May 5, 1863

May 5, 1863

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In camp 8 miles from Port Gibson, Miss

May 5th, 1863

My Dear Wife,

I am going to write you a short history of my doings since I wrote to you last from Perkins Plantation. On the evening of the 27th of Apr we got on board of transports, and on the morning of the 28th we started down the river, and landed about noon at Hard Times, opposite of the rebel fortifications on Grand Gulf Point. On the morning of the 29th seven of our gunboats took their position in short range of the rebel batteries and were fired on five times before they answered, and then the bombardment began in ernest (sic). It was kept up till (sic) noon and resulted in silencing one of their batteries, killing one Col. one Lieut, and thirty privates on their side, but their strong battery of three one hundred and twenty pounders was not hurt, and could not be taken. So we were ordered to march below the battery which we did and our seven transports, protected by our gunboats ran by after dark. The battery fired on the boats and the boats answered with shell and solid shot. The scene was grand, and the roar was awful. We could see the flash of the rebel guns and could trace our shells through the air by the light of the fuse, and then could see them burst as they struck. I wish you could have seen and heard it all. The next morning at three o clock we got up ate our hard tack, and bacon and then got on board the transports to cross the river. We crossed over, and at the same time dropped downstream twelve miles and landed about noon on the Mississippi shore, our brigade taking the advance. We started right on and marched six miles to take possession of a pass or deep cut in the road and hold it till (sic) the rest of the army could pass. We met with no opposition there, and after the rest of the army had passed we were ordered to bivouac for three hours, and send fifteen men from each co. back to the river to draw rations, as all the rest had drawn them. Our boys came up with five days rations of tack, but those who had the bacon, tea, sugar, and salt, did not come up soon enough, so we were ordered to go on and take the advance again. It was eight o clock at night when we started and we marched twelve miles by three. Our advance guard was fired on by the enemy pickets and pretty soon we were fired on by artilery (sic). Our artilery (sic), the 1st Iowa battery commanded by Bill Gay, of Galesburg, took up their position on a hill and soon replied in Thunder(?) tones(?) to the enemy. We threw off our knapsacks and took our place near the battery so as to support it. The enemy at this time had eight pieces of artilery (sic) playing our battery of six pieces, but it was not long before the battery of the second brigade came up in advance of the rest of the brigade and took its position by the side of the first Iowa, and after firing a short time with our twelve guns the enemy retired from the field and the fun was stopped till day light. We laid down and tried to sleep, but the nights are cold if the days are warm. _____ as we had left our knapsacks back a mile we had no blankets, and could not sleep. I had been having a ___ ever since I got back from my milking excursion, and was not fit to come from Pickens Plantation. In fact I was advised to stay back with some of the boys, but I was bound it should not be said that the old Thirty Third had a fight and I staid (sic) out when I was able to sit up. I had a very hard chill on this morning and could not eat my breakfast, but I drank some tea, and when our boys fell in for the fight I was in my place, and I staid (sic) there through twelve hours of the hardest work I ever did in my life. I will write a part of the history of the battery which followed on another sheet if I get time to day. Good bye and God bless you my wife. You must remember that we had now been about thirty hours without sleep, and I had made a forced march of 18 miles after twelve o clock of the day before, and had carried five days rations, our bedding and 80 rounds of ammunition to each man. I will describe my appearance as a sample of the whole army. First I had my bedding in my knapsack and twelve hard tack besides. In my haversack I had my plate, knife, fork, and spoon, also all the hard tack and bacon I could get in it. My cartridge box was full, and I had to carry 40 rounds in my pants pockets. In my right flank coat tail pocket was salt, and pepper and my left flank pocket was full of sugar, hanging to my haversack was my tin cup and a quart fruit can (to which I had fixed a bale) to make coffee and tea in, and my tea was in my breast pocket, my canteen hung by my side full of water and my gun was on my shoulder. In all it weighed fifty-three pounds, and I carried it to the battlefield and then without sleep after marching with that load 10 miles, and having a hard chill I went to work. Gen Carr ordered four co's of our regt to go out a mile and hold a cotton gin till (sic) Osterhaus, came in, and two co's to go out as skirmishers, and the rest of the brigade started out to support our batteries. Our skirmishers had not been out ten minutes before the enemy opened on them with muskets, and our boys replied with their rifles. The action now became general. Our brigade did not numbered only 2500 men in the fight, and we had twelve pieces of artilery (sic). The enemy had us allmost (sic) surrounded with 6000 men and were playing 8 pieces of artilery (sic) on us. The rebs were concealed in the cane(?), and brush, while we were on an open plantation. Our four co's that were left were held in reserve. The 18 Ind was fighting a full brigade of the rebs while the 8th 2nd and 99th Ill's were having all they could do. So we were ordered to march through the brush in the rear of the 99th and then file by to their right. We marched a mile over hills, though ravines, over gullies, and through cane breaks, and soon had the satisfaction of engaging the enemy. We drove them from one hill into a hollow, up another hill and into another hollow and here we formed a line of battle with the 8th and 99th. We rec'd their fire and returned it as well as we could. We only fired when we could see something to shoot at and they thought (as some of the prisoners have told us) that we were a small body of sharp shooters. We were afraid to drive them any further for fear they would get too near that(?) 8th and as they were between us and that(?)8th that would bring our boys in range of our guns so we were under fire here three hours. At last we had orders to fix bayonets and charge down the hill. A few of the boys were taken suddenly sick, and I am ashamed to say left the field, but I am proud to say that all of our boys worked like heroes. On account of there being onl four of our co's engaged (the nnn nnn others had not yet come up) the order for us to charge bayonets was countermanded and the 99th Ill was ordered to charge, which they did in fine style, going in with a cheer and coming out with a cheer. They drove about 3000 rebs out of their hole took some prisoners (as did we) and killed and wounded about 250 including what we had killed before they went in. While this was going on the 18th had charged on a brigade and killed Gen Bracy(?), one Col and wounded and killed lots of them Those they and had taken two cannon. Those they drove had just come in to the hollow & our 99th charged and drove them out By this time our second brigade had come in and Gen Osterhaus, with his whole division and two batteries, and the rebs broke and run in confusion. This ended the fight for the forenoon, and a hard half days work it had been I assure you, for the 1st day of May it was quite a picnic. In the afternoon we took our position on a large plantation called Magnolia hill (sic). The rebs had been reinforced by 15,000 from Vicksburg, and now we looked for warm work. The 1st Ind, and the 1st Iowa batteries commenced shelling the woods in fine style and the rebels replied. They had received two batteries, so the shelling was quite interesting. We were on the right in the forenoon, and Gen Osterhaus was by this time at work on the left with a battery (a battery is 6 guns) of 20 pound Parrot guns, and a battery of Rodmans, both very long range guns. On our side we were soon reinforced by the 1st mo battery, the 16th Ohio, and the 1st battery Mercantile battery of Chicago, of the division of Alvin P. Hovey, (of Ind) so we had on our side 42 pieces of artilery (sic), and on their side they had four batteries minus the two pieces we had taken. They outnumbered us by several thousand infantry, and had 500 cavalry while we had none. They seemed to be sure of victory, five times they charged on our batteries and five times were repulsed. The 33rd supported the 1st Ind battery and would have held it against the Devil and all his troops. Now our reinforcements began to pour in. First A.P. Hovey's division, then "Ols Smiths." Then followed Gen M Ginnis, with a brigade, and towards night in came two brigades of McPhersons, Army Corps 17th commanded by Gen Logan, and Quinby(?), Gen Hovey pitched in with one brigade of his division, and had a very hard fight with small arms for an hour and a half. One of his regts lost 150 men in that time. Gen Bainbridge of Smiths division went in and fought with rifles an hour and lost several of his men, but in every instance the rebels were driven from their position. by this time it was very near sundown and we heard that Osterhaus was retreating and we (the 33rd and 99th Ills) were ordered to go three miles to reinforce him. We went to him and found sure enough he was retreating, but to a good purpose I tell you for while the rebels advanced on him he sent two regts each side of them in the b____ and so summoned them and captured all that was left of a brigade. 1 ammunition waggon and 2 cannon, with their cassions. By this time Gen Logans regt the 45 Ill (the one Frank Holcomb used to belong to) went in and the rebels were again completely routed. The rebs had in all from 20000 to 25000 and we did not have over 2999 of our men engaged. Nine tenths of the reinforcements which came in never fired a gun, but laid down on the field. The fight was ended for the day so we went a mile for our knapsack and then came back and the regt was ordered back to the main battle field to lay down in line of battle in front of the whole army. One would naturally suppose some of the regts that had done nothing all day might have done that but we had it to do. I was tired and sleepy and I slept very sound., but was awakened about three in the morning by the cracking of rifles. Our pickets had been attack (sic) by about 300 of the enemy. We were all up and ready for a battle in ten minutes, but they did not see fit to come on, so we got up, ate our breakfast and started out in line of battle through the thickest cane and brush I ever saw to see if we could find the enemy, but they had fled and we marched on three miles to the city of Port Gibson. The rebs had filled the road with guns, waggons, oil clothes, knapsacks, canteens, haversacks, gun carriages, caissons and more bacon and corn than could be put into our house on the farm. They went through town with only one cannon. All the rest had been captured by us, or dismounted and spoilt (sic). They had lost in killed and wounded and prisoners 3000 men. had two generals killed. two Cols same and two or three taken, and lots of Captains Lieutenants ect. When we got to town we found they had burned the bridge over the bayou, so we could not cross, but we tore down a large cotton gin near the bayou and soon made a bridge and in the morning we started for Grand Gulf, and marched three mi-les when we were ordered back for they had evacuated, so we marched back, and came six miles this side of town. It was a very hot day, as hot as it is in Illinois the last of July. Yesterday we pressed three teams from the planers near here to draw our knapsacks, so we shall have it easier hereafter. We moved a mile and a half and are now here, I dont know just where, on short rations. In fact about all we have to eat is corn meal and sugar and bacon I make much in my fruit can and get along well on that and sassafras(?) tea. The 77th is here all well, Ab(?) Morgan did not come from Perkins Plantation for he was very sick. Ike Vail and Geo Jacks were in the fight, and did well. Wm Henry is well ect. ect. I am out of paper. This is the last bit I have got and I begged this so you will please send this to fathers (sic) folks and they must consider it to them as much as to you. Tell them to keep it so you can get it again. Give my love to all my friends. I will write again as soon as our sutters come up with some paper. Good bye for this time from your aff husband.


May 6th Dear Hortense,

The mail is going out this morning and I am glad of it for I know you must be in suspense about me. You will know this better by the name of Magnolia Hill. If you can get hold of any pictures and papers describing the battle or the bombardment of Grand Gulf, get them and keep them. We are right on our road to Vicksburg, but as we were in advance before, we are now in reserve and Logan, Quinby, Hovey, M Ginnis, Osterhaus, and our second brigade with Gen Carr are in front of us and now only 12 miles from there. We have turned the left flank of Vicksburg, and can get in its rear in two days and you may look for V. to fall soon. Good bye my dearest wife. I ha thought of you and our children on the battlefield and I tried to do my duty for your sake and theirs and I did it. Good bye and God bless you. As ever your loving husband

John M. Follett

PS You need not send this to fathers folks as I shall send them a short letter this morning. John