Civil War Louisiana (CWLA)

Civil War Louisiana (CWLA)
CWLA seeks to provide an online resource of any and all material of the Civil War relating to Louisiana with a special interest in the war in Acadiana in southwest Louisiana.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Van Alystne's Diary, Part I

Lawrence Van Alystne was part of Co. B, 128th New York Infantry during the Civil War. His regiment was assigned to Louisiana in December of 1862. The 128th New York served in our state until July 1864, when it was transferred to Virginia. Van Alystne put together a book that included his diary he kept while serving in the 128th New York, Diary of An Enlisted Man (1910). This will be the first of several posts covering Van Alystne's entries about his experience during the war in Louisiana.

The following piece is from Chapter IV, which relates part Van Alystne's trip to and arrival in Ship Island.


On Board the Arago

[Skipped November 15 – December 9, no relation to Louisiana]

December 10, 1862.

Off the coast of Florida. We must be going to New Orleans as has been reported. I did not believe it at first, as there was a report that Charleston was our destination. Haight died about sunrise, and his death has cast a gloom over Company B. He was one of the best fellows I have met with in the army. He was a little wild at first but later seemed to change. Talked of the trouble his habits had caused his parents and seemed determined to atone for it by a right about face change. We shall miss his cheery voice. Such is war. It is over thirty-six days since the I28th and two companies of the H4th New York came aboard this vessel. It is a wonder so many are alive to-day. We get on deck now and the nights are so warm some of us sleep there. We suffer for good water to drink. What we have may be good, but it is distilled water, and there are so many of us we use it before it has time to get cold. On the quarter-deck, where we are not allowed to go, are barrels which contain real water, for officers' use only. I was let into a secret last night, how to get some of it, and I drank all I could hold. With a long rubber tube I crawled up behind a barrel and let the end down the bunghole, which is left open for ventilation, and sucked away as long as I could swallow. This will go on until someone is caught at it, and then the game will be up.

December n, 1862.

In the Gulf of Mexico. Flying fish and porpoises are in sight. The sailors say the porpoises are after the flying fish, and they skip out of the water and go as far as they can and then drop in again. It is a beautiful morning, and the water is smooth as glass on top. Under it, however, there seems to be a commotion, for the surface is up and down like hills and hollows on land. Ground swells, the sailors call it. In spite of the nice weather a great many are yet seasick. Three cases of measles are reported this morning. Every one who has never had them seems to be having them now. Only a few new cases of fever were reported. A big shark is following the vessel, after anything that is thrown overboard. It keeps up easily and as far as I can discover makes very little effort to do so.

December 12, 1862.

At daylight Company B was called on deck and made to form in a three-sided square, the open side towards the rail. Poor Haight was then brought up in a rough box, which was set across the rail, the most of it projecting over the water, the end towards us being fastened down by a rope fastened to an iron on the deck. The chaplain made a prayer, and just as the sun rose out of the water the rope was slipped off, and the box plunged down into the water. I should have said that the engines were stopped and except for the chaplain's words the utmost silence prevailed. I shall never forget this, my first sight of a burial at sea. It has all been so sudden, and so unexpected. He was only sick a few days. Never complained no matter what came, but always was foremost in any fun that can be got out of a life like this. It was at his father's house I took tea when home on my five-day furlough, and I am glad I could give his mother such a good account of him. It is hard for us to understand why Lieutenant Sterling's body can be kept for shipment home, while that of Haight could not.

December 13, 1862.

Yet in the Gulf of Mexico. Company C lost a man last night. Company G has been turned out of their quarters and a hospital made of it. That crowds the others still more, but at the rate we go on the whole ship will soon be a hospital.

10 a. m. We have stopped at a sandy island, which they say is Ship Island. The man who died last night has been taken off and they are digging a hole in the sand to put him in.

Ship Island so far as I can discover is only a sand bar with a small fort on it, and with some soldiers about it the only live thing in sight. We weighed anchor about 4 p. M. and the next morning, Dec. I4th, stopped off the mouth of the Mississippi for a pilot. I am told this is called the South West Pass, being one of several outlets to the great Mississippi river. It looks like a mud flat that had been pushed out into the Gulf farther in some places than others. As far as the eye can reach the land is covered with a low down growth of grass or weeds that are but little above the water. We passed a little village of huts near the outlet, where the pilots with their families live and which is called "Pilot Town." What they live on I did not learn. The huts are perched on piles driven in the mud, with board walks from one to the other and water under and about the whole.

December 15, 1862.

Went on up the river until hard ground appeared. Passed two forts, Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip they call them, and say Butler's men had hard fighting to get past them when they came up. The secret is out. Banks is to relieve Butler in the Department of the Gulf. I wonder what harm it would have done had we been told this long ago. Chaplain Parker went ashore and brought off some oranges. A small limb had twenty-four nice oranges on it and this the Dominie said he would send home to show our friends what sumptuous fare we have. Some one suggested his putting in a few wormy hard-tack with the oranges.

We have anchored opposite a large brick building with a few small wood buildings near it.

December 16, 1862.

The U. S. surgeon from the Marine Hospital has been on board looking us over. Found only four diseases, measles, scurvy, typhoid fever and jaundice. He did not put down the gray backs that keep us scratching all the time. For a long time after they appeared they left me alone, but one morning as I lay on my back in bed writing in my diary one came crawling up over my knee and looked me straight in the face; from that on they have seemed to like me as well as anyone.

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Coppens' Zouave Battalion

Coppens' Zouave Battalion
Lt. Colonel George Coppens (seated) and brother, Captain Marie Alfred Coppens.Image sold at auction on Cowan Auctions, for $14,375