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.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Van Alystne's Diary, Part II

We continue with the diary of Lawrence Van Alystne was part of Co. B, 128th New York Infantry. 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).

Quarantine Station, La.

Cooking gray-backs—A big cat-fish—Starting a grave yard—" The most trying circumstances war can bring."

TOWARDS night the Arago swung up to the bank near the big brick building and we went ashore and piled into it. It was built for storing cotton, and is fireproof. The lower floor is of brick and the upper one of iron and so cannot well burn. The bricks seem hard and cold and are water-soaked. Still we spread our blankets and got some sleep and woke up hungry. The cooks have established themselves between us and the river so as to be near water. We have room to stir about at any rate and some went in bathing, but the water is cold. The only good quality the body lice possess is a habit of letting go of us when we move and grabbing hold of our clothes. Taking advantage of this we took the camp kettles as soon as breakfast was cooked and boiled our clothes. Those that had no change—and that was the most of us—ran about to keep warm until our garments were cooked and then after a wring out put them on and let them dry as fast as the wind and sun would do it. By night we were dry and slept without a scratch, and strange to say none of us took cold. But not all would try this heroic remedy and consequently we expect to have to repeat the operation. A negro came across the river with his boat loaded with oranges. We bought the whole of them as fast as he could count them out, fifty cents for 100, and the doctor says eat all you want. The sick are in the wooden buildings outside, except in one, which the officers have taken. We acted like colts just turned loose and already are forgetting the close quarters we were in so long. Along the river is a narrow strip of hard ground and beyond that is a swamp which so far as I can see has no end. Sluggish streams flow with the tide back and forth from the river to the gulf, and between these the ground is covered with what is here called wild rice. Birds of all sorts are plenty; ducks and geese all feed upon the seeds that abound everywhere.

December 17, 1862.

Have explored the country up and down and back from the river to-day. Found much that is strange to me but met with no startling adventures.

December 18, 1862.

The officers gave a dance in the upper part of the storehouse last night and the iron floor was fine for dancing. All hands were invited to join in and all that felt able did. Two men died yesterday, and last night another, all fever patients. Two were from Company A, and the other from Company I. They were buried just back of the quarters on hard ground, for this place. A catfish was caught by one of Company A's men to-day, that looked just like our bullheads, only bigger. As he was pulling him in over the mud the line broke, and I got the head for hitting him with an axe before he got to the water. The head weighed 145/2 Ibs, and the whole fish 52 Ibs. A native that saw him said he was a big one, but not as big as they sometimes grow. My family had a meal from the head and Company A had fish for all their sick and part of the well ones.

December 19, 1862.

Fifteen cases of fever reported this morning. A dead man was taken out very early and buried in a hurry. This has given rise to the story that small-pox has come, too. It looks as if it might be so, for it's about the only thing we haven't got. Those that seemed strongest are as likely to be taken now as the weakest. I have been half sick through it all and yet I hold my own, and only for my sore throat and this racking cough would enjoy every minute.

December 20, 1862.

One day is so much like another that the history of one will do for several. I think about everything that can be done for our comfort is being done. There must be some reason for our being kept here and it is probably because of so much sickness. It would not do to take us where others would catch our diseases and yet it is tough lines we are having. Chaplain Parker does everything he can to keep up our spirits, even to playing boy with us. A new doctor has come to take the place of one that died while we lay off Newport News.

December 21, 1862.

Inspection of arms to-day and a sermon by the chaplain. We are thinking and talking of the letters we will get when we have a mail. Uncle Sam keeps track of us someway and sooner or later finds us. We have a regimental postmaster, who is expected every day from the city with a bag full. We have enough to fill him up on his return trip. The Arago is unloading all our belongings, which looks as if we were to stay here. Good-bye, Arago! I wish there was a kettle big enough to boil you and your bugs in before you take on another load. So many are sick the well ones are worked the harder for it. I still rank amoung the well ones and am busy at something all the time. Just now I have been put in place of fifth sergenat, who among other duties sees that the company has its fair share of rations, and anything else that is going. I also attend sick call every morning, which amounts to this. The sick call sounds and the sick of Company B fall in line and I march them to the doctor's office, where they are examined. Some get a dose of whiskey and quinine, some are ordered to the hospital and some are told to report for duty again. Dr. Andrus and I play checkers every chance we get. We neither play a scientific game, but are well matched and make some games last a long time. He is helping my throat and my cough is not so bad lately. Our quarters were turned into a smoke house to-day. An old stove without a pipe is going and some stinking stuff is burning that nothing short of a grayback can stand. It is expected to help our condition, and there is lots of chance for it.

Christmas, 1862.

Nothing much out of the ordinary has happened since I wrote last. A man went out hunting and got lost in the tall weeds. He shouted until some others found him and then had great stories to tell of narrow escapes, etc. Harrison Leroy died this morning. He was half sick all the way here and did not rally after coming ashore. Dr. Andrus poked a swab down my throat with something on it that burned and strangled me terribly. But I am much the better for it. We have all been vaccinated, and there is a marked improvement in the condition of those not in the hospital. The chaplain preached a sermon and Colonel Cowles made a speech. He thanked us for being such good soldiers under what he called the most trying circumstances war can bring. Loads of soldiers go up the river nearly every day. As the doctor allows them to pass the quarantine, I take it they are not in the fix we are.

December 26, 1862.

Leroy was buried early this morning. My part in it was to form the company and march it by the left flank to the grave. For fear this may not be plain I will add, that the captain and orderly are always at the right of the line when the company is in line for any purpose and that end of the line is the right flank. The tallest men are on the right also and so on down to the shortest, which is Will Hamilton and Charles Tweedy, who are on the left, or the left flank as it is called. This arrangement brings the officers in the rear going to the grave, but when all is over the captain takes command and marches the company back by the right. I got through without a break and feel as if I was an old soldier instead of a new one. But it is a solemn affair. Leroy was a favorite with us and his death and this, our first military funeral, has had a quieting effect on all. Last night the chaplain and some officers, good singers all, came in and we almost raised the roof singing patriotic songs. Speeches were made and we ended up with three cheers that must have waked the alligators out in the swamp. Sweet potatoes and other things are beginning to come in and as they sell for most nothing we are living high. But we are in bad shape as a whole. Mumps have appeared and twenty-four new cases were found to-day. Colonel Smith, our lieutenant-colonel, has been up the river to try and find out if better quarters could not be had and has not succeeded. He is mad clear through, and when asked where we were to go, said to hell, for all he could find out.

December 28, 1862.

We have had a rain and the hard ground made the softest kind of mud. It sticks to our feet and clothes, and everybody is cross and crabbed. The sun came out, however, and our spirits began to rise as the mud dried up. There was preaching and prayer meeting both to-day.

Our chaplain's courage is something wonderful and many of us attend the services out of respect to him when we had much rather lie and rest our aching bones. The captain of the Arago sent word he will be along to-night on his way to New York and would stop for letters. He will find some, judging from the writing that has been going on.

December 29, 1862.

John Van Hoovenburg, another Company B boy, is about gone. The men are getting discouraged and to keep their minds from themselves it is said drilling is to begin to-morrow. The seed sown on the Arago is bearing fruit now. Something to do is no doubt the best medicine for us. I know I should die if I laid around and talked and thought of nothing but my own miserable self.

January 1, 1863.

The Arago did call for our mail and the body of Lieutenant Sterling was put on board to go to his family in Pougtikeepsie. We gave the old ship three cheers, and then some one sang out three cheers for the lice you gave us. John Van Hoovenburg died last night. We made a box for him out of such boards as we could find. Though we did our best, his bare feet showed through the cracks. But that made no difference to poor Johnnie. The chaplain was with him to the end, says he was happy and ready to go. This is how we spend our New Year's day. We wish each other a happy New Year though just as if we were home and had a good prospect of one. After the funeral Walter Loucks and I went up the river quite a distance, so far it seemed as if our legs would not carry us back. Negro huts are scattered along. I suppose white people cannot live here and so the darkeys have it all. Some cultivate patches of ground and in one garden we saw peas in bloom. We bought a loaf of bread and a bottle of molasses of an old woman, and though the bread was not what it might have been, it tasted good. There are some orange trees, but no oranges. The darkies say they will blossom in about a month. A man in Company E, a sort of poet, who was always writing songs for the boys to sing, was cutting wood to-day and the axe flew off the handle and cut the whole four fingers from the right hand. There were no witnesses and some there are who say he did it so as to get a discharge. The doctor has dressed the hand and he is going about in great pain just now.

January 2, 1863.

Friday. Peter Carlo, the one who went through the medical examination at Hudson with me, died last night. He was found dead this morning and appeared to have suffered terribly. His eyes and mouth were staring wide open and his face looked as if he had been tortured to death. Companies A and B keep in advance on the sick list.

January 3, 1863.

Two more men died last night, but not from Company B. We sent off another mail to-day. I wish we might get some letters. We ought to have a lot of them when they do come.

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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