Friday, July 1, 2016

Diary of Sergeant George G. Smith: April 17, 1862

Took a squad of 14 men and went on an expedition to the East end of the island, and a short description of it at this time, perhaps, will not be out of place. It is about seven miles long from east to west and about a mile wide, lying along the southern shore of Mississippi about twelve miles from the mainland. The center is narrow, and when the tides are in the water breaches clean across the island. The surface is somewhat undulating owing to the shifting of the sands by the action of the winds and water. There is but little vegetation on the west end of the island, but on the east end, which is much the widest, there is a stunted grove of yellow pines and shrub oaks, with some other shrubs and plants indigenous to the climate. But what is peculiar and perhaps the main reason for its being chosen for the quartering of troops is the fact that good, cool, fresh water can be had in any part of the island by digging anywhere from eighteen inches to two feet in the sand. I never knew of any scientific reason for it, but I suppose the salt water of the ocean is made fresh by leaching through the sand. We started from the west end of the island, where the troops are quartered, at 9 a. m. On reaching the center of the island we found the water breaching over for about a mile, and this we waded. After this our course lay along the south shore to the further extremity of the island. We found many curious shells, nuts, fruit, and branches of trees washed from the surrounding islands. Many pieces of wrecks lay along the beach embedded in the sand, and some almost whole skeletons of vessels lay rotting on the shore. These told sad tales of anguish and death in ages past. From the extremity of the island the southern shore of Mississippi could be seen quite plain. Some porpoises were sporting in the water and many birds were seen. Some of the men caught a few fish. Ripe blackberries were found among the pines. An alligator had been imprudent enough to show himself in a small pond of fresh water, and several officers and soldiers were watching for him with guns, but he was too cunning for them and they did not get him. After wandering about the island until about 4 p. m. all hands collected as many fan palms as they could carry and bent their steps for camp. The water had receded from the island so that it was dry ground all the way. The palms made a good floor for our tents. Next morning I was foot sore and weary. From this time until May 4 drilling and inspections were the order of the day. Heavy cannonading was heard more or less every day in the direction of Fort Jackson until the early morning of April 26, when at about 2 a. m. the most fearful cannonading ever heard on this continent broke loose. Ship Island shook as with an earthquake from the terrific explosions which continued until daylight. On the second of May a steamer from New Orleans came in, giving an account of the capture of that city and all the forts below.

SOURCE: George G. Smith, Leaves from a Soldier's Diary, p. 9-12

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