Sanitary Condition of Illinois Soldiers — Official Report of the State Agent.
HEADQUARTERS ILLINOIS STATE AGENCY,
MEMPHIS, TENN., July 10, 1863.
His Excellency Richard Yates, Governor of Illinois:
SIR: I hare the honor to report, that on the 23d of June I left Memphis for the army before Vicksburg, for the purpose of inspecting the police and sanitary conditions of our troops.
Our steamer was delayed nearly two days at Helena and other points, waiting for convoys to accompany us down the river. Several boats preceding us had been fired into by guerrillas, and it was not deemed safe to pass below Helena without a gunboat.
The "Mosquito Fleet" and "Marine Brigade" are like some city police men — never where they are most needed. We reached Young's Point in safety, reports to the contrary notwithstanding, (we had been reported sunk.) From Young's Point we proceeded up the Yazoo river to Chickasaw Landing, at which place I procured a horse and started for Headquarters. I found Gen. Grant in good spirits and affable as usual. He paid our State a high compliment for her munificent contributions in behalf of the sick and wounded in his army, and when informed of the many difficulties I had labored under, in receiving supplies addressed to me, as agent for the State, promptly issued an order affording every facility asked for.
Hereafter our State supplies will not be delayed at Cairo, but forwarded at once to their destination. I shall receive them at Memphis and forward them to points most needed as the exigencies of the case may require.
I made an attempt to inspect our troops behind the breastworks and in the trenches, but on account of the great danger to which I was constantly exposed, I accepted the advice of many friends and gave it up.
I not unfrequently found myself within "short range" of the rebel sharpshooters, with balls whizzing over my head, and leaves falling at my feet. I spent one day and night behind the fortifications erected by that veteran "Battery Co. A, Chicago Light Artillery, Capt. Woods, commanding." The thunder of artillery was incessant, and shook the firm hills that skirted the contested ground. The continuous roll of musketry — the cracking of the sharpshooters rifles — the dark cloud of black smoke that encircled the combatants during the day — made it a scene of absolute and frightful horror, yet the most magnificent sight of all was, bursting of shell over the doomed city at night. While within seventy feet of the enemies' breastworks, with shell bursting in air and bullets falling around us like hail stones, I could but be amused at the nonchalence with which the "veterans" looked upon the terrible scene around them; if the fire happened to slacken for five minutes, they would say to each other, "Boys, this won't do; business getting dull; give 'um another round."
The siege of Vicksburg has been one of the most remarkable in the annals of history. Never was an army (of its size) known in as good condition, and enjoying such good health. The average number of deaths in civil life is about five and one-half per cent. In the Army of the Tennessee it will not average more than five per cent. Too much praise cannot be awarded our surgeons for the faithful manner in which they performed their arduous duties.
The noble benefactors of the sick at home too, have done more by their generous gifts and great liberality, than ever can be written, towards keeping the army of the Tennessee in its present healthy condition.
It gave me great pleasure to meet Gen. Logan at the different hospitals looking after the comfort of the sick, and receiving their thanks as heartily as he does the shouts of welcome from the boys on the battlefield.
The hospitals throughout the army are in excellent condition, and in charge of surgeons eminent in their profession.
The casualties following the storming of Fort Hill on the 25th of June, has cast a gloom over the whole army. Col. Maltby, of the 45th Illinois informs me that he has forwarded to your Excellency a list of the killed and wounded.
I found the 3d division of the 16th Army Corps at Snyder's Bluff, formerly as Jackson and Bolivar, Brig. Gen. Nathan Kimball, commanding; Maj. J. C. Whitehall, Medical Director; Maj. M. Starckloff, Division Surgeon. This division has seen much hard service since it left Tennessee, and has made some of the most severe marches of the war; yet the condition of the troops is good, and the "boys" are in excellent spirits.
Many of our regiments were out on the "Big Black" with Maj. Gen. Sherman. Maj. Whitehall reports them all doing well. Gen. Kimball has sent out several expeditions against the rebels, which have been very successful. They not unfrequently witnessed scenes of heartrending misery. One officer reports that the scenes witnessed by him in marching from Lake Providence to Goodrich's Landing, were of a character never before witnessed in a civilized country, and the rebel atrocities committed the day before, were such as the pen fails to record in proper language. In some instances the negroes were shut up in their quarters and literally roasted alive. The charred remains found in numerous instances testified to a degree of fiendish atrocities such as has no parallel either in civilized or savage warfare. Young children, only five or six years of age, were found skulking in the canebrake, pierced with wounds, while helpless women were found shot down in the most inhuman manner. The whole country was destroyed, and every sign of civilization was given to the flames.
The commander of a gunboat expedition up the Yazoo river to Yazoo City, informed me that the citizens met them with flags of truce and shouts of welcome. The officers of the expedition partook of a bountiful collation, prepared by the prominent men of the place, and after returning the hospitalities of their friends, by showing them over the Yankee gunboats, started down the river: when lo! at a bend in the river, a masked battery of eight guns opened upon them. The battery was silenced, troops were landed above and below, and the rebels gobbled up. Upon examination they were found to be the entertainers of the hour before. "Further the deponent saith not."
On the evening of July 3d, rumors of a reliable character reached our camp that Vicksburg had surrendered. It would be idle for me to attempt to portray the "good feeling" prevailing all along the line, or the love and admiration expressed for Gen. Grant, or the wonderings what the "Copperheads" and [unknown] of the General will say now. By his cool and wise judgment thousands of lives have been saved. Vicksburg, with all its thousands of prisoners, arms and "whistling jacks" is ours, and nobody hurt. Hip hip, hurrah, boys!
On the morning of the 4th, (glorious day to enter Vicksburg!) I took the morning boat for Chickasaw Landing, go on board the flag-ship, and at 1 o'clock, started down the Yazoo river, followed by an hundred transports, and at 4 o'clock, 'mid the booming of cannon, moored our ships at the levee of the "impregnable city."
The levee was lined with thousands of long, lean, lank, cadeverous looking beings, yelept Confederate soldiers. The battle worn flag of the 45th Illinois, pierced by an hundred bullets, bid us welcome from the Court House dome, Gen. Logan's Division was entering the city. Bands vied with each other to see which could play "Yankee Doodle" and the "Star Spangled Banner," the loudest and with the most effect.
Gaping rebels looked on with wonder and surprise. All private houses and places were closed, and not a citizen, male or female, to be seen on the streets. In fact, save as above, silence reigned supreme.
In the evening we had a taste of a Northern Fourth of July. Sky-rockets and Roman candles filled the air, and the Federal army was happy. The surrender of Vicksburg gave us 27,000 prisoners, 16 Generals, 35,000 stand or arms, 6,000 sick in hospitals, 104 siege guns, and 100 field pieces. Officers and privates were to be paroled; officers to be allowed their side-arms. I noticed among the Confederates a large number of Frenchmen and Irishmen. They all seemed to think it would be the happiest day of their life if they only could get home — anything but mule meat and the Confederate service for them, they had got enough of it.
I am confident if they can get home they will stay there. They are greatly demoralized, and I think their being paroled and mingling with our troops, seeing how they live, and learning, for the first time, how greatly they have been deceived, will have a happy effect.
General Logan commands the Post of Vicksburg, Major General McPherson the District. Major Kittoe, formerly of the 45th Illinois, is chief of hospitals.
I will forward this week a list of names of all the Illinois sick in Memphis; thereafter, the weekly changes in each hospital.
I have opened at my quarters a Hospital Directory, in which are the names of all the Illinois sick at this post, and shall add to it the weekly changes as they occur. Friends at home can learn as to the whereabouts of the sick at this post, or whether they have gone up the river, by applying in person at my quarters, or by letter.
Respectfully, your ob't serv't,
T. P. ROBB,
Sanitary Agent for Illinois.