Letter from Serge't Hartley.
CAMP, at Lamine Crossing,
near Otterville, Mo., Jan. 11, 1861
EDITOR ARGUS — Dear Sir: Owing to the fact that our regiment has been on the march almost constantly since leaving St. Louis, I have been unable to fulfill my promise made to you on leaving Rock Island. But as we are lying in camp awaiting orders, I will endeavor to give you something like a description of the country, and the amount of business done in it, as far as I have been able to learn. The country around here is quite hilly, and well supplied with steams of water, many of which are as clear as a New England brook. A bridge is a curiosity in this region, and with roads such as no other state can boast of in point of depth of mud and roughness, it is next to impossible for our heavy government wagons to "drag their slow lengths along."
Here and there you will find a log hut, and sometimes, perhaps, a good farm house meets your view, with a few acres of cleared land, from which the proprietor is about to make his fortune. In many cases the owners are in Price's army, or have left their homes on account of the threats of those who acknowledge neither law nor gospel, unless it comes from the brain of Deacon Tucker. As a consequence, any of our union families already stand in need of the common necessities of life, and I am informed that there are many who have had neither coffee or sugar in their house for three months, and wheat flour is not to be had anywhere. All the mills have long ere this been destroyed, and the only resort is to one-horse corn-mills, which furnish to whole communities the principal means of subsistence. Such is the manner of living in this part of secession-dom and thralldom.
We are encamped at present on the right bank of the Lamine River, at a point where the Pacific road crosses this stream, and about one mile from Otterville, a small town on the same road. We are 190 miles from St. Louis, and fourteen from Sedalia, the terminus of the railroad. There are about fifteen thousand troops in this cantonment, which is under the command of Brig. Gen. John M. Palmer, formerly colonel of the 15th Illinois regiment. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri are all represented here. The health of the troops is by no means good, resulting mainly from the situations of the camps, the want of stoves and barracks. Of eight companies of our regiment, there are eighty in the different hospitals, and it has become nothing unusual to hear the death march of some poor soldier, whose soul has already passed that "bourne from whence no traveler returns."
Great dissatisfaction prevails among the troops on account of their present mode of living, their canvass houses being their only shelter against the rain and snow, a plentiful supply of which the Fates have sent us. The first mode adopted of warming the tents was that of building a fire in the centre of them, the smoke being allowed to escape at the top. But this manner of living was very injurious to the eyes, and, to remedy it, the men were ordered to build chimneys at the one side, thus having the fire-place inside, which makes the tents quite comfortable.
Our camping ground is low and swampy. Ditching does no good, the character of the ground being such that it is impossible to drain it. A few days since, the mud was a foot deep in our camp, and all were congratulating themselves on a muddy death, when, all at once, the cold blasts of the north came down, changing our fears to feelings of safety, and our disgust to those of satisfaction. If Uncle Sam don't take some measures to have us removed from this mudhole before spring, the most of our regiment will reach the end of life's journey without the aid of secession bullets and secession grape-shot. About eight hundred men are working daily on the fortifications on the opposite side of the river. A large depot is also being built, which is to be filled with commissary and quarter-master's stores, of which the supply for the troops of this cantonment are not received at Otterville.
Since leaving St. Louis, the 37th regiment has done some hard marching. The greatest march was from Warsaw to Springfield, a distance of eighty miles, which was accomplished in three days and a half, and that too on half rations. There is nothing more difficult than to work without eating, but on this occasion our troops were willing to suffer the worst of hardships could they have met the enemy in any form, but on our arrival at Springfield, Price and his motley crew had "vamoosed the ranche" for a more congenial clime. Forage and provisions being quite scarce, our troops were compelled to return to Otterville, much to the dissatisfaction of all the men. Since our return, the boys have become quite efficient in drill, under our colonel and major, both of whom are good drill-masters and excellent commanders. Col. Barnes is at present absent at Booneville, having been in command of that post since the latter part of October.
Our regiment is well armed, Companies A. and K. being supplied with Col. Colt's revolving rifle, and the remaining companies with the Belgian rifled musket. Company A., with Capt. Curtis as their leader, is a well-drilled, fine-looking company, and should they ever be so fortunate as to come in contact with the enemy, will perform such service as to reflect honor on themselves and the country which they represent.
There is not much prospect of leaving here soon — expect, perhaps, to join General Lane, and thus, as the special correspondents say, "reach New Orleans by the first of April, 1862."
Your paper would be quite a treat among the Rock Island boys here, as all are anxious to know what is transpiring among the old familiar scenes.
We may endeavor to keep you posted, here-after, with reference to the movements of the 37th, if desirable.
Yours very respectfully,
SAMUEL M. HARTLEY,
Serg't Maj. 37th Ill. Vol.