CORINTH INFORMATION DATABASE Version 1.3 © 1995 Milton Sandy, Jr.

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From Memphis, Tenn.

    The Ups and Downs of a Soldier's Life -- Reflections on
        Summer -- An Expedition "Outside the Lines" --
                         Miscellaneous

                             Near Memphis, Tenn., June 2nd, 1863.
DEAR MESSENGER:

        At length I have left the dusty confines of the Corinthian
fortifications, and am now campaigning in sight of the follies and
dissipation of the Memphians. One day's journey nearer our base, as
much nearer home; and again in the midst of civilization. When I last
wrote, our boys had been indulging in the fond, and, at the time, not
unreasonable hope that they would have been permitted to sojourn at
Corinth; for the summer at least. Not that they were unwilling to
share the toil of march, and the perils of battle with their brethren
in the field, for they had had their share of those natural
consequences of campaigning. But they felt that they needed rest;
needed the relaxation which other troops in our immediate vicinity
have been enjoying for the past year. Therefore, when a short time
since they received orders to move, you may be assured they were
somewhat chagrined. Firstly, because they would thereby be obliged to
leave the comfortable quarters which they had erected themselves, and
secondly, because all their fond anticipations were thus suddenly
destroyed:

        "The hopes they had cherished would never come more
        Their dreams had all perished, their happiness was o'er."

        However, twelve hours after receiving marching orders, we had
left Corinth behind us, and were whirling over the Memphis &
Charleston R.R. en route for this city. On the morning of the 11th
ult. we arrived here and in a short time were encamped on the suburbs
of the city, within sight of the church spires, and hearing of the
buzz and din of this now commercial metropolis. But it appears that
there is no rest for the wicked. For again we are under marching
orders. So this is as likely to be my farewell, as introductory letter
from this place. Where we will go, or if we will go at all, yet
remains to be seen.

        We have made an excellent and comfortable set of quarters for
officers and men, fortified our camp strongly, brought up and planted
artillery behind formidable breastworks, made passable roads, and
supposing from the vital importance of this place to our army in
Mississippi that a force must be stationed here constantly to guard
the railroads, &c., we not unreasonably concluded that those who did
the labor, ought to enjoy the fruits of it. This was the consideration
drawn from reason, but there was another drawn from astrology, which I
fear will prove the correct one. We have never been in a place yet
which we did not have to leave a short time after preparing for a
stay. If we were content to live in tents like the greater portion of
the army, we were safe from a move, but as soon as we began erecting
barracks, or digging wells, &c., just so soon could we confidently
look for marching orders. We have therefore vague apprehensions that
the finishing of the police of our present camp, will be the limit of
our stay.

        Though willing to serve our country, and do our duty wherever
we are needed, we shall leave this place with regret. Changing
Goldsmith's couplet in his charming poem, The Traveller,

     "Rich vernal blooms these torpid rocks array
     And Winter dies within the lap of May."

     The hills around us hide their rough nakedness in robes of the
freshest green, the small valleys retreat in graceful curves from the
eye, looking as if they were the paths to come paradise beyond; the
full moon bathes all in the softest, mellowest light; the night air is
vocal till the gray of dawn; with a chorus of whippoorwills, and when
they cease, the morning songsters anticipate the reveille drums and
bugles. Wild flowers--many of them strangers--all of them beautiful,
spring up by the rough rocks, and gnarled roots of the trees, and no
voice or aspect of nature harmonizes with our deadly, awful calling.
How happy shall we all be, when we can say of our country, like
Shelley,

     "Not gold, not blood, her altar dowers,
     But native tears and symbol flowers."

     How welcome the day when the soldier shall no longer bleed as a
man, nor the contractor fatten as a vampyre. There will be many tender
adieus. Farewell, to the gentle and impressible beauties of
Mississippi, Tennessee and other portions of the sunny south; farewell
to the fountains of sin, after copper distilled lightning; farewell to
the butter and eggs brought in by our pedestrian hucksters, who, I
must say, in our present camp, fairly earn their money, by climbing
the rough hills around us; farewell, too, on the part of the country
folks here, to the prices they never saw before, and never will again,
when their chickens and geese laid golden eggs, and their cows grazed
on the shores of Poetolus.

     We have planted a large number of cedar trees in camp, and they
will form, in after years, a pleasant memorial of the rough and ready
"Yankees." It has been often said, and with much truth, that army life
is demoralizing, but the great law of compensation which operates in
moral and material nature, operates even here, and along with the
vices, inseparable from large gatherings of men unrestrained by social
ties or by civil law, they acquire some virtues. They learn to endure
hardship, to be content with little, to obey superiors, and to
exercise a helping and forbearing disposition that shines through the
roughness of their manner like the slender veins on the auriferous
rock.

     A brother officer and myself made a trip the other day our into
the country in search of eggs, butter, poultry, and information. The
first three we paid money for; of the last we imparted more than we
received. There is no use trying to get blood out of a stone, nor
knowledge from these schoolless dwellers among the hills. The shade of
slavery rests over them, though niggers are very scarce. (The poverty
of many of the people will not allow them to indulge in such expensive
luxuries.) We ascended and descended, we climbed the mountain, and
threaded the vale--"A mighty maze, yet not without a plan"--but,
unfortunately, we did not know the plan. We turned from the Rolla road
into an old wagon road which dwindled down to a horse track, to a foot
track, to a rabbit track, and vanishing into thin air, left us on the
steep hillside alone. We paused and debated, whether to turn back or
advance, but, finally, "forward," was the word, and we descended into
the narrow valley before us. We found a path down it, and following
that, came to where another lovely valley opened into it. Here we were
abundantly rewarded for our pains. Seated on a log, an axe in his
hand, and a block of wood before him,  sat a man about fifty years
old. We went up and accosted him, and, as he seemed sociable inclined,
took seats -- my companion on a log, I on the ground, but not long, as
I found the wood ticks too sociably inclined to suit my taste. These
little brutes are about the size of an ant; they get on you, insert
their heads into your flesh, and stay there, until cut out. Our friend
was a man who might have become eminent; he had been gifted with
greatness, and condemned to obscurity. He reminded me of one of the
suppressed verses in Grey's Elegy:

     "Some Rip Van Winkle o'er whose head
     The rolling years have vainly floated by,
     Some genius who, in yearning college bred,
     Might e'en have taught Munchausen how to lie."

     The Rip Van Winkle was illustrated by the block of wood, which
was intended to be fashioned into a mouldboard for a furrowing plow,
in utter oblivion of the steel mouldboards which freedom puts into the
hands of her toiling sons, to polish in the soil that sustains them.
The Munchausen shone in every word, lightened through every sentence,
and gradually reached the climax of a series of the most outrageous
lies to which I ever listened. We accompanied him to his cabin, where
we found his family of eight tow-heads. We obtained directions to the
next house, up another steep hill, and left him alone in al his glory.
The quest of eggs takes time, the quest of information takes more, and
ere we reached the pickets the shades of night were around us. The
stars were out, and so was the countersign, but the sentinel was
indulgent. Occasionally there is a fool on duty, but not often, and we
got safely through the lines.

     It is thus we vary the monotony of camp life, and between a trip
outside the lines and an occasional visit to the city, we manage to
kill time more pleasantly then heretofore. Since our encampment here
we have one desirable advantage, i.e. the opportunity to visit the
synagogue on Shabbos and holydays.  Last "Shevuous" the two synagogues
here were well attended and among the worshippers I noticed several
blue coats. In the person of the Hazan [Cantor] of the Main Street
Congregation, I recognized the Rev. Mr. Ritterman, formerly of the
Greene St. Synagogue, of your city [New York].

     Memphis at present is the metropolis of the Southwest. Traders
have flocked here from New York, St. Louis, Louisville, and
Cincinnati. And at all hours of the day, the streets present a busy
appearance. Trade is somewhat restricted, at present, with the people
outside of the lines; but in a short time the restrictions are likely
to be removed. Gen. Hurlburt [sic. Hurlbut], in command here, has
ordered all residents of the city to take the oath of allegiance to
the United States before the 16th inst. As many seem disposed to
resist the order, lively times are anticipated here about that date.

     Next Saturday the anniversary of the capture of Memphis -- of the
occupation of this city by the Federal army, there is to be a grand
celebration. The Union citizens, and military authorities, are quite
active in the matter, so an imposing celebration is expected. The
Jewish population here is considerably larger than I anticipated; it
is estimated that there are at least a thousand of our co-religionists
here at present; they manage to support two synagogues, three
charitable societies, two clubs, besides a literary society, &c.

     One noticeable feature of the effect of the war on a southern
community is the large majority of women over men, who are seen on the
promenade, in church [synagogue], or in society. I have no doubt but
that there are five of the gentler sex in Memphis to each male, and
what makes this fact more apparent is, that at least one-third are in
mourning -- probably for lost relatives in this war. (?) How sad a
reflection! How serious a one for those ambitions and fanatical
spirits, whose impious hands first applied the torch, which has ended
in such a general conflagration!

     As I write there is a grand sight in the front of our camp. Far
and wide, on a distant hill, the woods, are on fire. We can hear the
rush of the flames, the crackling of the limbs; sounding strangely in
the night air, when commingled with the clatter of the fire bell of
the city. The burning trees show in the front, as the lamps of the
city do in our rear. One tall, dead poplar tree, in particular, towers
aloft like a pillar of fire, and the ruddy glow illuminates our camp,
as well as it can, with a full bright moon shining over us. By its
light, I will close. Good night.

                            J.C.C.


Source: Bryan Boyle's Bronx Bulletin Board


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