Letter written by Colonel James Peckham of the 29th Missouri Infantry, to his mother from Jackson, Mississippi. Peckham writes that his regiment will be leaving Jackson the following day to head to Vicksburg. Battle, disease, and desertion have lessened the number of men in the regiment, so Peckham thinks that regiments will soon be consolidated. He describes Jackson as being in ruins, and says that many dwellings were ransacked or even burned. There are exceptions, however: Peckham writes of a splendid mansion run by an African American couple that the soldiers have decided to occupy. The Mississippi River has been opened by the Union troops. Peckham mentions Abraham Lincoln, and rumors of a fight in Pennsylvania.
Jackson Mississippi July 23, 1863
My Dear Mother,
Kate enclosed your letter to her in one of her own letters to me. I am surprised you do not get letters from me for I write you quite often. I allow no month to pass by without writing to you & when in Camp, write you sometimes weekly. We leave here tomorrow morning, returning to the vicinity of Vicksburg. the summer campaign being ended. I suppose this Army will be re-organized and a general consolidation of Regiments soon take place. My Regt. numbers only about 200 effective men. Battle & disease have made sad havoc among us. In one change last December (29th Dec.) we lost in the charge on Chickasaw Bluffs in the Yazoo River 200 men in about 20 minutes time. In the swamps opposite Vicksburg we lost in January & February about 100 by disease. A number have deserted. I have only six officers left, but a full staff is yet at hand. So unless we are filled up by a draft we must be consolidated. In that case if I get mustered out, all right.
Jackson is in ruins. Dwelling Houses are left standing but even some of those which were deserted have been burned. Many dwellings of the rich have been deserted by them & our soldiers have carried off everything or destroyed everything in them. There are one or two instances exceptions. One splendidly furnished mansion was entered by my major first. He found two negroes in charge a man & his wife, almost white. When I went in I had a guard put over the House & since we have been here, now five days I have been lying off there. Magnificent furniture – beds – carpets – chairs – ottomans – sofas – crockery – silverware – wines & liquors & cigars in the cellar &c. About five of us have been living there like lords until now when we are under orders to leave at 3 oclock tomorrow morning. The negro man & his wife go with use & they helped themselves to what they wanted. I let them have a wagon & they half filled it. A new & splendid Axminster carpet which has never been in use was boxed up & I told the man Jim to take it along for me. It is large
enough for a room 35 feet by 25. It is the richest carpet you ever saw. After Jim & his wife left, the guard was withdrawn & in ten minutes thereafter our soldiers had “gutted” the house. This process of “gutting” a house is done up in wonderful style by our men. It is curious to see a house that has undergone it. Everything is turned “topsy turvy”. Beautfiul carpets cut up to make flooring for tents, Pianos smashed so that the Bonnie Blue Flag may never be played upon them again! Marble-top tables & costly mirrors in as many fragments as they can be broken. Bedsteads
costing of great value scattered through the spacious yards, with shreds of bedding covering the ground. The secesh of this town wanted war & they have had it. Some of the people are going away with us. Some of the rich who are afraid to stay have opened their houses & told soldiers passing by to come in & take what they wanted as the couldn’t carry it all with them. Mississippi secesh are feeling what war is. As I write the sky is
illuminated by the light of burning buildings and rebel government property. the Rebs in their revenge upon private citizens & in order that we might not enjoy it have destroyed nearly as much as we have. We have been a short time in this work of opening the Mississippi River, but it is opened. The free north owns it all again, thank God, from the mountains to the Gulf. We are anxious about affairs in Pennsylvania. We have heard nothing from there except that there was a fight & neither party got whipped. This is the very moment Lincoln ought to have 500,000 more men in the field. We are too slow. Give my love to all the folks. Kiss all the children for me, if it don’t take too much of your time, as they are becoming “Legion.” God bless you & all the rest. Good night. I am to be up at 1 oclock.
Affectionately Yours Ever
10 PM July 23/63
James Peckham was a member of the Missouri Legislature before the Civil War and was a strident Unionist when the state was debating to secede or not. He left the legislature and organized the 8th MO Regiment. Peckham served as the 8th MO Regiment’s Lt. Col. and led the regiment at Shiloh and Pittsburg Landing, TN, and at Jackson, MS. He later went on to lead the 29th MO. After the war he published a book on the history of the war in Missouri and General Nathaniel Lyon. He passed away in 1869 and is buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, MO.