Letters written by Benjamin Lewis, a member of the 33rd Wisconsin regiment, survived the Civil War. He talks about deplorable conditions, court-martialed generals, and troop movements, and the Confederate Army’s surrender.
April 15, 1863
Aboard the Bobray
"Have had one of the hottest times since I have been in the Army. You probably heard about Banks' defeat by land and river. We was with the fleet. We got about 500 miles up Red River when Banks fell back, and the Rebs cut off our rear and got on our rear with their artillery. We had to run their battery for 200 miles. Our company was on board the Bobray, loaded with ammunition. She had five shells through her and musket balls without number. None of our company was hurt, but five battery men were wounded. It seemed that they were bound to take our fleet, but our gun battery made them hunt their holes.”
“We will probably leave here today for Granitco up the river 90 miles, where our regiment is. Banks has fell back there and is rarring to go again. (Benjamin G. Lewis' 2-year-old daughter, whom he had never seen, died while he was on this mission.) We were in a pretty tight place but got out all right. We ran four batteries and landed at dark at Cante. As we came near shore, we could see lines of men four deep. We thought they were Rebs and fired into them from the boat, then found they were Gen. Smith's from 17th Army Corp. come to help us, but so dark we couldn't see.
“Gen. Banks has lost lots of men – they say 4,000.”
July 15, 1863
“We left Vixburg the 5th of this month to chase old Johnson. We chased him here at Jackson, Mississippi, and are fighting him on all sides. Our brigade was ordered forward to charge the fortifications, which we did – the 3rd Iowa, 41st Illinois, 8th Illinois and 33rd Wisconsin, which is our regiment.
“Our regiment did not charge, for we did not get there in time. We was on the extreme right, so we had farther to go through brush. The other regiments charged and was cut to pieces and had to fall back with great slaughter.
“Our regiment fell back by order of Gen. Lawman. Other regiments lost 400 men killed, wounded and taken prisoner. Gen. Lawman is under arrest and was sent to trial for making that charge and not knowing where and how many he charged against, and for sending his men into a trap.
“Ours charged against five Rebel brigades that were behind forts. The 3rd Iowa stayed until they were cut to pieces. Their colonel killed. A shell struck him first and knocked him out of his saddle. He got on his horse and ordered his men forward and got a musket ball in his neck.
“Don't know how long it will take to whip the Rebs at Jackson. Old Johnson is more of a fighter than Pemberton. He has about 40,000 men. We had a very hard march getting here from Vixburg. So hot and we have such loads to carry and hot woolen pants and shirts.
“The Rebs surrendered on the 4th of July. We really celebrated, but had orders to be ready to march at any moment with four days’ rations and our haversacks.”
Oct. 5, 1864
“We arrived here last night on the Mississippi River, 40 miles above Cairo, after a fatiguing march of 325 miles. Have been after Old Price but did not see him. Our supplies have run out and we have no tents. We are under the command of Gen. Mowery, an old tyrant.
“I went to a house this morning to get a warm breakfast of biscuits and butter. Cost me 25 cents. I was on half rations on our march of 19 days – 325 miles through swamps, mud, rain and rivers.”
“Jut in Nashville – Matt in Chattanooga in big fight. (Jut and Matt were brothers of Benjamin Lewis.)
“Camped at Hollersprings, Mississippi, where our general surrendered up the place without firing a shot, with 2,000 men. He was sent home in disgrace."
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.