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  • Writer's pictureKirk Jenkins

Captain Halpin's Letter to the Enquirer (Part 2 of 3)

From the Cincinnati Enquirer, April 3, 1862

. . . Such unanimity among the troops I never knew on any subject before. They justly say that they did not take up arms to carry out the behests of the demi-gods of Abolitionism, and sooner than be the anti-slavery propagandists of Abraham Lincoln, they will ask Jeff. Davis to hoist the American flag, and receive them under his banners. As sure as Congress passes any law touching the abolition of slavery, the great army of the Union will change sides or go to pieces, never to organize again. How terrible are the calamities this eternal meddling with what does not concern them have the agitators of the question of slavery brought on the country? Great are the crimes that led to the dismemberment of this mighty Confederacy, and great should be the punishment of the criminals. If the Arnolds who crush the hopes of struggling nations, by severing the ties of fraternity that bound the States in harmony and peace so long, have no conscience left to check or chide their unholy ambition, let the people, the fooled and plundered people, in their might, wield the sword of the destroying angel, and make an example of the Catalines who conspire against the perpetuity of the Union, and make a page of history that will live to warn the world of their crimes and their punishment to the end of time.

Morgan and his rangers hang on our advance, annoying our pickets and communicating intelligence of our movements to the enemy. Some days ago he was posted with his troops near Sovern. General Mitchell learned his position, and set a trap to catch him. He completely surrounded the rebel chief, and took with him, in wagons, at night, about 1,200 men to surprise and capture him. The expedition reached a point a few miles from where Morgan was, when they met him with a flag of truce, thus completely outwitting General Mitchell. The expedition returned with Morgan to the Lunatic Asylum, where General Mitchell and the rebel supped and drank each other’s health in a horn of old cognac. This conduct scandalized the troops exceedingly, who could not understand the reason why so troublesome an enemy should be treated to the choicest viands by their commander, after taking them out of their beds and run fifteen miles to capture or kill him. To say the least, he has an ugly appearance, and gives much dissatisfaction. During their special chat the rebel taunted the General with inactivity, and ignorance of the proper mode of procedure. The General replied that he would soon find him at Murfreesboro with a force that he could not escape, when Morgan offered to bet $100 that he would be there for twenty-four hours after his arrival, and, no doubt, he is not in town, though it is entirely surrounded by troops, for he seems to be ubiquitous and changeable as the chameleon. He was only a few hours in advance of us from Camp Jackson, as we learned from the negroes along the route, and if not yet in town, is in the neighborhood watching us.

The troops are likely to remain here for two weeks, until some bridges shall be built, and the teams return from Nashville with provisions. We have now reached that point in the enemy’s country when it becomes of serious importance to keep our communications open in the rear. All our supplies must come from Nashville, and if the bridges should be burned as soon as constructed, or our trains cut off, the army would certainly starve, for the enemy had cleared the country before us of every thing that could be of use, did we have to levy contributions in the shape of provisions off the people. This I presume our Generals would not do, even had the men to starve, so particular are they to cultivate the good opinion of the people, who despise them so thoroughly that they close up their houses, windows and all, lest any of the inmates should condescend to look on the Yankees. When the troops were passing through Murfreesboro, some men belonging to the artillery were hoisting a national flag on the cupola of the Court-house, amid the vociferous cheers of the army; the few men who ventured into the streets looked daggers, and one Amazon shook her fist and swore that “that flag would not be long there.” This is the spirit that animates the whole white population, and to expect to regain their friendship by “soft solder” is as futile as to attempt to quell the rebellion by honied words. Our officers, in most cases, carry out their instructions too exactly and deprive the men of many absolute necessities without adding to their reputation with the inhabitants. An instance of the ridiculous exactness of some officers occurred on the march to this place. When we halted the first night on Stone Creek the men secured some drift-wood that accumulated on this bank, and were about to light fires to cook supper when the Colonel of the Fifteenth Kentucky ordered them to take it back to where it was found, and go supperless to bed for all he cared. The men had to comply, carry the wood back half a mile, and cook their coffee with leaves and such little chips as they could pick up through the wood.

At Camps Pope and Jefferson I was favorably impressed with the field officers of the Fifteenth, but lately they have completely changed, and as the Colonel on one occasion said that he thought more of a mule than twenty men, certain it is they think more of a negro than five white men. Take it all in all, I must confess that I have not seen one of the Southern negro-drivers who is not in principle an aristocrat, as imperious as the Czar and tyrannical as Nero. They are not fit to command volunteers, for they lose the good opinion of the men they command by their haughty airs and unnecessary severity. How unfavorably they compare with the officers of other regiments, who came from and among the people! Take, for instance, the field officers of the Tenth Ohio, who are encamped beside us. Colonel Burke, the present Commander of the Tenth, is thoroughly acquainted with the wants and interests of the men, and devotes his entire attention to their comfort. If any of the officers or men desire a pass or furlough, he can approach the Colonel without ceremony, and get it signed without being snarled out like a dog. So it is with Major Moore, who has a smile for every one, and a kind word for the hardest case in the regiment. Where the men are denied opportunities to obtain little comforts or necessaries along the road or in camp, an application to the Major is certain to have it provided. The goodness of his heart is only equaled by the suavity of his manners and his continual solicitude for the welfare of his command. His epaulettes have not turned his brain, as is evidenced by the fact that he treats old friends and acquaintances in camp just as he did when in civil life in Cincinnati. How different is the conduct of Major Campbell, of the Sixteenth (sic), who kept five companies of his regiment on picket-duty in the snow, at Bowling Green, without food, for thirty-six hours; and prevented them from obtaining a drink of water from a spring within a few yards of them! So severe and unjust to some companies in their conduct, that the three commissioned officers of Company I had resigned in disgust before we left Camp Jackson, and others are about to follow their example. There is not a man in the regiment, save a few pets, who can speak of the field officers of the Fifteenth without an oath, to add weight to their repugnance to their conduct . . .

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