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Otho J. Powell Correspondence - MMS 1634
Otho J. Powell wrote the following letters to the editor of the Wyandot Democratic Union while serving with Company F, 144th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
May 16th, 1864
Editor Wyandot Union:
Permit me, through the columns of your newspaper, to relate a few of the incidents of our trip East, as I am confident that it will prove interesting to the readers of your sheet. I know that the citizens of Wyandot Co. are looking anxiously every day to hear something from the 19th and that a letter in public print coming from their midst will be perused by all; therefore, I take the liberty of thus addressing them. On the 11th inst., we received orders to leave Camp Chase; and the boys all seemed rejoiced to move, as they were desirous of seeing the eastern country. Thursday morning at 9 o'clock we bade farewell to that camp and took the train for Baltimore City. We embarked on the Ohio Central railroad, intending to go via: Pittsburgh, Pa., as the Rebs had damaged the B. & O. R.R. so badly that it was unsafe to travel. Nothing of importance transpired until the following day Friday when we were winding around the Ohio River and could gaze into the state of Virginia. Oh! How grand was the sight as the "Iron horse" thundered around the bends of the river, to behold the rich and fertile valleys and plains, and gaze with intent admiration upon the mountains that apparently kissed the blue ethereal sky above us. It almost caused the tears to fall when we thought that this nation of ours was, at this hour, engaged in deadly war and strife; and that instead of raising the huge cry of war, although at this period of the nation's history it was necessary, we should raise our hearts in praise to the God of our fathers who has so highly favored us.
The boys were all full of life and jollity, some singing, others engaged in various ways to pass away the time, for we traveled just as the regular trains would allow, as ours was a special, and we were under the necessity of laying over at almost every station. But notwithstanding we made the best of a "bad thing" for it was raining in torrents nearly all day. We were greeted by nearly all the inhabitants of the country through which we passed and ever and anon we could see the Stars and Stripes floating to the breeze in the land of Dixie: and could see the people waving their handkerchiefs and throwing their hats in the air, cheering and hollering lustily for the 144th Regiment. Before I proceed any further, I will relate a terrible accident, and one in which our regiment lost one of its men.
The train had stopped in Rochester, Pa. for about an hour, waiting for the mail train to pass, and when it drew near, our train moved a short distance to give more room on the main track. It was the habit of a great number of the boys to get upon the top of the cars, as they had a fairer view of the surrounding scenery, and could cheer all the inhabitants of the various towns and villages that we passed through. A young man named Straw, of Co.F (Ed note: Co.G) was standing upon on the hindmost cars, not thinking what danger he was in, and laughing and jesting to his comrades, when the starting of the engine gave the train a sudden jerk, threw the unfortunate boy between the cars. The three last ones passing over him, crushing his hand, head and stomach, causing instant death. He was taken to Pittsburgh and buried, so I am informed by some of your boys.
At 7 o'clock Friday evening, we arrived at Pittsburgh, feeling very tired and nearly all our rations gone; we thought that we were soldiers in every sense of the word. We had not been there many minutes when we were ordered to the City Hall, where the Soldiers Subsistence Committee had prepared for us a supper. After the boys had eaten their supper, they felt like fun and frolic, but at that time we were ordered to make preparations to leave for Harrisburg. We marched down to the depot, but the train that was to transport us was not ready, we then broke ranks and had a jolly time, I assure you. For about two or three hours the city was made vocal with national airs of the drum and fife. The cars were not ready until three o'clock Saturday morning, and when they were, they were so crowded that it was with difficulty that we could pile in, but we were stowed away after a fashion, and went on our way rejoicing, though the rain was pouring down.
Traveling through the mountains of Pennsylvania is a sight that will repay any individual that is a lover of natural scenery and delights to gaze upon the meadows dressed in their green verdue, with bright rippling brooks and streamlets, meandering through the shrubbery and everglades that admire their grassy surface. Gigantic mountains that look as if they would fall upon the cars, as they tear and rattle around their base. We ran through these mountains with lightning speed. But again another fatal accident marred the pleasure of the trip. At some station that I do not at this time recollect, on the Pennsylvania Central, between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, a boy belonging to the village through which we passed, got upon the cars when we stopped with the intention of riding a short distance, but waiting until the train was running very fast, he attempted to jump off and was thrown against a post and instantly killed.
Traveling at such a fast rate we soon arrived in Harrisburg, where we were received as in Pittsburgh, and after partaking the refreshments so kindly prepared for us, took the cars for Baltimore City. We traveled all night, and Sunday morning at or about noon we landed safely in the city without any more accidents. After we had taken the dinner that was waiting for us, and had looked around to see the "sights" we were ordered to our present position.
I will now give you some city news together with a few items from the Fort and then I shall close for the present, as my letter is now longer than printers like to see them.
The draft came off in the city and some seven or eight hundred were "elected" to serve Uncle Samuel. All passed off quietly and the men who drew the prizes are somewhat elated, as you may suppose when you read the history of this city since the rebellion commenced.
Last night, five deserters out of six that were to be executed shortly, made good their escape, by cutting a hole through their prison in the Fort.
We have at this time about 400 deserters and Rebel prisoners, which are now in durance vile, waiting for their sentences.
This is a beautiful location as we are right upon the bay and have a fair view of the vessels that pass to and from the city. All the boys are delighted with our present station and wish that they could serve the hundred days in this Fort.
We are all well and have plenty to eat and very good quarters and all are enjoying themselves. With this I will close, hoping that all the folks of Upper Sandusky and the vicinity are well, and doing the best that can be done under the existing circumstances. More news the next time.
Otho J. Powell
Relay Barracks, near Relay House, Maryland
June 4th, 1864
It has been several weeks since I have written anything for publication and as I am at leisure this morning I will endeavor to give you a short sketch of the doings of the 144th Regiment of National Guards since we left Ft. McHenry. We were only in that fort several days, when the orders from headquarters sent us to Relay House about nine or ten miles from the city. The boys left with a feeling of regret, thinking that we would be stationed at a position that would not be suited as well to the inclinations and purposes of the Regiment, but that is not the case, as we are now at a place that is far more pleasant and agreeable, and all are enjoying camp life better than we did whilst confined in the blackened and time-scared wall of old Fort McHenry. When I stood upon the banks of the Chesapeake Bay, and intentively gaze out upon its smooth and glassy surface, the scenes of the bombardment of that Fort in 1812 and 14 came vividly to my mind; and I thought of the bright and glorious morning when the cannons from the British vessels were pouring their iron hail into the fort, and as the smoke and fire dimmed the horizon with their heavy clouds, one of America's noble sons was engaged in producing one of the greatest and most sublime compositions that was ever inscribed upon this nation's history, and that was "The Star Spangled Banner." It appeared to me that I could hear the plaintive notes reverberating above the thunder of the cannon as the bright and glorious sun arose in all its resplendent glory and beauty, upon the bloody scene of carnage and death.
In passing through the Fort one day, I spied a relic of that memorable day in the shape of a shell. Upon a close examination, I saw that it was fired by the British in 1814 and weighs 216 1/2 pounds. It is the largest I ever saw, and from its appearance would do considerable execution.
We are now considerably divided, only having three companies in this camp. The others are stationed as follows: three at Annapolis, Md., two at Fort Dix, but a few hundred yards from this camp, one at Annapolis Junction about 18 miles from here, and one at Washington, Delaware. So you perceive that the 144th is scattered over a large scope of the country. But as we were ordered out into the field for the purpose of guard duty upon the prominent military posts, we have no cause to whatever to grumble that we are thus cut up and sent to different points throughout this and other states.
Court-Martial is setting in the Barracks in which they are trying prisoners and deserters from the Federal Army. There is at present, the case of a soldier pending before the court, who shot a citizen of this locality some time ago. The trial has been progressing for several days, but as yet a verdict has not been found, I am unable to say how it will terminate, as I am not thoroughly acquainted with the causes that led to the affair. When the trial is ended I shall give you the particulars.
I will give you a short description of our camp, thinking that it will be of interest to the readers of your journal. Our camp is upon the top of a hill, fronting a public road; and covered with a grove of large Chestnut trees which give us plenty of shade and a great convenience these days-for you must remember that this state is much warmer than Ohio, and the hot sun, if we would not have the trees in our camp, would cause the northern-bred boys to wilt under its scorching rays. On the west side is a valley, through which runs a small stream of water and along its banks and through the whole field are plenty of Blackberries and Whortleberries, which will soon be ripe. Taking all things into consideration, we could not wish a better location to serve the United States for a hundred days.
On the 17th of May Company A had an election for a 2nd Lieutenant caused by the resignation of the "brave Thomas," who when duty called him forth to fight for his country, felt a little uneasy for his safety and forthwith sent in his resignation to the Governor and concluded to stay at home and watch over the destinies of the Wyandots. The result of the election is as follows:
Ragon elected by a majority, over all the candidates, of one.
The boys have plenty of amusements of all kinds and the days speed quickly by. It seems such a short time since we left our homes, as each day passed away so pleasantly. All enjoy good health, with the exception of a few cases of diarrhea, but nearly all of them are well. This is a healthy country and if all of us are careful of ourselves, we need fear no disease of any kind. From the present aspect of military affairs in this locality it is the general impression that we will spend our hundred days in this place.
I have nothing of importance to write this time, only the citizens of Baltimore are making great preparation for the Baltimore National Convention.
The authorities of the state have been drafting for several weeks and are not through yet. The Governor of this state has issued a proclamation calling out two regiments of hundred day men, to be placed in the fortifications in and around the city. As I have nothing more to write this time, I will conclude, by sending my best wishes to the citizens of old Wyandot. More anon.
Otho J. Powell
Relay Barracks, near Relay House
June 22, 1864
This evening, being at leisure, I will endeavor to write you a brief communication in hopes that the few items of news I shall present from the 144th Regiment National Guards will be read by all the citizens of old Wyandot. It has been several weeks since I have written anything, and in that period of time, there has been many things transpiring in this locality that the friends at home have not been cognizant of; therefore I shall make them acquainted with them as well as I can.
We are still in the old quarters, at the Relay Barracks, and anticipate from the present aspect of affairs that we will remain in this locality until our time expires. Truly we have no cause whatever to complain as we have fared very well in every respect since we were ordered to this position and the Regiment, or the part that is here, have all enjoyed themselves very much. Our duties are pretty heavy, as we have only five companies in these two encampments-this and Fort Dix; and they have all the guard duty to perform, which takes the principal part of the men. At the Fort, they have commenced artillery practice. A few artillerymen from one of the veteran regiments are drilling them. They are progressing finely, and I guess if the Rebs attempt to cross the bridge, or to tear up the railroads, that they will meet with a warm reception from the Fort.
Part of our regiment and the 2nd Maryland have been busily engaged for the past several weeks in erecting a block house on top of the hill, a short distance from here. From the amount of timber that has been gathered out and hauled there, they must calculate on erecting a mammoth structure. It is intended as a support to the fort in case of an attack from the enemy.
A short time ago I was detailed with a squad of some 12 or 15 of our comrades to go down to the depot and assist in unloading timber from the cars, and through the carelessness of some person, a soldier belonging to a Maryland regiment had his leg broken. He was immediately sent to the hospital and our surgeon summoned to attend to the fractured limb. He is now doing well and will soon be able to resume his duties.
Sunday June 12th, an order came from Brig. Gen. Tyler's headquarters, stating that he wanted thirty men, ten from each company, with a sufficient quota of commissioned officers, to go upon a scouting expedition down the lower part of the state, after some men who had been drafted in the late draft, and had concluded not to comply with the decision of Uncle Samuel and had taken a leave of absence for a short time. The boys were provided with five days of cooked rations and forty rounds of cartridges, with the expectation of doing some work but nary one was to be seen. They scouted around for several days and then returned without the loss of a man. It was a gay excursion for them and they enjoyed it very much. They were delighted with the country through which they passed and also with the hospitality of the citizens with whom they conversed. They were treated well, as far as eating and drinking was concerned, and boasted a great deal about the dinners they had at the different farm houses at which they stopped. Many of them would like to go on another such trip but I suppose they will not have that pleasure again soon.
Sunday night last, Hank had sounded the horn and the boys were all in their bunks and some had just commenced their first snooze when a corporal of one of the companies, who had been guarding some tents in another encampment, about a half mile from here, came rushing up the guard lines and stated that a number of citizens had been committing some depredations upon the premises of a widow lady several miles from camp and that said lady wanted the immediate assistance of our boys to capture the riotous chaps. The Colonel was summoned and the facts stated to him. He then ordered ten men to go the rescue and Capt. Ragon called the requisite number to put down the revellers, the entire company came rushing out, all excitement, as if the whole Rebel army was about to attack us. Their pieces were all loaded in a moment, and all ready to go; but through the carelessness of some of the boys, in the bustle and confusion incident to such a time, a gun was discharged, but fortunately nobody was hurt. They started off at a double quick and were soon at the scene of the action, and found that several of the fellows "who had throughout the day imbibed too freely of tanglefoot" and had become somewhat intoxicated, had smashed in a window and done some other damage to the house. After scouting around the country for some time, they captured one of the scamps, and triumphantly escorted him to camp, and placed him under guard until morning, when the father of the imprisoned gent came to plead for his release. He counseled the Colonel who gave the prisoner his discharge in full and sent him on his way rejoicing.
Yesterday about noon, a Rebel prisoner who had been sick at the hospital made good his escape. Several boys were sent in pursuit of him, but could get no clue of his whereabouts. The Surgeon says that he was nearly dead, and that they think his strength will not permit him to travel far ere he falls victim to the disease.
The health of the regiment is unusually good at this time. No diseases of any description are prevalent, with the exception of several cases of diarrhea, but neither of these are dangerous.
The weather is very pleasant and vegetation of all kinds are growing finely. There has not been any rain for several weeks and the earth is becoming dry, which retards the growth of the spring crops.
The farmers in this section are all busily engaged in cutting their harvest. The wheat, as a general thing, is very good.
There will be an abundance of all kinds of fruit, if nothing befalls it before it matures. The trees are loaded to their utmost capacity, and from present indication, apples, peaches, & c. will be plenty and cheap in this country. Cherries are now ripe and we have as many as we can use, of the nicest kind. Every day some of the boys go out into the country and in several hours come back with loads of them. Soldiers are sure to have fruit when it can be found no matter what the trouble to get it may be.
My correspondence is becoming longer than I had intended and without proceeding any further, I will conclude. I hope that what I have written may prove interesting to the citizens of the county and they may peruse the contents of this letter from the 144th without partiality. I shall still continue my correspondence and hope in the next to have some exciting news. With respect to all the friends of old Wyandot, I bid you adieu for the present.
Otho J. Powell
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