Richard “Dick” Ransom was born in Woodstock, Vermont, on January 19, 1842, the son of Daniel Ransom (1813-1894) and Lucy Edson Lake (1813-1906). The family later lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Warren, Illinois. While working in Chicago as a printer, Dick enlisted in the Chicago Mercantile Battery. He enlisted on August 7, 1862, and was mustered in on August 29. The unit trained at Camp Douglas near Chicago until November 8, when they departed for Memphis. He was with the Battery at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou and the Battle of Arkansas Post. Ransom suffered from the measles and other illnesses. He received a discharge due to disability on March 24, 1863. Although he was married twice, he left no children. In 1882, he is mentioned in the Chicago Daily News as having been actively engaged in the investigation of the unusual circumstances of the death of Lake Ransom, his younger brother. Lake was found dead on the street in Hinsdale leaving people to wonder if it was suicide or murder. After living for a time in the Denver area, Dick returned to Milwaukee to live at the Northwest Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. He died there on April 3, 1917.
For a more comprehensive reading on the Chicago Mercantile Battery, I highly recommend “Chicago’s Battery Boys” by Richard Bray Williams, published in 2005. I should note that Dick Ransom’s letters have surfaced since the publication of this book, however, and they add a richness to the history of the Battery compiled by Williams that is primarily based upon the letters of only one member—Will Brown.
I don’t know where the original letters are located but the Central Arkansas Library System (Little Rock) claims to have photocopies of letters (and transcriptions) written by Dick Ransom in their collection. The letters in their collection that are not included in the small archive I have transcribed below include:
Dick Ransom to friends, St. Charles Hotel, Cairo, Illinois, November 10, 1862—Ransom describes the unit’s trip down from Chicago on the railroad. He briefly describes Cairo and speculates on where they will be sent next.
Dick Ransom to friends, off Point Pleasant, Missouri, in Mississippi River, and Memphis, Tennessee, November 12-16, 1862—Ransom tells about the trip by boat from Cairo to Memphis. He describes the fortifications they see at Columbus, Kentucky; New Madrid, Missouri; Point Pleasant, Missouri; and Fort Pillow, Kentucky. He tells about the difficulty they had getting enough food as they traveled, about the arrival in Memphis, and about the conditions in their camp.
Dick Ransom to friends at home, Memphis, camp near Bolles Mills, Mississippi, camp at Pigeon Roost Creek, Memphis, Tennessee, November 17-December 13, 1862—This letter was written over a period of weeks. It describes the movement of the unit from Memphis through Mississippi and back again to Memphis. They built a bridge over the Tallahatchie River and circled through the country beyond the river, living well off the land. On their return, they crossed their own bridge. Ransom speculates that they will join other units to go down the Mississippi by boat to Vicksburg.
Dick Ransom [no salutation], Memphis, Tennessee, December 14-16, 1862—This letter describes camp life in Memphis. He tells about visits with friends who are working in the hospital or quartermaster’s office. They have rooms in town with cooking facilities and have hired “contrabands” [former slaves] to work for them. They haven’t been paid yet, and he is out of cash. He remarks that if he should get into a hospital and want to go home, he wouldn’t have money to do it.
Dick Ransom to friends, Memphis, Tennessee, December 17, 1862—Ransom responds to news from home that he is now an uncle. He refers to the larger letter he has sent that will have all the news and asks them to save the letters for him to have a diary. He writes about the reception they get from slaves in the area. They are both glad to help the soldiers and afraid their masters will find out. Ransom writes about how eager he is to return home.
Dick Ransom to friends, Memphis, Tennessee, December 20, 1862—This is a short note written as the unit is preparing to board their boat to go south. He reports on people from home that he has seen or heard from.
Dick Ransom to friends at home, on board the S.B. Des Arc, fortification levee below Memphis, Tennessee, December 20, 1862—Ransom has boarded the boat with part of his company, and they are waiting for loading of all the boats to finish. He writes about problems within the unit regarding the leadership of Captain Cooley and efforts to have him replaced.
Dick Ransom to friends, on the Mississippi River, opposite the mouth of the White River, January 9, 1863—Ransom talks about how many men are sick and how useless he feels the army surgeons are. His full battery is together on the boat again, after having been spread out through much of the recent activity. They have been at the mouth of the White River for a day and anticipate going up that river to support action being taken against a fort up there, which he thinks is named Fort Smith.
Dick Ransom to friends, Arkansas Post, Ark, January 13, 1863—This letter was written a few days after the Battle of Arkansas Post. Ransom’s artillery unit was positioned on the south side of the Arkansas River behind the infantry lines. He describes the conditions under which they fought and their movements throughout the battle. In the aftermath, they recovered artillery and supplies that had been captured from Federal units earlier. Ransom clarifies that this location is not Fort Smith, but Arkansas Post. He continues to fight the effects of his earlier illness.
Dick Ransom to friends at home, on board steamer Louisiana, Napoleon, Ark, mouth of the Arkansas River, January 17, 1863—Ransom writes about the difficulties of the trip down from Arkansas Post, the crowded conditions on the boats, lack of food, and large number of sick and injured. He speaks of the great resentment against what the Chicago Tribune was calling “African citizens” and his great unwillingness to go through the current difficulties for their benefit. He repeats that if he could do so honorably, he would leave the army and return home.
Dick Ransom to friends, on board steamer Louisiana on Mississippi River opposite mouth of Yazoo River, 10 miles above Vicksburg, Mississippi, January 24, 1863—Ransom lists the letters and diaries he has sent home, Ransom lists the letters and diaries he has sent home as he wonders if all have been received. He describes their movement since they left Napoleon, saying how disappointed they were when they turned south as they left the Arkansas River. They stop periodically to take on wood, taking the rails from fences. He says that the houses and other buildings they see are much finer as they go further south. He continues to complain of illness, poor leadership and bad decisions by the officers. He says that he would not desert, but will be ready to take an opportunity to leave honorably.
Dick Ransom to friends, in camp at Ballard’s Farm, Louisiana, February 8, 1863—Lts. Crego and Swan have resigned and will be returning to Chicago. Crego will take this letter with him. Capt. Cooley is in the hospital. The unit is in disorder because of these changes. Ransom writes that if they have not already sent a package with the items he had asked for, that they send money instead. Supply boats pass often enough that he can buy what he needs.
Dick Ransom to friends, in camp at Ballard’s Farm on Young’s Point, opposite Vicksburg, Mississippi, February 23-24, 1863—Ransom writes of more resignations by officers, including Captain Cooley, who was threatened with court-martial. Two men from the Mercantile Association in Chicago have been in camp and have helped improve conditions for the members of the battery. They have built a shanty with a fireplace and bunks, so they have a dry place to sleep. Ransom has applied for a position as printer with General Grant’s staff. He also applied to the division surgeon for a discharge, but has heard nothing about it.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
We have just had supper and what do you think we had? Well I will tell you.
When we were at Wyatt, Mississippi, “Butcher,” ¹ and “Geese” and [Charles] Olcott and myself went out to see what we could “get.” At one place I got a side of bacon and “Butch” got a guitar—and a splendid one too. And the only way we could get them home to camp—we had so many other things—was to put them in a bag together and I took them on my horse. At the same time, “Butch” had a pail of molasses and a bushel of sweet potatoes on his horse, and we got lost too. Well after traveling a good way over hills and hollows through the woods, we found a road and got to camp—and that side of bacon has lasted “Squad 6” for lard ever since. And tonight, “Butch” (we have two messes in our squad now and Butch cooks for our half) tried out the bacon and fried some “nut cakes” which were the first we have had since we started out. ²
For dinner we had a lot of fine light (made so by some secesh soda which I captured)—biscuit all baked in our Dutch ovens. We can draw no soft bread at all here now. There is such a large army here, it cannot be baked for them. There has a large army concentrated here since we went away—some say about 30,000 and some say as many as 60,000. And this evening I heard that no boats were allowed to return up the river [and] that all boats that landed here were taken possession of by Government for the purpose of transporting us down the brook—even all the small boats. So you may not get any news from here for some time.
Monday P. M. December 15th. Last night I was on guard on the Commissary Stores and it was a very rainy night though I did not get wet. The worst of the rain did not come until after I had stood my last two hours. Then it did come down with a good will—and such a wind as we seldom see or have. Though we had one just such a night which I wrote about—it was November 30th. Well this morning we went out of our tents and into the mud, hunted around and found three secesh houses deserted and took possession of them and moved into two of them and the officers take the other for headquarters, and we have taken a large barn and got all our horses and mules into it. we were furnished three wagons & three teams of 6 miles each when we arrived here and while we were on the march [to Tallahatchie] we captured a splendid wagon and another full team of six mules & harness enough to hitch them up so now we have four wagons—one to carry all the officers’ tents and baggage—which gives us more room in the regular wagons for our own cooking fixings, “Dutch ovens,” &c.
I have been down town most all day. went down early this morning and called at the hospital to see Billy Knight, [John] Lunt, & Gilbert, who were left here when we went away. Knight is now [hospital] steward, Lunt is General Ward Master, and Gilbert is clerk. And the other boys who were left here in the hospital are now as follows: [William E.] DeGraff is clerk in Quartermaster’s Department. Also Allen King is in Provost Marshal’s office, and [John W.] Kenyon is sent to the St. Louis Hospital, and [Ira] Westbrook is on some detail. I don’t know what.
Since we have been on the tramp, [John P.] Ely has been appointed Aid-de-Camp on Smith’s staff, and [Gilbert] Stees is detailed to drive an ambulance. So you see lots of the boys are away from the company. [Sergt. Nelson] Imus expects soon to be appointed aid on Gen. Stuart’s staff.
I took breakfast with Billy Knight this morning. He has two or three rooms fitted up in the hospital for the use of our boys and is very comfortable, but he has not got over his dysentery so that he will not probably go with us. I took dinner with DeGraff & Allen who have confiscated a couple of good rooms over a store on Front Row and got a cooking stove and a couple of contrabands to do the work for them. They draw their rations &c. and live high, drawing extra pay and “live in town.” Can send home whenever they please and have packages sent to them. Most of them have sent and got their old citizen’s clothes and so forth and put on a good deal of style. “On detail.”
If you want to send me anything, you can send by Express as far as here. But then if we go away not to come back here, it will not follow us. But you might make arrangements to have it sent on—that is, if you do not want to send me anything. If any of the boys remain here, they may forward things too us. I think that we may be home and discharged in a few months—that the thing is getting pretty finely sifted down and especially so here in the West.
Tuesday A. M. December 16th 1862
Last night was the coldest night we have had since we have been here and sleeping on a floor in a house as we did, we were quite cold. It being a much warmer and easier place to sleep on the ground on rubber blankets, of course though. Today is a very warm day. This P. M. we are going down into the breastworks on the river to practice target shooting with the Battery. ³ I believe that our orders are to embark on Thursday next as also all the rest of the army here though the orders have not been read to us yet. If we do not go down the river as we expect to, I will write again where we do go too.
I think I better send this thing to you if I ever do so or I shall get it so big it can’t be carried. We never have been paid off yet and don’t expect to be now until we are discharged, so if I should get into a hospital and want to get home, I could not for was of cash. But I am now as well as when I left home. Can’t write anymore now. write often.
— Dick Ransom
¹ Pvt. Philip Gunlock was nicknamed the “Butcher.” Philip worked as a brakeman on the railroad before enlisting in the battery.
² According to the book, “Chicago’s Battery Boys,” the foraging expeditions conducted by the members of the Chicago Mercantile Battery during the Expedition to Wyatt, Mississippi, nearly got them in trouble with the commanding general who, at this stage of the war, did not want the Union troops to steal from the “secesh.” The Battery Boys felt they had no alternative, however, as Captain Cooley had, “through ignorance or inefficiency” not rationed the food supply adequately, leaving them with only hard crackers to eat.
³ Will Brown of the Chicago Mercantile Battery wrote his father that the boys used the old gunboat Beauregard as a target. The gunboat was sunk in the river about a mile and a quarter from shore.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Wednesday evening, December 17, 1862
Dear Brother & Sister,
I received the Doctor’s letter of the 7th a day or two ago and was most happy to hear from you. Tomorrow is the day set for us to embark for “down the river” so I will improve my time and write to you while I am sure that I can get it into a Post Office. Mother’s and Lucy’s letters of the 2nd came today and Mother wrote in hers—“No ‘ditions to any of my families yet”—and Dr. wrote, “I have no doubt the little fellow will be smart enough in a very short time to write and introduce himself to his Uncle Dick.” So I have only to judge that sometime between the 2nd and 7th the aforementioned Dick became an uncle. ¹ Bully got him.
I would like to be in Chicago again, “By George”—wouldn’t I!—but time will accomplish that and I am satisfied to be contented with soldiering until the time comes for us to go home all together—and then we expect a few Fourth of July or Thanksgiving, but enough.
I have a long list of stuff written to send home which will tell you where we have been and what we have seen since I wrote last so I will not write a Diary this time. I would like to have Lucy keep this and the other one, just for a diary—and when I get home, I can read it over and see where we have been for I can not half remember it without something to call it to mind.
The slaves all show us where we can find anything we want. They say, “We done care how much you take from de white folks,” but don’t for de Lord a massa’s sake let dem know I tole you.” They are unanimous on the question of slavery and all want to “go up Norf.” But they say they dare not tell their masters so. They are as pleased to see us as the rest are scornful of us, and when we go into their huts, they are always busy baking hoe cake and corn dodgers for us, such as we would not look at at home.
Write to me as often as you have time for it is a great joy to a soldier to receive a letter from anyone and much more so from home. Some of the boys have got over twenty letters since we got back from our tramp to the Tallahatchie. No mail followed us on that trip but on our next I suppose we will get a mail often so write and send some papers too to your brother, — Dick Ransom
Direct to Mercantile Battery, Gen. Sherman’s Army Corps, Cairo—or in the field
as Cairo is the Military Distributing post office for this department and whenever we move it is known there and mail is forwarded accordingly. — Dick Ransom
¹ Dick’s sister, Susan Ransom (1839-1923) was married in July 1860 to Dr. Calvin May Fitch (1829-1910), the son of Rev. John Ashley Fitch (104-1874) and Lucia Miranda May (1804-1877) of Vermont. Their first born was Walter May Fitch was born in early December 1862.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
On Board Steamer “Des Arc” about
Twenty-five miles above Vicksburg
On Louisiana Shore
Thursday, December 25, 1862
Dear Friends at Home,
We are informed that a gunboat is soon going up the river to Memphis and the soldiers are writing letters in every direction. I will commence back at Memphis and tell you about each day’s travel. On last Thursday evening the 18th, we moved our camp from the house we had confiscated back to the old ground and I spent the evening with Butcher. Friday, the 19th, was down town most all day. Saw Billy Knight and made preparations for this trip and sent you a “big” letter. The Captain moved us into the breastworks and Sherman & Gilmore & Butcher and myself stayed at the Warsham House. Was on guard and only stood two hours in the morning.
On Saturday, 20th, was about town most all day. Was on guard again and stood all my time. Saw D. J. Benner. He has been promoted to Captain and in Chief Quartermaster on Gen. Hurlbut’s staff, and General Hurlbut has his command of the Post at Memphis so Benner has been quartermaster of the Post since we started out on our expedition to Tallahatchie.
The commander of the Division we are now in (the 1st) is Gen. A. J. [“Whiskey”] Smith, a West Pointer, and the men do not like him at all. He is no such man as Morgan L. Smith of our old Division (the 2nd). We are the right of the right division now. Before we were the left of the left division. There are four divisions here under Gen. W. T. Sherman—the two Smiths, Gen. Steele’s and Gen. Morgan’s. Ours is most all Ohio troops. We were selected (our two guns and ten men) to go on this boat as Gen. Smith’s artillery escort and there are two companies of infantry and ten men of cavalry, so we are not crowded as the other boats are.
The rest of the boys are on another boat with the horses, guns &c. and a regiment of infantry. We left Memphis on Sunday, 21st, in the A. M. and tied up for the night at Friar’s Point, Mississippi, below Helena. On Monday morning, 22nd, some of the soldiers set a house on fire in the town and soon enough more were going to burn the most of the place. At night tied up a little above Napoleon, Arkansas.
Tuesday, 23rd, we went as far as Gaine’s Landing, Arkansas, and tied up for the night. The place was begun to be burnt before dark and kept up all night and in the morning but one or two houses were left. Gen. Smith ordered that the men that set the fires be tied hand and foot and thrown into them or if the fire was burnt out when they were caught, he would throw them tied into the river—and if one was caught before two o’clock in the morning, he should be hung and one was caught and brought in and he told him he should be shot at two o’clock next day. But before the time came, he told him he might go—that Gen. Sherman had pardoned him and gave him a good talking to but let him go.
There were several old boats lay high and dry on the bank fifty feet above the water which had been thrown up during high water and were used to store corn in and were all burnt with the corn. The amount of corn raised in all the country we have been through is immense—much more corn than cotton. There is no such thing as “starving them out.”
Wednesday, 24th. We came as far as here—the point is known as “Milliken’s Bend.” We got here last night about one o’clock. [Nelson] Imus, Butcher and myself were up in the hurricane deck during the evening—Christmas Eve—talking over the matters at home and how we came to enlist—and our departure from Chicago—and such matters—and singing—and it was very warm—not cold enough to need to button up our jackets—and thinking how differently we were situated from when at home. we went to bed and were asleep when we landed and this morning a brigade of about six thousand men were ordered out with a force of cavalry in front—all the rest remaining on the boats—and a short time ago one of the cavalry was brought in with two guerrilla’s bullets in him whereas Gen. Smith or Sherman ordered that a small town nearby be burnt—which was done.
In another short time, the alarm was given that a large rebel force was driving our men in and all hands were ordered to unload and get into position on the bank for a fight. Several thousand infantry and some big guns were immediately put out and Capt. [Charles G.] Cooley began to unload his four guns which lay nearby us—and it was discovered that it was only a few of our men coming in with ten prisoners and 210 head of cattle and mules. The prisoners were dressed in all kinds of garb, and mounted and armed with all kinds of guns. One had a rifle worth $150. They are from Texas. Our men report seeing about two thousand of them and the Brigade is following them. Having exchanged shots once, they skedaddled leaving the cattle and these prisoners to drive them along behind.
Our battery has orders to remain unloaded (on the boat). I did not sleep at all last night and this morning I had a regular old time—just as I always do when I am taken sick. A pain in my bones, headache, weakness, &c. I took a teaspoonful of cayenne and golden seal in cold water which made me have an awful painful in bowels. I laid down out on deck in the sun and slept a long time and now feel better but not well.
I applied to the Brigade Surgeon on Smith’s staff (a Major) and he sent me to another doctor and I could not find him. I wanted to have him tell me what was the matter with me but did not intend to take any medicine which he might give me. You watch the Chicago papers and you may see some communications from the battery in relation to the Captain. The boys have had a great time with him since he left Memphis. He tells them that he is Captain and he is going to remain so. His horse’s tail was shaved a night or two since. This is the first time we have been near enough to the rest of the Battery to see them, and we learned that Prior was left in Memphis—and it is through premeditated—as he has lived there and has many friends there. He was from Palmer’s Store.
I think there are very few boys in the company that would like a discharge to go home and stay. If Cooley was only in his place—private—I am sure I would not take one even if he stays in until we are needed no more—unless I was sick—and then I should not wait for one if I had money enough to get home. I should go anyway and trust to getting it afterwards.
You see how we are spending Christmas and may hear by the papers what we do New Years. write as soon as you can. — Dick Ransom
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana
December 27, 1862
I have a few minutes more before the mail leaves us and I must tell you how I get along. I believe I wrote you in the other letter that I felt ague-like. Well, I have got no better but am able to be around and help myself as well as ever, but I expect to have the measles. There has been a man lying on deck three or four days who has them and some of our boys knew it so we have been much exposed. If I do take them, I know what to do. Keep warm, and shall not be kept out on deck as that infantryman was. He was taken to the hospital boat this morning.
I can but distrust the loyalty of all the old “regular army” officers. Gen. A. J. Smith now has about 20 secesh prisoners on board this boat and they are fed at the cabin table on hot rolls, beef steak, &c. &c. while we boys have to eat on hard tack or pay fifty cents a meal. Some of them are also allowed staterooms.
In haste, — Dick Ransom
Saturday, January 3rd 1863 [Account of Battle of Chickasaw Bayou]
The enclosed small sheet marked (1) I wrote in a hurry as you will see but did not do it in time to get it into the mail and have carried it in my pocket ever since. When I wrote it was only a few minutes after I had mailed my last letter to you which was at “Milliken’s Bend, La.” The fleet had been leaving there then for some time—and we left nearly the last—on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 27th—one week ago—and now here we are back again all landed—near where we were before. Where we have been and where I have been and what we have seen in the past week had made me wish to be at home.
I will give you a diary of the week. Saturday afternoon, December 27th, we passed a lot of gunboats &c. anchored at the mouth of the Yazoo and the transports of our Division went up the Yazoo River between ten & fifteen miles where we found the balance of the transports of our fleet having all been unloaded and the troops put out towards Vicksburg—through the swamps—and we could occasionally hear a cannon shot and sometimes a sound which I supposed was the mortar boats in the Mississippi River, shelling the city.
Our two guns were got off the “Des Arc” and the drivers brought the horses up from the “Louisiana” and we joined the rest of the battery—and the Louisiana was unloaded and we had everything mixed up on the levee in such a shape as never was known before. The battery could not have been got ready for action in less than five hours. We had orders to be ready to march in the morning at seven o’clock with two days rations of “hard tack” (nothing else to take) and only take one blanket and no baggage. Everything was to be left in camp and all the sick to guard it. Then I was a little afraid because I had not been well enough to unload the boats and hardly to carry my own baggage ashore—and was growing weaker all the time—had eat nothing for two days—had a fever and was afraid of the measles and didn’t think they would let me go. The firing was kept up in the distance and news of all sorts was flying about.
Co. A & B had been out long ahead of us and then it was reported one of them alone had taken a battery. Well our sergeants were ordered to make out our gun squads and I went to [Sergt. Nelson] Imus & [Lt. David R.] Crego and made them let me go but took along an extra man to fill my place if I did not stand it. After I was sure I could go, it made me satisfied and I put on all the strength I could and got ready—drank a full tin cup of red hot coffee and then another of tea—and made my bed with Sherman in a baggage wagon so as to keep off the ground. The “measles cough” had got hold of me so that I did not sleep a great deal but rested some. We had reveille about two o’clock in Sunday morning, December 28th, and about 3 o’clock the cannonading was commenced and kept up pretty hot, apparently ten miles from us.
About daylight we marched out of camp in the direction of the firing, passing troops and batteries all the way—almost for 7 or 8 miles. The nearer we came to the fighting the hotter and plainer it grew. The cannonading at this time was more terrific than at any other time. The boys may have some of them worn long faces but the most of “Squad Six”—I notice—grew more and more reckless as they neared the enemy. We were not allowed to ride, but all had to walk in our places beside the gun, ready for action in one moment—the same as on drill. Before we started out the Captain talked to the boys a few minutes giving advice, &c., and he never spoke to them when they approved him so much—though anyone could see that the most of them thought that they might be safer under some other man. But still they pitied him because what he said showed that he wanted to do right and he wanted to—and meant to try to—take care of the boys. But I am doing about as usual. When I begin to say anything, I say something else.
We finally stopped in the woods I should think about eight miles from the boats, and nearly north of Vicksburg—the city being in sight from a short distance from us, and we could “hear the bells.” Where our guns were planted down on the “river bottoms” in the woods, the water marks on the trees for high water was eighteen feet above the ground and was so for the whole distance back to the Yazoo. Where we lay there we were only about a mile west of the Mississippi and the fighting was between some of our big guns on the west of us and some batteries across a bayou, on the hills, which we must take to get into Vicksburg. I believe that our artillery beat them on Sunday morning and the infantry all were drove into Vicksburg, and we had the hill. Here Morgan L. Smith was wounded leading a charge across the bayou where the men hesitated to go. He got a bullet through his belt in front and it lodged between two bones in his back and he had had to give up command of the 2nd Division. Then our A. J. Smith took his place and Brig. Gen. Burbridge took this—the 1st Division.
Before noon we heard a good deal of heavy firing of infantry—volleys and single shots—and finally it all ceased, and not much more was heard till next morning, though an occasional big gun would start us a little, for we lay where they could shell us all to pieces from Vicksburg.
Sunday night the horses were kept standing, hitched up all night, and the boys had to curl up and lie down where they could raise up and be in the spot to do his part at the gun. I slept but little on account of being sick. I suppose you know how it is just before “breaking out.” We had no alarm during the night. In the morning I was so very weak I could hardly walk and about ten o’clock, Sergt. [Pinckney S.] Cone came to me and told me I had the measles and must go back to camp. I was sorry enough. I could hardly bear to go back and we expected to have our first fight every minute. Left them all right and came in a baggage wagon, made up a bed in our tent and went to bed—“well broken out.” Only two white men stayed in the tent with me—[William C.] Carey & [Gideon W.] Tripp—but 3 or 4 niggers slept over on the other side. Tripp got me some ginger tea and I got one of the niggers by giving him some whiskey to promise to wait on me till I got well—and I kept him nearly busy trotting for me, making grill, and making composition, pepper, lobelia, &c. and I did not go out of the tent for anything but kept in bed most all the time.
Monday night was an awful night, coughing &c. I believe that was the first time that I wished I was home and then I believe I dreamt it. But I would have given anything on Tuesday to have seen a good nice white woman coming into the tent there as I lay—just to see me.
On Wednesday Dr. [Marion] Wilkerson of the 83rd Ohio came to see me and seemed to think that I had the measles. Don’t think he knows much.
On Thursday, New Years Day, January 1, 1863, I lay in tent as usual. Have got along as well as possible. Measles disappearing some. I have coughed so much I can hardly speak. Had some soup today which I eat like a hog. Beef soup with “desiccated” vegetables—i.e., a lot of vegetables and leaves, principally pumpkins, vines and all. They are chopped up and pressed dry into cakes as hard as wood which when boiled out in soup make it pretty good. Went to bed early and about 8 or 9 o’clock the tent was jerked down on to me, and all there was in it. News had come in that our forces were retreating and the niggers must pack up our baggage & stuff and move it down to the water ready to put on a boat. I put on my clothes, overcoat, and a blanket and found the man—the Captain’s nigger hostler—that brought the news.
Soon Sergt. [Pinckney S.] Cone came and I found out that the whole army was going to be drawn back and put on the boats before morning—quietly and in order. [Frank S.] Wilson’s Section was to start at 12 o’clock, [James H.] Swan’s at 2, and [David R.] Crego’s at 4 o’clock. All the caissons started together as soon as the order was received, and the boys tell me that the pickets came in and the last of all the infantry ready to step off about half past three. But orders were orders and they had to stay till 4 o’clock without any pickets beyond them, and then too, the pickets who came in reported that the rebels were building bridges across that bayou we had been fighting over and probably intended to cross and attack us in the morning. There was nothing came in behind our two guns but one regiment of infantry and they report that rebel scouts followed right behind us clear in to the edge of the woods but not out on the cornfield between the woods and the river. So you see we covered the great retreat.
When the last came in all the rest were on the oats and we were ready to shove out before daylight of January 2nd. Our guns are on the “Louisiana” but we could not put the horses or ourselves on for she has a cabin full of wounded soldiers, many with legs and arms amputated, and shot in all sorts of places. I don’t know how many there are such but I believe several boatloads. There are between two and three hundred on her. The boys and the horses are on this boat—the “Adriatic“—a Quartermaster boat loaded with “hard tack” & “sowbelly.” The boys are dreadful tired and many sick with measles. They were at work all day Thursday on fortifications and breastworks and made quite a show of it, and then had to be up all night leaving them.
Our boats started “down the Yazoo” yesterday morning and tied up at its mouth on the Louisiana shore of the Mississippi. This morning we started upstream and tied up here this A. M. Where we are going—and when—and how—no one knows, I suppose, but Gen. Sherman.
When we went back down the talk was that Banks was going to help us from below with 40,000 eastern troops and Grant from the north by land. Since our withdrawal—or retreat—it is said that either they did not meet us and the Rebs were reinforced by rail from Jackson so that we were in a tight place, or Grant had taken Jackson while we were taking the attention of Vicksburg, and Jackson being taken, Vicksburg’s railroad supplies would be cut off, making them surrender in time to Sherman & Banks on the north, south and west, and Grant on the east, and the gunboats in the middle—looks like it, don’t it. Well, it will do to tale about.
P. S. I enclose a little bunch of moss such as grows all over the trees around the rivers. It grows in large bunches and hangs down two or three feet in thick mats all over the limbs and tops of all the trees. I believe it is used for mattresses. I will send you some mistletoe sometime. — Dick
P. S. Lucy, don’t give up any of those photographs of the boys for good. Ladd can get them somewhere else just as well. — Dick
N. B. I don’t write to Lake because I write to all of you and expect you to write to him that which will interest him and therefore give you more reason to write to him yourselves. — Dick Ransom
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Pecan Grove, Louisiana
Monday eve, January 5th 1862 
Dear Friends at home,
I have been reading [the 1841 novel] “Charles O’Malley” nearly all day and a short time ago I found that several leaves were torn out and the way the aforementioned “Charles O’Malley” went overboard was not slow. I have now nothing to do but to write which I do to improve the time—nearly all the time when we have such conveniences as a steamship cabin.
There, I just got so far and the steward came in and told me he must have the table to get supper on so I have moved out on deck on to a box of “hard tack.” But the weather is fine and the air much pleasanter out here than in the close cabin—though my desk shakes a good deal and I have lent my gold pen so much it is about spoiled. We have had good weather without rain most of the time though the night I came in from the woods with the measles it rained hard all night. And again after we had all got on board the boats it rained enough I guess to overflow all that “bottom” where we were lying for five days—from Sunday morning to Friday morning.
We got a small mail yesterday, I don’t know where it came from—or rather how it came—but I looked in vain for a newspaper or letter. There is a story going round now that that Rebel ram that came out of the Arkansas and captured the coal also captured 16 bags of our mail which is not at all unlikely if she captured anything.
I have still a very bad cough and a pretty bad diarrhea since I got rid of the measles, but hope with good care to get over them soon.
We started from Milliken’s Bend yesterday and this morning tied up here to wood up with rails. It is so dark I shall have to quit.
After supper—in the cabin again—we have started up stream. I must tell you now about our boat. We never had a boat on this expedish that belonged to us. We were put on a boat when we started that belonged to another Division—i.e., the main battery was—and we have never got a whole boat since. I believe it is all the fault of the Quarter Master who assigned us the boats. This boat that the horses and men are on is a Division Commissary Boat and she has had her wheel broken and we have been towed all the way since we started, sometimes by one boat & sometimes by 3 or 4. We drew rations today “just for the sake of form.” Since we have been on board we have drawn our own fodder from barrels, boxes, &c. around the boat—such as flour, bacon, coffee, sugar, rice, molasses, vinegar, candles, soap, hard tack, and sow belly—and some of the boys have been down in the hold and tapped sundry barrels of pure government “jiggers” which is said to be the “real stuff” direct from the inspectors—without reducing. Some—and I guess most—of the squads have lain in provisions for all this trip and I guess maybe enough of some things to last some time after we get ashore. There is a large stove in the steerage cabin with six holes init and it has been going at every hole ever since the provisions were broken into. Pancakes are all the go. Today while we lay at Pecan Grove, the boys got a lot of chickens, geese, turkeys, ducks, sweet potatoes, &c. and a Colonel whose regiment was on a boat towing us got out his guard and was going to make the boys leave everything in a pile on the bank as fast as they brought them in. He made it work with those that were green—and with the infantry but did not sell many of our boys who went out to tell them so that when they came in they might conceal them on-by-one in the breast of a pocket.
I had some splendid chicken soup for dinner—the first thing that I have had that I relished since I was “down.” It is almost unnecessary to say that that Colonel was promoted from the “regular army.” He was there a Captain. And also unnecessary to say that all the plunder he captured from the boys was taken for the “officer’s mess” on his boat. He told Capt. Cooley he wished he would keep his men aboard, Cooley told him he thought that he had the guard out to which he replied he had not enough to keep us. We have a great name.
This is a beautiful moonlight night and we have been running directly toward the moon ever since dark though now we are getting around more to the north but before five minutes, we may for all I know—if I should go o out “moon-gazing”—have the moon on the west of us–by running with the channel of the river—so changeful is its direction. Well I must quit. I am getting too “mooney.” Must wait till tomorrow or next day to get something more to write about.
We now expect to go to Helena and hope to go to Memphis to stay till something can be arranged to secure us some victories the next time we start out—and if that cannot be done—then “I want to go home”—and the whole army is in the same “awful fix.”
In ransacking a secesh house today at Pecan Grove, one of the boys made two hundred and forty dollars of the “Bank of Tennessee” which is worth a premium above “green backs” in Memphis, which makes me think that when we were in Memphis before—Gold was sold for 45 percent premium in greenbacks—and the whole of the “change” is the “Bank of Tennessee.” 5.10.25 & 50 cent shinplasters such as I sent you specimens of only some worse worn.
Today the Captain [Charles G. Cooley] got mad at one of the boys whom he has always been very familiar with and acted like a fool with—because he was a little tight and wanted to do as he had always been in the habit of doing with the Captain. Cooley ordered him tied and detailed ten of the boys to do it, who, because they did not want to, could not find Sam. Then the Captain—or the man who “paid 21 for a pair of shoulder straps”—went to the Colonel who was so anxious to get some chickens and got a lot of infantry with loaded muskets to do the job for him. But somehow it played out after he had got them on board and they went home and Sam is still at large around here. That’s the way the gentleman (?) improves by being allowed to go along with us. He cares not a damn and knows less than he cares day after day. But he “is Captain and means to remain so,” and he is the man who is going to have “strict discipline hereafter.” ¹
But I said some time ago that I was going to quit for the present—so I will. Good night.
Tuesday P. M. January 6th 1862 
Again we are landed—or not landed either—but “tied up” for the purpose of “wooding up” with fence rails. The Colonel [Charles R. Woods of 76th OVI] who is in the boat “Meteor” towing us tries to make our boys bring rails. (The way they get them is to bring two or three on their backs from the fence about twenty rods from the river bank) and the boys make him send one of his infantry guards (his regiment) with musket & bayonet along behind every one of them and then they will only bring one rail at a time and that is sure to be a rotten one or one that is small enough to be so light as to be almost worthless for wooding a steamboat. So that the infantry who have to carry the musket & cartridge box have the heaviest load of the two. We have been out of sight of the rest of the fleet (except two other slow boats) for a couple of days—and I guess they are all far ahead of us. I should suppose it to be a very easy matter for a good rebel battery and a couple of regiments to make us “lay to” and surrender just now. Then we might get a “free pass” into Vicksburg or be pardoned and sent to Camp Douglas or some place east maybe to be kept till exchanged.
We are making very slow time indeed up the river. This is the second time we have stopped to wood up today, and we cannot get up without fuel. I would like to know where we are going—but no one knows. Only we are pegging away upstream as fast as we can—no, not can, but do.
Father, how is business? What arrangements have you made for your situation? and tell me all about how you get along. Who’s helping you? &c. I expect to be back before a great while and go to work and I take such an interest in it and wish so for the time to come that I think of it most all the time—especially since I have found out what it is to be “sick in the army.” I believe that there never was such a change in the minds of the same number of men as there has been here since we started “down the river.” So many of the boys are sick–and the Yazoo water and swamps & bayous gave most all the diarrhea—and then such a disgust of the commanding officers all around—and of the general management of the expedition and the being obliged to retreat—and that too probably all the way back to Memphis—and the verdict of the whole thing is “defeated and beaten.” It is enough to sicken three quarters of the men of war and demoralizes (if such a thing is yet possible) the whole army.
I don’t know the name of this place or landing, There is no town. Neither do I know how far it is from anywhere but some “reliable contrabands”—I suppose they must be the same ones you have heard so much about in the newspapers—have just come in, bundles and all, and want to go with us “up norf.” And the information these “intelligent: creatures bring is that there is a rebel force of about 5,000 men and one battery of artillery about 15 miles ahead of us up the river.
We have again started. I think by the way the engineer’s bell shakes occasionally and the sun’s rays change rapidly through the cabin lights. I’ll go one and all.
Today I borrowed a “Covenant” of James Sinclair, brother of Charlie who I worked in the office with at B&B’s and I saw Lieut. Swan’s and George Throop’s letters, all of the points of which I remembered well—“and more too,” so I want you to get a big box or something and keep what paper I spoil and send home for me to look over sometime when I have nothing to do some Sunday. But don’t put any of them in any of the papers for the rest of the boys to laugh at.
When we started a short time ago, it was only to move up the river where there was more fence rails and we are again loading them on though the Colonel finds it is easier to have his own men bring the rails than it is for him to make them make us do it, for it nearly takes two infantry with loaded muskets and bayonets to make one Battery Boy bring one rail at a time. I still cough very badly. My neighbors tell me I don’t let them sleep at all and I am sure I do not sleep much. Last night I had to get up twice.
Did any of you ever see any “persimmons?” I guess not. The first I ever saw were on the march to the Tallahatchie and I have saved some of the seeds to send home, but cannot send any fruit because it is so soft. They grow about the size of small peaches and are similar in size and shape—but a very sweet taste. The trees are something like apple trees, but taller. We eat a great many of them on the march and also wild grapes which grow abundantly in the ravines in Tennessee & Mississippi.
I have just got Lieut. Crego’s picture which I shall enclose to you to put with the rest of the boys. His wife had them taken and sent on to him and he has just got them. I shall now close again till I get something to write.
Wednesday P. M. January 7th 1863. I have read all the papers I can borrow—all of them a week or two old—and shall now have to go back to writing again. We got on wood enough yesterday to last us all night and it being a good light pleasant night, we run all the time till after breakfast this morning—having run by most of the fleet tied up along the bank. This morning about 8 or 9 o’clock we came in sight of a good rail fence so we stopped to get some of it and then we got rid of the boat we had towing us and with it the Colonel and his regiment (76th Ohio) and now we have the “Fanny Ogden“—one that can tow us and keep up with the rest of the fleet.
After we got rid of that Colonel and got the “Fanny Ogden” (with some of the 3rd Illinois Cavalry on) the boys pitched in and brought rails as though their getting home depended upon it and we were not long in getting a good supply.
Yesterday when we were wooding up, the Colonel of the 76th Ohio [Charles Robert Woods] was crossing the gang plank coming on board our boat when someone in a pretty large group of our boys who were up on the deck above him looking over the railing, proposed three groans for the Colonel which were given pretty lively, making the Colonel mad and he came up the stairs in a hurry and said, “Where is that damn coward, show me, and I’ll choke him.” Of course Mr. “Coward” was not immediately found and therefore escaped choking. I was in the cabin at the time but was out in time to see the Colonel before he went away. Last night about nine o’clock he had a guard of infantry placed all over this boat to protect the “hard tack,” I suppose, but the boys say that there was more stolen last night than altogether since we have been on the boat so that it must be the infantry that did it all. But some of the infantry guards lost their ramrods, some their bayonets, some their cartridge boxes, &c. which they say were stolen—but it seems impossible. Though I don’t know either for there was once a Battery Boy stole a mule of an old man who was holding him by the bridle rein in the street in Memphis. The man was busy talking to one while a second took off the bridle and kept shaking and jerking the bits, and a third led the mule away by the mane around a corner, when the second quietly laid down the bridle and got out of the way and the first got through talking with the man and begun to go before he knew anything had happened and it is needless to say he never saw Mr. Mule. But some three boys had some “long-eared money” to divide after selling muley to some speculative hack driver or livery & sale stable keeper.
We are somewhere between Gaine’s Landing and Napoleon, Arkansas. We left or rather passed by the former place this morning and I noticed the chimneys of some of the houses that were burned on our way down still standing. Most all the chimneys in this country are built on the outside of the houses and with fireplaces, some say because the people are “cold hearted” and “turn them out of doors.”
Well I must quit again till tomorrow, maybe, and go and fix up some cayenne. I got some poor stuff before I left Memphis last, Day after tomorrow—January 9th—my 21st birthday.
Thursday, January 8th—This is the last chance to write. The mail goes in about two minutes. Yours, — Dick Ransom
¹ Ransom’s thickly veiled disdain for Capt. Cooley is revealed in various places in his letters home. The feeling was shared among most of the men who were”considerably disappointed in Capt. Cooley” who was not the leader they assumed he would be. “He acts as if we were inferior beings over whom he had full sway and when he gives an order, he is terribly exact in his style. It won’t do with our boys and, unless e changes his policy, we will have to change ours. I don’t think it would be a very difficult matter to have him removed as our boys can, if they wish, exert a very strong influence.” — Will Brown, 12 October 1862 [Chicago’s Battery Boys]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
Opposite Mouth of Yazoo River
On shore of Louisiana
Sunday, January 25, 1862
We have landed our battery and are going into camp here—a mile or so back from the river. We are to be near Gen. A. J. Smith’s headquarters. Is Frank Jackson’s company with Gen. McClernand yet? If he is here with him now, I shall find him sometime.
One of our boys—George Lewis ¹—died this morning of typhoid fever. E[dward] B. Goodrich, one of our boys, is going up to Memphis today (and I write this to send by him). He goes to take six of our sick boys to the hospital. His brother “Sid” [Sidney] is one of them. He has the typhoid fever. [George W.] Montgomery is another. He had the measles and then typhoid fever. [William C.] Carey is another—also typhoid. [Charles F.] Wells another—same disease. The other two—I don’t know who they are.
I believe these boats are all going up now and probably more will be sent up sick before long. I mailed you a long letter written yesterday which you probably will get with this. [George H.] Mendsen, who was left sick in Chicago, arrived here yesterday. He brought a good many letters and packages for the boys but none for me. He did not advertise that he was coming—only called on the friends of the boys whom he knew. If you have a chance to send me a box by any of our boys, it will come all right. But if you should send by someone who comes with Sanitary stores, it would need to be marked specially for me or it would stand a god chance to be opened and used for some hospital. I don’t know but the best way to send would be by Express to Memphis, to care of John Lunt (who is one of our boys and who has charge of one of the convalescent hospitals) and write to him and he will forward it immediately by some boat bring us supplies, which will probably be coming down often. I would like in addition to what I mentioned in my other letter yesterday—a ¼ to cayenne, a box of “Frank Miller,” and some “camphor ice.” Put [William H. Putnam] had about five pounds of powder to throw away up at Arkansas Post and was foolish enough to lay it in a pile on the ground—and go close to it and put fire in it. It burnt his face, took his whiskers & eyebrows all off—and he used my camphor ice most all up on it to cure. It is now most all right. Send me also a box of Chicago matches and as all the boys think themselves entitled to have something out every box that the boys receive. I wish you would send me some cigars. I smoke cigars—sometimes myself but never a pipe. We can get no cigars here. So if you will send me a few, they would be as nice as anything to give the boys. I don’t think I shall need any clothing only the stockings as Uncle Sam’s has plenty of clothes which we have to wear.
The river is rising rapidly—very—and is very high. It is getting towards spring and we have a good deal of rainy weather. we have had only one or two cold days all winter—most all the time we have had very war, weather. Day before yesterday was as hot as August in Chicago.
If you have my broken bank money or even counterfeits that are no use—send them to me. They are as good as anything to pass on to the secesh and blood-sucking sutlers. The boys have made a coffin and are putting Lewis in it. I think he will be taken to Memphis and then put in a metallic case and sent to Chicago. Sheet is full. Will write again soon.
Yours &c. — Dick Ransom
They charge 25 cents for a loaf of soft bread here that you get in Chicago for 5—and sell pies made of dried apple, flour, and water, sa large as a sauce place, two for 25 cents. — Dick Ransom
I have just heard that [Elisha L.] Wadsworth is going direct to Chicago to escort the body of Lewis. He lives on the north side somewhere near where [Holmes] Hoge lives. Hoge lives at corner of Wolcott & Illinois Streets. I don’t know how long he will stay in Chicago but will return soon & I suppose you might if you think proper call and see him. You can find it in the directory. He may advertise when he comes back to bring packages. — Dick Ransom
Since we have been on the Louisiana coming down from Arkansas Post, there has been 25 or 30 deaths in the regiment on with us. The 96th Ohio most all typhoid. The army does—not killed.
¹ “George Lewis” was carried on the roster as “Charles R. Lewis” unless there was a transcription error. It is reported that he died at “Young’s Point, La.” on January 25, 1863.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SEVEN
In camp at “Ballard’s Farm” Louisiana
½ mile from Mississippi River
Opposite mouth of Yazoo & 7 miles Northwest of Vicksburg
Wednesday P. M., February 4, 1863
Your letters of Nov. 24, Dec. 2, & Dr’s of Dec. 7th, yours of Dec. 28 with $5, Jan. 9, Jan. 19, & Jan. 24th are all received—most of them brought me stamps and the last—but 3—five dollars—and the last two medicine.
There was a long time I did not hear from you. After we left Yazoo river for Arkansas Post and I did not hear till I got here in this camp. I was afraid that you were unnecessarily alarmed about me and maybe someone was coming down but last Sunday I received yours of Jan. 24th which was the first I had heard from you since you had heard I was sick. I was very sorry that I had written so as to worry Mother so much and wanted to answer right away but then thought that before you got it, you would have received 3 others that I had already sent. And then Dr. Burroughs had not yet come yet but would be here very soon and I would wait and write them as you wrote you would send by him. He has not yet come but I must commence a letter. I don’t know who he is, or who he comes for but shall probably find out.
Dea. Williams, who was sent by the Association Mercantile with $500 & Sanitary Stores—immediately after Vicksburg’s first siege has not yet been heard from by the battery. My last letters to you were—one immediately after the fight at Arkansas Post, mailed at Napoleon Jan. 18—and one mailed here before we landed Jan. 24—and one I wrote a week ago last Sunday Jan. 25th—to send one by [Elisha] Wadsworth. These are all I have not got answers to now.
On the 25th (Sunday) we moved from the river out here and pitched our tents in this sweet potato patch which is the highest ground around here but which is very wet. Fixed up camp and “messed off.” Our present mess is composed of Sergt. [Nelson] Imus, [Joseph W.] Barr, “Butcher,” [James] Dunne, F[Ezra S.] ay and myself—six—and we cook each a week. My week comes last so as to give me all they time they can to get able to work.
Monday 26th was a fine, warm day and the boys all hunted “greenbacks” which we got of the infantry on the boats—all changing clothes and washing. Tuesday was a rainy day. I boiled my clothes well. Wednesday 28, I washed out and dried my clothes and “anguintumed” ¹ everything. Thursday 29, have been feeling better since in camp but today am very weak and sick. Lay in tent most all day. Friends all anxious.
Friday 30th—rode out horseback to see Dr. of 108th Illinois Regiment. One of the boys sent for “something for diarrhea.” The doctor put up two prescriptions just alike and gave one to me for myself—which of course I did not take. On the way I saw “Nick Lull” and “Her” Bond and John Abbey—and was in plain sight of the big Vicksburg and went to the side of the big ditch or “canal” which is about 3 feet wide at the bottom, 8 feet at the top, and 6 feet deep—full of stumps & trees and 3 or four feet of water at present running through it. I believe the mouth of it has got to be made in another place in order to get the eddy of the current of the river to strike it right and cut it out—and then there is no sure thing of a success. ²
On returning I found your letter of January 19 in answer to mine I sent on the way down the river the first time. I was very glad of the Composition for mine was all gone, but the directions Mother gave me to follow in case I should have the measles were rather late for I had got ahead of you.
On Saturday 31st, Put [William H. Putnam] & I rode out to see Gen. T[homas] E. G. R[ansom] but he had gone out on a reconnaissance. We missed him. I learned that Eugene was exchanged and was still in the 11th but was then and is now away on furlough. Returned to camp very tired and weak.
Sunday February 1st, stayed in tent most all day. Rainy. Got your letter of 25th with medicines and stamps and sixty cents currency. Very much obliged. Monday 2nd, Put [William H. Putnam] and I rode out to see Bond & Abbey. They are still on Grant’s body guard. Got caught in the rain coming back.
Tuesday, Feb. 3—very cold last night and today our mess dug a well a few feet from out fire and at 6 feet the water came in in streams an inch thick all around and it could not be bailed out. They put in two flour barrels and get splendid water for this country. We have been using slough water.
Wednesday 4th. Today has been a very rainy, very cold day and we are all—all there is left of our squad—in the tent lying around trying to keep dry and warm. The tent looks like blazes and we have to cover up and line the tent with rubber blankets. Now I am afraid the water will come in under and overflow.
The 45th & 15th Regiments will soon be here to reinforce this army. They are among Grant’s forces. Also 46th in which is Henry Woodbury. I think the 96th is with Rosecrans.
I shall apply for a discharge soon unless I get better and that is almost impossible to get. If I can’t get it, I shall try and get sent to Memphis to hospital and then get home some way if I can’t get a discharge there—and then try and get one in Chicago. I shall probably know in a week what I can do and will then write you again. Maybe will write more if Burroughs comes before I mail this.
Yours truly, — Dick Ransom, Mercantile Battery
¹ Anguintum was a mercurial ointment which was highly effecting in killing lice.
² In late January 1863, “Sherman’s troops, under Grant’s orders, began work to widen and deepen the canal which had been abandoned by Williams the preceding summer (Sherman opposed the plan, but again followed his orders). The effort now became known as Grant’s Canal, though Sherman referred to it as Butler’s Ditch, after General Butler who had ordered the initial effort. Poor engineering did not take into account the vagaries of the Mississippi during periods of winter floods. An unexpected series of floods in February collapsed some of the work and filled the canal with detritus sediment, driftwood, and other debris. Attempts to clear the canal using steam dredges were unsuccessful as the canal would again flood at random, based on the Mississippi’s tendencies to overflow its banks in winter. By March 1863, the canal was again abandoned.” [Vicksburg National Military Park]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER EIGHT
In our “Chebang” [shebang] at Young’s Point
February 28th 1864
Tonight at roll call the acceptance of the resignations of [Capt. Charges G.] Cooley, [Frank C.] Wilson and [Frederick B.] Bickford was read and as Wilson & Bickford leave us for Chicago tomorrow, I shall just send you a word or two by Bickford and he can tell you more perhaps than I can write. I am losing health and strength continually.
I had a talk with Sergt. [Pinkney S.] Cone today and he promised me that as soon as Lieut. [Patrick H.] White (of Co. B, Taylor’s Battery) had taken command [of our Battery]—(which he will tomorrow)—and things had got settled a little, he would do all he could for me towards getting me home. He would try and get me a furlough and if he could not, he would try and have me sent (with a lieutenant and a sergeant) to Chicago to recruit to fill up the Battery—or lastly he would have me sent up on a hospital boat, or would try for a discharge which is now (since the latest orders) a very hard thing to get.
Cooley will not go up just yet on account of settling up business.
Your two packages were received the same day that I sent my letter by W[illiam] S. Wilson all right, and very welcome.
I borrowed $10 of Mr. Munn [of the Mercantile Association] after I wrote on an order on Father which I suppose and hope was all right. I can’t write any more. Yours truly, — Dick Ransom
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER NINE
Foundry Hospital, ¹ Memphis
Friday, March 20, 1863
Dear Father & Mother, Sisters, Dr. & Baby,
I have been here eight days. I wrote to you on my arrival here and have been intending every day to write again but have only just got at it though Mrs. Livermore ² was here and she wrote to you before she proceeded down the river. It was by chance that she found I was here and it was indeed very lucky that she did find me. She gave me your letters enclosing $10 which was in very good time though I was not out of that which I got of Mr. Munn. She told me how anxious you all—especially Mother—were about my health and said that she did not think it would surprise you much if she brought me home a corpse. But no danger at all of that as you have learned by her own letter probably [by] now. You all know that if I was to change positions with you I should expect you to write to me just exactly your worst state, and I supposed you knew me well enough to know that I would do the same which I always have done. And as it has caused you much trouble, I am very sorry for it. But I suppose now that Mrs. Livermore’s letter will set your minds at ease—for I am doing finely—and have good dry quarters to sleep and have not taken a dose of medicine of any kind for a week. The Drs. here I have avoided and they have missed prescribing for me.
The only trouble here is we get nothing to eat but state bread and army coffee—that is, those that are able to walk. Those that are real sick are fed in their cots and live very well—very much to the expense of the others. It has been for food and delicacies and fruit &c. &c. that I have spent money since I have been here and by making my living as much like home as possible. I have got along and gained wonderfully without other medicine. I began to walk out a little every day and have now got so I can walk a mile though when I get back, I lie down and take a good rest.
I have made arrangement with an Irish woman out back of the hospital who keeps a cow by which I can get a pint of the said cow’s milk each day by paying the woman each time five cents. One of the contrabands who working in the washing room just came into this “ward” offering a plate of fried catfish for sale for 50 cents. I have at last made a trade with him for a quarter so I have fish for dinner and bread and milk for supper.
Mrs. Livermore said she was bound to take me home with her. She knew she could get me discharged from the service and she should do it. I got certificates of disability and got the papers properly started and gave them to her and she will do what she can about getting them through headquarters. The disability consisted (so the certificate says) of “chronic pleurisy & chronic enlargement of the spleen.” The examination I went through to get the papers was—really—none at all, and the certificates were given as a favor to one of our boys—Charles H. Haight, who is very intimate with the Drs. and has a good deal of influence with them. So you see that really, I am not entitled to them, so you need not borrow trouble and think I am so very bad off.
And another thing now—let me warn you—don’t be disappointed if I do not have the good luck to come home with Mrs. Livermore for the reasons above. If I do come, I shall expect to be able to go to work for D. M. O[sborn] & Co. this spring yet. So Mother, your plan to go to Warren with me may fall through for I shall not—I hope—be compelled to lie still this summer on account of health.
I wrote you often and it must be you did not get my letters. I believe that the last one I sent before I came up from Vicksburg was by Lieut. Bickford and he promised to give it to Father and tell him exactly how I was. If he has not delivered it, you may find him boarding by the Adams House (F[rederick]. B. Bickford).
If you write soon, direct to care of Foundry Hospital. I will let you know as soon as possible about the success of my emancipation. Rev. B[arton] F. Rogers from Wauconda—the chaplain of the 15th Illinois—wished me to give his regards to Mr. Hussey. I have seen Lt. Col. Raney, Luke Barnes, Woodworth &c.
Yours truly, — Dick Ransom
¹ A March 9, 1863 article appearing in the Chicago Daily Tribune reviewing the Memphis hospitals described the “Foundry Hospital” as “an old foundry building near the Navy Yard….It was first appropriated for a convalescent hospital, but the impossibility of adequately heating it, and its low, damp location, have satisfactorily demonstrated that it was merely a resting place, and ordinarily a very brief one, on the road from the hospital to the grave!” It has now about 300 patients, and will soon be entirely abandoned for more congenial uses.”
² Mary Ashton (Rice) Livermore (1820-1905), the wife of Rev. Daniel Parker Livermore, a Universalist minister and ardent temperance advocate. She was part of a delegation sent by the U. S. Sanitary Commission from Chicago in March 1863 to visit the army encamped at Young’s Point and Milliken’s Bend for the purpose of distributing 3500 boxes of hospital supplies. She was accompanied by Mrs. H. L. Colt of Milwaukie, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Throop. Mrs. Livermore was described as “a woman of remarkable talent, and in certain directions even of genius, as the history of her labors in connection with the war amply evinces. He energy is great, and her executive ability dar above the average. She is a an able writer, striking and picturesque in description, and strong and touching in appeal. She has a fine command of language, and in conversation or her addresses to assemblages of ladies, one may at once detect the tone and ease of manner of a woman trained to pencraft. She is the author of several books, mostly poems, essays and stories, and is recognized as a member of the literary guild.
In Mary A. Livermore’s book, “My Story of the War” published in 1887, she described her trip down the Mississippi River in March 1863, and shares some of the notes from her memorandum book on page 284. One of her entries was, “try to get discharge for Richard R____, dying in Overton Hospital, Memphis, of consumption, and bring home to his parents.” Could this possibly have referred to Richard Ransom, modified to conceal his identity?
On page 316, Mary Livermore describes her visit to see General Grant aboard the Magnolia near Young’s Point to seek his approval for the discharge of 21 soldiers whose papers she carried. When Grant asked her why she did not speak to his Medical Director instead, she told him that no subordinate dare grant the discharges. Asking her to leave the papers with him, she was delighted to discover the next day that Grant had personally approved them all. On page 317 of her book, she writes that all of the soldiers, except two or three that died, were transported North of the Sanitary boat Omaha that carried the Sanitary Commission members home.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TEN
Sunday, March 22, 1863
Dear Father & Mother and all,
I received a letter from you today enclosing $5 and also a letter from Lake. I only wrote to you yesterday or day before but can just as well as not write another short letter to left you know yours was received and how I got along. I am quite well (but this ink bothers me so I can’t write a clean sheet). My cough is all gone and I am so to speak “quite well”—though weak. I still keep away from the doctors and everybody who says anything to me about it advises me so to do—at least to take as little medicine as possible.
When I was coming up the river on the hospital boat, there was a young lady from Indianapolis waited on me and she told me that there was an elderly lady named Ransom came down the river on the same boat that she did and she was acting as nurse or something here in the Gayoso Hospital. Of course I supposed it was Mrs. Truman Ransom and hunted her up. But she is Mrs. Stillman Ransom. ¹ She was delighted to think one of her relatives whom she never had heard of has come to see her here [and] begs me to call often and wishes Father to write to Elisha Ransom [1772-1867]—his uncle at Milan, Indiana. The old gentleman she says is about 85 years old and always was anxious to hear something about his brother Richards (grandfather’s) family, and he would be delighted to have a long letter from Father. Elisha had six children named Timothy [1800-1890], Joseph [1802-1884], Junia [1808-1863], Stillman [1811-1889] (her man), [Benjamin] Franklin [1821-1901], and a daughter Abbie [1810-1861]. Junia is a Thompsonian Dr. and lives in [Pittsfield,] Pike County, Illinois, and is very wealthy. Elisha’s brothers were Richard and Daniel. So now you must know who she is. I must say she is a very nice, old lady and makes me think very much of Mrs. “Billy” Brown. She says her folks all use lobelia and she offered to let me have some of her own preparation.
John Spurr & John Cain are nurses in one of the hospitals here (where Gardner is). Spurr gave me yesterday another of my letters which had been cut from the Independent. I hope you will get through with your nonsense soon and when I want to write for the Independent or any other paper, I will try to write something interesting to the readers and something that will not be a “boil” and will send it direct to headquarters. The nonsense of publishing my letters to you folks at home must be apparent when you think of it—nothing in them interesting to the readers of the Warren Independent ²—or any other paper, and maybe not to you.
I am anxiously awaiting to hear from the success of Mrs. L[ivermore] with my papers, and suppose Mother is even more so by what Mrs. L[ivermore] told me about her and also by the way she writes though I assure you its enough to kill all the patriotism that every existed in any one man to see the way the soldiers of this expedition are abused.
Well, more again soon. Truly, — Dick Ransom
Our hospital is broken up and moved tomorrow. We shall then be in the “Washington Hospital.” Direct letters accordingly. — Dick
¹ Eleanor (“Emma”) Cole (Houton) Ransom (1815-1909) was married to Stillman Ransom in 1837 and spent her married years in Milan, Indiana. A biographical sketch in a newspaper claims that after her husband died, she made her home at Moore’s Hill, Dearborn county, Indiana, and from there went out an as army nurse. Census records indicate that Stillman did not die until 1889, however, so my hunch is that the couple were actually separated or divorced. “She was assigned to duty in the Adam’s General Hospital in Memphis during the war, and in the spring of 1864 she received from headquarters a commission authorizing her to distribute sanitary supplies and allowing her to go wherever she was most needed.” She spent some time in Gayoso Hospital in Memphis and later in New Orleans. Years later she resided in Los Angeles, California, and worked for the relief of Chinese emigrants. [Note: Emma is one of the nurses featured in Ronald S. Coddington’s “Faces of Civil War Nurses” 1st Edition, not yet released.]
² The Warren Independent was published in Warren, Jo Daviess county, Illinois from 1857 to 1866 by George A. Randall.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ELEVEN
March 26, 1863
Thursday P. M.
Dear Father & Mother,
We are now in the “Washington Hospital.” ¹ Moved here last Monday. I received Mother’s letter of last Saturday just now and yesterday I got T. G. G. R.’s letter. It had been sent from Lake Providence to be mailed and then down to Vicksburg to be delivered and [Philip] Gunlock forwarded it to me. I will enclose it to you.
I have not yet heard from Mrs. [Mary A.] Livermore but am expecting her back from below every day now and with great hopes of her success with my “papes.” Though I may be sadly disappointed should she not be successful down there, there will yet be a little hope left that she may be here. It will be better hereafter to direct my letters to me simply: “Memphis, Tenn.” for I find the hospital mails are badly attended to and it will be safer & faster. I don’t think that any letters to Gen. Hurlbut would do any good unless taken to him by some such person as Mrs. Livermore. Coming by mail, they would be opened and thrown immediately aside, having many such. Though if it should be necessary when Mrs. Livermore comes back, I will have her go to Gen. Hurlbut and inquire about the letter. Get it produced and then present it together with her own persuasion and argument & see what she can do. Though probably she could learn of some better way of Mrs. [Cordelia] Harvey who is constantly engaged in procuring “papes” for Wisconsin soldiers. ²
This morning there were 300 men taken from my “Ward” and put in the “convalescent camp”—a place up in Fort Pickering where they stay till they can be sent to their regiments. I was not in at the time or maybe they would have sent me too. About noon I applied to the Surgeon in Charge for some place as Clerk or to attend to the mail or something and he asked me “why I was not sent to the convalescent camp this morning.” I told him I did not know. He said he had nothing for me to do, inquired what Word I was in, and said something to himself and walked off not very pleasantly. If they examine me tomorrow morning for “camp,” I shall fool them so that they’ll not send me thus. I’ll stay here till Mrs. Livermore comes back and at least if I can not go home, I shall go back to the Battery. I take your medicine and none of the surgeon’s. Am getting better fast. No cough at all though a diarrhea hangs on and I am afraid it may turn out chronic which is the curse of the army and on which most of our boys have been discharged.
I saw Mrs. [Emma Hanson] Ransom again today. She has charge of a ward in the “Gayoso” Hospital.
Last Monday, I believe, I sent you another letter and at some time a couple of Memphis papers. Why doesn’t Father write? or does the business drive him so as to take all his time. I wish—how I wish—I was there to help him. Charlie H. Haight, one of our boys who was discharged here is at work in the Quartermaster Depratment at $100 per month and situations are plenty here in most all kinds of business of civil life where can be obtained from $50 to $100 per month though give me Chicago. The people here do not suit me, nor the climate.
I have never written to Kale yet nor he to me. I have not written so that you might write often to him, and I could write nothing to him but what I have written to you—so you can give him the news from me. Tell him I don’t think I’ll take that trip this summer. It would be best for you not to write again till you hear from me. — Dick Ransom
I have been often exposed to the measles, smallpox, & mumps and been inoculated lately too, but it didn’t work.
¹ The Washington Hospital was located at 354 Main Street, at the corner with Gayoso Street, in Memphis. It was a multi-story brick building that was formerly the Raffo Confectionary Candy Manufacturing facility.
² Mrs. Cordelia [Perrine] Harvey wrote numerous letters to Gov. Edward Salomen during the Civil War imploring that Wisconsin soldiers be sent home. In one letter dated at Memphis on 20 March 1863 she wrote, “How our dying ones look with longing eyes & outstretched arms northward & with their last breath ask, ‘Can’t we go home?’ I have read unwritten histories, witnessed untold sufferings borne with heroic endurance in these hospitals that I shall never forget. I know that love of country and true patriotism is no myth but a reality upon whose alter many a human life is freely offered a willing sacrifice.” Cordelia grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and married school teacher Louis P. Harvey in 1845. In 1859, Mr. Havey was elected Secretary of State in Wisconsin and the couple moved to Madison. In 1861, he was elected Governor. Tragically, Gov. Harvey drowned in an accident at Savannah, Tennessee, while visiting the troops in the field in 1862. Not long afterwards, Mrs. Harvey began her work as an agent of the Sanitary Commission. She was often called the “Wisconsin Angel” while visiting the sick soldiers in Memphis.