January 26, 1862: An expedition after Jeff Thompson

M. Jeff Thompson
M. Jeff Thompson

A correspondent identified as “Galway” reports to the New York Times about events in Cairo. First, he describes an expedition after Jeff Thompson, who apparently had repeated his exploit of the previous August, taking the high ground at Commerce and firing on the river traffic. His denigration of Thomson seems to be an attack on guerrilla warfare in general.

He also recounts an incident in which an escaped slave is found by his master in the camp. There’s an interesting contradiction in the story — nobody admits to having seen the slave or knowing where he is, and then when he’s discovered, “the giving up of the contraband meets with very general approval.”

Finally he reports on the hospital established in nearby Mounds, Illinois.

From the New York Times:


CAIRO, Sunday, Jan. 26, 1862.

The only change of any importance since my last’ is the circumstance that an expedition has gone out with a view of catching that somewhat notorious individual, JEFF. THOMPSON. THOMPSON is an individual of some considerable celebrity in that portion of Missouri, opposite this point; and he aspires to be considered the Marion of Missouri. If MARION were a robber of widows, peaceable citizens, henroosts and stables; if MARION always fought valiantly when his own force was a thousand men and his opponent’s less than a dozen, and invariably ran away when his foe numbered one-quarter of his own; if MARION was a braggart, a coward and miserable thief, lower than one who follows the despoiling of “nigger” henroosts, then is THOMPSON exactly like MARION. Here, however, THOMPSON is not regarded as being fully up to that standard of patriotic excellence to which he aspires — on the contrary, he is generally believed to be a cowardly thief of the worst kind.

Day before yesterday, THOMPSON and his regiment first made their entrance into Commerce — a small town on the Mississippi, some 25 miles above this point. Commerce is exactly the place for the operations of an individual like THOMPSON. It is tolerably wealthy, strongly Union, and, better than all, entirely unprotected — no hated Federals are nearer it than Cape Girardeau.

Last Fall, when some Federal troops passed through Commerce, the inhabitants could not do all they wished to, to show their loyalty. They threw open their houses to the soldiers, gave them joyfully the best they had, set their mills at work for them, and when the troops left, refused a single cent in the way of remuneration. This circumstance may have tended to aggravate the ire of THOMPSON, and so, being fully assured that not the slightest danger was to be feared, the valorous JEFF. concluded to clean out the town. This he did most effectually on Friday last and concluded his operations by firing some 12 shots into the steamboat D.A. January, as she passed Price’s Landing, on her way up the river. As the firing took place after dark, nobody happened to be hurt, although some of the balls whistled uncomfortably near to the head of the pilot, and others penetrated through the woodwork into various parts of the cabin.

Learning these circumstances yesterday, a force of 2,500 men left in the afternoon. It consisted of one regiment of infantry, under Col. WALLACE; the Seventh Illinois Cavalry, under Col. KELLOGG, and no artillery. As THOMPSON’s forces are generally mounted, and as they will not fight unless they outnumber our forces twenty to one, there is not the slightest prospect of a fight. In the first place they can’t catch him; and in the second place, if they do, he won’t make a stand unless an immense numerical superiority on his side guarantees a safe and easy victory.

Late this afternoon a messenger came in, stating that there had been a fight, and our force was cut to pieces. Within an hour the whole thing was contradicted, and yet the former report has been telegraphed all over the country, while the correct one is reserved for to-morrow.

Last Friday, a man came in from Kentucky to Fort Holt, and stated that one of his negroes had run away, and, after due investigation, he was satisfied that the fellow was concealed somewhere in the camp. Permission was accorded him by the Commandant to search for his contraband, and soon after he succeeded in tracing the missing chattel to a regiment just on the point of embarking for Smithland. All the officers and soldiers of whom he inquired denied most strenuously any knowledge of his nigger, asserting most emphatically that they knew nothing whatever of the object of his search. He was about to relinquish his servant, when a peculiar appearance in a baggage wagon excited his attention; and soon after, armed with a written permission to search the wagon, he stopped it as it was about going on the boat. The removal of a few tents, and other ” plunder,” revealed the presence of a full-grown nigger, who was snugly coiled up at the bottom, and who proved to be the servant in question.

For some reason, the military censor of the Telegraphic Department here struck the mention of the incident from the dispatches about to be sent to the daily Press. Why this was done I do not know, unless it be that the individuals carrying on the war in this section are doing it more for the purpose of pleasing a certain political faction, and, consequently, are fearful that an act of justice, such as the rendition of the negro to his loyal owner, might prove offensive to that particular class. Whatever may be the reason of their being ashamed of having done a simple act of justice, it is safe to say that the giving up of the contraband meets with very general approval.

The case of O’NEILL, whose mill was lately destroyed by our troops, still excites a good deal of discussion, and, in most cases, commiseration. The wife of O’NEILL, some years ago, married a German, who moved out near Blandville, bought 4,000 acres of land, built a flouring and saw mill, improved the property to a considerable extent, and then died, leaving an interesting widow and some half-a-dozen children. A short time since she married O’NEILL, a fellow of expensive habits and small sense. He ran through the property rapidly, until now little or nothing was left save the two mills. Upon finding that O’NEILL had been sawing some timber, supposed to be for the rebels at Columbus, orders were given to disable his mills. This could have been easily and effectually done by removing some portion of the machinery, by which process all labors for the rebels would have been completely stopped, while the property would still have been of benefit to the family. Instead of doing this, however, those intrusted with the execution of the order set fire to both mills and reduced them to a heap of smoking ashes.

Such operations do not generally have the effect to intimidate — they rather exasperate, and hence do much more evil than good. People who are knowing to the circumstances of similar cases, feel that the punishment is unjust, and, in consequence, they are infinitely more disposed to oppose than submit to the power which, commits such acts of destruction.

To-day I visited the hospital at Mound City. To this place all the sick and wounded from Cairo, Bird’s Point, Fort Holt, Fort Jefferson, and Paducah are sent. A long row of three-story buildings, fronting the landing, which were built for stores and warehouses, a short time since, was taken possession of, and devoted to the purpose of a general hospital. Besides the fact of possessing a suitable building, Mound City was chosen because it is a central place, and from its elevated position, comparatively healthy. It is a place seven miles above here, on the Illinois shore of the Ohio, and contains a population of probably one thousand people.
The lower stories of the block are used as wash and dining rooms, offices, &c., while the upper rooms are divided into wards for the reception of the patients. By cutting doors from one room to another, all the wards on the same floor are connected with each other. Each ward will accommodate from twenty to eighty patients, while to each room is assigned men suffering from a certain kind of disease.

The beds are generally bedsteads instead of cots with a mattress, and sheets of the most immaculate purity. At one end of the block is a broad, lofty room, containing forty double beds, and which is called the “Convalescing Apartment.” Here, as soon as able, a man is brought from his particular ward, and in the well-lighted, airy apartment, supplied with books and abundant other means of instruction and amusement, recovers much more rapidly than he would were he obliged to remain in the room in which he has been confined.

The Hospital was started in October last. In that month there were 400 patients admitted; in the month following about 600, and during the last two months from 800 to 1,000, respectively. The prevailing classes of diseases thus for have been typhoid fever and typhoid pneumonia, besides which there is no end to cases of common cold and rheumatism.

The officers of this institution consist of Dr. E.C. FRANKLIN, Brigade Surgeon, and Assistant Drs. C.W. DUNNING, (Senior Resident.) KINGSTON STODDARD, HENRY DELANEY, JOHN S. THOMSON, and — VAIL. There is also a Ward Master, who has under him superintendents, each of whom takes charge of two Wards. To each superintendent are assigned four nurses and two Sisters of Charity for each Ward under his charge.
When it is added that in addition to these abundant resources, every thing is conducted with a scrupulous regard to neatness and the comfort of the sick man, it will be concluded that as much has been done for the sick of our army, as benevolence, backed by unsparing means, could suggest. There is an air of comfort, a home-like look in the appearance of the place, that do much toward assisting the physician in his efforts to restore the patient to health. One hundred and eighteen cases were received from the Belmont fight. Of these, only eighteen died, four of whom were in a dying state when brought there — the balance are all either well or convalescing rapidly.

Taking everything into consideration, the hospital at Mound City is one of the best in the loyal States, and is, generally speaking, infinitely ahead of all others. Much of this excellence is due to the indefatigable Dr. FRANKLIN, who, since his appointment has spared not a single effort to make his hospital what he intends it to be — the very best extant.

Efforts are being made to fill up the vacancies, and they are of such a nature that will probably meet with success in a very short time. Such being the case, the long-promised advance may take place much sooner than has been anticipated. Capt. CONSTABLE is now in Pittsburgh, with a view, if possible, of getting mortars sufficient for the fleet, and of course much of the speediness of the forward movement will depend upon his success.

GALWAY.

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