Army Memoirs

This is a book by Union Army veteran Lucius “Lute” Barber of the 15th Illinois. You can download and read it for free here or here.

He started off writing, “Honest men of every political creed will unite in saying that the institution of slavery and the persistent advocacy of its abolishment by the Abolitionists of the North, the triumph of the Republican Party opposed to its extension, and the ambition of the southern demagogues, were the main causes which brought about the rebellion. The South was continually demanding concessions and new guarantees for the spread and protection of the institution of slavery, and our Government, backed by a Democratic Congress, had yielded to their demands until yielding ceased to be a virtue, and when they saw the tide setting against them, they, with blind, unholy ambition and a fiendish hate, attempted to tear down the framework of our Government and plant upon its ruins a nation founded upon the principle of slavery. The loyal heart of the Nation looked on with apathy while the South was making its final preparations to secede. Oar Government had so successfully buffeted the tide of treason in 1832 that the people thought we would safely outride this storm, but no Jackson was at the helm. We could not believe that our southern brethren were in earnest regarding their threats. It was a vain hope, and it was not until our forts had been seized and our flag fired upon that the people were aroused from their stupor. Then as the lightning’s flash, the loyal heart of the Nation was aroused. The fire of patriotism and fidelity to our country lit up the altar of freedom from the rock-bound coast of Maine to the far-spreading prairies of the West, illumining every valley, hill-top and plain. Countless thousands thronged to the altar of our country, eager to wipe out the stain upon our flag and to keep its bright stars from paling before the lurid light of secession.” [p. 9]

In his narrative he gives us a picture of the fun-loving young men who made up the armies on both sides. In telling us about what happened on June 30, 1862, he wrote, “Picking blackberries was an agreeable pastime and to this luxury we added sweet potatoes. The boys had to get the latter on the sly as General Veatch had forbidden them to forage for them unless under proper authority. Some of the boys paid little heed to this order. Two from my mess were out one day and found where there was a large pile of them. They loaded themselves down with them and started for camp, but in order to elude the picket and get into camp, they had to pass the General’s headquarters, and in doing so, got caught. Their potatoes were confiscated and they put under guard. The guard proved to be a negligent fellow and they succeeded in slipping away for a few minutes and took their potatoes to camp. Then spying a nice lot that the General had laid up for his own use, they stole every one of them and took them to camp. They did this, they said, in revenge for being arrested, but they went back to their old place and the stupid guard never knew but what they had been there all the time. After awhile the General called them up and gave them a good talking to for disobeying orders. They affected to be very penitent, promised to be good soldiers in the future, and so he let them off, but I imagine that if he had known that the rogues had stolen all his ‘Waters,’ they would not have gotten off so easily. The boys were highly elated with their adventure.” [p. 69]

We can also use his narrative to track the ups and downs of Union soldier morale as well as their feelings about what was going on at home. In telling about January 24, 1863 he wrote, “The holy cause for which we were contending now began to assume a gloomy, forbidding aspect. Disaster followed disaster in rapid succession. Sherman had been bloodily repulsed from before Vicksburg. The rebel Gen. Bragg was invading Kentucky with a large and powerful army, while an imbecile General–Buell–was leisurely taking his ease, allowing the invaders to carry fire, sword and famine in their track and go unpunished. The army of the Potomac had again met with a disastrous defeat and Lee was preparing to invade the free states. To add to our distress, we had enemies, who by their encouragement to armed traitors nerved the arm that struck the blow which was aimed at the heart’s blood of their kindred and friends. The weary and dispirited soldiers saw nothing in the future but a dark and lowering cloud which threatened to engulf them. From defeat and disaster in the field, they had hoped to look for succor and encouragement from the masses at home, but instead, a large part of them who should have been their friends, were creating dissensions, and secret foes were plotting our destruction and the ruin of our government. Those that remained true, rallied around our noble President who stood firm and breasted the fearful tide with a heroism and perseverance which was heaven-bestowed. Although his every action was watched and his deadly enemies were continually blocking his way, still he bore up with superhuman energy. He was our rock on which to lean, our star and guide, our noble Lincoln! With one despairing, heart thrilling appeal, the army sent in their remonstrance against the actions of those men styled ‘peace democrats’ who would barter away our priceless legacy of freedom to slave aristocracy, reflecting contempt upon the memory of thousands of noble souls who had yielded up their lives that the country might live. Many of these malcontents, though loyal, allowed their party feelings to endanger the safety of our cause. They wanted the country saved under a democratic leader. There was a traitorous set under the lead of Valandingham [sic], who were secretly plotting the destruction of government under the sophistical plea of peace, armistice and reconciliation, while at the same time they knew that there could be no peace until the last armed rebel had laid down his arms and acknowledged the authority of the government, and our flag should be recognized and respected on every foot of American soil.” [pp. 99-100]

Barber was later captured by the rebels and sent to the infamous Andersonville prisoner of war camp. For October 10, 1864 he wrote, “I will make a statement that is true and proved true in every instance, and that is, whenever we fell into the hands of veteran soldiers who had fought us bravely on the battle-field, we received all of the kind and considerate attention due a prisoner of war, but whenever we were in charge of militia or that class of persons who, too cowardly to take the field, enlisted in the home guard, we were treated in the most outrageous manner. Now let it be under, stood that most of the guard at Andersonville were these militia. There were a few veteran troops there.” [pp. 165-166] He was in Andersonville for Election Day: “This day, fraught with so deep an interest to every American heart, dawned unpleasant and rainy. The great issue to be decided to-day will engross the whole attention of lovers of liberty and free government throughout the civilized world. A monstrous and wicked rebellion has thrown its iron grasp upon the freest and best government that ever existed, and is trying to plant upon its ruins a government whose chief corner-stone is slavery, totally ignoring that which every true American holds dear, trampling upon the sacred ties that should bind American hearts together in bonds of fraternity. Traitors still defiantly proclaim their treason and affect to scorn and trample upon our emblem of national unity as though it were a rag unworthy the homage of a loyal heart. To suppress this monster rebellion, Abraham Lincoln, as President, has labored four years, expending millions upon millions of treasure, sacrificing thousands upon thousands of precious lives until every household is draped in mourning for loved ones slain; yet, after all these sacrifices have been made, treason still shrieks defiance in our ears and horrid civil war still throws its damp and bloody chill over us. The issue this day will decide whether another man will be placed at the helm to guide the ship of state. Trusting to an overruling power, we anxiously await what the unborn future has in store for us, hoping and praying that the right may triumph, and our nation, one and indivisible, survive forever. A vote was taken in our detachment. There were two hundred twenty-four votes cast. Lincoln received one hundred eighty-eight and McClellan thirty-six. Over one-half of the men did not vote. Our rations still continue very scarce and our prospect of moving is gradually dying away.” [pp. 176-177]

Barber was finally released on parole and sent to New York City to a parole camp at Castle William on Governor’s Island. Here he and his fellow parolees were forced to await being exchanged so they could receive orders to go to their units. This camp was organized like a prisoner of war camp, and Barber and his fellows chafed at being held prisoner by their own side. For January 23, 1865 he wrote, “Yesterday came the inhuman order to keep us confined within the Castle, not even letting us go below. Our quarters now would shame a hog pen. The treatment of good soldiers here by those who should be their friends has no parallel that 1 know of in American history. Confined within these loathsome walls are one thousand brave men, who on many bloody battle-fields have attested their devotion to their country by shedding their blood, or suffering in rebel prison pens. Is this a crime for which we merit this outrageous treatment? Can this be a nation’s gratitude ? The patience of the soldiers is taxed to the utmost. It needs but a spark to ignite a flame which will sweep over this Castle and cover it with human gore. We get only one-fourth rations and those of the poorest quality. We have every reason to believe that the government officials on this island draw us full rations, but appropriate the greater part to fill up their purses. We have our pork raw, and as a consequence many have the dysentery. Our rooms are damp and filthy. The dirt is the accumulation of years and a hoe and spade will not remove it. We have a coal stove for each room, and the only place the smoke has for egress is through the port holes which are barely large enough for the cannon to protrude. The only light we get is through these holes. As a consequence, the air becomes fetid and unwholesome. The walls are damp and chilly. Disease is fast laying its icy chill on many a sufferer. We have borne up all along in hopes that every day would be our last on the island, but now forbearance ceased to be a virtue. We determined to apply for redress.” [p. 189] They sent a petition to General Sherman, and on January 31, he wrote, “We were relieved from our long and unpleasant confinement this morning. Our petition had the desired effect. Two thousand of Sherman’s men embarked on board the Blackstone and at three P.M. set sail for Hilton Head, South Carolina.” [p. 190]

This book is an excellent view into the daily life of the common soldier. Unfortunately, Barber died in 1872 at the age of 32. According to his family, it was maltreatment during his time as a prisoner in Andersonville that so weakened his body that it led to his death. His sister published his memoirs in 1894. The book is a fun and easy read, and I highly recommend it.

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