Letter from Missouri.
The war in Missouri — What our army has done and is doing — Position of our troops at present — The sick and the hospitals — What is to be done — Our scouts and what they are doing.
BOONEVILLE, Mo., Jan. 4th, 1862.
Much has been said and written regarding the military operations in Missouri; and much censure has been heaped upon the heads of those who have had the management of affairs and put in motion the grand scheme for the subjugation of the rebels. We all recollect that when John C. Fremont was placed at the head of affairs in the western department, the nation rang with his praise, and great things were promised to be done in the name of the pathfinder. How well and how far these expectations have been realized let the history of the past record.
We will be borne out in the remark, by passing events, that there never has been, in the history of our government, a time when the demand for a pure and unselfish patriotism was so imperative as at present. It would seem from the history of operations in Missouri, that never have the facilities for successful fraud and deception been so abundant, or the opportunities more numerous for recreant and unprincipled men to enrich themselves at their country's expense, by the betrayal or abuse of their country's trust and confidence. The varied and vast interests of a mighty nation have been in consequence of this unholy rebellion committed to the keeping of the people. Her vast armories and treasuries have been thrown open for the equipment and support of her soldiers. Millions of her money have had to be placed at the disposal of agents and contractors, upon whose integrity and patriotism everything his depended. What possible extravagance and prodigality, and, in some instances, recklessness and recreancy, must be contingencies against which no positive and effectual provisions could be made, none can fail to see. Much, very much, necessarily had to be left to the patriotism and integrity of those agents and contractors. The urgency of the times has afforded opportunities for improper men to obtain control of the positions and resources of the government. As a legitimate result of this, here in Missouri, instances have transpired that cannot fail to bring the blush to the cheek of every true patriot — of every lover of his country — of every really honest man. Instances in which a sordid selfishness has triumphed over the purest instincts of the human heart — the noblest elements and characteristics of human nature, instances in which men have evinced a willingness to take advantage of a revulsion of our national affairs, and enrich themselves on the spoils of a plundered treasury, and a distracted country. These exigencies in our national affairs furnish the strongest and most positive tests of the purity and fervency of our patriotism. They will try most thoroughly the integrity of the American people, and while they will produce some instances of a degraded selfishness, they will also furnish some glorious examples of patriotic and unselfish devotion.
No one will deny but that the peculiar circumstances connected with this rebellion furnish the severest tests of the loyalty and patriotism of the American people. It is altogether unlike any war that has demanded the energies and resources of our nation. In its intricacies and con-commitants it sometimes separates families, personal interests and friends. It involves the disruption of parties, and the abandonment, temporarily at least, of party issues and party platforms. It frequently creates a necessity for the sundering of commercial intercourse, and the forfeiture of legal and commercial contracts.
Such are the exigencies of the case here in Missouri. There are a great many persons here who say that they are not prepared to meet this great issue with the promptness and decision that the necessities of the case demand. They hesitate and falter, while at the same time they declare that they are for upholding the integrity of the union. There are many who will not sacrifice personal interests to interfere at this juncture with the duty they owe their country. They would not take up arms and enter the ranks with the enemy; they could not consent openly and violently to oppose the government in the war; and yet they are not prepared to sacrifice home-comforts and enjoyments to enter the field in defense of the union and the flag that has protected them so long. — They withhold this and stand aloof and regard with cold and bitter scrutiny the acts of the national government. Even, all this, we claim, is not only cold and cruel, it is unjust and unpatriotic. Missouri has union men enough within her borders; if they would but act promptly and energetically, to drive every secessionist in arms against the government, from her borders. It would be much more to her credit to do so rather than remain inactive and insist upon others performing the labor which she ought to do herself, and thus drive from her fair domain, the horde of traitors who are bent upon her destruction.
But little, thus far, has been done in Missouri, by the federal forces, to drive out the rebels that infest her borders. Our army seems to be employed principally in marching and counter-marching. This state of affairs has had a tendency to cause great dissatisfaction among our troops. The boys came to Missouri to fight, and they are anxious to have an engagement with the enemy. When our army made an advance from the different points toward Arkansas, our soldiers were in high glee. Men who had been on the "sick list" for weeks, suddenly became well, and the knap-sack was packed, the cartridge-box put in order, the gun brushed, and their places were filled in the ranks. Never did an army start off in better spirits. The Osage was reached, and in an incredible short space of time was bridged, when our large trains were crossed, and a forced-march made to Springfield, where, report had it, that Price was to give our anxious boys a chance to exchange shots. So anxious were the 37th Illinois to be in the fray that they made a forced march of two days, traveling over sixty miles, in order to be at Springfield in time.
The sequel shows that our army were disappointed — there was no enemy at Springfield in sufficient number to fight, and our army beat a retreat. It will be recollected that here the first great blunder was made. I have no doubt but that Gen. Fremont had his plans so laid that had he been permitted to carry them out, Price and his band would have fallen into our hands before this. But his command was taken away from him — he was superceded by Gen. Hunter, who, by the by, is a most excellent man — and all his plans frustrated. Gen. Hunter did not feel warranted in following Price, and the army returned and re-crossed to Osage, and sought the line of the Pacific railroad. Thus ended the great expedition to catch Price, and this strolling vagabond was allowed to retrace his steps, committing fresh depredations upon the men along the route who at all sympathized with the union cause.
Our army in Missouri is now scattered from St. Louis to Sedalia and from Hannibal Leavenworth — there is a squad here and a squad there — the great bulk, however, are at Otterville, in Cooper county, on the line of the Pacific railroad. I should judge that there are from eight to ten thousand at Otterville. Of the Illinois regiments we know of but two at Otterville — the 37th and the 43d, (a portion of the 37th are with Col. Barnes at Boonville) and the Douglas Brigade at Smithton, five miles distant from the former place. Brig. Gen. Turner has one regiment of Illinoisans with him at Sedalia, the 15th, I believe. The troops suffer much for the want of proper shelter, they being obliged to occupy their tents this cold weather. Those near Otterville, at a place called the Lamine bridge, suffer the most severely. — They are encamped in the timber on the river bottom. It was expected, on the return of the troops to that point, that they would proceed with the work previously commenced of patting up temporary huts to serve as winter quarters, but orders were issued that the work should be abandoned and the troops to that point, that they would proceed with the work previously commenced of putting up temporary huts to serve as winter quarters, but orders were issued that the work should be abandoned and the troops must occupy their tents. When I visited there last week, the boys presented a sorry appearance. They were without straw for their tents and many of them were forced to lie upon the ground, while mother earth was covered with a white coverlit of some three inches, with only one thin blanket to protect them from the cold. Think of that ye mothers and fathers who are reposing on nice feather beds with plenty of covering, in warm houses; and occasionally while enjoying these luxuries turn your thoughts Missouri-ward where the poor soldier is suffering everything but death, to perpetuate this glorious union, cemented by the blood of our Fathers. If you can send them a blanket do so, and my word for it they will thank you for it.
There are a great many of our soldiers on the sick-list and in the hospital. There are four hospitals in the interior of Missouri, one at Jefferson City, one at Syracuse, one at Otterville and one at Boonville. They are all, and I have visited three of them, well provided for. The one at Syracuse is under the charge of Post Surgeon L. F. Hunniston, formerly of Chicago and surgeon of the 37th Ill. Vol. He is a humane and worthy man who has a heart to sympathize with the poor soldiers who are unfortunate. In this hospital there are some three hundred sick. The hospital at Otterville is in charge of Dr. Everitts, division surgeon. Of his skill I know nothing. He is a fussy little gentleman and likes good living. There are in the Otterville hospital between three and four hundred patients, all doing well I believe — there being but few dangerous cases. At Boonville, the hospital is under the direction of Post Surgeon Henry J. Maynard, and it is the model hospital in Missouri. It is clean and the greatest care is taken for the comfort of the patients. There are in this hospital some eighty or an hundred sick, the majority of them merely complaining — not at all dangerous. I think when you find a man fitted for his place and does his duty promptly he is entitled to more than a mere passing notice, and I shall be doing Dr. Maynard (who by the way is an Illinoisian though surgeon in the Missouri 9th) no more than justice to say that his manner of treating patients and the arrangement of his hospital is worthy of imitation by all others in the service. He is kind, sociable and in every respect a gentleman. The suffering can turn to him with confidence for they are sure to find a friend and sympathizer. He is a young man of great promise and enters upon his business determined to conquer and overcome all obstacles. To give you an idea of the man, I will only relate one little circumstance which happened when he entered the service. He was engaged to be married to a lady in the town of his residence in Illinois, and the nuptial day arrived. At the same time an order came that his regiment wanted his services, as it would move to Missouri. He was married in the evening and the next morning joined his regiment and has not seen his wife since. However, his not seeing her since that time has been no fault of his, for he has asked your humble servant to grant him a leave of absence to visit his bride, but Gen. Halleck's orders could not be disobeyed, which say, no officer can have a leave of absence, only for great and sufficient rations, and it is fearful that the general would not consider this one of that character. There are but few young men who would have done as the Dr. did, would they?
This question is in the mouth of all composing our army. Are we to remain this winter in our tents inactive, or are we to make an advance? It would seem, after putting this and that together, that something was to be did soon. The writer was ordered by Gen. Pope last Saturday to proceed at once to Booneville, and there await orders — no orders have yet come. There have arrived here within the past few days some seven or eight hundred cavalry and are crossing the river as rapidly as possible, which at best is slow work, when we take into consideration that only about one hundred can be crossed in a day, the facilities for crossing being poor indeed. The destination of this force is the northern railroad, where the rebels have been making havoc with the railroad track.
It is generally surmised in "well informed circles," that our army will make a move soon, but in what direction is the rub. Price having been reported as leaving the state and finding his holes for the winter in Arkansas, it is suspected that we will move towards Kentucky. God grant that may be our route. Anything to shake off this monotony that has crept over our army. The boys are eager for a movement and we hope they may not be disappointed.
Again, we are told by some, who perhaps do not know as much as they would if their knowledge was more extensive, that the programme is to throw our whole force across the Missouri river into the northern portion of the state, and drive out every rebel, and then re-cross and do the same thing on the south side. We hardly think this probable. Yet we will vote for this movement rather than remain inactive. Our generals seem to be in no hurry to go out in the cold so long as they have comfortable quarters and are wrapped up in warm flannels. It makes a great deal of difference whether a man fares sumptuously every day, or is obliged to lie upon the frozen ground.
Gen. Pope keeps his eyes open to the movements of the rebels, and has his scouts out in all directions. We have just heard of a little fight over the river, between our men and the rebels, in which the rebels were routed. — Some two or three of our men were killed, and as many more wounded. The rebels suffered more severely. Some thirty prisoners were taken, and a lot of powder and guns. There are many straggling bands of rebels in this vicinity, composed principally of men who have left Price to find winter quarters. They commit all kinds of depredations on the persons and property of union men. The only way to rid the country of these scoundrels is to catch and hang them. It will not do to administer the oath of allegiance to them and let them go. They have no regard for their oath. I have tried that on; and find it will not work. For the truth of this I need only state that among the prisoners taken two weeks since (some 1300), I noticed among them many familiar faces — persons who I had administered the oath to in Booneville, over a month before. Some of these men had come to me and stated that they had left in disgust, satisfied that they were doing wrong, and wished to take the oath and return to their families and become good and loyal citizens. It was a mere sham, a cheat, a swindle; they merely wanted time to recruit, and then return to Price. I tell you there is no honor in these men. They would as soon become land pirates as anything else. Such men need to be dealt with with the utmost severity; and I would suggest that if our army is not to leave Missouri this winter, that it be cut up into scouting parties, and a through cleaning out be made of all the secessionists in Cooper, Pettis, Boone, Saline, Howard and other counties; drive them down to Springfield, where Price destroyed everything on the approach of our army, and there let them starve to death.
I close this already too long letter by subscribing myself, Yours, for the war,
M. S. B.