to bed. Love to all, with many kisses to the children and kind greetings to enquiring friends.
James Plantation, Louisiana
April 20, 1862
Here we are fifty miles below Vicksburg, by the river, though only thirty-five from Milliken's Bend by the land route we have traveled.
We are executing the strangest military movement, through the strangest country imaginable. The half of Grant's army is now below Vicksburg, and is traveling down into Dixie along a narrow levee, hemmed in with water on each side, and with space barely sufficient to set up tents between the roadway and the water. What it all means I know not, but I fear our communications in the mail line will be cut off. I hope, however, you will give yourself no trouble about my personal safety. I will take the best care of myself possible, and the leave results to Providence.
Yours of the 2nd and 4th both reached me this morning. How cruel of you to write me such a formal note after my ample apology for my business letters. I will remember you for it. You give me very little local news from the county. I think you might afford me a letter every day filled with little incidents about home. Give Cora a kiss for me for every one she throws from her finger ends at my "counterfeit presentment." Would to God I could do so myself, but that, you know, I can't without I disgrace myself by teaching and preaching treason, rather than which I would welcome death.
I wrote to you from the Holmes plantation, where we paused a day after leaving Richmond, and whilst there I visited, in company with Major Worthington, one of the most beautiful flower gardens and lawns that I have ever seen anywhere. It is on the Dawson plantation, and is very extensive. Sauntering through the walks and grounds, admiring the flowers and the shrubbery and the stately shade trees I was made witness to the digging up of a monster gun, unlike anything I had before seen by a private of the 6th Missouri Infantry. I gave the man six dollars for his prize, and reported it at regimental brigade and division headquarters, and was by all authorized to retain it. I will send it home by the first safe opportunity.
I am sorry now that I called for a box of supplies, as I have no thought of receiving it. Sumner may reach the Bend with it, but he will be compelled to leave it there and that will be the last of it.
Health good. Love to all.
If you would like to read Dr. Stevenson's account from the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, click HERE!