Letter of Samuel B. Raymond, Major, Fifty-First Illinois Infantry

(Letter appeared in The Chicago Tribune of March 21, 1862)

The Tribune's introductory remarks: Major Samuel B. Raymond, well known to our city readers, sends the following graphic letter to his wife. Although not intended for publication, it states the matter so well and clearly that we ask the Major's pardon for giving it entire, reproducing the diagram with which he accompanies it. It shows clearly the part the rebel gunboats were able to bear in the fight, and increases the marvel that the rebels evacuated the place so easily.

United States Forces in Camp near New Madrid, Mo
Headquarters Chicago Legion, 51st Reg't Ill. Volunteers
March 14th, 1862

I sent you minutes made in pencil of our movement on New Madrid, and thinking a more explicit statement would be appreciated, and that you might wish to show it to some of my friends, I thought I would send you a more explicit account, accompanied by a diagram, also including the details of my entrance into the rebel works this morning.

We reached the camp of Gen. Pope's division on Tuesday morning and took our position on the extreme left of the line. Our division is under command of Gen. Paine, and consists of two brigades, as follows: The 10th and 16th Illinois, forming the first brigade, under command of Col. Morgan of the 10th; also the 51st Illinois and the Yates Sharp Shooters, forming the second brigade, under command of Col. Cumming of the 51st. On Wednesday evening we had orders to prepare one day's rations and march at sunrise, without knapsacks or overcoats. At daybreak on Tuesday, our batteries opened upon the rebel gunboats and forts, and a very brisk and heavy cannonading was kept up for several hours. Meantime the second brigade of our own division proceeded to the right, the first having been detailed the night before to support the planting of the siege guns. We proceeded towards the town and halted just inside the line of pickets. There we remained until after one o'clock, when Gen Pope visited our division and ordered us to make an attack on the upper ort. We proceeded to the left immediately and the Sharp Shooters were thrown forward as skirmishers. At the same time Col. Bradley was ordered to take the right wing and proceed up the lane to the support of the left of the line of skirmishers, while I was ordered to take the left wing and support their right. The right wing proceeded up the lane a short distance, and were then ordered to file into the cornfield. I took the left wing into the cornfield and proceeded forward. We had advanced but a few yards, when they opened upon us from the fort, with shot and shell, which passed just to our left. We shifted out position a little to the right and had but just given the order to "lie down" when bang! came another volley. We kept shifting to the right, until we found that they, by some means, knew what we were doing; and now the shell came thick and fast, one bursting right over our heads—they followed quickly with a round of grape. This was kept up for an hour or more, when we were ordered to retire out of the cornfield, which we did very reluctantly, for as yet we had not an opportunity to give them a volley. The men behaved splendidly, and I must say I did not feel half as streaked as I made calculations for. All the officers acted as coolly as they would have done at a dress-parade. We ascertained that they had a look-out on the top of a house, who have them the range every time we shifted, he being able to see us as we moved about in the field. As we retired, Captain Constable's 11th Ohio battery opened upon them, and I can tell you there was music for an hour or so. The order came for us to return to camp, and off we went apparently having accomplished nothing but the pretty free distribution of shot and shell. At the battery of the siege guns 3 or 4 were killed and 10 or 15 wounded, and those were all the casualties of the day as far as I could learn.

Just as we got back to camp I was detailed to take three companies and occupy the advanced posts on picket duty. This came rather hard on me, being completely tuckered out as I was, but such is the soldier's fare, so I put on my accoutrements and started off with my detachment. While posting the sentries one of them fired upon a squad of the old guard and wounded one in the leg. About midnight there came up a terrible thunderstorm, which continued all night. at about 2 1/2 o'clock there was a volley fired and a couple of our scouts who had been out in the bayou scouting came running in, also one of our corporals came in out of breath, saying that three of our men were missing—another reported that we were being surrounded. Putting it all together, in connection with the fact that we had heard their boats running to and fro all the night, I came to the conclusion that they had received heavy reinforcements and were going to take advantage of the storm to outflank us. I sent out a squad of men to reconnoiter, cautioning them to proceed quietly and carefully and ascertain the cause of the firing. After a time they came back, having found everything all right. The alarm was occasioned by a loose horse tearing up the road. The pickets challenged and receiving no answer fired—the bullets whistled past the scouts just as they were landing their canoes and they scattered and run, and that frightened the corporal who was relieving the guard, and I can tell you it came very near frightening somebody else. The idea of being taken prisoner did not suit, and that was what we were afraid of.

At day-break Capt. Wescott of Co. A and myself started out to ascertain if they had received reinforcements, or whether, as I believed, they had evacuated the place. We proceeded cautiously forward beyond the line of pickets until we came to a mill. Here we reconnoitered again and could plainly see inside the fort and saw the tents all standing, but could see no signs of life. We called two of the picket guard and approached the works cautiously and entered them at about the same time with a squad of the 5th Iowa. Such a looking place—everything showed the utmost haste in departure—half packed trunks, boxes and knapsacks, half cooed meals, clothing, camp equipage, etc., all scattered in wild confusion—old rifles, flit-lock muskets, hugh bowie-knives, etc., etc.,—the scene was indescribable. There were four guns in the fort and lots of ammunition, all placed handy, and the guns had been apparently well served the day before, everything being in its place and looking orderly. The work was constructed with bags willed with shelled corn piled up and earth thrown upon them—a ditch in front of the abatte of trees with the top outwards, about 100 feet in front. A good many buildings had been burned, so that they could get good range—all the fences, trees, in fact every obstacle had been removed that would afford the least shelter to an advancing foe. Five or six of the best buildings were yet standing, but had been cut and defaced and nearly rendered untenable. Although not a very formidable fortification, yet it would have been hard to take, without the assistance of the gunboats. They seemed to have had plenty of everything, especially liquor; one of the quartermasters had left in his haste a basket of Champagne; one of the companies, who styled themselves the "Confederate Bricks," left everything and looked out only for the "Bricks." In another tent lay a pillow with the enclosed inscription sewed on. I tore it off to send you to keep with the other relics: "James A. Graham's piler. A present from his mother Eliza A. Graham. My son don't sleep too sound when you get your piler and let the Yankees slip upon you."

In one tent lay the body of an officer who had been shot through the head. It was neatly laid out and had been put in a box and whoever commenced to make it so as to be sent home had taken a sudden fright and dropped the brush. A large lot of luggage had been carried to the river bank, to be loaded on the boats and there left. All indicated a very hasty start, and I cannot imagine what could have frightened them so. I send also a Quartermaster's requisition, also a pass from Memphis to Fort Pillow. Capt. Wescott got a secession flag, knife, et. We have in our possession a shell that passed over our heads, also a piece of one that burst over our heads. You will get a pretty good idea of the situation of things from the accompanying diagram. Our tents just came tonight. There has been heavy firing on the river to-day—cannot tell where.