Albert J. Barnard, 16 March 1863

Rebels guns at Port Hudson fire on the Union Fleet

Headquarters 1st Brigade
In camp near Baton Rouge
March 16th 1863

Dear Mother,

Long before this I expected to see Port Hudson but we did not get orders to move till last Friday (the 13th) at about twelve o’clock at night. Then an aide came from Gen. Auger ordering Col. Chapin to move his brigade the next morning at four o’clock. So at three the men were roused and cooked their breakfast. The call to fall in was sounded on time and at ten minutes after four we were on our way, as we supposed, for Port Hudson. The order of march was as follows: first Gen. Emory’s Division followed by his wagon trains; then Gen. Grover’s Division followed by his wagon trains, after them our division—Gen. Augur’s—and his trains. Our brigade, the last in the division. I rode in the wagon that carries the things belonging to Col. Chapin and staff. Our rear was protected by a battery of artillery—Regulars—and a regiment of infantry.

After riding about five miles, Lieut. Durgin, commissary on the Colonel’s staff, came to me and wanted me to trade places with him as he was sick so I rook his horse and acted as aide till we were ordered to halt and go into camp for the night which was about twelve o’clock. This was about ten miles from Baton Rouge. At this time our advance was only two miles from Port Hudson where they had a skirmish with the rebel pickets, driving them into the fortifications. Shortly after this Commodore Farragut opened on them, firing at intervals of about ten minutes. We could hear the report at our camp, the distance about eleven miles. At ten in the evening the rebs replied to the Commodore’s shots and then the fight commenced in good earnest. After this we could only hear a continual roar; no distinct report. It sounded like thunder and the shells flew thick and fast. They looked like balls of fire about the size of my fist. One burst in the air and it seemed as if it tore the heavens. All the rest fell out of sight. This lasted till after twelve which was the time the boats succeeded in getting by the batteries. This, together with the report that Gen. Price was on our right flank with fifteen hundred cavalry and would probably try a flank movement kept awake till two, when the Colonel got orders to fall back with the wagons. This looked very much like a retreat.

All were excited and wondered what it could mean. At this time we saw a bright light up the river and again heard firing, both kept coming nearer and nearer until by the time we got started, it was just abreast of us. All sorts of rumors were flying through the train. The one that seemed most credited was that a rebel iron clad was driving our fleet which had first been injured by the batteries. After we had marched about two miles, and just as it was getting gray in the east, a column of fire, smoke and embers rose from the river as if from a volcano and it was as light as day. All drivers stopped their teams and riders their horses. In about four or five seconds—it seemed an age—we heard a terrific report which shook the earth and frightened the horses and mules. The roar lasted about three minutes. The Colonel says it sounded it like an engagement and then all was so quiet it seemed as if one could hear a pin drop. I tell you, I never saw so grand a sight in my life. I wish I could describe it.

In the afternoon or rather at 1 o’clock, we were ordered to halt and here we first heard of the success of our fleet and the burning of the Mississippi which was what we saw in the morning, and what had given us such a scare. I don’t mean care exactly, but we thought we were running and the rebel gunboats after us. Here we heard also that our whole army was in our rear. A few moments after we halted, we got orders to go into camp where we were. The probabilities are that we will all stay here instead of going back to Baton Rouge. What the next move will be, or when, no one knows. The cavalry I spoke of are somewhere near us now but we are ready for them, whenever they choose to come on.

While up the road, the Colonel occupied a secesh house. It belonged to a man who is in the army and at Port Hudson. His wife and two children moved out of it in the morning before we got there, leaving everything. She went to her brothers who lives close by. We all had a good bed to sleep in and a table clean table cloth and nice white dishes to [eat] off from. Also a stove to cook on. And since we left camp we have lived high too. Have beef, pork, pigeons, sweet potatoes, milk, eggs, and all for nothing. The men get them from the rebels.

The 116th [New York] now have sixteen head of cattle, nice and fat. These with the sheep were brought from Texas for the rebels but nevertheless they taste good to Yankee’s that haven’t had fresh meat since leaving Fortress Monroe. The General does not allow more to be killed than is necessary for the men to eat. Today we are to have turkey and roast beef for dinner. We are now quartered in a negro cabin. There are but two rooms in the house. There is no furniture in the house except a table, a chair, and stove. So last night we made up our beds on the floor. The house is raised about two feet above ground and some of the boards of the floor are so far apart that one can stick a finger through. There are three pigs which sleep under here and last night while at supper one commenced scratching his back against the floor which shook considerable and last night while we were all asleep he commenced again which woke us. The Colonel says he won’t do it but once more.

I believe I told you that Mason had sent in his resignation. It was returned not accepted. He then sent in a second one This was also returned. He has now sent in a third one. This will, I think, be the cause of his being dishonorably discharged, also on account of his refusing to do duty which the Colonel noted on the back of his resignation. The mount of the matter is Mason is bound to go home and he has been thinking about it so long and made up his mind that he could go, that he will go in some way or another. He told me so. John D. has to do most of the work.

The Lieut. Durgin that I spoke of in the first of this letter is a splendid fellow. He was not well when we started and so you see I had his horse part of the time. He is well now and if we move right away, I shall have to ride in the wagon again.

I received three letters by last mail. One from you dated February 19th containing a letter from Uncle Sam and one dated the 23rd. Also one from Lewie dated the 21st. I will write Lewie tomorrow or Monday if I have an opportunity.

General Banks has sent an order to be read to the troops stating that the troops did all that they went for, that they only went up to draw the attention of the rebels while Commodore Farragut went up the river.

Give my love to Grandma, Grandpa, and all who enquire for me and accept a [great] deal for yourself and Lewie from your affectionate son, — Allie

Please send me some postage stamps.