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Samuel Thomas Letter 

A first-hand account of the Capture of Fort DeRussy

by Pvt. Samuel Henry Thomas, 27th Iowa

     The following letter is in the possession of Susan Keipp, a member of the Kansas City Civil War Roundtable. The letter was written by her grandmother's grandfather, and she has generously provided us with a transcription and allowed it to be published here. Misspellings have been kept as per original, but I have made some changes in the spacing.


                                                          On Board U S Transport Diadem

                                                                                       Lying Under Fort Derussey, La

                                                                                       Thursday March 15th, 1864   


                                       Dear parents Brothers Sisters & friends     

     I am very near tired enough to feel like doing nothing but you will have heard that the fleet left Vicksburg So you will be naturally very anxious about me to hear from me. So I determined to write to you as soon as possible to let you know that the Rebs have not either given me a pill or taken me prisoner. I proceede to give you a history of our proceedings since we left Vicksburg.  

     On the night of the 11th we tied up at a Rebel plantation on the Mississippi a mile from the mouth of the Red River and the way his chicks were confiscated was verily astonishing.  I got a ham and some china cups and best of all I lifted a scape (sp?) [skep] of bees on to my shoulder and carried them off to the Boat accidentaly taking the honey (40 lbs.) along.  On the 12th we went down the Achofalya River and tied up again and again went out foraging.  On the 13th at 8 ock three Brigades with the Indiana artillery started out to a Rebel fort which we understood to be 5 miles out on the way we passed two Reb Camps which they deserted as soon as we approached leaving every thing behind.  At 10 ock we marched into Fort Morgan without Resistance. The Rebels leaving and burning the bridges over The Bayou as they left.  We returned to our Boats took Supper got our blankets and 40 rounds of cartridges And more troops and our wagons and at six started started again and marched till 1 ock going 10 miles and building bridges. Making in allas a days march 20 miles and you must know that 5 miles with our load is as hard as 15 teen miles without. We were allowed 2 hours sleep then we started in pursuit again. We marched 10 miles.  The 27th Regt in the advance Guard met the enemys pickets driving them in. The enemy appeared to show signs of fight so the artillery was advanced and shelled them from their position they crossed a small river we the 27th crossed on a flat boat boat and spread out through the woods as skirmishers. The enemy left in a hurry and after taking a rest we pushed on and saw nothing more of them till we arrived at a small French village 2 miles from Ft Derothea and 25 from our Bevouack of the night before. At this point the Rebels in the fort numbering 500 opened on us with 12 guns our artillery advanced and our Brigades were ordered up to support them. We advanced at a double quick. Our Batteries were soon planted and then the din was terrific. The Rebels forsook all their out works and with three immense guns in the main fort opened a terrific fire on us. Our artillery did well but the fort was to strong and the Bank was so thick. They had no impression the enemy being protected by bomproofs, while on the other hand the Rebel shot and shell came crashing through the Belt of woods which surrounded the fort throwing The dirt in our eyes “right smart” and no mistake We were ordered to fall on our faces which we did. Our Col Gilbert rode on the advance all the time Encourageing the men as did Gen Shaw our Brigadier.

     At length our sharpshooters got so that the Rebel artillery could not show the white of their his eye without Being knocked over, so they ceased firing their Artillery and our Batteries wheeled off. And now The decisive move was to be made. We together With the 24th Missouri and the 14th Iowa were ordered to charge the works in our way was an open space of 100 yds and all along were felled trees. We started and amid a shower of balls from the musketry gained the ditch surrounding the fort    here Gen Shaw shouted “Well done 27th you come like men in order”. Our lines were regular while the other two regiments one in advance and one on the left were in confusion    there being no 10 men in one rank together yet they all came on with the determination to be first into the fort, the ditch was 10 feet deep the sides perpendicular and the wall of the fort rising 25 ft high. The men sprang into the ditch and by picking and scratching a few got partly up then grasped the guns of their companions and soon the walls were black with men. Now and not till now did the Rebels cease fighting and show the white flag another moment and not one would have lived to tell the story.  The Flag of the old 14th Iowa went in first the 27th and 24th went over together nearly. But Col Gilbert was the first man of the regt and the first union officer that entered the fort except a capt of the 14th the Rebels now threw of their accoutriments and took it very philosophically chatting with us and joking and shaking hands with us “We are glad to see you boys but we had to fight for some time” said they. We marched back 2 miles and camped eating a supper of mutton which we had foraged.  And you may guess that we now were in the land of nod. I believe there were about 50 killed and wounded I counted 18 dead being boxed for burial as I passed the hospital this morning besides what has been (fold in paper) and what will likely die yet. We had one killed in our regiment and one slightly scratched and one shot through the cap (We were all smutty in the face to a man except one Irishman who got into a hollow log he came or went or rather) clean to his discredit. We were marched 5 miles today and put aboard of our boats and are going against another fort up farther.  We are for a reserve though, so do not be alarmed for (fold in paper)

     I am going to the plantation opposite and get a goose for supper as I see boys coming Nolen’s Volens and time presses as they go off fast owing to the deceased. Let friends know how I am that I stayed it splendid and am the greatest hand to forage there is out. I can’t write to anyone now but will soon.

                                                                         from your loving son and brother

                                                                                         Samuel H. Thomas