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CHAPTER V.

CAMP WILLIAMS-INCREASED MORTALITY IN THE REGIMENT

-CAMP KEARNY - NEW ORLEANS— DEPARTURE FOR
FLORIDA-EXPERIENCE ON STEAMER NASSAU-
ARRIVAL AT PENSACOLA-GEN. NEAL DOW-
BILLY WILSON'S ZOUAVES— ADVANTAGES
OF PENSACOLA AS A SANITARY POST

-CURIOUS DEFENCES.

1862,

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AMP WILLIAMS, as I have already stated, was situ

ated in a very unhealthy locality. As Dr. Blanchard. describes it, the encampments were placed " upon a strip of “solid ground of some few hundred yards in width on all “ sides of which was a formation or combination, peculiar to “ the lower Mississippi, of soil or black clay and water in

varying proportions, whose products, both animal and veg

etable, were numerous beyond conception, and rank and “ offensive beyond description. Repeated representations of " the terrible effect to health and the alarmingly high and

rapidly increasing rate of mortality in the command, occa“sioned by exposure to the poisonous atmosphere and deadly

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“ surroundings of this miasmatic locality, were made by the “ medical officers to the Commanding General without avail, “ and for a month or more the men were left in these noxious

encampments, exposed to the scorching heat of an August " and September sun, so peculiarly intense in Louisiana, and " surrounded with all this reeking rottenness and corruption, “ until absolute annihilation threatened us, when at last, but

too late to save many valuable lives, we were ordered to an open space nearer the river."

I doubt if a more unhealthy spot could have been selected for camps anywhere in the vicinity of that most unhealthy of places, the city of New Orleans, and had the much dreaded "yellow jack” made its appearance, I very much fear the absolute annihilation with which we

were threatened would have actually been brought to pass instead of proving to be but an impending danger. As it was, our experience was a most severe and dreadful one. During the day the atmosphere was exceedingly close and muggy, and although we had frequent and often times almost a continual succession of thunder storms, the air was not cooled or purified, but on the contrary these rain-falls only increased its humidity and heaviness. At night and in the early morning we were enveloped, as we were at Vicksburg, in a thick watery mist, and the stench from the surrounding swamps was intolerable. All the drinking and cooking water was brought from the Mississippi, some two and one half miles distant. But owing to the condition of the direct road leading to the river, which was rendered almost impassable by the heavy rains, much of the water had to be transported five or six miles by cir

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cuitous routes, and the result was that our wants were but imperfectly supplied, and not unfrequently the men were obliged to use the waters from a bayou running in front of our camp. As might have been expected the sick list increased with alarming rapidity and to add to the horror of our situation the death rate kept at an almost

even pace

with it. It was not an uncommon thing for men to fall dead in their tracks, and numerous instances can be recalled of men who fell dead on the banks of the bayou, with the fatal waters. of which they had sought to quench their fevered thirst.

At the time we reached Camp Williams the seeds of disease had been planted to a greater or less extent in every system, and it seemed to us rather hard that our vitality should be still further sapped by being sent to such an unhealthy locality. Other troops who had been comfortably quartered in the city and its vicinity and who had not been exposed, or compelled to undergo any severe strains we thought should have been selected for such service. There can be no doubt had our regiment been sent to a healthy spot immediately on our return from Baton Rouge, many lives would have been saved and many who were obliged to return to their homes shattered by disease, and disabled with chronic complaints, would have been restored to health and duty. But that was not to be, we were forced to remain at Camp Williams until September 30th, when we moved our quarters to “ Camp Kearny” a short distance below Carrolton which was slightly more desirable and healthy place. On the 4th of November we again moved to the city of New Orleans taking up our quarters at the Jackson Cotton Press in the lower

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CATHOLIC HOSPITALS—DEPARTURE FOR FLORIDA. 115

part of the city. We had been there but a few days when we were ordered to Pensacola, Florida. In the meantime I

, was detailed on a military commission but was almost immediately taken sick with remittent fever resulting from continuous exposure and arduous labors, and was obliged to go to the “Hotel Dieu ” where I was most kindly cared for and treated by the Sisters of Charity, under whose direction it was managed, and in a short time recovered my health. I refer to this circumstance merely for the purpose of calling attention to these hospitals. Many of the officers and men, not only of our own regiment, but of the entire command can testify to the excellent manner in which these institutions were managed, and to the uniform kindness with which these Sisters of Mercy treated our soldiers while under their care. Never, to my knowledge, were

, the doors of one of these asylurns closed to any of our men, however humble his rank, or whatever might be his faith or creed. All were treated with equal attention and skill. The attending physicians were men of experience and ability and no better nurses could be found in any hospitals than were these votaries of the Catholic religion.

On the 13th of November the regiment, under the command of Major Porter, embarked on the steamer “Nassau,” and took its departure for the land of “Sun and Flowers." The “Nassau ” was not designed for a transport, being nothing more than a large sized tug-boat. The men in consequence were stowed and packed away“like herrings.” Most of them were obliged to stand or lie on the upper deck during the entire voyage for want of sufficient space elsewhere. To add

116

VOYAGE TO PENSACOLA—INCIDENT.

to their discomforts they encountered wet and heavy weather immediately after leaving the mouth of the Mississippi, so that all hands were drenched to the skin until they reached Pensacola. When off the entrance to Mobile Bay, in the middle of the night, the “ Nassau ” was suddenly brought to her bearings by a round shot, which passed just ahead of her bows, and which it was discovered came from one of our own gunboats. She was immediately brought to, when it was ascertained that she was inside of our blockading squadron, and heading directly toward Fort Morgan, then in the hands of the rebels. It was at once suspected that the captain was untrue, and intended running his boat under the guns of the fort, where all on board would probably have fallen into the hands of the enemy. The captain however protested his innocence, claiming that in the darkness he had mistaken his course. At that time there were no lights kept up anywhere on the Southern coast, the rebels having either demolished the light-houses or extinguished the lights, so that it was not an infrequent occurrence for navigators to lose their reckonings at night in dark or stormy weather. There were no means of determining definitely whether the captain was unfaithful or not, and so, after giving him to understand that his life would pay the penalty of any attempted treachery, Major Porter directed him to proceed to his destination. On the morning of the 14th the “Nassau” reached Pensacola, with as wet and disgusted a lot of men as can well be imagined. A considerable portion of our number were sick, and the severe exposure and discomforts of the trip were not calculated to aid or benefit these invalids. At that

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