Near New Madrid, Mo., March 6, 1862.
What oceans of fun we are having here. Here goes for all of it to date, and I'll be lucky if I'm able to tell you the finale. We went down to Commerce the 26th of February. Troops were scattered everywhere over the town and vicinity for 15 miles about. Could form no idea of the number there, but it was variously estimated at from 15,000 to 45,000. On the 28th we started, our regiment in advance, and camped that night at Hunter's farm, the same place we stopped last fall when going to Bloomfield under Oglesby. We reached Hunter's at 2 o'clock p. m., and at 11 the same morning Jeff Thompson had been there waiting for us with six pieces of cannon. He skedaddled, but still kept in the neighboring swamps. The next morning we again started in advance and after a ride of five miles heard firing about the same distance ahead. We let the horses go and in a very short time were within the limits of the muss. We came up with a company of cavalry from Bird's Point standing in line at the end of a lane, about a mile down which we could see Thompson's forces drawn up with his artillery “in battery.” He saw us about as quick as we got up, and limbered up in double quick and scooted. Then the fun commenced. We chased him for 15 miles over a splendid straight, wide, level road, which he strewed With blankets, guns, hats, and at last dropped his artillery. A dozen of our boys kept up the chase until within a half mile of New Madrid, where they captured a wagon load of grain and a nigger, and returned at leisure. We caught a captain, 1st. lieutenant and some privates. Next day, the 2d of March, our regiment went down to New Madrid to reconnoiter. A regular colonel went along to draw a map of the country. We went it blind right into the edge of town, where we ran onto a lot of infantry. As fighting wasn't the object, we filed off to the left into a cornfield to get a new view of town. We were going slowly down on the town in line of battle, when a battery opened on us right, smartly. We got out of that, but in good order. Only one shell touched us and that burst right under a horse's nose. One piece bruised the horse a little and knocked the rider off, but did not hurt the man at all, and the horse is now fit for duty again. Almost miraculous, wasn't it? There were lots of shell and balls fell around us. On the 3d the whole army got here and we again marched on the burg. The gunboats opened on us and we had to draw back. That day three 64-pound shells burst within 30 yards of me. We have been lying, since then, about two miles from town. They throw a shell over here occasionally but haven't hurt any body yet at this distance. To-day the cavalry have been out again to see if the gunboats have left, (that's all that keeps us from taking the town). The boats were still there and again shelled us, killing one man and a horse in the Michigan 3d. They killed one man on the 3d in the 39th Ohio, and the same shell wounded several others. Yesterday 2,000 or 3,000 men went around New Madrid down the river ten miles to Point Pleasant, but were kept off by the damned gunboats, just like we are here. If two or three of our gunboats could only slip down far enough to see their gunboats (two of them) and steamboats coming and going with their secesh flags flying. They have burned a half dozen houses in town since we came here. Don't know what for. Brigadier General Pope who is in command here has been made a major general. The colonel has just come from his quarters, and reports that Foote will be here with his gunboats day after to-morrow at farthest. We have been scouting all afternoon and I'm blamed tired. I took four men and went it alone. Had a good time but got lost and didn't get back until 8 p. m. Captured a lot of ginger snaps, and had a good talk with a handsome widow, while the boats were firing at the Michigan cavalry on our left. These shells don't scare a fellow half as much as the thoughts of them do. Why you really don't mind it at all. I don't like the idea of those musket balls, but maybe that is also worse than the reality.
SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 63-5