Saturday, January 14, 2017

Diary of 2nd Lieutenant George G. Smith: May 17, 1864

That General Smith was a joker was conceded by everybody, our friends, the enemy, as well as the union army. When we were in Alexandria I was on guard at the pontoon bridge. An Irishman, stood at the end of the bridge, smoking a clay pipe. Smith returning from a scouting expedition at the head of his forces, rode up to the Irishman coolly took the pipe out of his mouth and put it in his own, and rode on smoking contentedly as though nothing had happened. The Irishman laughed heartily, well pleased with the joke. Many stories were reported of his pleasantries with the enemy while covering our retreat from Alexandria. At one time coming down the plank road he left a baggage wagon on the road and placed a company in ambush within easy range. The rebel hangers on in the rear spied it and made for it on the gallop with a yell. At the proper time the ambush rose up and many saddles were emptied and riderless horses were seen cantering through the woods. The force was nearly all killed or taken prisoners. At two times cannon were left with similar results. Marched into Simsport about noon. The day was hot and the roads were dusty so that our clothes were saturated with mud as well as sweat. It was my practice, during the whole time I was in the army to bathe whenever an opportunity presented itself, and so here was a good one The water in the rivers and ponds we had been passing were generally almost milk warm and I thought this would be, so without further ado I plunged in. “O my! Holy Moses, how cold it was!” I could hardly swim to shore. But I did, and got out too but I did not go in any more that day. The reason of the water being so cold was on account of the rise in the Mississippi river at this time of the year, called the June rise. It is caused by the melting snows in the Rocky mountains, at the head waters of the Missouri and in the Northern part of Minnesota, where the Mississippi rises, and it is a little strange, that water is nearly as cold when it reaches the Gulf of Mexico as it is when it leaves the snows of the Rocky mountains. When this mighty river is high it backs up the Red river and discharges its surplus waters through the Atchaffalaya Bayou into the Gulf of Mexico, so that bayou is really one of the mouths of the Mississippi. It was my turn to go on picket guard that night, so we crossed the bayou on a steamer and went up that stream about a mile and posted the pickets in the woods across the bottom where we fought mosquitoes all night. It was a question which was the worse, the mosquitoes or the rebels. I was not feeling very well from the effects of my bath, so after the guard was posted I hunted the dryest place I could find and laid down, but the conditions were not very favorable for a good night's rest. It did not however last forever.

SOURCE: Abstracted from George G. Smith, Leaves from a Soldier's Diary, p. 117-9

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