Lieut. Levi G. Heck, 127th USCI

The Globe, Huntington, Pennsylvania
August 30, 1865

Army Correspondence.

127th Regt., U. S. Col. Infantry
August 5th, 1865.

EDITOR GLOBE: – Having a little leisure time I will offer for publication a few facts and instances connected with our voyage from the Old Dominion to the Lone Star State, hoping they may prove of interest to a few at least of a few of your readers.

After returning from Appomattox Court House, this corps (25th) went into camp of instruction near the James river, four miles below City Point. The process of instruction di not, however, continue. May 23d orders were received to be ready to take transports at City Point, at an hour’s notice. As usual, many rumors were afloat, but the fact that the commissaries of subsistence were ordered to take forty days rations indicated something more than idle rumors. It didn’t look much like “going to Washington to attend the grand review” or “to be mustered out.”

May 25th. The 2d division embarked and steamed to Fortress Monroe, heaved anchor in Hampton Roads, and completed the necessary arrangements for a long voyage. Having always a peculiar regard for paymasters, especially on such occasions, the officers of the 2d division, en masse, paid their compliment in person, to Major Holliday of Norfolk, Va., hoping, with his good health, to find him supplied with a surplus of greenbacks. I will simply say, the Major is a fine man. The visit proved entirely satisfactory to all present, and we were enabled to go on our way rejoicing.

May 29th. All things ready, we weighed anchor and put to sea, each vessel, as previously ordered, sailing alone and keeping separate form the balance of the fleet. Now were we to bid farewell to Old Virginia, on whose “sacred soil” we have experienced so much during the past four years, in marching and countermarching, advancing and retreating, with numerous hotly contested battles. From the broad Potomac to the classic James, desolation has marked the scenes. – War’s grim visage sits on each of them pointing to the green graves of many noble comrades, and bleaching bones that were denied even a soldier’s burial   These were all to be lost in the distance. We were to look after the remnant of the Confederacy under Kirby Smith, along the Rio Grande. Before the expedition reached its terminus we learned that Kirby had acted to the better part of valor and surrendered – had gone to Mexico, no doubt, to look after interests connected with his cotton confederacy.

Soon after passing cape Henry, we entered the Gulf stream and kept its course for several days. Consequently after passing Hatteras the main land was many miles to the west, until we reached the Florida Keys. In our course we left Memory Rock to the leeward; nothing is visible but large cliffs of rocks apparently rising our of the sea. The only place of any interest is the Bahama islands. On one named the North Bermmi stands a small village. The houses are built of wood, without taste or regularity. It is inhabited by Spaniards and negroes. Their chief trade consists in fishing and looking after wrecked vessels. Trees and verdure are visible to some extent on those islands, but as a general thing the soil is barren around cape Sable, Fa., some distance to the leeward could be seen the light house and rugged prison walls of Dry Tortugas, where many deserters and bounty jumpers have had their sentences of death commuted to a life long confinement on this island. While gazing on its lonely massive walls, I thought, truly “the way of the transgressor is hard,” when he lingers out his earthly existence in such a sepulchral, solitary prison, beneath the rays of a tropical sun to pay the penalty of voluntary crime.

After doubling cape Sable our course was nearly due north west until arriving at the entrance of Mobile Bay, 4th June, where the fleet was ordered to rendezvous and await further orders. The entrance of the bay, as many are aware, is guarded by two forts – Fort Morgan on the right, and Fort Gaines on the left. Fort Morgan stands on the main land, and Gaines on Dauphin island. The island is about sixteen miles long and from one to two miles wide. On it are about a half dozen families who live in abject poverty and indolence; while the soil and climate are productive of some of the choicest fruit on earth; here growing in thrifty condition are the sweet, and sour oranges, the fig and pomegranate, while the magnolias’ dense foliage offers protection from the intense heat of a southern sun. On this island were landed the troops that co-operated with the fleet in taking those Forts in August, 1864, under Admiral Farragut. Within three hundred yards of Fort Morgan is visible the wreck of a monitor blown up by a torpedo on an assault on the fort. The terrible explosion in Mobile city, Ala., occurred about a week previous to our arrival, the particulars of which you have doubtless heard.

June 10th. All the vessels of the fleet, consisting of about thirty, reported ready for sea. Various orders were given and we again steamed out on the bosom of the deep. The vessel on which this regiment was, the Herman Livingston, passed through the mouth of the Mississippi, in order to take on fresh water. The murky waters of the river are to be seen in the Gulf for a great distance.

June 11. About 2 o’clock, P M, we arrived off this place, having sailed about two thousand two hundred miles in nine days. Some vessels were fourteen days in making it. We had fine weather during the entire voyage, good accommodations aboard the ship, but many of us suffered much from the loathsome sea sickness. None seem exempt from it tortures. The entire fleet lay off the bar for several days, as there was not sufficient water to admit their crossing.

June 16th. The disembarkation began, by means of lighters. One schooner, containing seven hundred men of the 8th Regiment was driven in a gale on the shore and could not be got off. A heavy sea made it impossible to approach it, and rescue what seemed, without doubt, an ill fated crew. The sailors labored hard, and gallantly did the little vessel encounter the merciless breakers until the morning’s dawn brought deliverance to her devoted band. Such are the conditions of the channel that shipping is greatly endangered in passing in and out of this harbor. The chief pilot of the port says there have been seven or eight vessels wrecked since May.

The corps is stationed along the coast from Indianola to Clarksville at the mouth of the Rio Grande, and from the latter place along the river to Ringgold barracks, one hundred and fifty miles from its mouth. Corps headquarters are at Brownsville, thirty miles up the river. Brownsville and vicinity is becoming quite a place, especially in the improvement of those qualities for which it has long been proverbial, as gambling, robbing, &c. The light of civilization and christianity has not yet been received or adopted by those hardy rangers that inhabit the southwestern frontier. It is true Kirby Smith has surrendered and rebel rule has been broken down, yet many of his followers hold the same allegiance to dastard villainy and barbarism as when the confederacy was in full vogue. Robberies are of frequent occurrence. A few days since a sutler was murdered between Brownville and White Ranche, and his money consisting of $3,000, taken. The stage that runs from here o Brownsville is occasionally intercepted and robbed.

Not long since I visited Bagdad, a town of about 2,000 inhabitants, in Mexico. It is a place of minor importance, grown chiefly out of the advantages of the war in this country. Many renegade Southerners have gone there to escape conscription, and with a view to speculation have been carrying on a contraband trade with the South for the past four years. But now times are very dull; their harvest is over; property is selling at 75 and 80 per ct. discount on what it was one year ago. Gold and silver are plenty; most of them will sell it for greenbacks at 30 and 35 per cent premium. The place is occupied by French troops, whose soldierly qualities are none of the greatness, nor is their military appearance prepossessing. A single instance I will note: I observed a sentry at the headquarters of the commandant with no coat on, the butt of his musket on terra firma, and he propped against the headquarters building. I was informed their daily pay from the Government is one shilling, paid over each evening. From this they have to subsist and clothe themselves. What the shilling lacks they make up by picking up whatever comes in their way without reference to the owner. It is currently reported that the artillery sold by the rebels to the French commandant at Matamoras after the surrender of Kirby Smith, has been delivered up to the United States.

Brazos Santiago (this military post) is the last United States port on the southern coast. It is nine miles from the mouth of the Rio Grande river, located on an island separated from the mainland by a small sound that bounds it on two sides, The island is one continuous sand bank from end to end, totally destitute of trees and vegetation. A military railroad is being constructed from here to Brownsville which will be the first railroad in southwestern Texas. The weather is very warm. Was it not for a fine sea breeze that gently fans the sun beaten sand, the heat would be almost intolerable to those unaccustomed to the climate. The greatest difficulty here is the scarcity of water. The condensers are insufficient to furnish the necessary amount, such as it is. The Rio Grande water is disgusting and unhealthy. – The excess of animal and vegetable matter it contains makes it rather difficult to determine whether it is a beverage or soup in disguise. I have not seen a spring or brook since landing in Texas.

The health of the men in general is on the decline. Many of them are getting scurvy, owing to the deficiency in vegetables; many go to hospital, and as yet none have returned for duty. From Post hospital they are shipped to New Orleans, where many are discharged. The prevailing disease thro’ this locality is the break-bone fever. – It is a disease peculiar to the southern coast and operates something similar to fever and ague. Its results are in no wise fatal, but it is very loathsome and lingering. Many officers are prostrated with it; some are going north on leave of absence.

B. C. Dawney, a typo of the Journal office, Huntington, and of the Herald, Shirleysburg, is with us, commanding Company E. His friends and companions of Huntington county, will doubtless be pleased to hear that the “printer’s devil” has been promoted in a service that has made and sustained a noble reputation during the war, and wrung expressions of admiration and praise from the malice of its most inveterate enemies, even if inside the “blues” the men wear the livery of an Africa’s burning sun.

Truly yours,
L. G. H.