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Colonel William Camm. -- 14th Ill. Inf. Volunteers.
Letter from Lieutenant Colonel Camm to Colonel John Moses.
Camp near La Fayette, Tenn.,
January 24th, 1863.
Col. John Moses,
Dear Sir, --
I have just been musing over the dark prospects of our country; for that they are dark it would be silly now to deny, and I feel like sharing my thoughts with some one bound with me in the common brotherhood of patriotism. I choose yourself because your position makes you necessarily acquainted with the politics, the hopes and dangers of the times, and I beg that you will write to me of any spirit of cheer or prospects of coming sunshine, if any you see, for I must confess that I have some gloomy forebodings of coming trials, while every incentive of duty, manliness and interest bind me to my adopted country, the north and freedom in its only true and pure sense.
If any idea that may suggest strike you as worthy of note you are at liberty to publish it or refer to whom you see fit.
I said our prospects were gloomy and I meant it. What can be more gloomy either to the patriot or philanthropist than to see a prosperous and thriving people, a great country, such as ours was, just setting an example of just and liberal government to the world, plunged into the ruinous vortex of civil war, maming her bright prospects, her still brighter example and endangering her very existence?
We commenced this war for an idea! Have you thought or dreamed that we are fighting now for our very existence as a free and independent people? It was not because that
937the principle of republicanism was wrong, was derogative of the rights of man that these troubles were brought upon us. It was because America gave guarantee in her constitution and tolerated upon her soil the blighting, blackest curse of mankind.
The history of the past which she affected to study pointed to the ruin of nations in a darker age, but in a spirit of avarice in an hour of ignorance and infatuation she was sold to the demon of slavery, that is the source of war, there our efforts should be aimed and only in its extinction can we have peace. But this is not the depth of our gloom. The spirit of avarice is, fear, turning the means intended to be used in putting down rebellion to its own selfish and sordid ends, and that spirit of blindness infatuation is breeding treason at home, while weakness, waste and incompetency have characterized the war.
As a soldier it would ill become me to declaim against my superiors, but as a citizen I have the right to judge for myself and express my honest convictions, and as both a soldier and a citizen it would still worse become me to pass imbecility or injustice to my country's vital interest without note or condemnation. I have the right to ask and say why the war has been conducted in the west as it has. Why since last spring or summer at least have our military operations in this department been conducted on a false base? I will answer that question myself by asking two or three more.
Why did a Gen'd. Com. a department order that cotton should be sold by citizens at 25cts a pound and specify in what money it should be paid for, who should buy and reserve to himself or a board of his appointment the right of giving permits? Why after the opening of railroad lines into the enemies country were the trains loaded with cotton and negroes and run sometimes to the exclusion of sick soldiers and detriment to the forwarding of supplies? Why for example was more than one division, after having struck tents and loaded their baggage in foul weather, with fouler roads, kept waiting from morning till dark to keep the enemy out of Holly
938Springs till the last train had left on the 10th of January? I was on the railroad that day with six companies of infantry and after dark rode into the town as the rear guard was leaving on the main road and had you been with me it would be easy to guess why.
Why a few days ago at a station but a few yards from my tent did a General commanding a division by force of arms compel a Government railroad to attach two cars filled with sick soldiers to a cotton train going to Memphis? Why was a heavy column of all arms pushed down to Yacona Patoffa depending for supplies and subsistence upon a single line of rail to the rear running several hundred miles through a country infested by guerillas and guarded mostly by raw and inexperienced troops, then when it had to retreat, why did it linger on the Tallahatchie from the 25th of December to the 5th of January, the men on half rations and sometimes when the last morsel was eaten their commanders knew not where or when they would obtain food for their exposed and hard worked soldiers; and still again why did we linger from the 5th to the 10th at Holly Springs -- that is one division where some of the soldiers were necessarily kept on duty for 12 hours, or more, you can guess.
I said that the base of our last operation was false. If we had a base at all it was a railroad that was not then open, for it cannot be said that the Mississippi was our base, and that we were operating on a line parallel to it, for we had no communication with it sufficient to afford us permanent supplies, except at a point very far to the rear, and then they had to be carried over a single dubious line.
It was false for if for nothing more the Mississippi was a far better, if not the only true base of our military operations in the West, whether you contemplate to move west or eastward.
If you will get a map and give me your patience and attention we will make a campaign together and since neither of us are Major Generals no one need fear that our plans will be adopted or executed.
The Mississippi river is our base, as it can neither be damned or cut. Memphis is our central depot of supplies, with Columbus on the left and Vicksburg, which must be taken, and could have been far more easily taken last spring -- this will be our depot on the right, as Natchez, Baton Rouge belong to another department, whose commander, by the way, we must acquaint with our plans, and keep a ready communication with that he may watch and guard our flank.
A very heavy column must now be pushed eastward from Vicksburg to Jackson, at which point we strike the first parallel, the Tenn. and New Orleans railroad. Garrisons of new troops under old officers must be left at the principal points on the river. The gun boats with small bodies of mounted troops posted in fortifications at convenient distances must watch and guard the western shore. We will suppose the roads from Columbus and Memphis to be open to Grand Junction and Corinth and also the road from Memphis to Grenada, as that affords a line between our central depot and a point nearly equidistant between Grand Junction and Holly Springs and will neatly facilitate the occupying and holding of the first parallel. This line, Tenn. and New Orleans R. R. being reached and occupied, the railroad lines being opened we must now prevent any and everything being passed over that is not for the army, and then scour the whole country between this line and our base and as far to the front as possible -- ridding it of guerrillas and suspected citizens, and by way of a hint burning every gin, gin house and cotton plant.
This having been accomplished the column that has rested at Jackson, Mississippi, must be moved towards Meridian and part of the garrisons on the river must be thrown on the first parallel and mounted mules will be best -- so that the whole country can be scoured with speed and ease. Simultaneously with the advance of the troops from Jackson, a lighter column should head south from Corinth. The commander of the department from the South should take steps to reach and guard our right and the commander of the army
940of the Centre our left. Thus the converging columns would press towards Mobile, with little chance of being checked for the enemy could bring its forces to bear upon no one column without being threatened on his flank by another, while the very heart of rebeldom would lie under our bayonets, and if reverses should come here it would be dangerous for the foe to attempt to follow an advantage. All this time the army of the East would be left free to keep all quiet on the Potomac if it could do no more.
But enough of this, we cannot put our campaign through. I have said that waste had characterized the war. Aside from the wholesale speculation for which the army may have been used the expenditures for supplies and arms have been enormous. Hallock in his "Elements of Military Science" calculates that in the war of 1812 and all our late wars, it cost as much to keep one volunteer equipt and in the field as it did to keep three regulars and in this war if we with a ratio of one to four shall do as well as I anticipate. Pushed into the field immediately after their organization into regiments, nine-tenths of the colonels had not experience or military knowledge of a lance corporal when he has just mastered the goose step. From the regiment that I command today not a solitary property return has ever been given by any officer of the Regiment, the Quartermaster excepted, and though the property issued to them upon the requisition was for the most part, I have no doubt, duly issued to the man, yet the amount was enormous, the men were allowed to waste adlibitum and the officers cannot tell what they have issued or where or when or to whom it was issued.
That was not because they are inclined to defame the government, but because they lacked the necessary knowledge of their duties and responsibilities.
"In time of peace prepare for war," is a very wise saying that we have not heeded and while we possess men and means we sadly neglected to acquire the knowledge of using them. If through the lack of military knowledge and the consequent non-execution of many important military duties,
941the waste of means has been so great, -- what of the sacrifices of men, of life and blood, for military knowledge is absolutely necessary to economy in both.
In conclusion I have one idea to suggest. Our army is daily becoming more demoralized by desertions, which instead of being severely and summarily punished is hardly, often not punished at all.
Could not our state constitution or laws be amended so that any officer or soldier belonging to the army of the United States who shall desert, be dismissed, by sentence of a court martial, dishonorably discharged by order of the President of the United States or a Major General commanding department, or shall knowingly accept an illicit or informal discharge shall be forever denied the right of suffrage, subject to an act of the legislature where any such person is judged to have reduced himself.
This is due to the faithful soldiers of Illinois, and while it would inflict proper punishment upon past offenders, would at once check the growing evil.
L. Col. 14th Illinois Infantry.