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Home > Civil War Sesquicentennial > Neal Dow Ship Island Transcript

Neal Dow Ship Island Transcript

Head Quarters
13th Maine Reg’t
Ship Island, Gulf of Mexico
Sat. April 5, 1862

“Dear General –

Mr. Whitehouse just came on shore and gave me your letter, but I have not rec’d the Reports – shall undoubtedly in good time.  Shall be very glad to get them and thank you very much.

We want the news of the progress of our Armies very much. We have heard of Manassas, Columbus, Donelson –Memphis – Island No. 10 – The Merrimac!! &tc., but know there must have been important progress since.

This expedition will do good in making a diversion in favor of our Armies in the Northern Rebel States – beyond that – I do not see that we can accomplish much.”

You may tell the Governor that since I have been here and seen the G_________l, [Blank space: the General? Benjamin Butler?] my opinion has not changed, but has been confirmed. With no military knowledge and no capacity to manage large affairs, I see no way in which any good can be accomplished except by way of the diversion I have already alluded to.  Soldiers have been embarked and disembarked twice already. We have a considerable elephant on our hands here! Gen. Phelps is said to be a good soldier as is Gen. Williams. Col. Shepley is an acting brigadier. Maine is entitled to another brigadier – if no one else is found, I would like it. I have made the art of War a study for many years, as a matter of interest (pleasure) as some of our Brigadiers, I think, have not.

I am requested to say to you and the Governor that Col. McClusky behaved himself dreadfully in the passage – (he arrived yesterday) – drunk and crazy, so that he was forced into his State Room, but not before he broke up his beautiful banner and threw it overboard and drew his pistol upon the Lt. Colonel and threatened to shoot him! I have this from several, particularly the Chaplain and Whitehouse – I think he will resign. I do not think very bad drunkards will make good officers – or good anything but carrion.” I have all this from several – particularly from the Chaplain and Mr. Whitehouse – I think he will resign. I do not think very bad drunkards will make very good officers.

I will thank you to speak from me to speak to the Gov. about Capt. Archer. The Lieuts. of that company are not all we could wish, and I must have a good Capt. for it. Capt. Archer cannot possibly do anything for it. He knows not the first thing about the drill or military matters, and I must have someone who is competent now.  Please use my name to Capt Archer in the matter – it is a necessity. If he declines to resign and causes me, I shall be compelled to send him to be examined the day after his arrival and he will be cashiered the next day. You need not tell him this unless he declines to resign. I should do it with regret. But my duty would compel me to do it. Will you please say to the Governor that if Archer resigns, I want it at once.

I recommend strongly my Adjutant – Frederick Speed – for the place – and my Sergeant Major – Edward H. Wilson for Adjutant.  Speed is a very good officer & Wilson is an excellent penman - first rate capacity - and a son of our excellent friend Capt. Wilson of Yarmouth, and his position as Sergeant Major has made him familiar with the routine of the office. If the Governor approves these suggestions, I will thank him to send me Commissions for them.

I have not had a single case of intoxication in my Reg’t here – although Gen. Butler has issued a General Order in relation to the great intemperance of soldiers. And has forbidden the sale to anybody and threatens to destroy all intoxicating liquors he can find – even that kept for private use! Rather stronger than the Maine Law!

Our Regt. is in very good health and drill.  We are improving very rapidly indeed – at our last Battalion drill, many of our evolutions and our marching were as good as anything I saw in Europe.  Our firings, I am sorry to say, are not what they should be. It is so much trouble to get leave to use our blank cartridges. Our firings sound well and appear well to a spectator, but to us who are behind the scenes  it is different and cannot be better without practice in real loadings – it is there we fail, as all Regiments here do and for the same reason. Soldiers cannot learn to load and fire rapidly and accurately without real cartridges.

I am very sorry to find our rifles to be effective in many cases.  The locks are not sufficiently “smart” to explode the caps – until the 2nd and even the 3rd trial – and then a few and then not at all! We are hard at work stiffening up the springs and putting them into good shape, lest something may “turn up” before we are ready.

Gen. Butler is particularly civil to me – tho I think he does not like men of my notions,  He probably knows that I did not particularly desire a voyage to Ship Island, and thinks it was not the climate altogether that I objected to. He thinks me a pretty good sailor (whatever he may think of me otherwise) for after our experiences and hairbreadth escapes in the fierce gales and on Hatteras Shoal – having displaced Capt. Fullerton from the command of the Ship Mississippi, he told me he would be willing to make me Captain of the Ship!

There are some persons you had better look out for, when they speak particularly well of you and smile upon you.  I do not speak of any body in particular – a general remark, a goal.

Our presence here alarms the whole coast and keeps the Rebels stirred up dreadfully. “Victuals is very scarce” on the mainland as we have found out. Half a dozen light swift gunboats would render us doubly a terror to our dear friends on the mainland.  Those we have do good service but draw too much water.

Truly yours,
Neal Dow, Col.
13th Me. Vols.