Seneca B. Thrall:
Seneca B. Thrall enlisted on August 19,
1862 at the age of 32. He was commissioned into the Field and Staff of
Infantry on September
17, 1862 as an Assistant Surgeon and resigned on April 4, 1862. He lived in
Ottumwa, IA and was originally from Ohio.
These letters are from an old, typed family transcript purchased at auction. All of the letters were written to his wife, unless otherwise noted.
January 7, 1863 (Lafayette, Tennessee)
January 20, 1863 (On board Steamer Arago, Memphis)
January 28, 1863 (Mississippi River near mouth of Zazoo)
February 3, 1863 (Mississippi River, 8 miles above Vicksburg)
February 8, 1863 (Louisiana Bank, opposite mouth of Zazoo River)
More letters written by Seneca Thrall (page 5)
In camp at Lafayette, Tennessee
January 7, 1863
Late in the night of Jan. 5th I received two letters from you of date Dec. 20th and 28th. I had sent a letter to Memphis to mail to you on the 4th written on Dec. 25th at Holly Springs, and Jan. 4th at this camp. It was the first I had any opportunity to send since Dec. 15th at Abbeville.
We now have the cars running daily (for past three days) from Memphis and will probably have daily mail soon, if Guerillas do not succeed in obstructing the road. There was 15 postage stamps in one of your letters which came in very good time, as I had already borrowed 8 or 10 stamps and they are difficult to get now, even if you have the money.
I should like to have been at home when Pa was there, to have seen him with the children. I know he must have enjoyed it. I have not received a letter from him since I first came down in September. Tell Frank that I have got another pony now. (A Mexican Mustang) Black and very pretty, one that some Rebel rode into Holly Springs when they captured it. One of our soldiers confiscated it and I bought if from him for $15.00, am to pay when Uncle Sam pays us. So I have a horse of my own again and if I lose it, it is not much lost. Dr. Thomas has lost his horse that he started down with, one worth over a hundred dollars. My pony at home would be worth about $50.00.
You need not fear that I suffer any for want of a warm bed and a warm room or any of the necessaries of life. You would be astonished to see how comfortable we fix ourselves in a very few hours. Now have a board floor, brick chimney, bed tick filled with corn husks covered with blankets, just as nice a bed as I should ever want, sleep warm, have plenty to eat, beef, pork, sweet potatoes, coffee, sugar, flour, corn meal, etc. When we are on the march and camp out nights, I can wrap up in my blankets and on leaves or corn fodder or what ever is convenient, lay down and sleep as warm and comfortable as need be and really do not suffer any privations at all. The life agrees with me. I like it and am fleshier and heavier than I ever was in my life, so that you may dismiss all uneasiness on my account.
As to the character of my letters, I suppose I have read so much sickly sentimentalism in love-sick novels that I have, as it were, unconsciously formed the habit of not expressing in letters or language the feelings of my heart; nevertheless that is no sign that I do not love my wife and children. I think you are right when you say you think, "I love my wife and children more than anything else". Yet for the life of me I cannot keep saying so all the time. I suppose it is a fault of my education in some way, yet I have got "growed up" as Topsy says and am what I am. You feel blue because you are in a "blue situation", that is common, and I have seen and heard so much of it (with ladies in "blue situation"), that I really have no doubt that you will not feel so blue much longer. Take courage, look forward cheerfully, for I really and truly (professionally) see no reason why you should not. I believe you will do well, better than ever by far and a cheerful, hopeful frame of mind will enable you to do so. Now do not think I am not writing affectionately and because I do not say very much is no reason why I do not think. Do not try to get along with a nurse for only one week, keep one untill you are completely recovered. I shall have money before long. There is now due me some $450.00 and when pay day arrives I will probably be paid that amount.
When pay day comes I can also assist Ma. Until then, I really can do nothing. I suppose if Nellie goes to Gambier at all she has gone by this time though I would prefer she should not go, however pressing the invitation. I would rather she should stay and "confiscate Fay's bottle", the little Jayhawker. I do not remember the name of that missing bottle, though I have no doubt that by describing it to Pa he can get you one like it in Columbus.
I received on the 5th a letter from Dr. Williamson, and also one from Dr. Strong of 36th Regiment, both were dated Dec. 16th. The weather is very pleasant and I presume we will stay on the line of this railroad for sometime (Memphis & Charleston). We are 31 miles east of Memphis, 1/2 mile from Lafayette, an insignificant little station of 1/2 dozen houses. The country around is rich, affords abundance of forage for horses. If our railroad communication is uninterrupted I will write again in a few days.
Thursday morn - January 8th. Shall mail this, this morning. Our mail it is said will now run regularly, daily.
On board Steamer Arago, Memphis
January 20, 1863
I received yours of the 11th. I think it is really the longest letter you have ever written to me. We came on board day before yesterday and here we are yet, every moment expecting orders to go. I, yesterday, sent a note by Major Van Hosen to be mailed as he went north. The Major has resigned and goes home. Capt. Madison, 15th Iowa, has resigned and gone home. Lt. Porter will now be Captain of the Company. Capt. John Hedrick of 15th Iowa is recommended as Major of 15th and will soon receive his commission. His brother will then be Captain of Co. K, 15th Iowa.
Capt. Madison was the ranking officer and should have received commission as Major, but in war, as well as in love, "kissing goes by favor". I sent you a letter on the 17th containing a poor Ambrotype and $20, in "greenbacks". I did not get my share of that $4,000,000 as they would not pay any after August 31st, so I borrowed $20 from Capt. Madison and sent to you. I hope you will receive it all safe though I considered it rather mixed, that is, rather doubtful, but concluded I would risk it. I did not then know that we were going to be here so long or that I would have any opportunity to send it any other way then by mail from this point.
As to the final result of the war. I entertain very much the same opinions. O always have, that is, I think there will be two distinct governments, the union dissolved, the south will be successful. We (the north) have vindicated the principle that there can be no peaceable secession, that secession is revolution. I am not surprised that the inefficiency of our leaders both military and civil is causing such luke-warmness in the minds of the people, both at home and in the army. The idea of arming and equipping Negro Regiments for the purpose of making them soldiers is, to my mind, worse than ridiculous nonsense, Niggers will work if you make them do so. I do not believe you could pick out one thousand Negroes out of 50,000 who would fight with loaded guns, or who would not run at the first appearance of danger. I believe the larboard os is on the starboard side; starboard ox on the larboard side, and that we are all going to the devil. How long it is going to continue, I have no idea.
Wednesday, January 21st - Stopped at Helena a short time. The 36th Iowa is there. I saw several of the men, but did not see Joy, Kittridge, Hamilton or Strong, or any that I wished to see. We were not permitted to land, though, contrary to positive orders I jumped ashore a few minutes to try and find some of Ottumwa friends in 36th. Did not see them and came near being left. The sun made its appearance this afternoon, the first time for several days. I shall never forget our stay in Memphis, rain, snow and ice, tents without fire, mud inside and out, then snow 10 to 12 inches deep, then severe cold. I do not think we shall ever forget our forlorn stay in Memphis.
There are 16 steamers transporting our division. It is beautiful to see the long line of boats, loaded with men, slowly descending that vast river. Our Regiment is the most fortunate one in the fleet. It has one boat, we are not crowded, the men are comfortable and I have with Dr. Thomas a large roomy berth in the Ladies' Cabin. Everyone is envying the good fortune of the 13th Iowa.
Thursday, 22d, 10 o'clock a.m. - passed Napoleon without stopping; it is a miserable, forlorn looking place, no soldiers there. I saw only two or three persons as we passed.
Friday 23d - Two o'clock p.m. We have just reached the fleet and are now at the mouth of the Zazoo river, 10 to 12 miles above Vicksburg. The river is full of steamers loaded with men, some 40 or 50 steam boats are in sight, tied up to the shore. Several gunboats laying off in the river. It is a grand sight. Steam up, and I know not what moment we may go. We may be her for days. We may go in to the fight tomorrow. Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day. Today is warm and spring like, a little cloudy and will probably rain tonight. After things get a little more settled I may give you an account of our voyage down the river, if nothing more interesting occurs to occupy the time, or make a more readable letter. I will send this whenever an opportunity affords and it may be incomplete. I carry it with me ready for any opportunity.
Saturday morn, January 24th - We have been on the boat six days and it has spoiled me for camp life and camp fare. It has seemed like a pleasure excursion, rather than a hostile advance upon a strongly fortified post. We have boarded on the boat. They have set a first rate table and I have revelled on warm biscuits, good tea and coffee, potatoes, cabbage, ham and eggs, preserves, pies, tarts, etc. I am fat. My coat won't button and my pants are too small. Our first week of camp life will go hard.
It is rumored through the division that we go down to cut the channel across the bend opposite Vicksburg. You will remember the canal commenced and talked about last summer. It is said, I know not how truly, that it can now be done (the river is high and rising) and Vicksburg left an inland town. I doubt it. A heavy, impenetrable fog covers the river this morn. I hear there is a mail to be sent north this morning, so I shall mail this and commence another. Write frequently. Our mail will be very irregular and I shall be anxious to hear from you. I shall write often. Tell Frank he must be a good boy, carry in the wood, etc. and I will get him a medicine case when I come home. A kiss for Nellie, Frank and yourself.
Your affectionate husband
Mississippi River near mouth of Zazoo
12 miles above Vicksburg
Wednesday, January 28, 1863
We arrived here last Friday, lay upon the boat untill yesterday morning, when we were ordered to go upon shore, unload everything and camp. We are upon the Louisiana side of the river, where marks upon the trees, fences, etc. show that occasionally, at least, the whole country is inundated. The Levee here is about ten feet high and wide enough for a wagon to drive upon its sumit. The Levee extends for hundreds of miles, even now, in many places the water is higher than the surrounding country.
It is low, flat swampy country, yet the banks of the river are in many places adorned by handsome dwellings, surrounded by neat-looking Negro cabins, the steam sugar refinery, stables, outhouse, and etc. giving a single plantation the appearance of a small village. It was strange, as passing down the river upon each side, the flat low country extending back for miles, thickly covered by timber and brush resembling cane brush, looking as miserable and uninviting as any land could, when suddenly you see an improved plantation appearing like a rich oasis in the midst of a desert. It rains without an effort and for several days it was "drizzling" continually with a heavy fog. Yesterday it cleared up and last night there was quite a hard freeze. The ground froze and upon the ponds there was a thin ice which the warm sun this morn quickly dispelled. I have been riding around today without any overcoat. It is clear and beautiful, yet it may rain in a few hours, roads are impassable for teams, except along near the Levee. Our Regiment was ordered away yesterday morning with two days rations and left upon a Steamer, went up the river, I do not know where, or for what purpose. I was left in charge of the sick as we had some twelve or fourteen sick, four very sick, the result of our weeks stay in Memphis, in rain, snow and cold without fires in our tents. That we have not had many more sick is surprising to me.
There is a vast amount of sickness here, many of the new Regiments having only three to five hundred men fit for duty, when a short time ago they had 1000. Many are dying and thousands more will if they stay here two months. We had a mail today, the first since we left Memphis. I did not receive any letters and I believe it has given me the "blues"; that, and the annoyance of moving sick from boat with no decent place to put them has decidedly given me the "blues". It rains so often and so easy, one of our hospital tents leaks, the ground, even the highest places, we can get is damp, soft and cold. I took possession of a Negro cabin, partially destroyed, though it has roof, floor and with two large fireplaces, fixed it as well as I could and have the sick in it. It is quite comfortable, yet at home at this season of the year, we would not think it fit shelter for a horse or cow. It is a dirty, filthy cabin (freely ventilated) yet the sick were glad to get in it. What we are to do here I know not. You probably hear at the north about the canal they are digging to turn the river from Vicksburg. In my opinion it is a grand humbug. It is a small ditch, not properly located to effect its object, and is by officers and privates, looked at with derision and laughter. The large majority who have seen it openly express their opinion that it cannot succeed and lose confidence in Generals that, apparently waste time and lives of many men in such work, nevertheless it is generally considered to be a feasible undertaking, and one that could be accomplished by properly directed labor in the proper locality, neither of which is at the present time being done. At least, such is the general impression.
The army, officers and men, are discouraged, have no confidence in their generals, especially the commanding officer of the expedition (Gen. McClernand). The feeling of the army is not what it was three, or even, two months ago. Many officers have resigned and many more have unsuccessfully tried to do so. It is exceedingly difficult to get a resignation accepted. I am in a tent by the side of my hospital cabin. The Regiment will return in the morning, when we shall have to move again, about a mile up the river, to where the rest of the Brigade is. There are some cases of Small Pox in all the other Regiments of our Brigade, the 11th, 15th and 16th Iowa. We have none yet in our Regiment, and I think we are comparatively safe as I vaccinated over 600 of the men the last of October and first of December, as soon as I heard of Small Pox in the army. During the past month they have had 20 to 30 cases in 15th and 16th Iowa.
It is the last of January, how time flies, when you receive this, you will probably be able to write me good news of yourself, that you have safely passed the period you have been looking forward to with dread and anxiety. I wish, oh how earnestly, that I could be with you, but I know that you will do well as though I was there, yet I know you wish for me and I wish I was with you, yet it cannot be, I have an abiding faith that you will do well and cannot think otherwise, yet I want the earliest possible information from you. It takes so long for a letter to come and the mails are becoming so irregular and uncertain. I hope Frank and Nellie will keep well so as to make you as little trouble as possible. Tell Frank I sent word to him to be a good boy, bring up wood and work for Ma-Ma.
Your affectionate husband
Saturday morn, Jan 31st - Your letter of 18th received last night, also one from Dr. Williamson, James Devin and Libbie Chambers are married. Edgerly and Maria Chambers are to be. We are still here. I will write again in day or so. In haste to mail.
8 miles above Vicksburg
February 3, 1863
I sent you a letter on 31st January, dated 28th and 31st. We are still on the Louisiana shore about a mile above our old camp. We are doing nothing particular that I am aware of, only laying around loose in camp. Men from our Division are no longer detailed to work on that grand old humbug, "the raging canal", which is to turn the Mississippi from Vicksburg - in a horn -. We are stationed upon what is called the extreme left of the army (that is, the left wing) consequently, our Regiment is first one you see when coming down the river. Troops extend down the river for ten and twelve miles, away below Vicksburg, no troops have arrived since we came, though more are expected. There is a crevasse in the Levee about three-fourths of a mile below us. Our Division is hard at work trying to mend it. We can not go down by land so that I have not seen the canal and do not know its present condition.
A Ram boat ran by Vicksburg yesterday morning. It was a wooden boat and one shell would have demolished it. The Rebs fired their large guns at it for 1/2 hour, did not hit it, we in a direct line are about 4 or 5 miles from Vicksburg. The reports jarred the ground where we are, rattled the glass in a house next by and in the steamboats near us. They were evidently big guns.
Among the new Regiments there is a very great deal of sickness and more in ours than at any time since I came here. We have 9 in hospital, 3 or 4 very sick. We have not had a death in our Regiment for four months. My own health is as usual, good, I guess I can stand it. A Major, Captain and three Lt. have resigned during the past three weeks and about all the rest would if they could.
I sent you from Memphis, Jan. 17th, $20 and an Ambrotype. Did you receive it? Write to me often and let me know how you get along. You need not be afraid of writing long letters and must make the little responsibilities take care of themselves. Do not try to get along without a nurse untill you are well able to do so. I do not feel in the writing humor this morning. Bennifield has bought the house Thomas Devin lived in. I have written to Dr. Williamson about our house. Must mail.
Your affectionate husband
February 5th - I was too late to mail yesterday. It is raining quite hard today, a cold, disagreeable rain. We are fixed quite comfortable however, and let it rain. You must keep up your spirits during this month and let me hear from you often. I am almost as restless as you are. Wish I was at home, and want to hear often.
In camp on Louisiana bank, opposite mouth of Zazoo River
February 8, 1863
Your letter of January 25th I received on Feb. 5th. I wrote to you on the 3d. I was glad to hear you had received the money and Daguerotype, as I thought it was very doubtful. I wash my head, have a fine comb and try to keep my hair in the place where it ought to be, but it is going fast. I would have had my glasses on when I had my picture taken but it was such disagreeable dark weather that it was difficult to get any picture.
I hope to here ere long of that successful move of the Buckangehale, and what you say of your present condition convinces me that I will. The absence of milk from the breasts and etc. is all favorable. Do not try to take care of Nellie, the other baby, or yourself, too soon. Do not try to get along without a nurse until Scott says you are able to do so and you feel able to do so. Tell Frank I am coming home soon as I can, though when that will be is hard to tell, as my delicate appearance is decidedly unfavorable for the acceptance of a resignation by the powers that are. It rains down here without the least effort, freezing quite hard some nights, ice forms 1/4 of an inch thick during a night. I went upon a sight seeing expedition yesterday with several of our officers. We got upon a Steam boat and went down the river some 4 miles to where the main body of the army is encamped. They have a much worse camping ground than ours. They are all in the mud and water, mud so deep six mules cannot pull 1/4 of a load on a wagon. There is necessarily a great deal o sickness, much more than in our Division who are camped above the Crevasse in the Levee and on higher ground, though I thought we had a wet muddy camp untill I saw the rest. I went down to the celebrated ditch which was to make Vicksburg an inland town.
Water sufficient is passing through to run a skiff. It is a forcible example of the general inefficiency and incapacity which has marked similar "strategic" moves upon our side. It is a complete failure and will remain so and yet I think could be done by labor skilfully and judiciously directed. I went below the ditch a mile and a half on the point of land opposite Vicksburg, had a very fine view of the city. With the unassisted eye, I could see the depot, engines passing through it, the court house with men (a signal corps) in the dome watching our fleet and the work on the canal, several beautiful residences, could mark the locality of several of their batteries and with a spy glass could see the sentinels near them. Saw several hundred cavalry passing down the river, the streets were apparently deserted, no one to be seen, though I have no doubt when occasion requires there is plenty there. One of their batteries below town was firing at the men at work near the lower end of the ditch. We could see the smoke curl beautifully up from among the brush where the battery was, the loud report would follow and in a moment more the report of the shell as it would burst down towards our men. One of our guns would occasionally reply. We could hear our shell burst in the neighborhood of the Rebel battery. I had a spy glass a few moments, with it the Rebs appeared so close I was half afraid some ambitious Reb might try his rifle at our crowd of sight see'ers, some 8 or 10 of us. We were within easy range of several of their batteries though they know we were just looking on for fun and it was really not worth while to molest us. As we came home the boat we got on happened to have some dispatches to Admiral Porter of the Gunboat Fleet, which lies a little up the Zazoo so that I had an opportunity to see the Iron and wooden gunboats, the mortar boats, and Rams that lay there watching for a Rebel Ram, expected from the Zazoo. It will never come while those boats are there. No boat that ever floated could pass through there now. I do not think one could be built that could. I got home in the evening as tired as I have been for months, walking is decidedly not my forte. I had not walked as far in a day for a year.
We have orders to be ready to embark at a moment's notice. I think we go up the river, to Providence on the Louisiana side. My private opinion is that the siege of Vicksburg is abandoned for the present. I must pack my hand trunk, things in it have somehow got mussed up and I have to have it just so or I cannot get my things in. Write often. I wrote to Gov. Kirkwood telling him what I thought of the manner I had been treated, of the deception used by Col. Shane and that I wanted commission soon as possible, mentioning Summers Regt. I enclose reply --- all common, of course.
Your affectionate husband
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