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Jacob C. Cohen, 27th Ohio Infantry

Letter from Memphis, Tenn.

A Trip to Fort Pillow—Musings on the Mississippi River—A Picture of the War— Camp Life—Our Victories on the Mississippi, &c., &c.

Memphis, Tenn., July 16th, 1863.

DEAR MESSENGER:

Nothing new. This unfortunately, is the only thing I have at present to write you. Everything is as quiet as when the dove of peace hovered over the hosts of McClellan, and when the tide of the Potomac was "all quiet"; and no one would for a moment suspect that an enemy lingered near us awaiting an opportunity to strike, if it were not for the quiet preparations in progress to thwart such schemes. As I have before informed you, nothing is more monotonous than military life, especially in a garrison, and you therefore cannot be surprised to hear of an effort on my part to kill the ennui attendant to the same, particularly when desirous to procure the wherewithal to amuse the readers of the Messenger—even at the risk of liberty or inconvenience.

With these objects in view, I resolved to take a short tour outside of Memphis, up the Mississippi River. After several days of anxious inquiry and resolute perseverance, I arranged a plan for carrying out my object into practical effect. Accordingly last Tuesday morning I left the levee of this city on board of the elegant Ohio River steamer Belle of Memphis. The trip and scenery along the Mississippi have been so often and able described that it is useless and uninstructive for one with less experience and education than an Etonian in his first year, and with the data only of the one first trip on which to predicate a description, to assume to write on such a theme and with anything like "edification" to your readers; yet I can never, never forget the impressions made upon my mind in this my first advent amid the sublime scenery of the "sunny, sunny south."

Up the stream we gently glide. The zephyr's balmy breath scarcely moves the smooth, expensive bosom of the placid fiver. The golden orb of day tinges with his western brilliance the tall trees along the bank of the river—the cloudless sky's etherial dome discloses her clustering brilliants to the eye, and silver Cynthia shedding her pale effulgence upon the emerald earth, glistening the barren branches with her azure kiss and mellowing the foliage of the fragrant groves, hallows the hour and ushers in the glorious evening. The feathered warblers have paid great nature's god their evening homage, their songs are hushed on the ear, and silence reigns around as we land at Fort Pillow. The rush of waters 'neath the "painted thing of life" drowns to nothing the angry croak of quadrupeds building earth houses close by the shore. Away in the dim and shadowy distance are country villas nestled, modestly in some peaceful valley on the cave clad shores of the "Great Father o'Waters." The "gay enameled mead" is covered with blooming grass and flowers, emitting a thousand aromas sweeter than the spicy odors of Arabia Felix. The "soft summer air" sings sweetly through the grass, and gently lifts its leafy branches.

Here is a picture of the sunny South, that generous clime lying next the sun—here is a broad and glorious land—the summer land—the land we love. It is here amid these wild flowers, these magnolias and crystal streams, these once happy hones of this southern clime, that one can drink in that love of country, inspired by those thrilling words, "My own, my dear native land!" Born and reared in the chilly regions of the North, yet I must acknowledge that association with the genial temperature of this clime has thrown a charm around it. Her lines of beauty, her sunny face, the illimitable scenery of her vine-clad forests, the glow of her brilliant skies, have over my whole being a most plastic charm. There is something about her that I love yet cannot describe—an Elysian attraction, a fascination, whose secret we may seek in vain to eliminate by the use of words. 'Tis a something which wakes the minstrel's lyre, breathes life into the poet's numbers, and would nerve the most craven breast to defend it; 'tis a something half revealed in the sweet song of misguided Simms:

"O, the sweet South! the sunny South!
Land of true feeling, land forever mine!
I drink the kisses of her rosy mouth,
And my heart swells as with a draught of wine!

O, by her lovely pines, that wave and sigh!
O, by her myriad flowers that bloom and fade!
By all the thousand beauties of her sky,
And the sweet solace of her forest shade,

She's mine—she's ever mine—
Nor will I aught resign
Of what she gives me, mortal or divine;
Will sooner part

With life, hope, heart—
Will die—before I fly
Oh love is hers—such love as ever glows
In souls where leapt affection's living tide!"

And Armstrong when he wrote in his softest strains:

"The South for me!—its bright eyed maids,
Its clime, its stars, its silver skies,
Its streamlets with their lovely naiads,
Its vales where varying beauties rise."

But I am lingering only upon the sunny side of the picture—look upon that, and then upon this: Turn your eyes from the beautiful handiwork of God to the dark splotch made upon the canvas by the hand of scheming, intriguing man. Turn your eyes from the "sunny south" to the "bloodstained" south, where the wind through the canebrakes sighs a requiem for the departed spirits who have offered up their lives in a country's service to bring this section to a sense of their duty to God and to man; where the cotton fields echo to the voice of suffering humanity; where the atmosphere is tainted with the foulest crimes that even shocked high heaven; and where the loftiest principles of the human heart are obliterated by the influence of earthly ambition. Such is the contrast! O! America, how thou hast degenerated!

But the gang-plank is shoved out, the revenue guards board the boat, and my pass is demanded; this interrupts my soliloquy. I gaze upwards and discover the parapets of the bluff works bristling with the "dogs of war" in the shape of "Thirty-twos" and "Sixty-fours." My pass is correct and I am allowed to proceed by a strong force of Union troops. Since these troops have been within its walls, the work of repairing the ghastly breaches which we made during its bombardment in last year, has reached its completion, and no traces of the damage which our fearful shells inflicted now remain save a few deep scars upon the easterly face. It would not be discreet in me to note the changes and improvements effected since then. Suffice, that they are such as to render this stronghold stronger than any other in our possession, and to remove all apprehensions of any hostile "ram" which might venture within the range of its guns. The appearance of Fort Pillow is now in happy contrast to that presented when the "Stars and Bars" were lowered from its flagstaff, and our troops marched in triumph through its sallyports. Instead of the loose lumber and crumbling earthworks which we found are now leveled parapets and properly angled casements, and the furrowed tereplein, wherein the Confederates sought shelter from out shells, is now like a housewife's floor.

The usual dress parade of the troops at sunset demonstrate the fact that the men are as proficient in drill as their officers are in hospitality. Their movements were executed with absolute precision, and their appearance generally was highly creditable to their officers, who more than sustained their reputation for steadiness and efficiency. The country around Fort Pillow is a beautiful region at this season, but there are marks of desolation everywhere, and few of civilization, except such as accompany the army. There are few inhabitants left and within the fort there has not been the slightest attempt at planting or sowing though the soil is favorable to cultivation. In this branch of industry, however, the residents outside our lines are wise, as they do not wish to sow for the "Yankees" to reap. A fence is anomalous there. The able bodied white men are mostly in the Southern army, while the negroes have either been run off south of have seceded to the Yankees.

I thought our camp at Corinth, and here, (when we first came), could not be excelled in beauty and variety, but summer has given the Pillowites brighter materials wherewith to rear their cities; and royal arches of cedar boughs, festooned with flowers and wreathed with the glistening leaves of oak and maple, adorn the entrance to shady bowers, and rural retreats, beneath the verdant palaces of our soldiers. The headquarters of the Commander of the Fort are delightful, a model of rustic elegance wonderfully suggestive of the visions that are dreamed in the bowers and gardens of the Gothamites. The murmur of fountains and a more extensive display of crinoline is all that is needed to make the similitude complete. Many of the officers there have their families with them, and the presence of women and children add not a little to the peaceful enchantment of military life as at present displayed at Fort Pillow.

This morning found me back in Memphis, and Othello was himself again. During my absence nothing particular had transpired except the receipt of the news of the capture of Port Hudson. Of course the loyal population here are much elates at the final opening of the great Mississippi. The event is of the most momentous consequence to Memphis. It enfranchises the city and returns to them commerce and prosperity, and the Memphians are not slow to exhibit their joy on the occasion. To-night a grand illumination takes place in the honor of the event. It promises to be a fine spectacle.

The troops here are also highly pleased with the operations of Grant and Banks on the Mississippi and the doings of the eastern army under its new commander. The great subject of discourse though now with the boys is "Home." When will they be mustered out? How soon is the war to end now? Some predict an early termination and some are of the opinion that we have just commenced. Their arguments, however, generally end as they begin, in every man retaining his own views and opinions.

I must now close. My "dip" has burned down to the socket of the candlestick. I have not another in my tent, so I must retire to my cot as soon as I have placed this in the post office, so gentlemen, until my next, au revoir.

J.C.C.

Jacob C. Cohen Letters