Lt. Andrew J. Burns
42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
3rd Mississippi (53rd U.S. Colored Troops)
The following letter is a transcription of a Civil War letter written by Andrew J. Burns of Ashland, Ohio, to his former captain, Seth M. Barber, 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Barber lost a leg during the Vicksburg Campaign.
Burns, who enlisted at the age of 21 in Company H of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, was promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major of the 3rd Mississippi Infantry (53rd U. S. Colored Troops) in April 1864. The image here is a scan of the original that Burns sent with his letter to his former captain, Seth M. Barber of Ashland, Ohio. Burns was discharged from the service as a lieutenant.Sniders Bluffs Miss
March 18th 1864
My Dear Capt.Your kind and very welcome letter of Feb.28 is before me and was read with much pleasure. The letter giving the account of the expedition spoken of in my last I saw in the Commercial of the 17, but I presume you have seen it and that it is not necessary for me to say anything more about it. But since that one we have been on another in the same direction, but of considerable greater magnitude. The fight was over, but for the number engaged, I do not know of a more desperate fight. There was a regiment of black soldiers and one of white, the 8 La and the 11 Ill. The very first man I saw was a soldier of the white regiment and he gave the colored soldiers the highest praise for daring and bravery. In every instance where their officers displayed courage, they were fully sustained by their men. One Captn of the 8 showed the coward. The cavelry were particularly spoken of for their good conduct.
Nothing was to bold or daring for them to do. The Maj of the 11 with about 240 men were in a fort just outside of town and although surrounded by 3 [?] regiments, they succeeded in holding it. The rebels demanded a surrender three times and were told first if they wanted them to come and get them. The second time that “they couldn’t see it” & the third time after being entirely surrounded, they demanded their surrender of the place in ten minutes, that if they surrendered they would be treated as prisoners of war, but if not they would not be responsible for their treatment. The brave Maj told them to go to _____ that if they wanted them to come and get them, that he did not want to see that flag back again.
But while all of this had been transpiring, a body of some four or five hundred hand-picked men dashed down into town with the intention of capturing Col. Coats who commanded the expedition, but the darkies rallied and defeated them with great slaughter and drove them back in great confusion and those at the fort thought it best to retire with them. They fired at each other [?] less than 20 feet apart some of the houses had a shell through every room in it, one of them, the one in which Col. Coats was quartered. We lay in the town all day Sunday, but the rebels did not see fit to attempt another attack.
When the rebels, were in town many of the citizens joined them & fired from their houses. One man of the 11 who was wounded declares he saw a woman shoot him but not in time to save himself. There was one woman killed, but I did not learn wheather it was the same one or not. When we left the town (Sunday night), quite a number of houses were burnt.
The opinion that the whole expedition was for cotton for private speculation has gained ground. And has caused considerable discontent. There were between three and four thousand bales sent down the river. Since we have got back our Col one capt & two Lts have resigned and gone home & more are determined to resign. It is generaly understood here that that one reg. is to go to Skipwith’s Landing, one to Goodrich Landing & one to Milliken’s Bend, to guard plantations & ten regts are to go to Yazoo City, but it is not certain yet what regiments will go to the different places.
Now as to the success of making soldiers of the blacks. The account above will be sufficient to judge from. There appears to be a determination among them not to be taken prisoners. There are some who can never learn military and perhaps there may be more among the blacks, but generaly they learn to drill as well as anybody. We have black men whom I will put by the side of any white soldiers. Perhaps you may think I am boasting, but I feel perfectly safe in saying it. I am glad to see the spirit exhibited of the people at home. It is such a spirit as will nerve the arm of the soldier. It is singular to me that some people have been so long in finding out that the south have rejected in scorn their overtures of peace and waking up to the true state of affairs.
I see by our latest papers that Chase has declined the nomination for president and that General Grant has mounted the topmost round of military fame. All that I have seen appear to rejoice to see the hero of so many victories in which we have participated properly rewarded. I do not see any particular credit in volunteering where it takes such large bounties and the fear of the draft before them. If I was at home, I would not give one dime for bounty. They hold off until the prize is nearly won and then come in for an equal share with a bait of from $200 to $500. I assure you I would not have shed many tears if Ashland Co. would not have raised her [?] with a draft. Perhaps the most effect would not be so good, but I can’t help feeling that kind of spirit.
But my sheet is nearly full. Enclosed please find a phtg. Do you know it? & [William] Buchan is well and sends his kindest regards, says he intends to write soon, but is quite busy now. He is asst adjt and has considerable to do right now. Maj Robinson I suppose is at home before this time. My kindest regards to old acquaintances in Ashland. write often to your friend
Andrew J. Burns