These two 1863 letters were written by Milton Charlton Hutchinson (1841-1865), the son of Robert Eads Hutchinson (1817-1892) and Rebecca Charlton (1820-1886) of Corydon, Wayne County, Iowa. Milton was 21 years old when he enlisted in Co. E/F, 34th Iowa Infantry on 15 August 1862. He was killed in the Union assault on Fort Blakely near Mobile Bay in Alabama on 9 April 1865. The siege and capture of Fort Blakely was basically the last combined-force battle of the war, taking place just hours after the surrender of Lee’s army in Virginia.
Hutchinson wrote the June letter just as he was being released from the hospital in St. Louis to rejoin his regiment near Vicksburg.
The October letter mentions two fellow soldiers in the 34th Iowa: Jasper Jennings (1832-1863) who died of disease 24 September 1863 at Carrollton, LA; and James Bracewell, born 1836 in England, who was a sergeant in Company E.
Hutchinson wrote the October letter from Morganza, Louisiana — several miles upriver from Port Hudson. It contains an incredible account of the burning of the steamboat Robert Campbell which occurred on 28 September 1863 near Milliken’s Bend, resulting in the death of at least 40 out of upwards of 200 passengers onboard. The fire was widely reported to be the work of incendiaries. The following is typical:
JEFF DAVIS RESORTING TO THE TORCH
The New Orleans Era of the 23d let., learns from a gentleman who speaks from the best information, that while on a recent trip up the Mississippi River, he was told by a former friend who is now a rabid rebel, that Jeff Davis and his cabinet had decided to employ incendiaries to destroy every steamboat navigating the lower Mississippi and Ohio rivers, offering, as an inducement to these miscreants in accomplishing their barbarous mission, 60 percent on the estimated value of all boats and property thus destroyed. His informant assured him the Ruth had already fallen a victim to the scheme, and he would soon hear of others. The following seems to corroborate the above statement: A Steamer Burnt near Vicksburg — Great Loss of Life. The steamer Robert Campbell, Jr., from St. Louis to Vicksburg, was fired by incendiaries on Tuesday morning, near Milliken’s Bend, twenty-five miles above Vicksburg. The flames spread so rapidly that the passengers were forced to jump overboard before the boat could be got to shore. The incendiary of the steamer Campbell is believed to be a white man painted black and who left the boat above Milliken’s Bend. [Source: Caledonian (St. Johnsbury, VT), Friday, October 9, 1863]
A blog posting entitled Civil War Sabotage on the Mississippi attributed the burning of the Robert Cambell, Jr. to Isaac Elshire — a member of the Confederate Secret Service. Curiously, during the investigation and trial of the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the burning of the steamboat Robert Campbell, Jr. was again brought up in connection with a Missourian named “Col. Barrett” who was an agent for the Confederacy. He was credited with burning steamboats carrying U.S. Government freight on the Mississippi, Ohio, and other rivers. These included the Imperial, the Robert Campbell, Jr., the Louisville, and the Daniel G. Taylor — all privately owned.
Milton wrote both letters to his sister, Hannah Mariah Hutchinson (1845-1908) and his cousin E. F. Hutchinson.
See also — 1864: Milton Charlton Hutchinson to Hannah M. Hutchinson (letter written on 11 November 1864 on board Steamer Illinois, Mississippi River)
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Addressed to Miss H. M. Hutchinson, High Point P. O., Decatur County, Iowa
Schofield Barracks, MO.
June 25, 1863
I have just received your kind address of the 22nd inst. & was glad to hear from you. This leaves me enjoying very good health — better than I have since we came here last winter. I expect to start to the regiment this evening if nothing happens. I would rather not of went now if I could get rid of it but the surgeon says to go & I have always made it a rule to obey my officers & I find that it is the best plan.
I have just got a letter from Isaac. He is well & said he had just got a letter from David. The boys was all well & at Vicksburg or in that country. Tell Pap that I left $16 with one of my company that is here & is going to go home on furlough in a week or two. The money is to be left at Daniel Sloan’s at Corydon. It is not likely that he will get home for 2 or 3 weeks. Tell Pap to use it as he thinks best. If he needs any help a putting up feed for winter to hire a hand with it to help him.
It is very warm weather here now but more healthy than it was some time ago.
Well, I am in a hurry & will have to close for this time. Direct to Company F, 34th Iowa Vols., Cairo, Illinois
And write often as convenient for I will be anxious to hear from home. Your affectionate brother, — M. C. Hutchins
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
October the 8th, 1863
Dear sister & cousin,
I take my pen this morning to write you a few lines in answer to your kind letter that I received day before yesterday & was glad to hear that you was all well & hope that when it reaches you that it will find you all enjoying good health. This leaves me well as usual. The boys that are with us are generally well.
The weather is getting tolerable cool to what it was some time ago. There is a part of the day is tolerable warm but the nights are tolerable cool so that we can sleep under two heavy blankets & the heaviest dews here that ever I seen in any place that I have ever been.
We are still at Morganza camped on the bank of the Mississippi but I do not know how long we will stay here. There is some talk of our leaving but I do not know where we will go to. I have not heard from David for some two weeks. When James Bracewell came up from Carrollton, he was not well but was able to help nurse in the hospital. I have wrote to you that Jasper was dead. I would have wrote to Mrs. Jennings about Jasper but James Bracewell said he wrote to her & he could tell her more about him than I could as he was with him through all his sickness & when he died. James said that he died in the triumph of a living faith & there is no doubt but what he is at rest.
The rebels that was in this neighborhood are reported gone but I don’t know whether it is so or not. It is said that there was another part of our army came in the rear of them. It may be that they have chased them out. I have heard cannonading down the river all the morning but I do not know where it is at without it is at Port Hudson.
There has been a great destruction of steamboats along the river this fall. There has been 7 burnt in the last month & a half. A few days ago there was one of my company coming down the river on [the] Robert Campbell [steamboat] — & just at Milliken’s Bend it took fire at the rear end in the hull. The fire run up & burned the ropes so that they could not manage to get her to shore. She was within a hundred yards of the shore when there was thought to be danger of the boiler bursting. There was then a rush into the water, the man that belonged to my company among the rest, & as he struck the water, one of the deck hands jumped onto him. They both went under but both came up together, the deck hand holding onto the soldier & he held his hold till the soldier swam to shore with him. Both nearly drowned. There was about 40 lives lost. There was several women onboard going to see their husbands & sons in the army. One was sick in bed that was burnt to death & 2 others was saved by some of the men.
Well, I have but little to write so I will close. Write often. No more this time.
— M. C. Hutchinson
To H. M. & E. F. Hutchinson