1863-64: Thurlow Joseph Wright to Caroline S. Wright

These rare and detailed letters were written by 46 year-old Thurlow Joseph Wright (1817-1877) who was commissioned surgeon—with the rank of Major—of the 7th Louisiana Infantry (African Descent), or the 64th USCT, on 26 November 1863. The 16 letters begin in September 1863 and end in December 1864. They add significantly to the body of knowledge pertaining to the superintendence of contrabands in the Lower Mississippi River between Natchez and Memphis, particularly with respect to their medical care. In addition, there are first-hand observations of Memphis, Vicksburg, and Little Rock; notices of guerrilla warfare up and down the river—including Quantrill and his band; a tour of the home Grant occupied during the siege of Vicksburg; a 4th of July celebration at Jeff Davis’s plantation in Mississippi; the mention of the Sultana when she was just another steamboat on the Mississippi; and much more.

An unidentified Union Surgeon with rank of Major

Though I could not find a biographical sketch of Dr. Wright, I discovered that he obtained his medical degree from the Eclectic Medical Institute in Cincinnati under the tutelage of Prof. Wooster Beach (Clinical Medicine & Surgery) in 1849; the catalogue for that year indicated he was from Iowa. In the 1850 and 1860 US Census records, Dr. Wright was enumerated in Cincinnati laboring as a physician. In the early 1850s, he accepted an offer to become dean of a rival medical school in Cincinnati named the America Medical College of Ohio, but this school soon folded for lack of a sufficient number of students.

The only obituary I could find for Dr. Wright appeared in the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune on 1 July 1877 which read:

“Dr. T. J. Wright, who died yesterday from injuries sustained a few days ago from the trampling of his horse, was an old and esteemed physician. He was born in Derbyshire England and came to this country while a lad. He was one of the early graduate of the Eclectic Medical Institute, and always adhered to that branch of the medical profession. He was never married but lived with his sisters on George Street until the Shillito purchase necessitated a change of residence to [114th W.] Seventh Street near Race, where he died. Dr. Wright was hospital surgeon several years during the war, and located at Vicksburg much of the time. He was sixty-five years old.” [Another source says 60].

Prior to volunteering his services as a surgeon, we learn from local papers that Dr. Wright was a 1st Lieutenant in the 14th Ward Home Guard in Cincinnati.

All 16 of these letters were addressed to “My dear sisters” who were Caroline S. Wright (1822-1901) and Felicitous (or Philicitous) Wright (1824-1887) both also born in England. They shared a residence with Thurlow in Cincinnati, running a boarding house in later years.

A report submitted by Dr. T. J. Wright describing the various contraband camps within the limits of his jurisdiction may be found on-line. The report was submitted to Surgeon D. O. McCord after his tour in February 1864.

Letter 1

Addressed to Caroline S. Wright, No. 8 George Street, Cincinnati, Ohio

Contraband Camp
Memphis, Tennessee
September 7, 1863

My dear sisters,

This day week, if my memory serves me right, I last wrote you in a very hurried manner, upon a topic or two uppermost in my mind at the time. And upon that of my pay I am no nearer now than then, of receiving it soon. I have a plan, however, in contemplation, which if adopted will bring the long controversy to a close. It is to make a truthful statement of the facts in the case and furnish the Department a second time with certified copies that I was on duty in hospital at La Grange from the 19th of January last till the 8th of February, inclusive. From the beginning to the end of that period, they (the clerks) inform me that they have no evidence in the office that I was on duty during that period.

The Medical Director is of the opinion that they have no right to question his statement as to its truthfulness. Hence, he has been and is now opposed to furnishing the Department a second time with the facts contained in my first account. It is equivalent to saying to him that we do not believe what you say. On this point he is sensitive and does not like the course the Department is pursuing, in consequence, to obtain the necessary information. Had I been let alone in the matter I should have taken the shortest road to obtain the information and then have forwarded it to Washington as requested. I have already written to Surgeon Crawford, now at Milliken’s Bend, La., formerly surgeon and Chief of Hospitals at La Grange when I was there to furnish me with a certified duplicate copy that I was on duty as stated above during the eight days commencing with the 1st of February. Then I shall call upon Surgeon Strode who is now in the city and in charge of the Webster Hospital who had charge of the hospitals at La Grange when I was ordered to report to him on the 19th of January last.

Having furnished the needful information, I am inclined to believe that my pay will be forthcoming which period cannot be more than two weeks from today, should I receive—as I expect to do—the certificates from surgeon Crawford in a day or two, when I shall have seven months pay due me at $100 and 83/100 per month.

The weather is quite warm again after a few days of very cold weather for this part of the country. About the same time, the newspapers inform us that it was correspondingly cold in the North so that it would appear that the weather here is influenced to a greater or lesser extent by the weather in the North. It is also reported that it was found in Illinois and other northwestern states damaging very materially the standing crops. The weather is now both dry and hot; very much as the weather was last fall when I made my appearance among the soldier patriots of the southwest.

One day about a week ago I spent part of the afternoon in the schoolhouse among the children, young men and women, and men and women of middle age. From conversations repeatedly had with Mr. [Abijah] Conner 1 from Wheeling, Va., who has been officiating as resident chaplain and Superintendent of the school, I had formed a more favorable opinion than my visit would warrant as to the facility with which the colored children receive information. There are but few among them who can read and the most of them do not know the alphabet, though they are spelling and trying to read in books which would imply that they were somewhat advanced in the rudiments of the English language.

In conversations had from time to time, Mr. Conner gave us to understand that the children received instructions as readily as white children do in other parts of the country. There are a few facts to be taken in consideration in making up the estimate of their ability to acquire information. In the first place, they are not encouraged by their parents to prosecute their studies as white children in Cincinnati are; hence, as soon as learning to read becomes irksome—as it does to may—every device imaginable is resorted to to evade going to school. Then again the number of scholars are too numerous for the teachers employed. Only two young women are now in the field laboring for the common good of the scholars and they have been sick for several weeks during the summer. The scholars under them are between two and three hundred. You may readily infer that but little time can be devoted to each class out of so many by two delicate females assisted occasionally by a married woman—the wife of a soldier attached to our camp. But a few minutes can be devoted to each class during the forenoon or afternoon of each day in place of an hour or two in the public schools of Ohio.

One of the Memphis Freedman’s Schools, ca. 1865

On the Island 2 the school has been suspended for some time in consequence of sickness; and the female school teachers are now in hospital—or one of them, at least—and the other is with her as a companion during her sickness. I am not certain that there is teaching of any kind going on on the island. Yet about two weeks since it was reported that one or more of the detailed white soldiers were to be ordered to open the school and “teach the young ideas how to shoot.” I have not heard of it being opened, however. In my opinion there is not a minute to lose providing we study the best interests of the people.

Yours, — T. J. Wright

1 The Superintendent of the contraband school was Rev. Abijah Conner (1830-1870) and his wife who were assisted by Miss Mary B. Johnson, Miss Fannie Kiddoo, and Miss Agnes Henry. [Source: Historical Sketch of the Freedman’s Missions of the United Presbyterian Church, 1862-1904 by Margaret Lorimer McClenahan.]

The first free colored school taught in Memphis was opened in the early part of 1863, in a barrack building in South Memphis, by Miss Fannie Kiddoo [Kidder], a Lady of culture and high Christian character, from Illinois, sent here by the United Presbyterian Freedman’s Aid Society. She continued to teach under different benevolent societies for four years, during which time she was nobly assisted by many brave and noble ladies, among whom should be mentioned Misses Mary Johnson, Mary Tyler, Eliza Mitchell, Rose Kinney, Nellie V. Kimbal and Belle Rose. These pioneers labored on amidst many privations, sacrifices and hardships, beside the insults, slanders and abuse, not only of the low and vulgar enemies of the colored people, but also of the press of the city. They deserve honorable mention for the great good done to the colored people, not merely by the instruction given, but by the influence exerted to remove the prejudice against and opposition to their education.[Source]

2 Camp Dixie was a contraband camp built on President’s Island west of Fort Pickering in 1863. It held over 2,000 fugitive slaves. The contrabands in Camp Dixie cultivated 300 acres of cotton, and built a sawmill and school in 1863. 

An article appearing in the Boston Recorder on April 9, 1863, described the situation in Memphis in March 1863:

“…The increase of colored people in and about two has been immense—probably about four thousand. Coming from all the various conditions of slavery, they constitute a most interesting class, however contemplated. Until of late, their place of habitation, labor, all were entirely voluntary. Of the able-bodied men, about four hundred have on an average worked on the defenses here—a great military work—and saved our soldiers many a hard day’s digging with spade and pick. These men worked voluntarily and were paid and fed only the days they labored. Their families have lived as they could in houses vacated about town, or gathered in a village of their own building, below the fort. Many have driven drays or worked in steamboats, or sawed wood, or done service for families. No control was assumed until the present plan of supervision was adopted. At first the new arrivals were all the Superintendent could shelter and manage. Among those living about at their own option, it was found vice and crime had singular sway. They become the dupes alike of those who would hire them to steal horses, mules, &c., from citizens, and of those who would carry on unlawful trade with the enemy. The Superintendent, Rev. Mr. Fiske, was ordered to assume control of their voluntary village. They had a guard of their own,–colored—but he soon had occasion to investigate the cases of stealing cattle, and found guard, and preachers also, implicated. Those over who he exercised his kindly authority have never been known connected with any violation of law. The old prejudices remain here. A man who has started a colored school among blacks in town able to pay tuition, has been mobbed. He is expected to continue. We shall see. He has one hundred and sixty scholars. If our soldiers all knew how to treat a colored fellow as a human being, the citizens would learn faster. It is a singular fact that those superintending this work have to carry on a double warfare—against rebel residents and loyal soldiers—a war within a war…”

Letter 2

Holly Springs Contraband Camp
Memphis, Tennessee
December 9th 1863

My dear sisters,

I have to inform you that I have received a commission from the President of the United States to serve as surgeon of the 7th Louisiana Volunteers of African Descent, which will place e a little higher in office than I have been heretofore, and an additional sum to my pay per month, all of which will be as gratifying to you as it is to me.

Though I have indirectly alluded to the contemplated change in several of my letters, I thought it better not to inform you of my object till I had something reliable in my possession. About two months since I made known to the Medical Director of the 16th Army Corps that I should like a commission in a regiment. He immediately invited me to call on the Medical Examining Board which met at his Headquarters and submit myself to an examination, which I did, and of course I must have passed or I should not now be favored with a commission.

In consequence of this gratifying change in office, I shall in all probability be ordered to report for duty to one of the Contraband Camps below Memphis—perhaps Vicksburg. I shall know tomorrow.

Had I known this two months ago, I could have had my trunk sent down to me and such other articles of wearing apparel as I am in need of. As it is, I must wait till I am located before I can order you to send my trunk and a few white shirts and perhaps a dress coat and overcoat, unless I conclude to buy one here.

Yesterday a fire broke out in the small pox hospital connected with our department which reduced the building to ashes. Though full of patients at the time, not one of whom was injured by the fire. It is rather remarkable that fires do not more frequently occur than they do for they (the colored people) are the most careless creatures I ever saw.

Last night was one of the stormy ones of the season. It blew and rained as if to tear to pieces the tents and submerge the campground in water. Many tents were blown down, leaving the people without any shelter during the storm and their goods exposed to the pelting rain and fierce wind that shook everything that was not as fixed as the rock of ages.

Today I was in the quarters up to the ankles in mud and mire. What with the storm and the smoke of the fires, the poor people were objects of charity. I cannot see how they endure he smoke for I cannot stand it for two minutes—much less all the time.

I will close this note when I know where I shall be in my new office.

I have been at headquarters to receive orders but am to remain here for a time—perhaps a week, perhaps for months. I cannot say how long or how short.

Mr. Olive leaves for Cincinnati today and will call on you as soon as he can after arriving. If you can make it convenient, you may order me a dress coat and purchase me a short or two (colored) and a few white ones, and such odds and ends as you may think of. Direct it to the care of J. N. Alonis [?] & Co. Mr. Alonis will take charge of it.

I met Mr. Eugene T____ in the street today. He has been in the city all the time.

Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surg. South La. Vol. Inf. A. D.

Letter 3

Addressed to Caroline S. Wright, No. 8 George Street, Cincinnati, Ohio

Contraband Camp
Memphis, Tennessee
December 15, 1863

My dear sisters,

I have to inform you that I am under orders to report to Col. Thomas at Vicksburg, Mississippi. I expect to leave the coming week. My labors in that field will differ somewhat from those I have been rendering here. The Department of Tennessee including Arkansas is to be be, or rather is, by an order of S[amuel]. Thomas, Adjutant General USA, separated from the Military and Medical Authorities, so fas as the appointing power is concerned. General Thomas has appointed Col. [John] Eaton Superintendent with power to appoint such persons as he may deem proper. He has appointed Surgeon McCord Medical Director for the Medical Department. I am next in rank (Major) in consequence of which my office will be more of a business than medical in character. I am in other words the Senior Surgeon and no one can outrank me but Surgeon McCord who fills an office intimately related to mine.

The hospital building in which I expect a room and an office is situated in the center of Vicksburg and in all probability I shall have more comfortable quarters there than here. I shall be from necessity in the very midst of the gay and fashionable men of the army. In consequence of which I shall have to mingle more than I have heretofore done with the outside world; and must as a matter of necessity spend more money in dress than I have lately done, as well as money in the form of pocket change. My business will compel me to keep a horse which I have not always done. I am also entitled to feed for three horses according to regulations.

Orders received from McCord, Medical Director Freedmen Department of the Tenn. and State of Arkansas, dated 13 December 1863

When I reach Vicksburg, I shall also be better supplied with servants than heretofore. In consequence of which I expect to meet with some one who can wash white shirts better than it has been my good fortune to meet with thus far. Please send me about half a dozen shirts and a few more neck ties such as I wore in Cincinnati. In addition to my dress coat, which I have ordered you to get made for me, will perhaps be all that my immediate wants demand. Should you procure for me a pair of shoulder straps (which I leave to you entirely so that they may be put on by the tailor) please purchase none but plain Major’s straps unless the letters M. S. are worked in silver as the wreath is in gold. The letters you send me I have not wore. I can either wear straps with the letters referred to , or without, at pleasure. By far the greater number of Majors in the Medicial Department wear their straps without the letters.

In consequence of the order which I have received to report to Col. [Samuel] Thomas at Vicksburg, I think it would be your best plan to send my trunk by Express to Vicksburg direct. Otherwise I fear it will be double trouble to ship it at Cincinnati to the care of Mr. Oliver and company and some delay in consequence. You can consult Mr. Oliver upon the subject. Direct it to T. J. Wright, Surgeon, 7th Regt. Louisiana Vol. of A. D. [African Descent], Vicksburg, Mississippi. You will also from this time direct all letters and papers as above till ordered otherwise.

As soon after my arrival as possible, I shall write you and let you know how I like my new location. I shall not leave for several days and may, before I take my departure, write you another letter.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, — T. J. Wright

7th Regt. La. Vol. A. D.

Letter 4

Vicksburg, Mississippi
January 4th 1864

My dear sisters,

Soon after my arrival here and before I entered upon the duties of my profession, I wrote you a few lines to let you know that I had arrived safely and in good health. I have now to inform you that I have just returned from a tour of inspection of the caps in my district which extends from Vicksburg to Goodrich’s Landing in Louisiana. The country over which I rode is one continuous grave yard. All along the levee and by-the-by, the country is covered all along and for hundreds of miles both above and below [with] the graves of the thousands who died from exposure before and after the surrender of Vicksburg [which] meets the eye from morning til night.

At the first camp I visited, which is about two miles below Vicksburg by land, the Superintendent informed me that the soldiers from the Eastern states were camped but a short distance from where we were then standing which is studded with small pieces of boards and containing the name and regiment of the soldiers’ remains deposited there.

Till recently, I never saw a cotton farm on a large scale. I can now, however, say that I have seen them in both good and bad condition. Each of the plantations contain hundreds of acres of as fine alluvial land as the sun ever shone upon. In many respects, it resembles the rich bottom lands of the Ohio and other rivers in the West. In another particular, It may be compared to the prairies found in Illinois for there are but few plantations that contain any trees or stumps. They are generally clean, smooth lands freed from all kinds of shrubs and trees.

The quarters, as the buildings are called, are in general very comfortable cabins of moderate size. They are built in rows as we build houses in cities and a space intervening between about as wide as some of our widest streets. The plantations that I have visited contained three rows of these cabins each and containing from ten to twelve and all white-washed with the out buildings such as barns, stables for the mules, corn cribs, gin house, and a fine building or two for the overseer which give the quarters the appearance at a distance of a village or small town. In descending the river from Memphis to Vicksburg, I took the plantation quarters for so many villages.

All along the roads over which I rode and as far as the eye could reach, the remains of plantations could be seen as monuments of the once greatness of the Sunny South. The chimneys of nearly all the gin houses and many of the quarters still stand to note the spot where they once stood. Not a fence or the signs of a fence did I see till I approached within a short distance of the headquarters of Gen. Grant, McPherson, and others who it appears reserved a small portion of the wood work around each mansion more for their own accommodation than the good of the owners, I should judge.

The house occupied by Gen. Grant during the siege of Vicksburg I have had the pleasure seeing it both inside and out. It is a frame building of moderate size with a very wide hall and lofty ceiling. In one of the parlors a mirror still remains as it was before the General occupied the building. It is not less than eight feet long with a very heavy gilt moulding or frame which cost in Paris four hundred and fifty dollars before the war. The furniture has been removed or disposed of in some way with a few exceptions. From the size and value of the mirror you may form a good idea of the quality and value of the furniture for I have no doubt but it corresponded with the mirror—at least I can say that which I did see did.

I am sorry to say that the contrabands are in daily fear of the guerrillas who occasionally make raids upon them and rob them of everything worth removing and in some cases even destroy the contrabands who may chance to be in their way. A raid of this kind was made on a plantation about two miles above Milliken’s Bend but a few days before I had to cross it to reach Goodrich’s Landing. The raiders killed five contrabands who were living there and would no doubt have taken the life of the only white man in the place had he not made his escape on a fast horse just in season to save his life.

At Van Buren, another contraband plantation a few miles below Milliken’s Bend, when I rode up there was a company of colored troops being drawn up in a line of battle to defend themselves against a guerrilla party who was reported advancing but a short distance off.

Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surg, 7th La. Vol. Infantry A. D.

Letter 5

Vicksburg, Mississippi
January 11th 1863 [should be 1864]

My dear sisters,

Thus far I have to inform you that I have received one newspaper and a letter from Henry W. Rittenhouse, Medical Storekeeper M. S. A., Acting Medical Purveyer “from Cincinnati.” The letter of Mr. Rittenhouse is one of enquiry by whose authority the money was paid. The Warrant No. 9075, the first warrant on which I was paid, by my order to you. O presume it is right. It is my impression that you wrote to me informing me that the second payment is the one that you were so long in obtaining. Should there be an error on this subject, you can easily correct it. If you received your money, the first payment, it is all right, from him, as I presume you did.

Since I last wrote you we have had strange weather for the Sunny South. It has been so cold that I [have] not been able to do anything of a business character. Wood and coal are both very scarce—much more so I suppose than in Cincinnati. The price I will not mention for the reason that I do not know what it is but you may rest assured that it is high enough. As we do not pay for fuel, it makes but little difference in pecuniary sense.

In my last I did not inform you of the sights I saw on my way to Goodrich’s Landing. But I did inform you of the sights I saw during the first two days.

From Young’s Point to Van Buren are some of the finest plantations for the cultivation of cotton it has been my good fortune to look upon. Hundreds and thousands of acres of nearly lean land extends as far as the eye can reach. Not a rail either is to be seen along the extent of territory. Now and then a brick chimney peers above like lone trees on the western prairies to inform the passerby that here stood a cotton gin or there a saw mill and beyond it in the distance once stood the palace in which lived the overseer and perhaps the driver of the numerous slaves who once clustered around the negro quarters at night but now as still as if the habitations had never been the abode of living human beings.

A short distance above Milliken’s Bend there is a plantation called Omega containing about 200 negroes and a few whites and where a raid was made a few days before I passed the point by a band of guerrillas, in consequence of which the people nearly all left and have not returned so I am informed to assume their former avocations. These raids are by far too numerous for the common good of the people or the safety of travelers.

After riding for nearly six hours I reached the landing and remained all night with H. H. Littlefield, Act. Assistant Surgeon, USA, who is in charge of the contrabands at the landing. The day following I rode round to the plantations on which I found the negroes as wild as deer. Though I was dressed in uniform, they ran like deer to the woods and canebrakes where they remain in the night and return to their cabins in the day. It may seem strange to you that negroes run at the sight of a U. S. officer. It is not strange, however, when we take into consideration that guerrillas frequently appear in the uniform of our soldiers and officers to deceive the negroes and others with whom they may come in contact. I could not have realized the excitement common to this people had I not seen them myself and witnessed the action of them at the sight of a white man. A few days before I reached the landing a party of colored men and their whites with ten trains, eight six-mule teams, and two four all of whom were gobbled up—that is, the teams and men were seized and appropriated. The negroes were sent to Texas and the white men were put to death.

On my return to Vicksburg, I soon started out to visit the [Benson Heighe] Blake Plantation about ten miles from Vicksburg on the Valley Road. The husband of Mrs. Blake is a colonel in the rebel army. She is living on the plantation and depends upon the government for rations. 1 The Blake’s Plantation are three in number which contain many thousands of acres of as fine land as the sun ever shone upon. She is, I am informed, strong in the faith still. Yet a visible improvement has taken place in her made from the remark, I am told she has frequently made—that is, that she does not care which government is successful, ours or the Southern Confederacy so that the property she and her husband once owned could be placed in her possession as it once was. She is after the dollars and the negroes could she hold them.

News reached me on Saturday that the guerrillas with soldiers in the Confederate service held both sides of the river at or near Greensville near Napoleon in Arkansas. Batteries and regiment were forwarded from here yesterday.

Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon, 7th La. Vol. of A. D.

The Plantation House at Blakely, home of Benson Blake

1 “Benson Heighe Blake moved to Mississippi in 1834 according to information on his application for a pardon after the Civil War. He married Caroline Downs Ferguson widow of Thomas Ferguson and owner of the property that became Blakeley Plantation. Blake inherited the property from Caroline after her death in 1849.  Blake married Mary Savage Conner daughter of Henry LeGrand Conner and Susan Evelina Baker in 1852 at Berkeley Plantation in Adams County, Mississippi. In 1862, Blake took the majority of his slaves, stores, and silver when the Union Army approached Vicksburg. He went to Demopolis, Alabama where he stayed until moving to a place sixteen miles south of Albany, Georgia.  Most of the slaves returned to Blakeley Plantation with Blake after the Civil War.

 “[The Yankee] army was followed by hundreds of negroes and they formed these contrabands as they were called into camps or corrals.  One of these corrals was on each of Mr. Blake’s plantations, the one at Blakely being probably the largest as the accommodations were greater.  There were seventeen hundred in this corral stored away in the quarters, in tents and in the gin to which they built two stories….  Very soon Yankee school teachers or ‘Marms’ as they were called arrived and took up their quarters in the corral to teach the negroes.  The whole field presented a singular appearance dotted with camps, etc. and standing out in the sun and rain were carriages of various kinds which were brought there by the Yankees or negroes.” [Source] 

Letter 6

Steamer W. L. Ewing
Mississippi River
January 27th 1864

My dear sisters,

In my last I informed you that I should like to see you down here on my return from Arkansas. I regret to inform you now that it would not be safe to do so. Orders have been issued to Divisions to make ready for a move at a moment’s warning. This morning we passed eleven steamboats loaded with soldiers and stores bound for Vicksburg. In addition to this, the troops stationed on the river at and near Goodrich’s Landing have received marching orders and the contrabands are being taken away as fast as the boats can carry them. When our boat arrived at the landing, we found it black over with contrabands and their goods, all ready to leave as fast as the boats could take them away. Such a sight I never saw before and the reality of which I hope I shall not be compelled soon to witness again. It is one of the most heart-rending scenes I ever saw or expect to see. Only picture to yourself a band of guerrillas within a few miles of the people and the people’s protection—our troops—ordered away immediately and thousands of people still here and cannot get away in consequence of the limited number of boats to carry them away, and you may form a faint idea of the condition of the poor contrabands whose lives in the hands of the guerrillas are as uncertain as the wind.

We took on board of the Ewing about three hundred ([inserted] I should have said six hundred) contrabands who had been employed to work the plantations the coming season at and near the landing but who had been compelled to leave with all their agricultural implements and stock after the boat had been loaded as the captain thought to express. The boat is now discharging her living freight and the implements of industry as well as livestock and provisions at a point called after you, Caroline, in the State of Mississippi 100 miles above Vicksburg.

I was informed by Col. E. W. Chamberlain, one of the planters at Goodrich’s Landing that Quantrill’s guerrillas were within two miles of the landing at sundown last night. Several persons are now on board who fled to save their lives. Were it not for the colored troops under the command of [Brig.] Gen. [John Parker] Hawkins—a portion of whom have been detained, the colored people and the whites would be murdered indiscriminately by Quantrill’s band of murderers.

We have on board of our boat about 100 rebel prisoners who could, had they the slightest chance, make an effort to escape. Besides this, the whites on board, pretended Union men, are not reliable in case of an attempt on the part of the rebels to escape. The officers on board are watchful and the men under them are reliable as steel so that we feel comparatively speaking safe. It is that safety which cold steel only can command.

To see the people and goods on shore was a sight to be sure. Horses, cattle, mules, and contrabands in one conglomerated mass. The pigs and goats contributing their noises share to render the sight one of the most ridiculous and laughable I ever saw. Though they have removed from Goodrich’s Landing, it is a question with me whether they have not run away from one trouble to meet at some future period a still more serious one.

This life of the poor contraband is one of trouble which is likely to accumulate till the war is closed and their right to freedom is no longer a question of doubt.

Contraband collected at the steamboat landing

Should I be detained at the mouth of White river, I will write you a few lines and will try to let you know where I am as often as possible.

Very respectfully, your brother, — T. J. Wright, Surg., 7th La. Vol. of A. D.

Letter 7

Vicksburg, Mississippi
March 7th 1864

My dear sisters,

Allow me to inform you that I expressed, by Adams Express, the sum of $300 on Saturday last. I received the sum of five hundred of the paymaster, and for fear of an accident, I dispatched it in post immediately.

I am now under order for Davis’s Bend but shall be in town in the course of a week or two.

I am sorry to inform that my trunk has not been heard from. What is the matter that you don’t let me know whether you have forwarded it or not?

Tell Phelicitous I should like to hear from her once in awhile. Please let her do a little of the writing.

I wrote a letter to Mr. John Halstead some time since but I had to direct it from memory in consequence of which I may have made a mistake. If you have the number of the street, be kind enough to let me know. I received a letter from Mr. Daniel’s brother dated December last in which I am informed that he (Hiram Daniel) was then sick and desired to see me. I have written to his brother to let him know where I can be found.

If you have a desire to visit the South, you can do so. They are now charging large sums of money on the steamboats coming here and returning from Vicksburg. The trip to Vicksburg and return will cost you a hundred dollars each, I have no doubt. Yet, if your desire is strong enough to run the risk of coming down here and returning, I shall do all in my power to make your visit agreeable. I can do a good deal for you in this particular which will be as freely bestowed upon you as it will be acceptable on your part. I have thought that it will be paying a good deal for a little. In a military and historical sense, the trip would be interesting. Yet all can be seen after the war is over better than now and under more favorable circumstances. Should you come, I should like to go with you to New Orleans but I am not certain that a pass could be procured. Besides, I might not be able to procure a leave of absence for so long a time.

If you should conclude to come, you must prepare yourselves with dresses of the latest fashion so that you will be able to appear as well as the best of the ladies here, if not better. The people live fast in the army and judge a person by the quality of his coat, or the style in which it is cut.

I am an old bachelor, so regarded by the military, so that it makes but little difference how I appear. But when my sisters visit me, I expect to let the military know that they are some. You must be prepared for horseback riding. We have as much riding here as in Cincinnati if not more.

I must have another pair of pants and a vest. The pants with gold cord, like my first ones, on the seams. The vest of light cloth for the warm season, not yellow.

I shall be able to send you some more money soon. I have an order for $160 more; will have to go to Memphis for it in all probability.

Yours, — T. J. Wright, 7th La. Vol. of A. D.

Letter 8

Vicksburg, Mississippi
March 23rd 1864

My dear sisters,

I am afraid you will think I’m writing oftener than necessary. You will excuse me, however, for this when I inform you that I am under orders to leave for a point some seventy miles south of this with several companies of the regiment to which I am attached as surgeon. The guerrillas are numerous enough to require attention. The name of the place is Waterproof [Louisiana]. 1

I am in most excellent health and in as fine sprits as I have been in since I entered the service of our common country. Should anything transpire worthy of a note, I shall try to let you know should I have time as I hope I shall.

The steamer on board of which our troops are is the packet Adj. Gen. Thomas’s boat which is now coaling on the other side of the river. It will be here in the course of an hour or two when I shall go onboard to be ready to leave with it this afternoon or evening. Most of the men are from the camp at Memphis, nearly all of whom are my old and personal friends. As soon as they saw me this forenoon on my way to the boat, they cried out, “Here comes our old doctor!” and as soon as I touched the boat they came by tens and twenties to shake hands with me. When they were recruited, I promised to see them all righted and they feel now that I am the man to comply with my promise. I feel gratified to be in active service with the men who feel so well pleased to have me with them. Indeed, I could not get my will to say no to such a noble set of fellows.

I am not to remain permanently with them in the field. I only go for a time or till an assistant surgeon—a man of the right kind—can be obtained to fill the position with me in the regiment.

The weather is fine today and the storm and rain which annoyed us so much a day or two ago has passed over and the dirt in the streets is becoming quite dry.

I hope you have received the money I forwarded to you. One package of three hundred dollars and one of one hundred and fifty; four hundred and fifty in all.

Very respectfully, your obedient brother, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon

64th US Infantry, colored
Acting Medical Inspector

1 A garrison of 300 African-American Union troops based in Waterproof was attacked on February 13, 1864, by 800 Confederates under Captain Eli Bowman. The Federal gunboat Forest Rose opened fire from the Mississippi River and drove back Bowman’s men. The next day Bowman resumed the attack, but the Forest Rose again shelled the Confederates, who again fell back in confusion. Joining Bowman was the cavalry commanded by Isaac F. Harrison. On February 15, Harrison, in command, tried to storm Waterproof but was again checked by the Forest Rose. Harrison was compelled to call off the attack and retreated westward toward Harrisonburg, the seat of Catahoula Parish. “The Confederates’ unreasonable fear of gunboats had been insurmountable, and Waterproof remained in Federal hands,” explained historian John D. Winters in his The Civil War in Louisiana (1963). [Wikipedia]

Letter 9

Vicksburg, Mississippi
April 26th 1864

Caroline S. Wright,

Allow me to introduce to you Surgeon D. O. McCord, Medical Director of Freemen, who will visit Cincinnati on business.

Respectfully yours, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon, 64th US Infantry (Col)

Letter 10

Vicksburg, Mississippi
May 1st 1864

My dear sisters,

Since I wrote you, several changes of importance have been made. Day before yesterday I learnt with sorrow and regret that a portion of the forces (the cavalry especially) had been ordered away from Vicksburg and sent north, perhaps to Memphis, in consequence of which Blake’s Plantation—situated about eight miles from town—has been broken up and the colored people ordered here. Surgeon Parks in charge and his hospital steward have been compelled to leave with their medical stores and hospital furniture and are now with us waiting orders. The sick have been brought here and are now inmates of the Prentiss Hospital while a portion of the people have been sent to Davis’s Bend; say about one hundred and fifty in number. The rest of the people are in camp in the bottom outside the picket line. Yesterday Col. Eaton informed me that the people will be ordered to Davis’s Bend immediately.

The steamboat Grey Eagle brought us the news on Friday last that the camp at Waterproof [Louisiana] had been attacked by a force not known how strong consisting of cavalry and one field piece. The garrison suffered no loss so I am informed. Lieut. Fogg was there and returned yesterday, who has furnished us with additional information. He had command of Capt. Elliot’s company, the captain being otherwise engaged. The attack was made by the plank road. No one injured so far as I can learn. Surgeon Hemming writes me that they had quite a lively time of it and a good deal of shooting but to no effect. More powder and shot wasted, I apprehend, than a little, The pickets commenced firing and retreating as they fired all in good order.

I am informed that there is now a gunboat stationed there with two tiers of guns so that should another attack be made on the garrison while the gunboat remains there, the attacking party may look out for a warm reception. The garrison is to be furnished with a battery of field pieces of not less than four, perhaps six guns. They will in all probability leave port tomorrow so that in the course of a few days, the strength of the garrison will be much better than it is now.

Within a few days Point Pleasant in the state of Louisiana near Davis’s Bend has been raided, and a number of our pickets have been taken by the guerrilla band making the attack and put to death no doubt in the most brutal manner, as that mode of daring business appears to be the order of the day with them. In consequence of the raid, the planters have left their plantations and the laborers have been sent to the Mississippi side where they will remain for a time in all probability. When Surgeon McCord left Vicksburg, Point Pleasant was in great need of a surgeon and I was ordered to supply the place just as soon as one reported for duty. No one has as yet reported except Surgeon Parks who would have been ordered there but for the unfortunate raid made on the Point and the place vacated, rendering a surgeon almost unnecessary.

The Plantation System 1 adopted by the Treasury Department is becoming daily more and more a matter of regret by those who, to make fortunes, entered the field almost blindfolded for if they had used a little common sense in the case, they would certainly have arrived at the same conclusion that I arrived at months ago. The source of trouble is m_____y by the two parties interested, each one of whom saw money in the enterprise—one to supply the Treasury with the means to carry on the war [and] the other to make fortunes for themselves out of the misfortunes of others. The laudability of the former is apparent; not so with the latter.

Exposed as the territory is which is sought to be cultivated by the leases under the Treasury Department, should have been a sufficient reason for the planters to have paused before risking thousands upon thousands of dollars in the wild scheme soon to be exploded with the loss of many valuable lives. The Government has not the men to spare to guard the plantations were it so disposed. Besides, a vigorous prosecution of the war is of far more importance to the Nation than the cultivation of a few plantations out of which the government would not receive money enough—or not much more than enough—to pay the expenses of agents to attend to the business department, leave out of question the incidental expenses of sustaining a small force not one hundredth part large enough to protect the plantations and the people.

In consequence of this foolish project being insisted on, the property and lives of not a few are sure to atone for the folly and indiscretion of those who should have known better. This season I am sure will demonstrate to the understanding of all the impracticality of raising cotton in states infested by guerrilla bands without the protection of an army almost as large as General Grant is soon to lead to battle and to victory, I hope.

Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon, 64th U. S. Infantry (Col.)

1 In March 1863, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton sent Adj. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas to the Mississippi Valley to develop a program that would enable freedmen to become self sufficient and provide “useful service” as laborers and soldiers. Gen. Thomas instituted a plan that called for the leasing of abandoned and confiscated plantations to private individuals who would agree to hire freedmen. Three commissioners were appointed to supervise the leasing, and wit the help of assistant provost marshals, they settled disputes that arose between freedmen and lessees (planters). Contraband camps were to be continued but only as a place for the unemployed and a source for acquiring able-bodied laborers to work in plantations. Planters were responsible for providing food, clothing, and monthly wages for the persons they employed. Male hands were paid $7 per month, women $5, and children between the ages of 12 and 15 received half wages. Instead of paying ordinary rent, planters were required to pay the Federal Government a produce tax that amounted to “two dollars for each 400 pounds of cotton produced and five cents for ever bushel of corn or potatoes.” To protect the freedmen and planters from the attacks of “guerrillas,” Gen. Thomas established a “Colored invalid corps” comprised of black men unsuited for field service but capable of other military duties. Some of these guards were drawn from the 7th Louisiana (64th USCT). By the end of 1863, responsibility for managing this program was transferred to the Treasury Department. As Dr. Wright’s letter attests, the plan was Plantation System was a failure primarily because there was inadequate security provided to protect the crops and the laborers from guerrillas that prevailed in the Mississippi River valley.

Letter 11

Vicksburg, Mississippi
May 8th 1864

My dear sisters,

I have been busily engaged nearly all week in attending to the sick from Blake’s Plantation. In consequence of the evacuation of that place and the hurried manner in which the people left it, some lost their clothing [and] others who were improving in their health have brought about relapses. Taking into consideration their exposed condition, is it any wonder that we have an increased sick list on the one hand and an increased mortality on the other? Houseless and homeless as these poor creatures are in many instances, it is no wonder that their numbers decreased rapidly as they do. After attending in person to all the sick from the plantations referred to who are just outside the lines, I received verbal information from Col. Eaton, Superintendent of Freedmen, late on Friday afternoon, that there was a number of sick on one of Blake’s Plantations on the Yazoo river who required attention and he requested my attention to the subject. This place is some twelve miles from Vicksburg and nearly as many miles outside our lines. I might have sent out a hospital steward or a surgeon, but I am not certain that either one would have been induced to discharge their duties in the case. What was I to do? Leave the poor creatures to the mercy f persons of their own color as they had been for over a week? No! I resolved to attend to the matter myself, without an ambulance, wagon, or any kind of a carriage in which to put the sick when found.

About nine o’clock I left Vicksburg on y little pony and rode for hours over one of the dustiest roads I ever passed over till I reached Blake’s Plantation on which I found a few colored families in the quarters who had returned after the excitement was over and one white man, one of the employees of Mr. Smith who informed me that nothing could induce him to remain there any longer than it required to get a settlement with Mr. Smith for past services. This gentleman accompanied me after dinner to the plantations on the Yazoo river. On our way there, the hospital steward formerly of Blake’s Plantation camp accompanied us who rode up to a temporary building on the hillside which is used and occupied as a small pox hospital in which were found three persons in the advanced stage of that loathsome malady, attended by a negro woman. It was not known that any persons were there till our investigations discovered the group.

We continued our ride up the road and through the camps where our soldiers but little over a week before were encamped and saw the remnants of camp equipage strewn about in profusion. About a mile beyond we reached the bank of the Yazoo river and the spot on which but a short time since one man perished on a telegraphic pole to compensate in part for the numerous outrages committed on our people by the rebels but a short time before. Having reached the river we had about a mile further to go to reach the lower plantation on which the sick were reported to be. On our arrival there I entered the building in which were the day before one if not two of the sick. To my great surprise I could not discover a being, living or dead. In a corn crib to the right on the bank of the river, I heard a man crying loudly who noise attracted my attention to his location. In one of the log cabins in the quarters a woman and girl were found, the former in a helpless condition and literally lying in her own filth and rolling about from side to side like a hog wallowing in the mire. This woman was reported as being put on the wagon at Blake’s Plantation, who was on the sick list there, to be put on board of the steamer sent up the Yazoo river to take the people away when the order was issued to withdraw the protection which our troops had extended to them.

These unfortunate people had been in this helpless condition and in the quarters alone for one week. I am informed that teams had been there every day for three days for corn, yet not one of the drivers had humanity enough to bring them away to a place where they could be cared for. These drivers by-the-by are of their own color, which goes to show how far one cares for another when in distress.

We found near the quarters two negroes with a yoke of cattle and an old dilapidated wagon in search of lumber to take to the new camp on the river. Having no means of taking the sick away at my command, I pressed into service the cattle of these colored brethren, put the sick on board, and ordered the driver to take them to camp. I have learnt this morning hat they arrived at camp last night and are to be brought to this hospital today.

On our way home I saw several large alligators in the Chickasaw Bayou lot less than eight feet long.

Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon

64th U. S. Infantry (Col.)

Letter 12

Vicksburg, Mississippi
May 21st 1864

My dear sisters,

I am fearful you will feel uneasy about me in consequence of not writing as often as usual. About the time I forwarded to you two hundred and fifty dollars, about a week ago, I received an order to go below and attend to a little business connected with our Department which deprived me of the opportunity of writing as I have been accustomed to once a week.

On my way down the river I had business at Davis’s Bend where I remained two days, after which I went as far as Waterproof, Louisiana, and just arrived there in season to be present at the evacuation of that recently occupied post. The orders were to leave the place immediately and occupy posts nearer Natchez to protect a few plantations near there from guerrilla raids.

Union fortifications at Davis’s Bend on the Mississippi manned by members of the 64th USCT

As I had not time to discharge the business devolving upon me at Waterproof before the troops left, I had no alternative left me but to go with them either by water or land and the former route I made choice of in preference. No soon had our troops got ready to depart than the guerrillas were seen moving around in the woods on the outskirts of town. In a thicket of woods a little north of the town, quite a number of them were secreted, which induced our boys to fire into the thicket, soon after which the guerrilla scoundrels were seen running in every direction to escape the effects of the shot. Seeing the good effect that one shot had, our boys were anxious to try another or two which gave rise to a response from the guerrillas so that our boys struck up a breeze which continued for some time, injuring no one on our side. Before the boys left, they set on fire several buildings—the hospital building included.

On our way down by land we could see the smoke ascending in vast clouds indicative of the magnitude of the fires. On my return, the other night, from Natchez, the moon shone bright which enabled me to see the ruins of the conflagration of a few days before. I recognized two camp fires in the town which I took to be the fires of the guerrillas who now occupy the town. It was an interesting sight to see the colored people pack up their traps and follow us just as soon as they could after the fact was made known to them that our forces were leaving. Even the plantation negroes for miles came after our troops by land traveling all night with their goods either on their heads or on their backs.

On the second day I overtook several women with pails on their heads with all their goods and eatables in them. On enquiring I found they were from Waterproof, many of whom were not able to leave with us but who left soon after and took the roads as if returning to their former masters who live about eight miles back in the country. No sooner out of the reach of the guerrillas than they changed their course and followed us and when I saw them, they were on their way to Vidalia [Louisiana], a small town opposite Natchez.

The country between Waterproof ad Natchez is studded with the largest kind of plantations, varying from six hundred acres each to several thousands, with quarters correspondingly commodious.

The town of Natchez is divided into two portions—Natchez under the hill, and Natchez on the hill. The town on the hill is much better built that Vicksburg and is nearer a level than the latter.

Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon

64th U. S. Infantry (Col.)

Letter 13

Office Freedmen’s General Hospital
Vicksburg, Mississippi
July 3rd 1864

My dear sisters,

I have to inform you that I am once more in the enjoyment of good health—a blessing I have learned to appreciate.

In my last I think I informed you that I am retained in charge of the Freemen’s General Hospital situated near the river [at the corner of Crawford and Levee Streets] in the City of Vicksburg. It was formerly the Prentiss House or public hotel. It is the largest building in the town that now remains standing. When it came into our hands it was in a ver bad condition. The shells and missiles which were thrown from our boats during the siege came very near demolishing the building. With the exception of the walls, but little remained to tell the sad tale. Judging from the size of the building and the numerous rooms, it must have been the fashionable place of resort for the traveling public and the planters in particular. It is a brick edifice, four stories high on the side fronting the river; while it is but three on the opposite side which is the main entrance to the building. In the centre of which, on the second floor, there is a recess extending over one third of the front, and about half the depth of the building, two stories high, supported by circular massive pillars which commence on the second story and extend to the roof. I should judge that it was used as a promenade for the visitors during their sojourn in place of the side walks which are not very good here.

The building proper occupied about half a square while the yard and a few out buildings occupy the other half.

The Prentiss House stands at far left at the corner of Crawford & Levee Streets in Vicksburg

I can give you but an imperfect idea of the size and form of the rooms when the building was occupied as an hotel for the reason that they have been very much altered in repairing the building and fitting it for the purpose for which it is now used. The dining room—which was a large one—is now much larger, two or three other rooms being knocked into one. These rooms and the former dining room now constitute the largest ward in the building, occupying the river front on the second floor and extending the whole length of the hospital proper. It is filled now with male patients and had in it when I came here seventy-five cots. I consequence of the warm weather, I have thought proper to reduce the number of cots so that they are not so crowded now as they were about a week ago. Besides that, the air is in a much better condition than it was before the change was made. To render the ward still freer from impurities, I have removed the patients with sires of various kinds to a building in the opposite end of the lot which I take charge of myself and attend in person to the dressing of their ulcers and wounds of various kinds. Morning and evening there I am found busily devoting my time and attention to the treatment of what may be termed a specialty.

The reason why I have adopted this plan of operating is simply this. The attendants, white and black, do not like to labor in this field for the reason that it is offensive and exceedingly unpleasant, in consequence of which the sores were but seldom thoroughly cleansed; the bandages but imperfectly applied. The result, as you may easily imagine, was exceedingly unfavorable. Besides that, I am setting them all an example which I hope they will all profit by sooner or later.

I am under no obligation to enter the practical field of the profession, but have chosen to labor among the most objectionable class of patients in the institution rather than see them neglected.

In general the Surgeon-in-Chief of a hospital does not enter the practical department of his profession for the reason that he has business enough (or at least it is supposed so) to attend to in procuring supplies, making out reports, pay rolls, and so forth, to occupy as much of the time as he should do for his own good.

Though a great deal of work has been done to put the building in repair, there is still more which should be done to make the building what it should be. Several rooms require plastering or patching here and there, and white washing to make them as comfortable as they should be for the reception of the sick. I made out an order some time since for the plastering which was approved by the Quartermaster but the mechanics have not as yet made their appearance, nor do I know when they will. The mechanics for the government care but little about the work so that the time passes along for which they are paid. Indeed, all persons emplyed at public hands, or detailed men, do the smallest amount of work in a given time I ever saw in my life. The order of the day is to do as little as possible and full well do they perform their part.

I shall have to let the Prentiss House pass for the present to inform you that tomorrow—the Fourth of July—is to be celebrated by the friends of Freedom at Davis’s Bend. I am invited to be there. I should much rather remain at my post here than spend the day in going to and returning from the scene of the festivities. The weather is very hot and exceedingly unpleasant to persons when compelled to be in the sun as we shall be more or less on our way there and in returning. I have no doubt but we shall be made as comfortable as possible on our arrival there. Mrs. [Frances Dana Barker] Gage, formerly of St. Louis, is invited and will be there to respond to a toast. Mrs. [Cordelia A. Perrine] Harvey of Wisconsin is also invited who will be present as well as numerous others of the strong minded so called, because thy think they have rights in common with others which are worth talking about.

Now my dear sisters, there is nothing that would please me more than to have you, Mr. Halstead, and Miss Sibree with me to partake of the hospitality of the people of Davis’s Bend on that ever to be revered day—the Fourth of July.

— T. J. Wright, Surgeon-in-Charge of Freedman’s General Hospital, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Letter 14

Office Freedmen’s General Hospital
Vicksburg, Mississippi
July 7th 1864

My dear sisters,

I have to inform you that I have just received information that I am soon to be ordered into Arkansas to organize the Medical Department of the Freedmen in that state. Col. Eaton has just returned from a trip of exploration in that distant field of his charge and finds I suppose that the Medical Department is in great need of a system by which the machinery of the department can be out in better running order than heretofore. Another member of the profession was designed for that field but from some cause knot known to me he is not to be placed in the position that he has been looking for so hopefully for more than a month. Honestly I am inclined to think it’s the best policy for anyone in or out of the Freedmen’s Department. On this principle I have acted during my labors with the soldiers and the Freedmen so that today I can look back upon my past labors and conduct approvingly. I wish I could say as much of others who have been associated with me in the various capacities of surgeons, stewards, nurses, and so forth.

Though I never intrude myself upon anyone or push myself forward so that I ay become noticed and known. My habits as you know full well are not of a showy character. Yet with all my diffidence and stillness, I am called for here and there up the river and down the river to take charge of htis camp or that hospital or detachment of soldiers as the case may be. Why is it that I am in such demand? The reason is plain. Wherever I have been, the duty I owe to my country and to the soldiers fighting her battles as well as to the Freedmen has occupied my time and attention in place of bestowing them on others not entitled to the,. It is simply then in doing my duty to the best of my ability wherever I have been and recognizing those who were sick and placed under my charge as objects of sympathy and medical attention, black as well as white, that has done its work for me.

With regard to personal comforts and conveniences, I do not expect to be placed in as favorable a position as the one I now occupy. It is true I have assumed no small amount of responsibility in taking charge of the Prentiss House hospital medicines, furniture and supplies and [ ] the property of the government for all of which I am held responsible. Should a single article be lost that I could not account for, the value of it would be deducted from my pay. In any part of Arkansas, living is very high and the accommodations correspondingly poor. Yet as I wrote to you in the month of February last, the town of Little Rock where I expect to have my office is one of the most desirable towns to live in in the southwest.

I gave you then a general description of the town and of the objects in and about it which impressed me favorably and unfavorably as the case might be. I shall continue that description and include objects of interest that I have not mentioned before.

I am not certain that I shall be ordered there but think it quite probable that I shall. I am never certain till the order is issued that shall be required to go there or elsewhere. Yet it is quite probable that I shall be ordered to Arkansas unless my presence should be required near Natchez where Surgeon McCord is going in a day or two. On his return, I shall know for he will then have been at all the points on the river from Cairo to Natchez within the last month. Just as soon as I have positive information as to the place where I shall be ordered, I will inform you by letter.

Union Soldiers at Brierfield – This Picture Was Probably Taken During the July 4th, 1864 Independence Day Celebration at Brierfield. (Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, MS)

On the Fourth of July the day was celebrated by the friends of Freedmen on Jeff Davis’s plantation on Davis’s Bend, he proceedings of which you will find in the Vicksburg Herald of the 6th, four copies of which is enclosed in a wrapper to be used as you may think proper. Mrs. [Frances Dana Barker] Gage spoke with as much fire and good sense as she did in Smith and Nixon’s Hall in Cincinnati some eight years ago. She is looking much older now than she did then. In conversation with her a few days before the Fourth while on a visit to the Freedmen’s General Hospital, she informed me that she lived in Columbus, Ohio, now. In other words she makes that place her home. Having lost her husband, she has returned to Ohio because perhaps her children live there. In her speech, I understood her to say that she has two sons in the army, one daughter and herself laboring in the field for the common good of the soldiers. Towards the close of her speech she read an original poem written for the occasion which does not appear in print but will do, no doubt.

The tone and tenor of the speeches were of the true radical kind but seldom if ever heard on that plantation while Jeff occupied it I am inclined to think. The strong minded women were there in large numbers. The school teachers and missionaries in general are not spoiled with beauty though most of hem have a very good opinion of themselves. While there are some who are modest and lady-like in their manners, a very large proportion deviate very much from a line of conduct becoming persons filling important and responsible positions in our Department as they do. Many of them come down here to market because they could find none in the North to suit them. The reason is I suppose that they are not spoiled with beauty. I shall be very much mistaken should they be more successful here than in the States they left behind.

Te weather remains quite warm and oppressive. The Fourth was very pleasant with the exception of a shower of rain that commenced about 12 o’clock M. and continued till past five when we had to have to be on board the boat in season.

Yours, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon-in-Charge

64th Regt., U. S. Inf. (Col)

Letter 15

Office Freedmen’s General Hospital
Vicksburg, Mississippi
July 10th 1864

My dear sisters,

I have to inform you that I have just received your letter of July 4th in which you inform me that Mr. Halstead and Miss Sibree had not then arrived but were expected in a day or two. I regret exceedingly that he did not come sooner so that he might have extended his trip to Vicksburg and spent a few days in looking at the city and its surroundings before I leave for Little Rock, Arkansas.

Surgeon McCord is now at Natchez attending to the business of the Department there and near there which will detain him several days. On his return orders will be issued to me requiring my presence at Little Rock. The purport of the business devolving upon me I am not informed but suppose it will e to organize the Medical Department in the State of Arkansas. Little Rock being the capitol, it will be the most suitable place for my headquarters, though Pine Bluff—a town smaller in size and near forty miles below—had when I was there in February last more Freedmen depending on the government for protection than had Little Rock. Yet the nearer I can get to the General in command, the less labor it will be for me to make the necessary changes in the Freedmen’s Department contemplated in my orders.

Surgeon McCord will not return for several days so that should he issue orders on his return, I cannot leave in less than a week. I am at present better prepared to entertain a friend than I have been or shall be for some time to come. I occupy two rooms in one of which I have a furnished cot for the accommodation of anyone who may think proper to give me a call and the table with one exception is the best I have dined at since I left Memphis.

You will be kind enough to inform Mrs. Haven that I shall be pleased to do all I can for her in the way of obtaining information of her relations supposed to be in Jackson, Mississippi. I informed you some time since that I had forwarded by a person going to Jackson a letter directed to the Doctor in which I requested him to furnish me with the desired information. Thus far I have received no reply.

At present I presume the opportunities to transmit letters to and from Jackson are few and far between in consequence of the troops which are now in the vicinity of Jackson and as report has it, fighting has been going n for several days between the forces sent from Vicksburg and commanded by General Dennis and a large force of Confederates under the command of Wirt Adams. An expedition, if it has not already started, is being fitted out here to be in charge of General Slocum who has command of Vicksburg and destined for Jackson to assist our force already there.

During the early part of last week, the Marine Brigade consisting of five large transports with horses and soldiers accompanied by gunboats landed at Rodney, Mississippi—a town between Vicksburg and Natchez—where the soldiers disembarked and soon found the enemy in force with whom they fought several battles and took a number of prisoners, both black and white. The Brigade returned and reached the landing a little before sundown last night with their prisoners on board. Military matters are just now very active here. Nearly every boat that arrives is pressed into government service for some purpose connected with the movements now apparent to every observing eye. The steamer Sultana left the landing about 9 o’clock a.m. with steam up and running at full speed when she had reached the upper part of the landing, a tug put out to intercept her which it did in a few minutes and ordered her into government service.

In one of the papers ent you, you will notice the death of Capt. Rogers who had command of a company of men in the regiment to which I am attached. I am sorry to inform you that his death was brought about by fear. He was stationed at a place called Ashland on the Louisiana side of the river opposite Davis’s Bend to protect the plantations and all the men he had to protect them with was two companies of colored troops who at best could not muster much over one hundred men fit for duty. Reports say the guerrillas who infest that part of the state number several hundred. It is now nearly three weeks, maybe more, since the force under Captain Rogers was attacked by a superior force. The captain’s force inside a stockade of a triangular form, one one side of which was the river. The space was sufficiently large to hold his men and cabins in which they lived. They were attacked there by a superior number and fought the enemy for an hour or more when the enemy demanded an unconditional surrender or they—the guerrillas—would return in an hour or two with additional numbers and put all to death. The captain refused to surrender as was demanded of him. In consequence of having no means of escape but by water and the only boat connected with the command had been taken away from its moorings a few days before by two men deserters who made their escape in it acted upon the mind of the captain with so much force as to bring on a nervous fever which terminated his existence. Another fact which contributed somewhat to bring about this unfortunate result I may as well relate here.

A few weeks before the last fight, the plantations nearby were raided and the stock such as mules, horses, and cows were driven off and quite a number of our men lost their lives in consequence of which the planters felt aggrieved and charged the captain with cowardice in letters by them to the Superintendent of Freedmen/ I saw him in camp a short time after the charges had been made and had a conversation with him upon the subject. He felt the charge keenly I know from the remarks made in my presence.

Very respectfully your obedient servant, — T. J. Wright, Surgeon-in-Charge, 64th Regt. U. S. Col. Infantry

Letter 16

Freedman’s General Hospital
Vicksburg, Mississippi
December 14th 1864

My dear sisters,

I have to inform you that I received the socks you sent me and I believe have received an dam receiving all the newspapers you have sent me as well as the public documents. You also inform me that the bonds and money reached you in safety.

Please inform Dr. Carter that I will comply with his request as soon as I have spare time and feel well enough to give him a few items of interest from the Department.

I do not feel much like writing but felt it to be my duty to give you the reason why. On last Saturday I was riding out on my horse which is very wild in consequence of being young, well fed, and but seldom used. When passing the corner of the hospital building in capering about he slipped and fell on his right side with my right foot under his right shoulder which sprained my ankle and rendered the limb unfit for use since and is likely to be for some time to come. I feel thankful that no bones were broken. It is very much swollen—so much so that I cannot get anything on my foot but my sock. It is not quite so sore today as it was yesterday though the swelling is extending up the leg. I think in about a week I shall be able to use it a little at least. I am now attending to my business though I have to go on crutches for the first time in my life.

The weather is quite cold. We have one of the cold snaps for which this country is distinguished. In a day or two it will be as warm as spring again.

Since I have been in the public I have not been sick much so that I have no particular reason to complain for an accident like this to trouble me for a week or two. I don’t want you to feel uneasy about me. Spend all your sympathy on Felicitous for I feel that I can take care of myself.

Very Respectfully your obedient servant, — T. J. Wright

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