New Madrid, “by Jingo,” March 14, 1863.
Night before last we received four heavy guns front Cairo and two or three of these infantry regiments planted them during the night within a half mile of the enemy's main fort and within three-fourths of a mile where their gunboats lay. The seceshers discovered it at daylight and then the fun commenced. Their gunboats and forts about 30 or 40 pieces in all, put in their best licks all day. We had two. regiments lying right in front of our guns to support them against a sortie, and several other regiments behind ready for a field fight The enemy kept in their works though and it was altogether an artillery fight. Our regiment was in the saddle all the a. m. but in the p. m. we lay; around our quarters as usual with not a particle more of excitement perceptible than the quietest day in Cairo showed. In tint: evening the colonel and Major Case and myself went out in the country for our regular little mush, and milk, but that hasn't anything to do with the story. The firing ceased about an hour after sunset and we turned in for the night with all quiet in camp. About 2 o'clock this morning three Rebel regiments made a little sortie with, the intention of doing- some devilment, but they ran against a field battery of ours that sent them back kiting. This morning the fort and town were found to be evacuated. I rode down, through what is left of the town, for the Rebels burned! many houses to give their guns a better chance at the approaches, and cut down nearly all of the shade trees. There was not an inhabitant left in town, they all moved out before we came here and every door was open. The Rebels I think plundered the town after the citizens left; anyway our boys grumbled a good deal about the people's leaving nothing in their houses. They went away very badly scared and in an awful hurry, for there were tables with wine on, and cards and beds that had been used last night and blankets, and they left all their heavy artillery. They must have had all of their light artillery with the horses hitched to it and harnessed, and a lot of horses saddled and tied, for the halters cut with the ties left on the posts, showed that they were in too much of a hurry to untie. They also left all their tents, some 500, standing, most all of them as good as the best of ours, and barracks for several regiments, quarters in all for probably 10,000 men, the generals say, but I don't think they will hold so many. I think we got 40 guns, 24's and larger, besides some field pieces. We also get a big lot of amunition, lots of mules and wagons, and the boys are now fishing out of the river whole boxes of quartermaster's goods — clothing, blankets, etc., that the secesh rolled in as they ran. The general is better satisfied than if he had taken them prisoners. Coming back from the town and fort I rode over the ground where the balls lit thickest yesterday. They had scratched things around considerably — barked trees, knocked fences, busted a house or two, plowed ground like everything, and by the way, knocked six of our men for keeps, and wounded horribly about 15 more. That was all that was done yesterday. 'Tis astonishing that no more of our men were killed but you must recollect that these infantrymen that were supporting our batteries lay in trenches and were all killed while well covered, comparatively. One ball struck square in the trench and relieved one man of two legs and another man of one. I saw one man who had been struck by a falling 25-pound solid shot in the centre of his breast and went down and out at the small of his back. That was a pretty hard sight. While they were firing the hottest our boys would jump on their little dirt piles in front of the rifle pits and trenches and swing their hats and cheer and drop back into their ditches very rapidly. A shell 18 pounds fell about 20 feet in front of the ditches, and a boy of 12 or 14 years jumped out and grabbed it up while the fuse was still burning. A soldier saw it and hollered at him to drop it and scoot, but he hadn't time to get away, so he dropped it and threw himself flat with his feet toward it and almost then it burst, but harmlessly. Well, we've got Madrid and enough to pay us for our trouble. I think that our loss will be covered by 20 killed and 35 or 40 wounded in the whole two weeks. That's a large estimate. What the next move will be have no idea, but some say that we'll cross the river and operate with Grant in a southerly direction of course. I'd rather be in this down-the-river movement than any other part of the army. Have thought so ever since I joined the army. This cavalry business is bully. We have all the running around and fun and little skirmishing without much of the heavy work and tall fighting. The loss of the enemy we don't know but there are about 40 fresh graves at the fort and we found several dead bodies there this morning. Also found a half dozen men that were left by some means.
SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 67-9