Letter written by Private Erastus Gregory of Company C, 114th NY Infantry, to his brother, from Port Hudson, LA. Gregory gives a day-to-day account of the battle fought at Port Hudson. Gregory’s regiment worked on building breastworks while being shelled by the Confederates. Despite being under continuous fire, Union forces suffered few losses. He mentions Major General Franklin Gardner going to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks to settle the fight with a trade of men and artillery for the fort, but Banks refused. Gregory writes that the ideas one may have about what it is like in battle fall short of the reality, and praises the bravery of the soldiers going into the field. He calls those who cry for peace cowards. He disputes that the Union is fighting for the rights of enslaved peoples, but rather is fighting to crush the rebellion, though he goes on to say that he hopes when, “resurrection morning shall dawn upon us I may be accounted worthy to sit down near the throne of God with as black a man as ever trod the soil of old africa.” This was written the day before he was killed in action.
Port Hudson on the Mississippi 204 miles above New Orleans
June 13th 1863
Dear Brother and all I will begin a letter for you today but cannot send it out until this battle is decided for they do not allow any mail to leave here until then we started from the old railroad on friday the 29th of may and went to New Orleans by railroad we took a steamer from there and came up the river and arrived five miles below here on Saturday we stayed all night and on Sunday the 31st we marched onto the Battle ground we were brought up for reinforcements & so we were sent right to work they had been fighting 7 days when we got here, and I am going to keep an account of every day until the battle is decided last night Sunday night our men were sent out to put up some breastworks and worked till 12 o clock & then slept what we could the rest the time until morning the rebs shelling us by spells through the night Monday june 1st this day opens upon us very pleasant the men are fighting with a will on both sides the rebs have been throwing up new works during the night and our men have been shelling them all the forenoon and have finally succeeded in knocking them down the rebs had a big gun behind it (the works) and our men have just dismounted it with one of our big guns so they have only 2 more big guns left that they can use against us the
infantry fighting continues brisk all day) Tuesday june 2nd the rebs shelled us by spells all night last night the infantry fighting was also kept up most all night and they are fighting like tigers today the reb shells have done us no hurt yet except to scare us pretty bad and one man (in Co. K) probably being a little more scart than some of the rest started to run to get out of the way when his foot slipped he fell some way so his gun went off the ball passed through his foot in such a manner that it had to be cut off but during surgical operations he sudenly passed into eternity and that with the exception of killing a few mules is all the hurt they have done yet that is to our regiment but they have killed about (1000) men here since the fight began and probably wounded 3 times as many more) Wednesday June 3d is a pleasant day we are fighting with a will with cannons as well as muskets The old rebel reneral [Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner] has been out today to see gen Banks [Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks] for the purpose of settling the fight he told Gen. Banks if he (Banks) would let him have the men and 50 pieces artillery and his own life and be permitted to go he would surrender the fort to us but good old gen B told him (No) he wanted him, his men, artillery, & the fort besides) this old rebel general is the man that used to be United States paymaster and ran away with a pile of money that he was sent to pay troops and joined the rebs & being a smart man, they made a general of him but if we get him he will never be general any more for any buddy) thursday June 4th fighting commenced at daylight fight all day) friday June 5th fighting again today like tigers the rebs began to shell us again last night as usual but our men had been fixing for them and when they opened on us our men opened on them and ere the morning light they had dismounted the rebels two last guns and according to the statement of a negro that got away from them and came to us we killed a
good many men the negro said that we slaughtered them terribly) Saturday June 6th we are fighting today as eager as if it were the first day of the battle our men shelled the rebs through the night and they did not answer to our fire poor fellows had nothing to answer with) an Irishman has come over from them today and gave himself up he says we have almost give them enough he says two regiments of them have laid down their arms and took an oath that they will fight no more against their country) Sunday June 7th this is a lovely day full as pleasant as it is holy I am not fighting today but some of our regiment are the rebs opened upon us this morning with a gun that they had got mounted they made out to shoot once before our men got one of our old long toms in range and that is the last I have heard from the old gun today) this was an awful stronghold but we must soon have it I think) the fort or port is 7 miles around it and we have four lines of soldiers clear around) we have 30 miles of soldiers here, when they stand four abreast Monday June 8th fighting continues all day there was cannonading by spells all night by our men the rebs not answering to it but two or three times) I suppose you have an idea of what takes place in a fight like this but your ideas fall short of the reality) when I get home I will try and tell you so you will know something about it but I have not time to write it. But I tell you it is nothing that anyone would crave after) to see a regiment of brave boys go proudly into the field where shot and shell fly thickly around them perhaps before the first round is fired a piece of shell or musket ball hits a man on the head and he is carried from the field in an expiring condition another perhaps has his leg or arm shot off by a canon ball or grape shot while another is shot in the breast in such a manner that you can see right inside of him) and I tell you it is not very often that one word of complaint is heard from these brave men so eager are they to save their country from ruin) yet strange to
say we have men in the north that do us a great deal of harm by their cowardly cries of peace peace when there is no peace it dampens the faith of many an unthinking soldier and at the same time gives great courage to the traitors or rebels but I would say to such men as they are go on say all and do all you can we have taken the job to put down this unholy rebellion and with the help of almighty God we will see that it is done and done handsomely too if it takes ten long years to do it but for my part I dare not come home and tell my neighbor that I gave in my voice (to have peace on any terms) after the rebels had killed over two hundred thousand of the brave boys) I dare not come home and take my old gray headed father & mother by the hand & tell them their gray hairs must go down in sorrow to the grave because I had given in my voice to have peace on any terms, and therefore give the rebels all they demanded in the first place) I dare not come home where my wife and children are and take them by the hand and pat the little children on the head and tell them that I had brought a curse upon them and their children for generation and generations to come by giving in my voice towards having a peace which would be more ruinous than defeat itself) I dare come home and look my brothers & sisters in the face and take them by the hand and tell them I had signed away their peace the remainder of their lives by giving in my cowardly voice for peace) and back out at this critical juncture after more than two hundred and fifty thousand of our brave and noble young men had been buried beneath the Southern sod) I dare not do it I say) No I had rather brave the storm of iron and lead a spell longer) but enough of that) you will begin to think I am getting to be a union man if I do not stop) Albert D. is here he makes a good soldier and one that is pretty well calculated to pick a reb at pretty near every shot) we have cowards but they did not come from Mt Upton [NY] you see) tuesday June 9th infantry fighting continues brisk all day the cannons also keep up a tremendous roar all day Wednesday June 10th the rebs threw 5 shells at us last night but they were soon hushed up by our guns for our men shelled them all night infantry fighting all day today
thursday June 11th this is a rainy wet morning) our regiment were sent out last night for the purpose of removing some trees and rubbish that were in our way between our guns and accouterments ½ mile back and went to work like tigers to get our job done before daylight and we were progressing finely) when we had got within a few rods of their breastworks they probably knowing that we had not got our guns a large party of them sprang up from behind some brush and fired into our men of course we dropped everything and run and run we did it up & run in any manner for it but I should say we took a faster gait than a run) But strange to say there was only 3 or 4 wounded in the whole regt and only one in our company and he received his wound by falling down on his axe and cutting himself) not very bad) heavy cannonading by our men all night) the rebs not answering our fire except with musketry) we are having a terrible fight here to get this port but nothing daunted we press forward with a will not forgeting however to ask the blessings of almighty god to rest uppon us and the aid of his strong arm to guide and direct us and then we do not fear anything that can be devised by southern rebels or northern traitors) there is only one thing that I regret and that is I am sorry they are not all here together so we could fight them all at the same time not that I have any hatred toward them in any other way than to hate their actions (all I want is to bring them to terms that is bring them to an unconditional surrender and then with as much joy as the father experienced at the return of the prodigal I will receive them back and call them brothers again) those northern traitors get up the miserable story that we are fighting for the (****** as they term it) I suppose they think that if they get up that miserable yarn that we will not fight so hard but I will tell them now for all that we have come down here to whip these rebels and crush out their wicked rebellion and negro or not negro) (******
or not ******) we are bound to subdue them the cost be what it will) And then after the rebs are completely whipped then I say we shall have time enough to talk about the negro and then if I see anything in them or about them worthy of fighting for I will enlist and fight on the rite side) But until then I shall not bother my brains much concerning the negro some seem to think that because the negro has a black skin he ought to be a servant or slave and be bought and sold and whipped and kicked and abused in any way that a cruel master or overseer might see fit punish them) some even go so far as to say the negro has no soul but I believe when God created the negro He put as a baby [illegible due to fold] his man and I hope when the resurrection morning shall dawn upon us I may be accounted worthy to sit down near the throne of God with as black a man as ever trod the soil of old africa) If my sentence is no worse than that would be I shall be satisfied) one word more about Northern traitors and I will close this subject) tell them for me that I say, they had better come down here and help their rebel brothers for we are getting them in a tight place and they need their help very much but if they cannot or dare not come tell them to keep on and do all the hurt they can where they are) and tell them to hurry up for we shall be home some day and then it will be very strange if they do not [illegible due to fold] days they have all day sit about as if the rebels fight as well as they did the first day I am sitting here behind a tree in the edge of the woods writing this letter the balls fly around me like hail but I hardly notice it I have got so used to it) the cannons keep up a tremendous roar on our side but the rebs do not answer only with muskets) I thought I would not send out any letters until this battle was decided but I can and I think I shall send this tomorrow (Saturday) I received a couple of letters from you yesterday and was more than glad to hear that you were all well I am hearty and stout as a bear I think you did not enjoy your ride from Sanford very much the letters that I received were dated
-Page 5, Upside down-
April 25th and May 10th give my respects to all tell Amelia and the children I have not forgotten them and I shall be glad when the war is over and then I can come home and see them all I will close for the present.
Erastus Gregory enlisted at the age of 28 in Guilford, NY on August 9 of 1862. He served as a private in Company C of the114th NY Infantry. He was killed in action June 14, 1863 at Port Hudson, LA. According to family lore, Gregory was killed when a bullet passed through the bible he carried in his pocket.