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John Downes
Company “E”, 35th Iowa Cavalry

"I notice the Officers can get whiskey and a large share are drunk...." John Downes, April 22, 1863 Camp at Milliken’s Bend


April 22, 1863

Camp at Milliken’s Bend

Kind friend, I send this for information. Governor Yates is here today from Illinois. He is reviewing the troops in the Department. The report is that Vicksburg is being evacuated. We hear a report from northern battery that there is a prospect of peace but I don’t credit the report. I notice that most of the troops have sent their money home. Some fools have went into gambling and have lost all their money and they go about trying to borrow off their fellow soldiers, but I have no sympathy for such fools. I notice the Officers can get whiskey and a large share are drunk.

The order has come for all soldiers to send turn their side arms home or else they will be seized by the government officials. Now I think that damned hard. The boys has paid for their revolvers and they ought to be allowed to keep them. The Codfish has done this mean trick. I should not wonder if the soldiers would kill a few thousand Codfish Officers. The shoulder straps had better not put on too many airs or by God, some of them will get shot. They have been playing the fool long enough. I am getting tired of those little ticey [sic] ass Codfish officers. They are a disgrace to the Army.

April the 23rd—Heavy firing was heard all the better part of the night in the Vicinity of Vicksburg and there is an odd shot this morning, once in a while. My kind friend, I must mention one thing. Yesterday I was to the cattle corral and took a peep at the beef cattle. They was all so poor. They could not shit for bones. Such beef as that is a disgrace to the American Army. I shall play my hand out on a stranger and go into some other Regiment. One thing is certain. This Codfish plan of taking the side arms from the soldiers will have a bad tendency. It gives the Rebels a decided advantage over us in the field of battle, because they go armed to the teeth and us, we’ll have nothing but our muskets to fight with. God Damn the Codfish! They will ruin us. What the cause of all this Codfish style, I can’t see. There must be traitors at the head of the army somewhere.

When we made a flank movement on the Talahatchie last fall, that would have been the time to have taken Vicksburg. But that would have ended the war too soon for the government. Lucky some people let it be who it will, must suffer in hell for the cursed doings in the army. One half of the Officers in service are no more loyal than Jeff Davis….

At the bank, the Steamer, Uncle Sam—she is turned into a Man of War. She carries 10 guns on lower decks and two long nines on the bow, and one small field piece on the hurricane roof one rifled gun mounted that carries two ounces of lead. What that little one is for, I can’t tell. There is five of those boats and they carry the Marine Brigade, the whole concern is wooden. I notice there is a great deal of style put on those Marine boats. I have an idea that there is some Codfish on them—what good they will do, I can’t tell. Time alone will decide.

April the 24th. It is now talked in military circles that Grant will make a flank movement with Infantry down the Arkansas side and cross the river and by so doing, he will get in the rear of Vicksburg, but I fear that it will prove a failure like the Yazoo Expedition. It is said that we have 5000 prisoners safely quarantined on the island below Vicksburg, but that is only a camp report. It needs confirmation. The report in camp is that 2 of our transports we sunk while running the blockade, but that needs to be confirmed also. The boats suffered some. Of course, they can’t get through without some getting hit. The other night, I counted 315 shots in about two hours and then turned over and went to sleep. So you can give some idea of the engagement. It is said that Grant will back down a couple of high church steeples. They answer for a good observatory for the Rebs to watch our movements. If I had command, I would knock the hell out of ‘em in a minute.

12 o’clock—Orders has come for 3 days rations to be cooked and to march tomorrow, the 25th at 10 o’clock. It will be difficult for me to get any letters from this time, until we stop. I think the battle will not be delayed long. I have received some 4 or 5 letters from Ann the other day. I sent Father 75 dollars by Express. I wish you would tell him to see to it and if you please write to me when he gets it.

I am well at this time and hope the letter may find you and yours enjoying the same privileges of this life. I carry the Enfield Rifle and it shoots well. It is made to carry 900 yards with raising sights. I must close my letter with due respect to Jon W. Walton.

From your friend, John Downer.

P.S. This is the last stamp I have got and I can’t get anymore. Yours, J.D.

Read the Downes Letters
1861 | 1863

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John Downes was born in Ireland and resided in Muskatine, Iowa. He was 38 years old when he enlisted as a Private on August 12, 1862. He was mustered into Company “E”, 35th Iowa Cavalry. He mustered out in 1865, at Davenport, Iowa.

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