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.
February 14, 1863 (Lake Providence, Louisiana)
February 20, 1863 (Lake Providence, Louisiana)
February 25, 1863 (Lake Providence, Louisiana)
March 8, 1863 (Lake Providence, Louisiana)
March 12, 1863 (Lake Providence, Louisiana)
More letters written by Seneca Thrall (page 6)
In camp near Lake Providence, La.
February 14, 1863
I received yours of Feb. 1st today. It is Valentine day, so I call it my Valentine and thought I would send a reply. On the 8th I wrote to you and had just finished it when orders came to go on board the transports. Instantly all was in haste as it was late and was quite dark before we got all of our baggage on board. The 13th and 11th Iowa Regiments and 10th Ohio Battery were placed on board the Steamer "Empress". It made a boat load, I assure you, though we (Dr. Thomas and I) had assigned to us a large pleasant State room in the Ladies' Cabin.
At daylight on the morning of the 9th we left from opposite mouth of Zazoo arriving here same evening. It is about 60 miles up the river from Vicksburg.
I spent the day coming up playing chess with Major Foster of the 11th Iowa who has been considered the best chess player in the Brigade. I beat him five games out of seven, very much to his annoyance. Lake Providence has been a very pretty village, a number of neat cottage residences surrounded by the evergreens peculiar to a southern clime gave it a very inviting aspect, two drug stores, a large hotel, three churches, etc. Just back of the town is Lake Providence, a beautiful lake about a mile wide and several miles long. We are camped on the north bank of the lake about a mile above town, on the plantation of E. Sparrow, a Confederate Senator from Louisiana (I think is a brother of the Sparrow, a lawyer in Columbus, Ohio). I have seen many beautiful places in the south, but none that surpasses this. A two story house with a large pleasant portico on two sides looking towards the lake and towards the river is surrounded by evergreens of all grades and varieties. Extensive flower beds are arranged in fancifull, grotesque, beautiful shapes with hedge-like borders of evergreens about six inches high, four inches thick, nicely trimmed, fragrant odors pervades the atmosphere, in the front yard 4 or 5 neat frame houses with porches in front are near the dwelling for the house servants. A very pretty little cottage is a little to the left of the dwelling house built for and used as a Billiard Saloon. A billiard table worth $800 or a $1000 was there. The grounds around the house constituting front yard are under this high state of ornamental cultivation, are not less than 10 acres upon the banks of this beautiful lake near and in plain view of the town and Mississippi river - all combine to make it the most charming, most delightful, most desirable "country seat" I have yet seen.
About 400 yards west of the house and up the lake are the frame houses of the Negro "field hands", I have been told he worked on this plantation 125 Negroes. The large cotton Press and Gin is near the Negro quarters. He is said to have raised here 800 bales of cotton per year. He also owns another fine plantation about 6 miles west of here, where his family now is. Little did he ever dream that his beautiful place would ever have its present surroundings. The 11th Iowa is camped in the front part of the front yard among his beautiful evergreens. Our own Regiment is to the right of the house in the yard, my tent is about 60 feet from the house. Col. Crocker (commanding Brigade) occupies the dwelling house. Col. Chambers of the 16th Iowa, and Lt. Col. Shane of our Regiments have each a nice house. Lt. Col. Abercromby of the 11th Iowa has his Billiard house, Col. Reed of 15th Iowa, the Overseer's house. The fences are torn down and used for wood. Yet the officers endeaver as far as possible to prevent injury to the trees, shrubbery, etc. Six or eight miles out are 150 to 200 Guerillas hidden in the cypress swamps. Scouting parties of our men have had several slight skirmishes with them. The remind me of Marion's men in the Carolina swamps in the Revolution.
What are we doing here? Spades, not bayonets, are the order. A canal is being dug to connect Lake Providence with the river. Design is to pass into Lake Providence with boats and gun boats, thence by canal into "Bayou Mason", thence into Washita River, thence down into Red River, thence into Mississippi River below Vicksburg.
It will require but little labor to get into Lake Providence, the balance, I know nothing about, but I believe it will prove to be as grand a humbug as the canal around Vicksburg.
I think it probable that the water will overflow a vast extent of country, will not be confined to the Lake and Bayou, so as to give us a navigable channel. It seems to me, to be going a great ways around to accomplish what has failed under much more favorable auspices, nevertheless, I do not pretend to know anything about it. What I have seen at the other places has been so little conducive to faith, that I cannot help thinking that our Generals know but little more about it then I do.
A rich country surrounds us, since coming here we have had sweet potatoes, honey, chickens, fresh meat in abundance. There is only our Division here, it being the only one that left Vicksburg. We are in a much pleasanter and I think safer place. The 36th Reg't. is still at Helena. I heard of the destruction of Holly Springs by our troops, before we left Memphis, but it was not believed there. I have since heard that it was not the case. I do not know positively. I wish you would send me a calendar for 1863. I cannot find one here and I desire to be able to tell the day of the month. Cut it from some newspaper or Almanac, about the size of a letter, so I can paste it in my "Hand Book for 1862". Will finish in the morning.
Nine oclock a.m., February 15th - It rained quite hard most all night. It rains very easy here. When you do not think of such a thing, it commences and comes slowly, steadily down. Do not have the severe, dashing storms of Iowa. We camped here on Tuesday last, that night it rained and in the morning the water was some 4 inches deep in our tent, the ground so level, it does not drain off.
My books were in a box on the ground and were completely saturated. I have had them under a press before the fire drying. I had fortunately placed my hand trunk on my stool and I was on my cot. We had a floor put in that day and now it may rain, we are as comfortable as in any house.
It begins to feel like spring, the grass is beginning to grow. Peach trees are beginning to blossom. I have not had an overcoat on this month, yet we hear the river is full of ice at St. Louis. The days when the sun shines are warm. I think our winter is about over. It is about like the middle of April in Iowa.
As regards Scott's plan; first, so many resignations have been tendered that they grant them without reluctance and are drawing the lines closer every day. I have no plan, my health is excellent, appearance indicates it, nevertheless I intend to resign if I see any prospect of doing so. As to living in DeGraff, practising medicine in the mud, a large business, hard work, etc. is not very inviting to me. I should not wish to practice in a place where there were not other physicians, so that I could feel myself at liberty to decline going when and where I did not want to go. To charge $3000, a year in DeGraff would require hard work, considerable of it would be worthless. I have acquired habits of dunning persons, settling by note annually, etc. of refusing to go when I did not want to go which means laziness, and altogether, I apprehend I should be far from popular with the good people of DeGraff. As to California, I do not in the present condition of affairs think I should like to live there. What may be the condition of the Northwest ere long, I do not know. Going off to live in a new country is no longer my idea. I have seen enough of that even in Iowa.
I have an established reputation, though small business, in Ottumwa. It is a pleasant place to live. Were I out of the service now, I should feel like returning there. I think that climate would agree with Scott. All questions in this country turn upon one point - will it pay. Now all things considered, would it probably pay best in DeGraff of Ottumwa. We would enjoy ourselves better, be more contented in Ottumwa, yet would probably be able to make Ottumwa our permanent home, raise and educate our children there; would probably not be able to do so (contentedly) in DeGraff. Now let us have your opinion, freely, unreservedly, just as you think. In the meantime, the prospect of my being able to get out of the service is not very brilliant and is a sandy foundation upon which to direct a superstructure. I will write a note to Frank.
Your Affectionate Husband
Pap has a little black pony, not any larger than Uncle Dr. Mule. It has very short ears and its mane is cut of close. If it had long ears, it would look like a mule. I have a crupper (a thing to go under its tail to keep the saddle from slipping forward) just like Uncle Dr. has on his saddle. My pony is a very cross and naughty pony. When I go to get on him, I have to be careful or he will kick me with his hind foot. He has tried to do so a great many times.
When I am riding him, he will not go past a wagon unless I whip him very hard or spur him in his sides with my spurs. Spurs are little sharp stickers that I fasten on to the heel of my boots and when the pony is naughty or wont go, I stick him with them. That makes him angry and he kicks and jumps and tries to throw me off; but when he finds he cannot throw me off, he goes along.
Frankie, you must be a good boy and do what work Mama wants you to do; you must help Aunt Annie too, bring in wood, rock the cradle, and take care of Nellie. I am coming home some of these days, and I want Mama to tell me you have been a good boy.
PS - We no longer receive any papers here except such as are sent by mail, so I wish you would send me one every few days.
Maybe by this time you have another valentine for me , of more substantial substance than a letter. If Theressa goes to board with Mrs. Thrall in Bellefontaine, it will be a first rate place for Nellie, and a good place for Theressa to learn housekeeping. It would be the best thing she could do.
By the time you receive this, you will be through your great trouble. Do not try to get up too soon, and you will do well, but let me hear from you often.
Lake Providence, La
Feb. 20, 1863
I received yours of the first on the 14th, also yours of the 7th on the 15th, the letters came to hand in less time than any I have received since the 1st of December. I had written on the 14th and 15th and mailed before I received yours on the 15th. I have been leading a lazy camp life this week, but very little to do, so I read, sleep and play chess, by that means the time slips away almost before I know it. Occasionally when I can neither read, sleep or play chess, it is terribly dull. For three days and nights this week it rained without any intermission. It came steadily, constantly, easily down, making a very wet rain. Yesterday and today, it has been clear, warm and beautiful. In the mornings and evenings we keep a little fire in the fire place, though we have the front of the tent wide open all the time. Today it was too warm to walk about with my vest buttoned. There has not been much done here towards digging the canal here and I begin to think they are merely pretending to dig. They are however moving a small steam tug from the river into the lake, moving it on rollers by land.
They have set the niggers at picking cotton and are ginning and baleing it in the gin and press near our camp. I was over today to see them work. The motive power is 8 mules, little darkies, 8 to 12 years old are the motive power behind the mules. Four little niggers were driving who seemed to have been selected on account of their comical appearance, grinning, laughing, singing, cracking their whips, talking to their mules, they seemed so perfectly careless and happy. Their Negro melodies so cheerful that they themselves did not know what care is. I am not sufficient of a mechanic to describe a cotton gin. I presume Scott has seen plenty of them and can describe them to you. I laughed at the darkies, big and little, who all seemed to enjoy it, got covered with cotton, whereupon, they laughed at me.
I have got tired of sweet potatoes, chickens, ducks, etc. We have them every day. We have warm biscuits every meal, not so nice as you used to make at Huntsville when I came down to see you, but I guess I eat about as many as I certainly prefer them to hard crackers. You need never offer a returned sick soldier any crackers. For the past week I have been eating warm biscuit, butter, honey, coffee, sweet potatoes, molasses, chickens, duck, turkey, beefsteak, tea for supper, coffee, breakfast and dinner, so you see we have been living well. I have a tick filled with hay so have a first rate bed and altogether am just about as comfortable as need be. I go to bed about 10 o'clock and sleep like a top till morning, get up a little past six in the morning. If I do dream I very seldom remember them. As you can receive a letter from "dream land", which seems so natural, why won't it do as well as a real bonefide letter? I very seldom could ever remember a dream. I have been conscious upon waking that I had been dreaming of you, of Frank, Nellie and home, yet it was merely a glimmering indistinct impression.
I think it is rather fortunate that your nurse has a daughter to stay with her, as though it may cost us more, she can help take care of Nellie and Frank, keep them out of the cold and out of mischief, though I suppose the latter would be somewhat difficult.
I hope by this time you are through with your fears and apprehensions. Your account of your condition relieves me of mine, though if I was at home I should veto your trying to nurse a baby. Remember that the usual error in preparing milk is too much sugar and too warm. Get, if you possibly can, the strippings of a fresh milk cow, have it always prepared by the same person, so as to have uniformity as near as possible, and do not send away your nurse too soon. Put in your spare time writing me.
I actually received a letter from Theresa on the 15th. I do not feel at all like writing tonight so I shall stop for tonight and go to bed, if mail does not go off in the morning will write more. I send you some cotton seeds, by planting them in a box in the house, until frost is by, then transplanting to garden, you can see cotton growing.
Your Affectionate Husband
Lake Providence, La.
Feb. 25, 1863
Dear Mollie, Annie, Frank, Nellie and Etc.,
Yesterday I mailed a hastily written note merely to let you know that I had received your letter and had learned what a solid valentine you had received at home. If you receive yesterday's note before you do this you may be surprised at locality and date, since I said we were ordered immediately, in haste, on Steamer Maria Demming to carry 3 days rations. The 11th and 13th Iowa were sent on same boat. We knew not where or for what purpose, though indefinite rumors of a fight someplace and that reinforcements had been sent for in great haste. The orders came while I was rereading your letter, about 3 o'clocl p.m. We were on board in short time and off up the river. We went up 75 miles to Greenville, Mississippi where we found Gen. Burbridge's Brigade, the 83d and 96th Ohio, 23d Wisconsin, 60th and 67th Indiana, a Gunboat, our Regiments with another Gunboat arrived to reinforce them. They did not need any help so we turned around and sailed back, were gone from camp about 27 hours, had a pleasant trip in the river of about 150 miles. It is the first time the 13th Iowa has ever had the good fortune to start with 2, 4 or 5 days rations and get back before they had eaten them up.
"We can't calculate with any kind of certainty what a day may bring". I was very glad that I received your letter before we started yesterday as I expected that we would probably be gone five or six days and when I had learned that you were doing so well, I no longer felt the anxiety to learn, and was able to go and feel satisfied if we did have a stay. If washing colored clothes, baking a cake, etc. often has such an effect upon you, I do not think you had better do so often.
Annie must have been reading A. Ward's account of the "gushing child of nature", by the way she spoke of Scott's "gushing". Well, let him "gush", a recruiting officer has to "gush" and from the extent of mouth's spoken off, I should not wonder if there had been more music of a "gushing" nature upon the Hawbuckangrehale (believe that is the name of the river you spoke of where there was a movement expected soon). As to the "several parents being needed", just wait til; I get home. I can bring'em up in the way they should go, if you do not believe it, ask Frank, he knows.
We got home just in time this evening as it commenced to rain just as we landed and has been pouring down for the past three hours, the hardest rain storm we have yet had, and that is saying a great deal as it rains about 1/2 the time, though when it does clear up we have one or two days of magnificent weather.
Feb. 26th, 9 o'clock a.m. - I had intended to finish this last night so as to mail this morning, but found other work to do. The rain had tightened the ropes of our tent so as to snap the ridge pole, and we had to plunge out in the storm to find a rail to prop it up or have our tent down. Ridge pole propped up, ropes loosened, tent safe. We found the water coming through tent, leaking extensively. Oh, but the rain did come down, apparently in one solid mass, the sharp vivid lightning, instantaneous thunder would almost involuntarily make you think everything around us was tumbling, broken and crashed to pieces. Our cots were moved around to find a dry spot but finally I gave it up and went to bed covering my bed with my rubber coat and blanket and was lulled to sleep by the patter of the rain in my bed clothes. It rained all night and is yet coming down hard as ever. I have never known so much water to fall in the same period of time, though our tent has almost ceased to leak and we can sit in and keep our things perfectly dry. Gen. Logan's Division came down here the other day and Gen. Quinby's will be here in a few days more, there will then be 35 to 40 Regiments here besides the artillery, 9 batteries.
They have moved by land a small Steam Tug from the river into the lake, got it in last night and are still at work though not rapidly on the canal. There were 15 or 20 houses burned in Providence day before yesterday, origin of the fire accidental, in a house occupied by Negroes. The soldiers went to work to put out the fire and could easily have prevented the fire spreading but in running through the house that was burning, they found several Secesh flags and three kegs of powder, they left and let it burn. It was perfectly calm or the whole town would have burned. Whew, how it does rain - the water is running in a stream onto my bed and we have the best tent in the Regiment. Nearly all of the soldiers and officers are drowned out, like ground squirrels out of their holes. I never saw it rain any harder. A number of the men are standing outside singing, "Soldier's life is always gay", "We won't go home till morning", etc. We are comparatively comfortable as we can keep things dry and have a large tent 14 by 15 feet and only two of us occupy it, gum blankets on our beds. We set them in the worst places and keep the dry ones to sit in. The land is level, the water stands all over it, the tents look as though they were in a lake. I do not suppose you have ever seen such a long continued rain storm. Do not talk about its raining in Ohio; you don't know what it means.
I saw an amusing incident yesterday just as we left Greenville. About 200 niggers were there with bags, beds, old clothes, tins, kettles, etc. Two or three planters, long blackhaired, proud, haughty looking men named Major Lee, Parson (I forgot the other names) men who had undoubtedly been with the Guerrillas, were not at home when our troops first landed, they had splendid plantations, they came down to prevent their niggers running away. At least 40 Negroes came to me, hat off, "Massa, don you want a boy to take care of your hoss, black your boots, do anything want, oh, Massa, take me with you, do take me with you". I told them all I thought they had better stay where they were and it is true. The soldiers soon saw what was up and just as the boats were shoving off, rushed between the niggers and their masters and with loud yells and shouts, as though driving cattle and hogs, started the darkies towards the boats. The darkies took the hint and broke for the boats like a 2/40 trotting horse, the soldiers politely touching their hats, said, "Good morning, Major Lee and Col. Parsons, we will take care of your cattle and if you are not at home the next time we call to see you, we will take the rest of them. You may lie to the General and pull the wool over his eyes, but you can't fool us; you were with those damned Guerrillas yesterday". I presume the boys were right, and they were Guerrillas. Write often.
Your affectionate husband
P.S. "What's in a name?" - Seneca Scott - oh my - call him Johnny for the present; won't that do?
Lake Providence, La
March 8, 1863
I wrote to you on the 26th and March 3. We have received no mail this week, none since the 1st when I received yours of 20th and 23d. We are still here in same old camp, nothing to do and growing lazier every day. We have not remained in the same place as long at a time since I joined the Regiment. We have had very pleasant weather most all the week, some days unpleasantly warm. I lounge around my tent most of the time, reading, studying, playing shess. Occasionally, when the spirit moves, that is, when I am not too lazy, I take a game of "Alley Ball", or a ride around the lake on my horse. It is an easy, lazy sort of life that rather pleases me. I have just finished reading Dicken's "What Will He Do With It", the first novel I have read for a month. I intend as I have got started in that line to read, "Queechy".
In one of my letters I described what a beautiful place we are in camp belonging to Gen. Sparrow. I thought then it was as beautiful a place as I ever saw, yet I have since seen prettier places, that is, yards equally beautiful and dwellings much more so, rendering them perfectly enchanting. In such places dwell, or did dwell, The Southern Aristocrat, surrounded by luxuries of nature improved by the adornments of art, the obedient slave, the poor white trash crawl beneath him. He feels that he is Monarch of all he surveys, born to rule.
On Wednesday last they got the little Steam Tug into the lake, steam up, ready to sail. Major-Gen. McPherson and staff, Brig.-Gen. McArthur and staff, Brig.-Gen. Logan and staff, Vol. Crocker, Ditzler and several other acting Brigadeers, a brass band, several - if not more - bottles of whisky, five young ladies, handsomely dressed, who, on account of the rarity of the article, appeared really pretty, filled one boat and away up the lake on a pleasure excursion. If they had enough whisky, they probably had a "grand old time".
I went on board a Gun Boat to examine the critter and there found Will Beach on the same errand. He is Assist. Surgeon of 78th Ohio. Our Regiments have been together several times this summer, but we never happened to meet before. He is at present detailed as Surgn. in charge of Small Pox hospital here. By the way, I guess I never told you that Dr. Morrison, our 2nd Assist., was left at Vicksburg in charge of 25 cases of Small Pox from this Division, Hitherto I have been fortunate enough to escape these plagued details. We have not yet had a case of Small Pox in our Regiment. The Inspector General of this "Army Corps" (th 17) was around a few days ago inspecting the Brigade. He said the sanitary condition of this Regiment was the best he had ever seen.
I hope you and Johnny with the rest of the children are doing well as when you wrote on the 23d. I have no doubt you will be up and well in a short time. The question with Dickens was "What Will He Do With It" - with us - "What Will We Call IT". Wait till I read "Queechy", maybe we will call it "Queechy" or some other euphonious appellation. The spirit does not move me to write, read or do anything else today. There is talk of a paymaster being here in a few days, that might move my spirits some. If it does, I will write again in a day or so.
Your affectionate husband
Lake Providence, La.
March 12, 1863
Yesterday received four letters, three from you of dates, Feb. 23d, March 1st, March 4th, also one from Dr. Williamson. He had received no mail since the 1st. Had received a number of telegrams per the grape vine line, a line which the Rebs cannot obstruct and which easily passes any blockade, so that we were not entirely destitute of news. For example, we had dispatches announcing capture of Port Hudson, evacuation of Vicksburg, Capture of Zazoo City and a fleet of Rebel steamers and gunboats in the Zazoo River, sundry battles by Rosecrans army, and that there was about to be a move on the Potomac. By same line we heard of the capture of Rebs of the "Queen City" and the "Indianola", of victory of Rebs at Charleston, Savannah, etc. Truth and fiction were frequently strangely blended in dispatches by grape vine. I was very glad to hear you were doing so well, though I had had no doubt about it for some time.
It has been raining considerably for several days, though we have got used to that. The canal from the river to the lake is finished. It is only necessary to open the Levee and let the water in. What is being done at the other extremity of the lake, I do not know and unable to give an opinion as to the probable ultimate success of getting from the lake into the Bayous and rivers beyond. The other day there was some talk of sending our Division through Zazoo Pass into the Zazoo River. I do not wish to leave the Mississippi River. The 36th Iowa is at Moon Lake in Zazoo Pass. The officers of this Brigade met a few days ago, drafted some patriotic resolutions adapted to the present crisis (you will probably see them published). The resolutions were read on Dress Parade to our Regiment and adopted unanimously. The men are extremely bitter in denouncing the "Peace" men of the North, and indeed for my part I cannot see how any intelligent honest patriotic man can do otherwise. Take the publications of the Southern papers and Southern leaders, they utterly and scornfully reject the offers of the Peace men of the North.
Friday eve. March 13th - There is a paymaster here. Our Regiment was paid today, two months pay to October 31st. I received $223.35. They still owe me four months pay up to March 1st. If I only had the full amount we could nearly pay off our old debts. It would be about $669. If I only had it. I have been so long out of money and going on "tic" here that I owe considerable here to the Post Commissary and to the cook, so that I cannot send much home as I shall have to pay my debts here and keep sufficient to keep me a couple of months at any rate. I shall send to Dr. Williamson $105, by Eugene Sheffield who starts home tomorrow as Adjutant of 7th Cavalry. When I left home I borrowed $25 of Dr. W. and you borrowed $30. of somebody, I believe, when you left. I shall tell the Doctor to pay that $55, and interest and express the remainder to you. I do not know how much I owe here. I suppose about $130. I find I cannot pay quite all but they will consequently only have to wait a little longer.
There are indications that we shall leave here soon, where to is another question, probably into Zazoo Pass. I no longer entertain any doubt about the canal question here, it is a failure, boats cannot pass from Lake Providence to the Bayou beyond and a channel cannot be made so that they can. The whole country is flooded from 2 to 6 feet deep so that men can dig a channel. It is thickly covered by trees and cane brake so that it is utterly impossible to pass even a very small boat through. I believe that all the talk and work here has been simply intended to divert the minds of the people at home and in Dixie land. Cypress trees, stumps, etc. are stubborn facts which will prevent steam boats passing through.
I have the above information from a Lt. of our Regiment who was out in that place on duty, trying with 90 men to pass a small tug through. It could not be done. Boats are now here to take Gen. Logan's Division from here. They will leave tomorrow or next day. I do not know where they go. The days are quite uncomfortable warm, at mid day the shade is more pleasant than the sunshine.
Does it trouble you to find a name for that boy. I have read "Queechy". I do not think it would be a very nice name, though if you cannot find a better one, it may do. Seneca is not a better one. What do you say to Tom or Jake or something of that kind? But I guess you can find some name that will do. I send 10 cents to Frank to buy some candy or nuts for himself and Nellie. Tom is not yet big enough to eat candy. I will send this North by Eugene to mail at St. Louis or elsewhere. I sent one March 8th by a discharged soldier to mail at St. Louis. I must write to Dr. W. yet tonight.
Your affectionate husband
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