October 5, 1865: A visit to Mississippi

The Cape Girardeau Argus prints a letter from a local who is traveling down the river to Mississippi. It’s interesting how quickly battle sites became objects of tourist interest. The writer’s account of seeing Fort Pillow shows how strongly the massacre impressed people in the North, and he expresses wonder that Vicksburg was ever taken.

From Mississippi.


I am sweltering in the heat of a Mississippi September and sighing for fountain of cold, limpid water. We must know the want of good water before we can fully appreciate its blessings. Mint juleps, sherry cobblers, and foaming milk punches are all very nice as embellishments — as grace notes to the requirements of the gastronomic medley — but the liquid notes of some rock-bound brook is necessary to fill the measure.

The water throughout the state is bad — very bad. If there is any good water here I have failed to find it, and I have tried a large number of cisterns and wells throughout the state. Some of it does very well when there is ice in it; but as ice is twenty-five cents per pound, and scarcely any in the country, the chances are that you will do a great deal of water drinking minus the slippery element. O for an iceberg at my elbow, that I might feet its frigid breath while I write, and see it take to its frosty embrace the last of those blood-thirsty mosquitoes.

Our trip from St. Louis to Vicksburg was a pleasant one. The officers of the Ida Handy united their efforts with those of the passengers to make the trip one that would live long and pleasantly in the memory of all on board. The country on either side of the river looked lonely and deserted; but we were frequently passing points of some historical interest in the events of the rebellion. Fort Pillow brought all the passengers on the promenade deck and was viewed with thoughts as variable as the mixed sentiments of the crowd would suggest. To me there was something gloomy and horrible connected with it. Whether it was the face of the bluffs and deeply washed hills that gave rise to these sentiments, or the horrible massacre connected with it, I am unable to say; but thoughts of Cawnpore and its horrors blended with fancied streams of bloody coursing down the clayey gulches– horrible arteries for human blood– and that too from an imploring and surrendered garrison– were uppermost in my mind.

We passed Napoleon in the evening. It is here where the Conestoga cut-off shortened the former length of the river twenty-four miles. The old bed of the river is left high and dry, and its white sandy bottom is radiating its unequal heat. It looks for all the world a miniature Sahara to the eye.

We found all the river towns more or less brisk, and nearly all the small villages seemed to be doing something in the cotton business. As we neared Vicksburg the destruction of an invading army became more visible. The residence of the planter, with its beautiful grove of orange-trees, magnolias and exotics, was now marked by naked chimneys that stood as unpleasant monuments of the demon — they are but grim vestiges of the once opulent and picturesque surroundings.

As the fortified heights of Vicksburg became visible opera glasses were suddenly brought into great demand, and any officer or soldier on board who had been engaged in its capture or defense –and we had a number of both on board — were immediately lionized and surrounded by a crowd of eager questioners. — The one receiving my audience was an officer aboard the Louisville when she ran the blockade and the terrible ordeal of shot and shell thro’ which passed was related to us with great vividness.

Once landed at Vicksburg, and our freight and baggage carefully stowed away on the wharf-boat, we started through the city in search of “sights.” The supply of goods in different establishments seemed very large — enough so to excite surprise; and the amount of stir met on every hand assured us that a heavy trade was going on with the interior. Cavalry men were dashing through the street with a perfect disregard for horse-flesh; negro soldiers were stoically pacing their beat, and great caravans of cotton teams were arriving with that staple, and returning heavily laden with stores for the interior. I saw nothing indicating dullness in Vicksburg — not even our hotel bill.

The streets leading back from the river are cut through the hills and you will find frequently a perpendicular embankment on either side of you, fifty feet in height. The sides of these embankments are tunneled, and perforated every few steps by an oblong entrance that leads to a nicely excavated chamber, and that again to a suit of rooms, as the sex and color of the occupant might have required. Some of these chambers are casemated with lumber and neatly plastered. Luxury and comfort were not forgotten in dodging the Yankee shells. All the hills are burrowed like a rabbit warren, for even a mile beyond the limits of the city. The pickets, too, had their subterranean shelters. Many a name is engraved at the entrance of these sub-soil residences, not in plate but in sand.

Nature has made Vicksburg a stronghold, and the rains from heaven seemed to have added their might in enhancing its normal strength. One can hardly see how an army was ever marched over these abrupt declivities. I venture the assertion that none but Americans could have forced the surrender of Vicksburg while held by Americans.


[Continued Next Week.]

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