Charles H. Lewis Letter Nov. 3, 1862
27th Iowa Top Banner

History of Buchanan County, Iowa 1842 to 1881
Transcribed by Tommy Joe Fulton and Peggy Hoehne

pages 171-172

CAMP GILBERT, November 3d.

As we march toward our destination, our number of able-bodied men diminishes rapidly. Company C has left a large proportion by the way. Some were down with measles, others with the various diseases incident to camp. For a little distance from Anoka there are marks of civilization - the roads are passable, here and there rude huts are scattered along the roadside. A few miles, however, and the good roads are gone, and they become rutty, muddy and almost impassable; we have passed the bounds of civilization, and are lost amid the lofty pine trees in the great Minnesota wilderness. At Princeton, about midway between Anoka and Mule Lacs, there were a few Indians; from that point we saw them rarely. For four long days did we travel through the deep mud, pitching our tents each night in the dense woods. At last the troops came in sight of the Indian village, the novelty of the trip having worn away into dreary monotony; but at sight of the wigwams and their dusky inmates, all were wide awake. Lieutenant Colonel Lake had gone in advance with the artillery, which he had vigorously pushed through into camp. Colonel Gilbert, sitting erect and manly on his noble bay, at the head of his regiment, presented a soldier-like appearance. As we moved along, the whole Indian population came from their smoky huts, and seemed to express joy to meet their rich neighbors. Little Indian boys climbed upon stumps and fallen trees and watched our movements with eager interest. The deep eyes of the girls peered from behind the trunks of the burnt trees, and seemed to catch all our looks and actions. A few words will describe the size and appearance of Camp Mille Lacs. There is one snugly-built log house, an old stable, and a passably good barn or storehouse. There are two American and a half-a-dozen French residents; and, at the time of our arrival, thirteen or fourteen hundred Indians. The camp is situated on either side of a small tributary of the Rum. There is a small farm of two or three acres near by, from which a crop of potatoes had just been harvested. In a short time, our teams or wagon train came plodding along. Few men would have succeeded so admirably, through such a swamp as the one which now lay behind us, as our wagon-master, B. C. Hale. His efforts were wisely directed and untiring, and he is justly applauded.

We remained but a day or two, delighting the Indians with Uncle Sam's splendid show, toward whom and his representatives they exhibited the truest friendship. As is customary with them, they gathered thickly around our camp-fires to exhibit their treasures in decorated birch bark and deer skin, and to beg for presents. Some of them showed signs of civilization, while others appeared to be in a perfectly barbarous condition. They were poorly clad and as poorly fed. At the council which was held, the paymaster and agent took seats upon a log, and the Indians soon gathered in a large semi-circle before them. Speeches were then made by the Government authorities, interpreted by the trader. The old chief, and several others of lesser rank replied; and their speeches were in turn rendered into English. They complained of having been wronged by their agents, and requested that the next one appointed might be a strictly honest man. They declared themselves loyal, saying that when the difficulty arose, they closed their ears, and they closed them so tight that they could not be opened. In their march they carried the stars and stripes suspended from a hickory pole, and they clung to it as the only hope of their fast fading race. General Roberts, escorted by twenty-five from each company, superintended the business. He is an elderly man, deliberate in his manner, and possesses, one would judge, a good degree of firmness. Each Indian received ten dollars, the greater part of which was already due the trader.

Our supplies, especially forage, threatening to run short, four companys started back before the payment was made, halted when in reach of hay, and camped until the others came up. Companies A and B tarried until the business with these poor children of the forest was completed. On our way up, we failed at Minneapolis to secure hard bread and took flour instead. The boys marched by day with heavy loads upon their backs, and at night stopped to bake their bread, with but one baking tin or oven to the company. The cooks could get but three or four hours of sleep each night, but still they bore it nobly until the soda and cream of tartar were gone. Then the bread was as solid as sandstone, and about as digestible. Very slowly we urged on our way, until we were once more "out of the wilderness." When we came in sight of the first rude log cabin our joy was unbounded. Never before did civilization seem so good to us. Here we received news that our regiment was to go south, the companies left at Fort Snelling having already gone to Cairo. Colonel Gilbert left us here, to attend to business preparatory to our removal south. Just north of Princeton, Colonel Lake halted the battalion placed it in order, and said, in effect: "Soldiers, we are once again within the bounds of civilization. The manner in which you have conducted yourselves on this trying expedition is creditable to each one of you. You have endured many privations, the result of which to some has been Serious sickness. Show to the people in this little frontier town that you are soldiers indeed, and not a rabble." The battalion then moved into town with colors flying and drums beating. Here we encamped for the night; and, in the morning as we were leaving, three cheers were given for the ladies of the little town, at the entrance way to the wilderness. We reached Anoka next day, at the junction of the Rum and Mississippi rivers; and here quite a number of the sick gave out and took quarters at the hotel. A difficulty arose here between our quartermaster and the citizens, which, for a time, portended serious consequences, but was speedily adjusted when it came to the ears of Lieutenant Colonel Lake - more of which hereafter.

On our way from Anoka to St. Anthony, we met a train of forty-six mule teams en route for Fort Abercrombie, on the Red river of the North, the boundary between Minnesota and Dakota. They were loaded with Government stores for the soldiers stationed there. Last evening we received orders from Colonel Gilbert to report immediately just below Pig's Eye bar, and embark.

Benjamin Sutton was buried yesterday, over yonder on the pleasant hillside, in the soldiers' burying-ground. He was ever ready to act his part, and the boys of our company will miss him. We are now in Camp Gilbert, Fort Snelling. Morgan Boone is sick here, and a few from the companies that went north will have to remain behind, in spite of the care and skill of Surgeons Hastings and Hunt. We have improved the opportunity to wash up and prepare for another of Uncle Sam's masterly marches. What I saw in the late one richly repaid me for all I endured; and all the boys feel the same, unless it may be the poor fellows who got sick and will now have to endure being left behind. I must up and prepare to march for Dixie.

C. H. L.