Letter written by Corporal John S. B. Matson of Company I, 120th OH Infantry, to a friend, from near the Mississippi River. Matson writes disparagingly of the events plaguing the country. He writes that the troops in his fleet are greatly demoralized after a failure at Vicksburg. He too is discouraged by what he sees as ignorance in both the officers and the privates. He mentions being led by General Osterhaus in their last fight, which ended with the Confederates asking for truce. Matson took the rifle off a Confederate soldier that he shot, and describes the other goods, weaponry, and even mail they took from the Rebels after the fight. Matson writes that he fears disease more than bullets, for a fever in their present situation is a certain death sentence.
Mississippi River Jan 20th/63
I received your last when we were flushed with victory, and you had better believe it was welcome I also receive one from Anne at the same time and once since I dont know what you think of the prospect of the country at this time but my humble opinion is that it is not very flattering the political atmosphere is filled with measmatic vapor that cannot be deadening in its effects the horison is also obscured with black clouds that we dont know at what moment will let loose to the destruction of this once happy Republic Oh! that it was in my power to stay the threatening calamity but weak and trifling is man individually they do not seem to think any more about us than if we were as many hogs every body that a chance seems to be studying how they can best cheat the Government to fill their own pockets men with straps on their shoulders are all the time when oportunity offers are poisoning the minds of the soldiers concerning the intentions of the Government till it would not suprise me if there would be an efforet made to lay down arms before long if the troubles are not soon settled you have no ideas of the demoralization of the troops in this fleet The expedition to Vicksburg as you are aware was a perfect failure and it was truly discouraging to hear different Regts talk you would thought it out of the question to get them into a fight again but we went up the Arkansas River and whaled hell out of them at Arkansas Post and the boys felt better than before but as soon as they found the fleet was bound again for Vicksburg there was general dissatisfaction there is every thing to discourage a true lover of his country and very little to encourage I do all I can to allay this feeling but there is
too many to operate against me some with straps on their shoulders say that they thought it a just war when they went into it but but they have come to different conclusions such I think should immediately be cashiered I think for there is so many d-d fools that thinks because a man has straps on his shoulders that he knows more My humble opinion is that there is as much ignorance among the officers of this Regt as there is among the Privates and God knows that ignorance is Legion throughout and the influence they they exert is discouraging I would tell some of them they have no business here but their power is to much for me so I have to seal my mouth it is not here like it was at home. There was a rumor here yesterday that 90000 of Burnsides men stacked their arms and refused to serve any longer is it so or is it as I think a lie I have not give you any particulars of our last fight I must say I would rather not have gone into the fight men may say they are spoiling for a fight but that is all in your eye for there is nothing inviting to any rational man but we were in the most exposed position of any Regt we were first brought into line of Battle under the enemys fire and marched forward in line for a short distance in this position we were halted and ordered to lie down I hugged the ground pretty close and still the bullets seemed to come confounded close we lay there a short time till the Gunboats and our land Batteries silenced their Batteries they kept up a continuous musket fire Gen Ousterhouse rode up to us as we had closed in mass and were down when he rode up and ordered us to forward D.Q. [double quick] with a cheer they were nearly whipped we did so I expect that Mary would be a widow before I got ten rods but thank God I got through we run up to within 100 yds of the fort and lay down in shelter as best we could under a murderous fire balls whizzing all around us I was behind a stump with three others we lay some time before we fired I as best I could to see where their fire came from presumably an object appeared that induced me to shoot but the load was wasted for I then discovered where they were
I loaded and looked and saw a curl of smoke leveled my gun and as he raised to fire I fired and there was no smoke come from that place if my ball killed any I have no regrets for I never took more deliberate aim at a wood pecker I fired some six times and the flag of truce was raised by them and then such a rush you never saw I had the curiosity to go in where I saw the smoke curl and found a Reb shot in the forehead he had a bad wound but did not look as though it hurt him much he had dropped a very nice Enfield Rifle which I captured and have yet I do not know whether they will let me keep it or not I will if possible The Colors of the 120th were on the fort the first The cannonading during the Fight to you I cannot describe none but those that have been at similar engagements can form anything like a correct Idea they had two Parrot Guns 120 pounders and one Columbiade besides a No of lesser caliber their field Batteries were disabled by their horses all being shot the Battle field presents no very pleasing aspect to to me and I will not dwell on it we had a complete victory I understood that we got 7854 prisoners 600 mules and a large amount of arms and Amry stores they had three months rations and waggons and clothing any quantity we made a clean sweep they had captured a very large mail some of my letters were among the captured I am now writing on Rebel Paper now I picked up about fifty letters some of them were just written and some them interesting it afforded me some gratification to read their letters for I supposed they had read mine they got some money that had been sent to the boys I understood that a letter was picked up directed to Surgeon Tagart now Brigade Surgeon offering a bribe of $300 by a widow woman for the discharge of her two sons stating that he could do it for one of them had a sore throat and the other had a lame back I infer this woman knew he could be approached in this way you perhaps have little idea of the extent of fraud practiced on the Government Since we left Vicksburg there has been about three or four desertions to the Co in this Regiment
four in our Co and my humble opinion is if our QM Chaplain and an number of officers are not delt with in a summary manner the 120th Regt of O.V.I. will not amount to a d-d in a short time why if I thought as I have heard some talk I would Desert By the Eternal I would well the men hear them talk in this manner and what can you expect from them I tell you if I had authority there would be some drumhead Court Marshals till the military atmosphere became a little pure life is sweet to me on several accounts but not worth a d-d in their view I do not wish you to or any one I respect to be put to the trials of a company of this kind for it is rough and a man must have a constitution to bear it I am more afraid of fever than bullets for if a man gets down sick with fever on this damnable River he is almost shure to die as thoug a bullet was put throug his vitals and If Boating along this River will put down this Hell born Rebellion we are certainly doing our share toward it there is now over 600 unfit for duty and they still keep us fooling along the river sometimes I think it is to run us into the ground as fast as possible if that is the intention well are they succeeding I have not been very well since we left Memphis but I am so as to be about I do not report to the surgeon for I think it dont amount to much Capt Au had command of the Co at Vicksburg and behaved with Credit I think he is no coward he was not able to be out at Arkansas Post McElwain is not cowardly in fact with few exceptions Co I. behaved well I think there are as brave boys in our Co as any where our Capt case was not decided I understood that the Judge Advocate said he did not think the Capt was aware of the amount of evidence against him we do not get much was news I want you to keep me enlitened as much as possible if you have the gift of continence as well as I have had this time you can give me considerable news direct as befor Yours &c J.C.B. Matson
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You must excuse the hasty manner of this letter and make allowance for mistakes for it is a very poor chance a fellow has to write here I forgot to say that we had an awful fall of snow in Arkansas if it had all stuck it would have been a foot deep My love to Zepru and Yourself
John S.B. Matson enlisted at age 33 as a corporal with Company I of the 120th OH Infantry on October 17, 1862. He was promoted sergeant on April 17, 1863 and captured on May 3, 1864 at Shaggy Point, LA during the Red River Campaign. He was paroled or exchanged as he was later mustered out of service at Camp Chase, OH on July 7, 1865.