Civil War History


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The Leaders:
The Politicians

Jefferson Davis

Above: Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy.
Below: Abraham Lincoln of the Union.

Abraham Lincoln

Charles Terry Saxton
The American Civil War

A War Diary

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page 18

Diary of Charles Terry Saxton, 90th N.Y. Volunteers, from:

            Feb. 1864 to April, 1864

           A new era has commenced. I am now a veteran soldier. More than 2 years ago I left home and friends to enter the service of my country. I believe I have served faithfully. Eight hundred men came out in the same regiment with me. A number of recruits have since joined it. Out of the whole not 300 remain. Disease and the deadly bullet have done their work. Their agency has laid many noble men low in their graves:

'Toll for the brave
The brave that are no more'.

Their bones lie mouldering in the coral rock of Key West and the sandy soil of Louisiana, but let us keep their memory green in our hearts. God grant that they have not died in vain.

            I will enter upon my new term bravely, hopefully, cheerfully. It is not like it was when I first enlisted. I am older, more experienced and more self-reliant. I know more of the world and of life, especially of a soldier's life. I am more impregnable to disease and better able to endure hardships. Everything is more favorable for me.

           The commencement of my second term finds me still at Raceland. We remained here another month, jogging along in the same old style, when we received orders to leave, according to the adage, 'A soldier proposes and Gen So and So disposes'. We didn't much like the idea but we could not rebel against fate. So when the train came for Brashear City we piled on. Away we went over plantations and bayous, and through woody swamps filled with black, unwholesome-looking water which teamed with alligators and the deadly moccasin, stopping occasionally at a station, until we arrived at Brashear, the terminus of the railroad. On our way we had taken on 2 more Cos, the remainder staying on the railroad. Our 3 companies went inside the fort. The next day we received pay. I received my old $100 bounty, $60.00 in advance of my new bounty, 4 months pay and one in advance, making in all $241.00. I sent $173.00 home. The boys started a big drunk but it was brought to an untimely end by orders to pack up again. This time we started for Algiers and after riding 80 miles on one of the worst of railroads and on one of the slowest of trains, we arrived there. This was a signal for the continuance of the big drunk. As soon as possible all struck a bee line for the Canal St ferry. I wrote a pass that took 8 or 10 of us across. We were there 3 days and nights. The 90th reigned triumphant throughout the Crescent City. They were everywhere. The headquarters were on Basin St (not mine by a long shot) and here you could see them lying around loose in every stage of intoxication from the funny or fighting stage to the state of utter stupidity. I got 'tightly slight' myself. I had never been in that state of existence and I wanted to see how it seemed. I was fully satisfied. I felt jolly; I felt gay; I felt even glorious in the evening; but Oh, ye gods, the next morning! Ever since I have been a teetotaler and my motto is, 'Taste not, touch not, handle not'. I was in the theatre 2 evenings and saw Booth impersonate Othello; and Lawrence Barrett as Shylock in 'Merchant of Venice'. But all things must have an end, they say, and this 3 days glorification was no exception to the rule. When I went over to Algiers I found that I had lost nearly everything but what I had on me. I soon made them up, however, in true soldiering manner. What there was of us, about one half of the 3 companies, then embarked on the 'John Warner' and started up the river. 'Sic transit gloria' of New Orleans for a while.

           Our trip up the river would have been very pleasant to me if I had not been suffering from a bad attack of chills and fever. The country along the Mississippi as far up as I went is a very fine one. There are many splendid plantations as far up as Baton Rouge, and many fine residences. The surface is perfectly level. Donaldsonville at the mouth of Bayou La Fourche is a place of considerable interest. The desolating hand of war has been laid upon this once beautiful place, and has almost converted it into a desert. Above Baton Rouge the land is not so much cultivated, and the scenery is wilder. Ere long the banks begin to be higher and soon the bluffs of Port Hudson frown upon us. How different from what it would have been a year ago! Then, those grim looking cannon would have belched forth their storm of iron hail, hurling us to destruction! But now the glorious star spangled banner floats triumphantly on the breeze and we have no fear. With what pride I looked upon it and thought that I had done a little towards planting it there. Port Hudson! Last grim sentinel over the noble river which washes thy base, thou couldst not withstand the prowess of the soldiers of the Union. How are the mighty fallen! Poor Secessia! Death stares thee in the face whichever way thou mayest turn. Repent thee in sackcloth and ashes of thy many sins and receive the forgiveness both of God and man or the day of retribution will come upon thee in a fearful and terrible manner.

            From Port Hudson to the mouth of the Red River the banks are lined with woods. The Red River is not nearly as wide as the Mississippi and the waters are much more discolored. This is caused by the red clayey soil through which it flows. The banks are quite high and grow higher as you ascend the stream. I noticed but few dwellings upon the banks and these mostly dilapidated; God- and man- forsaken appearance. Near Fort De Russey the banks were lined for a long distance with contrabands of all ages from the wooly-headed, grinning little imps with nothing on but a single shirt, to the grey-headed, solemn looking old patriarchs, and all of them gazing at us with all their eyes. When we arrived opposite to them they testified their enthusiasm for the cause, the young by jumping up and down and clapping their hands and screaming with all their power; and the older ones by waving their hats and handkerchiefs and shouting, 'God bless de Yankee soldiers'. This is always the way the negroes receive us, at first as saints, and will do anything for us; but they soon discover their mistake, for I blush to say that the soldiers often treat them most shamefully.

            The evening of the third day from New Orleans we arrived at Alexandria and the next morning landed. The banks were lined for miles with the curious-looking Mississippi steamers with their long black chimneys; and part of Porter's fleet of ironclads were lying out in the stream. I found Alexandria to be the largest place in Louisiana that I had yet been in, excepting, of course, New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It is a rather pretty place, but it is not much different from our northern villages. We went in camp at first on the north side of Bayou Rapides, but soon moved back and camped in a field back of the city. When we arrived the army was all there, consisting of the 13th and 19th army corps and parts of the 16th and 17th, under the command of Gen AJ Smith, but they soon took up line of march for Shreveport. Our division (the 2nd of the 19th corps) was left to garrison the place.

            For some time after we arrived we were without tents and had to build little kennels just large enough to lie in to protect us from the rain. It was quite cold nights and as we had no blankets we suffered considerably. The days were warm enough. It put one in mind of the Hell which some nation believes in (the Mohammedans it may be, I have forgotten exactly) viz, that the unfortunate object of divine vengeance is dragged from a place of extreme heat to a place of extreme cold and vice versa; a punishment that I judge to be even worse than our old orthodox Christian Hell. So with me in that place, I congealed every night and thawed out again every day.

           Here is an extract from the diary I kept at that time, I wrote it when on picket:

'''Tis midnight's holy hour: and silence now
Is brooding like a gentle spirit o'er
The still and pulseless world.''

            I am on picket on the banks of the Red River. Ugh! How the wind blows! It sweeps fiercely down upon us, bringing with it the icy chill of the far north and searching us to the very bone and making us shrink into ourselves with the cold. How it shrieks and blusters around me! ''Poor Tom's a cold!'' How fiercely it attacks the bivouac fire, carrying the flames high in the air and scattering the sparks and ashes all around. How easily it tosses about the giant arms of those old Titans of the wood which loom up about me in the thick darkness. Now it lulls. The fire burns brightly, revealing the prostrate forms of 20 men stretched out at full length on their mother earth; and forming ghostly shadows in those dim confines where the light and darkness are struggling for the mastery. Beyond this is darkness - darkness dense and impenetrable, in which the goblins of the wood can carry on their ghostly revels without the fear of being seen by mortal eyes. Nothing is now to be heard but the heavy breathing of the sleepers and the distant tread of the solitary sentry as he walks his lonely beat. But for these, silence would reign supreme.

''Night, sable goddess, from her ebon throne
In rayless majesty, now stretches forth
A leaden sceptre o'er a slumbering world.
Silence how dead and darkness how profound!
Nor eye nor listening ear an object finds,
Creation sleeps. 'Tis as the general poles
Of life stood still. And nature made a pause -
An awful pause - prophetic of the end.'''

           After we had been here a few days we drew shelter tents. It also gradually became warmer, so we lived more comfortably. Shortly after we got our tents pitched we had a very heavy rain storm. The shelters were one degree better than nothing. I used to sing:

''Tis a joy to press the pillow of the cottage chamber bed
And listen to the patter of the soft rain overhead''.

That was very fine. Then I changed my song to:

''It's rough to press the pillow (a knapsack) with a thin tent overhead
And feel the spatter, spatter, of the cold rain on your head''.

           That wasn't so fine. Well it did rain that day and no mistake. I thought the windows of the heavens were opened once more, and the old tragedy of the flood was to be re-enacted for our benefit. Our tent was soon converted into an island and would probably have floated away with us if it had not been securely pegged down. The whole field looked like a minor edition of the Red Sea, and the blue jackets paddling about in it might aptly represent the hosts of Pharaoh struggling in its waters. It was amusing to see the boys sticking out their heads and imitating in drawling tones the cry of the leadsman. One sings out, ''Fight feet scant'', another ''Seven and a half large'', while still another bawls out, ''No-o-o bottom-m-m''. I came pretty near drowning getting out of my tent - at least, I mean, I got my feet wet.

            We remained in this camp a couple of weeks. Nearly every day a long forage train would go out from the city and return loaded with cotton. They were great on cotton in the Department of the Gulf. After a while, part of our division was ordered to the front. Two regiments of our brigade, the 13th Conn and 1st La were among those that went, and our detachment was sent to the city to do provost duty. Our star is now in the ascendency. Long may we wave!

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Civil War History

John Wilkes Booth:

     Booth was one of the leading Shakespearian actors of his time, even performing in front of the President.

      Little known to Lincoln, he was also a zealous confederate.

      In 1865, he took advantage of his close access to President Lincoln by shooting and killing him in a theatre box.

Othello 1864:

      It is very likely that the Booth referred to playing Othello in New Orleans is the same one, though nothing is made of this in the diary typed up by Charles Terry Saxton's daughter long after the Civil War had ended and after Booth had become immortalized not because of his acting skills but as the assassin of President Lincoln; it could have been Booth's brother, Edwin.

the blockade of the South

Mrs AH Wilcox of
Barrington Street.
Rochester, N.Y.

originally typed up the diary of
her father, Charles Terry Saxton,
and preserved it for posterity.

Trees of London        A James Wilkinson Publication ©