This letter was written by 25 year-old Sgt. Joseph Mast Maitland (1838-1918), the son of James Madison Maitland (1815-1864) and Anna Mast (1813-1896) of Salem, Champaign County, Ohio. Joseph served in Company G of the 95th Ohio Infantry. Joseph was married to Arabella (“Belle”) Wharton (1844-1916) in 1867.
Joseph’s Civil War experience had an ignominious beginning when he and other members of his company were taken prisoner at Richmond, Kentucky by Gen’l Kirby Smith’s forces. He was promptly paroled and sent to Columbus, Ohio for nearly three months near the end of 1862. Shortly after rejoining the 95th Ohio Infantry at Vicksburg, he was wounded slightly in the pinkie finger of his right hand and scarred by a scratch on the nose. He remained with the regiment throughout the long, hot Vicksburg campaign and siege, and then was among the first to enter Jackson, Mississippi when Sherman’s men turned their attention in that direction.
After participating with his regiment in a number of engagements and skirmishes throughout the balance of 1863 and the spring of 1864, Joseph accompanied his regiment in July 1864 to Memphis. While on a short excursion to Holly Springs, Joseph was taken with fever and afflicted with rheumatism which caused him to be sent back to Memphis where he was confined to a convalescent camp for several weeks — which effectively ended his military career — though he was not mustered out until May 1865.
Sgt. Maitland wrote this letter from a camp near Young’s Point, Louisiana. It contains a first-hand account — though from several miles upriver — of the Union flotilla running the gauntlet of Confederate batteries at Vicksburg on the night of 16 April 1863. Less than a month later, Maitland and the men of the 95th Ohio would be the first Union troops to enter the city of Jackson, Mississippi after the battle fought on 14 May 1863. From there, they turned westward toward Vicksburg, pushing Pemberton’s Confederates Army back into the defenses of the city.
Addressed to Miss Bell Wharton, Urbana, Champaign County, Ohio
Headquarters Co. G, 95th Regt. O.V.I.
Camp near Young’s Point, La.
April 17th 1863
Yours of the 5th came to hand on yesterday & the contents were perused with delight. Tongue cannot express or pen dictate to you the satisfaction it afforded me in reading your epistle, not only once, but many times.
Since I wrote you last, we have got a good deal further into the land of “Dixie.” We left Camp Smith the 28th of March & proceeded on our way down the [Mississippi] River, arriving at Lake Providence on Sunday evening. We remained there until Monday morning when we dropped down the river about fifteen miles to Transylvania Landing where we went into camp, taking possession of one of the finest plantations I have ever seen, & I was in hopes that we would get to remain there for some time, but the very next day after landing, we were ordered to cook four days rations & in the evening we went aboard the boats & about 10 o’clock started again on our way, arriving within about eight miles of Young’s Point the 2nd of this month.
We are encamped about 12 miles above Vicksburg on the La. side & close to the new canal ¹ which is now in progress. Our whole Brigade is engaged upon it about every other day. There are now three dredge boats employed on it & I hope it may prove a success so that we may be enabled to get below Vicksburg & cut off their supplies. If we do, I think they will have to succumb.
On last evening, three of our transports & seven gunboats started from Young’s Point to run the blockade at Vicksburg. About 12 o’clock we were awakened by the roaring of artillery and for about two hours, nothing was heard but one continual roar. It surpassed everything I ever heard. Soon after the cannonading commenced, we saw two fires in that direction & I have since learned that one of our transports was burned. Two of them & the gunboats succeeded in running the blockade, losing I believe only one man. Today we have heard heavy firing in that direction. I suppose you will learn the full particulars by the papers long before this comes to hand.
This is a very fine country. The weather is very warm & pleasant. We have only had a couple of rainy days since we left Memphis. I am very much pleased with this part of the South & think it would be a good place for school teachers but then there are other places a little farther north that would suit me about as well.
As to my rising from the stripes to the stars, ² that gives me no trouble. When I volunteered it was for love of country & not of office. Had I wanted an office, I never would have gone in the 95th Regiment for I had several good offers in other regiments. My health still continues good for which I feel truly thankful to the Great Giver of every good & perfect gift.
The best of our boys are well, but since I last wrote, we have lost another of our number by the hand of Death. No doubt you have learned before this of the death of P. Stricklin. ³ When we left Camp Smith, he with some others in the hospital were sent up the river to Memphis & he, I believe, died about 15 minutes after the boat landed. There have been two deaths in the Regiment since we landed here & I am afraid there will be more when it gets right hot. There are some in the hospital now who are very weak & cannot recover. If they could only be sent home & could have the kind treatment of friends, they no doubt would get well.
I am very glad that you accepted the terms concerning the pictures & shall look anxiously until the arrival of your next letter.
I believe I have now written enough — perhaps have tried your patience in reading this. I will now close by wishing you health & prosperity. Write soon & give me all the news. I am as ever yours sincerely, — J. M. Maitland, Co G, 95th Regt. O.V.I.
1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 15th Army Corps near Young’s Point, La. To be forwarded.
P. S. I forgot to tell you that Brig. Gen. Tuttle now commands our Division. He took the place of Gen. Smith. We are now in Brig. Gen. Buckland’s Brigade, Brig. Gen. Tuttle’s Division, Maj. Gen. Sherman’s Corps. — J. M. M.
¹ This became known as “Grant’s Canal” and was an attempt to change the course the Mississippi River near Vicksburg, effectively bypassing the heavily fortified Rebel stronghold. In the spring of 1863, flooding of the river broke through the dam at the head of the canal, carrying sediment and debris into the canal. Grant tried to rescue the project by using two large steam-driven dredges to clear the channel but Confederate artillery fire from the bluffs of Vicksburg spoiled the effort and it was eventually abandoned.
² Sgt. Maitland is referring to rising in rank from a sergeant (stripes) to an officer (stars).
³ Peter Stricken died at Memphis, Tennessee, and is buried in the National Cemetery there. We learn from this letter that he died less than 15 minutes after the boat landed in Memphis.
Peter was married to Amelia Smith on 12 March 1861 in Champaign County, Ohio. They had one child, a daughter, Mary Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Stricklin, born 7 February 1862. Amelia’s father, Cyrus Smith, b. ca. 1801, was a practicing physician, and was present at Lizzie’s birth. Family records indicate that “Peter died of ‘camp or typhoid fever” (chronic diarrhea) on 30 March 1863 (or “about the 2d or 3d day of April”), on the boat as the regiment was going from Helena to Memphis, Tennessee.”