Captain Halpin’s Letter to the Enquirer (Part 1 of 3)
From the Cincinnati Enquirer, April 3, 1862
Murfreesboro, Tenn., March 20, 1862
To the Editor of the Enquirer:
I contemplated to write you before we left Camp Andrew Jackson, but, like the delinquent who puts off til to-morrow what should be done to-day, the thief stole upon me in the night when I least expected him, and ordered me off to the headquarters of Colonel John Morgan and his Texan Rangers. Well, here we are encamped on the margin of Murfreesboro after a march of nearly three days. On the morning of the 18th inst. we left Camp Jackson, expecting to reach this place on the 20th, but owing to the bridge over Stone Creek on the direct road having been burned by the rebels, we were compelled to traverse a semi circle in place of the diameter of a circle, imposing on us an additional march of twelve miles, making the entire distance forty-two in place of thirty miles. The first day we reached a point some four miles south-east of Eleven, marching during the day sixteen miles, and encamped in a beautiful wood on Stone Creek. The day was magnificent and the road in fine order, making the men believers that paradise was not far distant, and that mud, and snow and rain were things heard of but never more to be seen. The sun was bright and hot as in June in Cincinnati, and gave us a strong intimation that we were in the sunny South.
Under the delusive belief that a day so charming and a sun so fair and fascinating should be perennial, and that no darkness should hide him from us in the future, the men covered the roadsides with knapsacks, overcoats, pants, shirts and drawers, expecting to imitate our progenitor in the garden, and lie down to woo the smiles of some in the land of cotton, without the aid of Uncle Sam’s tailor or shoemaker. In the shadow of a stately old oak that bore the heat of a thousand summers in his ample foliage, and rocked to sleep by the gurgling waters of Stone Creek, the tired soldiers, watched by the sylvan deities of the place, dreamed of the thousand beatitudes that await the patriot who immolates himself on the altar of his country, until four o’clock next morning, when a shower of the most drenching rain of the season convinced them that they were still on terra firma. When about eight miles out from Camp Jackson, the Thirteenth Ohio was ordered to “countermarch” and join some other brigade, which much disconcerted their old companions of the Third and Tenth, who greeted their exit with three-times-three.
Next day we resumed the march as six o’clock A.M. amid a most formidable rain that continued for two hours to steep the army in its unwelcome flood. About eight the rain eased, and Old Sol once more threw off his disguise and came down with an old Fourth of July welcome. The few clothes left over after the distribution of the previous day were soon dried and fit for the mangle, but as human flesh and bones are the only commodities now provided for the mangle, the dry goods had to go unsmoothed, while blistered toes and galded shoulders were the order of the day. The boys were anxious to learn the distance they had to travel, and as mile-stones are deemed incumbersome to the roads in Tennessee, they asked every mortal they met along the way, that is, if negroes are mortals, for they are almost the only living things that approached the terrible Yankees along the whole road. The answers were various, amusing, and obnoxious by turns. We started in the morning, with the information that Murfreesboro was only twelve miles; marched four hours, and learned that it was twenty. Still undaunted, on we sped for two hours more to find that we reduced the twenty to ten. On again until two o‘clock, when the first white face of the day added five miles on, making it fifteen. Secesh, cried out the boys, believing it to be a hoax, but the next two hours found it thirteen. At length they concluded that Tennessee roads were made of India-rubber, stretching according to the whims of the interrogated. At seven o’clock P/M. we halted on the bank of Stone Creek again, within six miles of Murfreesboro, after a march of twenty-two miles.
Off again next morning at six, in just such another rain as that of yesterday. We entered the town at an early hour, marched through, and are now encamped a short distance outside on the direct Nashville road. The country from Nashville to this place is very fine, and often on the march called to mind the saying of Cromwell on the cupola of St. Canice, “that it is a land worth fighting for.” Tennessee is peculiar in many respects. The parts of it I have seen are very level and fertile, but only half cultivated. The farms seem abandoned by the white population, and only in isolated places will negroes even be found.
The same spirit of animosity exhibited by the population along the road from Bowling Green to Nashville has been manifested from Nashville here. Not a solitary welcome during the entire march greeted the army, except what came from the negroes, who looked on us as their deliverers from slavery. Many of them came into camp, and asked to accompany the army, but were all sent home to their masters. The eternal clatter of the rebels and their newspapers about the Yankees invading the South to liberate the slaves, gave the negroes the idea that the day of their slavery had ended when they heard the first note of our bugle, and hence their anxiety to leave with the army. I find the woolly-heads much more intelligent than I was led to understand; they feel their positions keenly, and any disaffection that may yet ensure will be chargeable to their own masters, who imbued them with the idea of liberation. On the other hand, the President’s message on the slavery question, and its approval by the Ohio Legislature and the Abolition press, has created as much dissatisfaction in the army that men and officers swear that, if his recommendations become a law, they will throw down their arms, or turn them against the miserable Abolition faction that is daily entailing such miseries on the country . . .