Mississippi River, Yazoo River, and Red River: Frigate Sabine, Gunboat Eastport and Flagship Black Hawk, 1862-1865. Unbound. Ten letters (31 page of text) and two printed poems document a gunboat sailor’s Civil War service in the U.S. Mississippi Squadron. One letter is on squadron letterhead, and one of the poems is a satirical song sheet titled “The ‘Frigate’ Black Hawk” which Briggs has annotated, “The Black Hawk is not so bad as all this.”
Briggs optimistically begins his letters to family in 1862 while aboard the Frigate Sabine.
“[We] received a dispatch from Washington that . . . the war is fast coming to a close and were sent back to the [Brooklyn] Navy Yard . . .. This ship mounts 54 guns we have one onboard that weighs about 12000 pounds carrys a hundread pound Ball And have a crew of 500 men. . .. I think the war will soon close we have almost every place which is of eny importance which borders on sea coast and also inland. . .. I long to see the Stars & Stripes float through the United States once more and the rebel flag trampled under foot. And Jeff Davis taken Prisoner or strung up by the heels to a limb of a tree. . ..”
However, after reality set in, Briggs was transferred to the Gunboat Eastport, which was assigned to Commodore Porter’s Mississippi Squadron.
“We left Cairo . . . as a convoy to some three thousand rebel prisoners to be exchanged [and] had to send another gun boat down the river with them. . .. They were fired upon by . . . guerillas (while under a flag of truce) who mistook them for Union soldiers killing & wounding a great many. . .. We will go down the river to participate in the attack on Vicksburgh which . . . when taken will leave the Mississippi open from its source to its mouth. Twice the butchers of Helena [Arkansas] fooled us out of fresh beef; so . . . after supper one of the boats [went] armed & when they came back they had a beef [and] have been there three times since getting Pork, Corn, & Veal. . .. [They go] armed on account of the guerillas hovering about the river to see what they can destroy. . .. "
Briggs also summarizes the locations of the Squadron’s vessels as it prepared for the assault in a letter that could have been valuable to the Confederacy if it had fallen into the hands of a spy or sympathizer.
“Lying around [Helena] are the battering ram Q [Queen of the West] & L [either Lancaster or Lioness] and the gunboats Lexington, Mound City, Pittsburg, Benton, Cairo, General Bragg; the St. Louis is lying at Memphis, the Carondelet and Cincinnati are lying at Mound City. The Tyler is down at the mouth of the Yazoo river. There is 30 thousand men as a protection to this place from the guerillas all under the command of Brig. Gen. Curtis. . .. A great many troops have already gone down the river to waite for the Gun Boats to help them take vixburg. . .. We will have to fight a hard battle before we can take the place. Com Porter says that he wanted to eat his Christmas dinner at New Orleans but I don’t think he will have such good luck. . .. “ And, he bemoans the delay in attacking Vicksburg. “[We are] very near ready to give vicksburg a try . . . to run the Blockade . . . but the army and navy officers are so slow . . . that when they get ready to do any thin . . . it is to late, We aught to have taken Vicksburg long ago then we could have . . . very easy but [now] they are to many guns for us I think that old porter will have to hurry up his stumps . . . if not he will have to wait until next winter."
Briggs also makes his opinion of Commodore Porter, President Lincoln, abolitionists, and “nigers” clear.
"I dont think much of [Porter] he wants to make every one think that he is a brave man but I believe [he] is an old crazy. . .. We have got three horses and five cows they are for the Admirals own benefet all that we get to eat down here is pork and beans one day rice and beef the next. We have got a lot of nigers on board some that old porter captured from the rebels, he is an old abolitionist for he loves a niger. . .. I dont like this fighting for the freedom of niggers I would be willing to die to save the Union but not to free a nigger but old abe says that they shall be free I hope he will have to sleep with them. . ..”
Following Vicksburg, while Briggs was assigned to the USS Black Hawk, the squadron’s flagship, he participated in the Red River and Cumberland campaigns.
“We are up the red river. . . . The whole fleet of iron clads are . . . up the river 150 miles to a place called Alexandria We have taken a large quanity of cotton. . .. Gen Smith and his troops are with us but we take all the cotton that is on the banks and leave the Soldiers to go in land We are making a clean sweep of every thing . . . but we will have plenty of fighting to do the folks dont know what to make of us yankees. . .. I was away on [an] Expedition up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers [that] I soppose you have herd all about. . .. If I live to get home I will spin you a yarn about the Mississippi Squadron and it will all be true I assure you. . ..”
Briggs’s letters are also filled with discussions of family matters as well as interesting comments about female photographs, hate for abolitionists, the Southern climate, use of express agencies, and much more.
“Dear Sister . . . dont look to flash when [your photo is] taken but look as though you had ben married look plain and natural for my Ship Mates will all want to look [and] I should not want to hear any one Pass any remarks on it for you dont know Blue Jacket Sailors so well as I do. . .. Abolitionists [are] the worst . . . that there is in the North. [They] have don more to destroy the union than they have to save it. . .. This fresh river air and swampy country is not good [and I] was on the Sick list nearly two months. . .. There is all kinds of sickness down here [and] the water . . . is fit for a horse to drink not a man.”. Very good. Item #009763
This personal account by a Mississippi Squadron sailor is the best collection of gunboat correspondence we have ever handled.