This letter was written by Sgt. Henry Brooks (b. 1834) of Co. C, 4th Wisconsin Volunteers. When Henry enlisted on 21 April 1861, he gave Plymouth as his hometown. Henry rose through the ranks from Sergeant to First Sergeant, to 2d Lieutenant, to 1st Lieutenant, and finally to Captain by 4 May 1866.
In the 1860 US Census, Henry Brooks was enumerated in the household of Charles Aspenall, a 50 year-old farmer in Plymouth, Sheboygan county, Wisconsin. Charles and his wife Mary were natives of England, as was Henry who was identified as a “gardener.”
Henry wrote the letter to his friend, Stafford Smith of Plymouth, Wisconsin who was a student at Racine College at the time. Stafford met his early death at Sheboygan Falls, April 2, 1864. He was running to meet an incoming train, when his foot slipped and he fell under the wheels. This event nearly destroyed the life of his sister Anna, who witnessed the scene.
Addressed to Mr. Stafford Smith, Racine College, Racine, Wisconsin
Postmarked New Orleans, LA
Soldier’s Letter, W[alter] S. Payne, Adj. 4th Wisconsin Regt.
Received July Third, 1862 from Henry Brooks
Baton Rouge, La.
June 13th 1862
I now take this opportunity to write a few lines to you hoping they will find you in good health. I have been sick in hospital about 10 days and I have just come back to my quarters again. I had the fever & diarrhea but I think I shall be able to do duty again in a day or two. This is the first time I have missed doing all of my duty but when a man is sick, he is excused. A great number of our regiment is sick but we do not lose as many men as the other regiments who are here with us for almost everyday they are taking men to their graves and we have only lost one man in our regiment since we left Ship Island. It is expected that they will send 7 or 8 men of our company home. Discharge them for they are unfit for service, but I am not one of those lucky ones. But if I can stand it, I would like to see the war over before I return home.
Our new Captain P. Pauli [of Sheboygan] has been sick for a long time and when we left Ship Island he was not able to go with us and he is now in New Orleans and our First Lieutenant [George W.] Durgin received a letter from the Captain the other day and he said he would not be able to do duty with the company again. So I expect we shall have more promotions in our company in a short time which will make me the First Sergeant if all goes well and the Captain should resign. So you see I am getting up the next in rank to a commissioned officer. One step more and I shall get it but I have said enough of that and so I must tell you something of what we have been doing of late.
We left New Orleans on the 14th of May and run up the [Mississippi] River on a old Mississippi boat [the steamer Ceres]. Went up as far as Vicksburg — or within 5 miles of the batteries of that place — and not a gun was fired at us until some of our men went on shore to reconnoiter a little and see what was about us. After they had gone a little ways, they came upon a body of cavalry who fired on them so our men fired on them in return but there only was 8 or 10 of our men so they could do nothing more but be taken prisoners or run to the boat. After firing two or three times, they made for the boat and got in safely but 2 of them was wounded; one — our Sergt. Major [Chittenden] — in the leg slightly ¹ and a private in Company A [Perry] was wounded in the leg & arm and his nose almost shot off but he is now doing very well. ² We stopped here — I mean near Vicksburg — for 5 or 6 days, then we returned down the river. Our gunboats was with us. They also was reconnoitering but had no orders to fire on the city — only if they could take the batteries and guns without injuring the city, they was to do it but nothing else.
I say we returned down the river and 2 gunboats with us for we expected that the Rebels would have a battery — some were out of sight — and as we pass would fire on our boat [the steamer Laurel Hill]. And sure enough, the next day as we was passing a small town [Grand Gulf], a battery opened fire on us and killed one man of the 6th Michigan Regiment for besides our regiment there was on the same boat 3 companies of that regiment. The Rebels fired about 50 shots and I think about 8 of them hit the boat but the only damage done was that man killed. The Rebels would not dare to have fired on us if our gunboat had been in sight but we run so much faster than the gunboat that we left them a long way back of us. But after we got out of the range of the Rebel battery, we stopped and waited for the gunboat to come down. ³
Well the gunboat [Kineo] came about 2 o’clock in the afternoon and so they fired near where the battery was and threw a shell or two into the town. The battery runoff and the people in the town hoisted a white flag so the gun boat came to us and told us the town was at our mercy so we landed and we started after the Flying Artillery but it was most dark when we go in land and before we had gone more than 3 miles, it was quite dark and we was in rather an unsafe place for it was hilly country and the Rebels knew all about it and we did not. But we went a little farther on and then we heard firing. It was our pickets and the Rebels who had come in contact with each other. The Rebels was on horse back and our men say that some of them fell from their horses when they fired on them. One of our Company D men was shot through the arm. He was one of the pickets and as he came back, he passed us and said that was nothing and shaking his arm at the same time, and one of the Generals aides [George DeKay] was badly wounded for he was along with our pickets. It was said he would die from the wound he received but he is now recovering and doing very well.
After that our officers held a consultation and decided that it would be best to return to the boat [because] it was so dark. We returned to the boat and during the night some of our men and the boat crew went ashore and brought a good many things which they called contraband. The town was given up to plundering and the stores and some of the private houses, I believe, was things taken from them. I have no doubt but that several thousand dollars worth of goods [were] taken from the town.
Next morning we left and came down to this place [Baton Rouge] and the people of this town wanted the general to leave some troops to protect them from a guerrilla band who was troubling them a great deal and taking whatever they wanted. The vote in this city was 3 Union to 1 Secesh at the time the vote was taken so we had a good many Union men about us. We have done nothing here to speak of — only while I was in the hospital, our regiment and one other went out into the country about 8 miles and captured a man and a lieutenant of the guerrilla band and burned the plantation and the plantation of the captain of the band and took all the cattle and the sugar and molasses and brought it into camp. This was confiscated. We get lots of sugar now.
It is reported that we are to go and take the City of Vicksburg. Our gunboats and mortar boats are going up the river and we expect to go in a few days. The Rebels have made strong fortifications at Vicksburg but I have no doubt but that we shall be in that city in a short time.
So I will now close and next time try to send you something about the taking of Vicksburg. Excuse my bad writing for I do not feel very well yet and the great blots on the first page for the paper is so scarce and I have used up all I brought from Baltimore.
P. S. I send some Confederate States Postage stamps.
¹ According to the diary of Halbert Eleazer Paine, Sergeant Major Chittenden received a musket ball through his right thigh.
² According to the diary of Halbert Eleazer Paine, Pvt. [Charles E.] Perry of Co. A “was shot through the thigh. The bone of his left arm above the elbow was shattered; he was shot in the nose, the ball remaining in his head and his right elbow was slightly hurt.” He further added that he could see the skirmish from the deck of the steamer Burton and “when Perry fell, he was near a considerable party [of Rebels], all of whom fired on him. His groans, while the surgeons were probing and dressing his wounds, were pitiful. The wound in his nose is a strange one. The ball went squarely through the nose and landed in one of his cheeks. A ball , which did not hurt him at all, went into and through his cartridge box, and stopped between the cartridge box and his back.”
³ The 4th Wisconsin, the 6th Michigan regiments, and two sections of Everett’s 6th Massachusetts Battery were in the fleet that left New Orleans and went up to Vicksburg in May 1862. On the way back down the river a Confederate battery at Grand Gulf fired about sixty shots at short range at the transports, killing one private and wounding one officer (Capt. Chauncey J. Bassett) of the 6th Michigan regiment. The gunboat Kineo subsequently shelled the town and Brig.-Gen. Thomas Williams, commander of the fleet, sent four companies of the 4th Wisconsin under Maj. Frederick A. Boardman, to disperse the neighboring Confederate camp. A skirmish in the dark followed in which Lieut. George DeKay, Aide-de_camp to Gen. Williams, was mortally wounded while in front of the advance guard. According to the diary of Halbert Eleazer Paine, Lieut. DeKay received seven buckshot in his arm and five in his back. “The agony of the poor boy was heartrending.”
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