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Letter (#53) from Private Thomas Buchanan Linn, Co. B, 16th OVI
to the Holmes County Republican newspaper
January 21, 1864
Indianola, Texas
Web Author's Notes:
The following letter of Thomas B. Linn, a drummer in the 16th OVI, was transcribed by contributor John M. Pierson who obtained it from Mary Bavender. The letters were part of a collection of papers from Linn and included a detailed diary. Combined, the letters and diary entries give us an intimate look at the life of a soldier in the 16th OVI during the Civil War.

These letters were all written or received while Linn was a Private in Company B. He was later promoted, on July 1, 1864, to Principal Musician, as a drummer, and transferred to Field & Staff. He survived the war and mustered out with the regiment on October 31, 1864, near Columbus, Ohio.

Pvt. Thomas Buchanan Linn

Letter addressed to Holmes County Republican newspaper

Indianola, Texas, Jany. 21, 1864

All things must have an end. When I wrote you last, we were in the midst of a regular Texas Norther. After we had experienced nearly three weeks of this stinging cold, the winds calmed down, and the chill, damp air was dispelled by the genial rays of old Sol, who appeared on the scene early on the morning of the 12, and smiled generously upon us. I assure you that his presence was welcomed, if not with loud demonstrations, with no less sincerity, by glad and joyous hearts. I used to think that it never got cold in Texas; but one winter season here is enough to draw the blinds from a man's eyes and make him think of a good thick overcoat, or a snug seat by a glowing fire. Citizens say the winter is broken; that we will not be apt to have any more long cold spells; none to last much over a day and night at a time.

We have fortunately been on the coast all winter, where, although the wind blew with almost resistless fury, we have had very little rain, which, in our poorly protected condition, would be disagreeable in the extreme.

About three o'clock in the afternoon of the 12th cannonading was heard in the direction of Indianola, at first by single discharges, then in quick, rapid discharges, as though in hot engage-ment. Not long after the long roll sent its thrilling notes through our camp, and the boys were seen springing to their tents in rapid haste, to prepare for the supposed coming conflict. You would be astonished to see how quickly a regiment can get out in line of battle when inspired by the soul stirring alarm of the long roll. Blankets were hanging out to air, knapsacks were unpacked, and things lying around loose for convenience in camp, and yet, in less than fifteen minutes every man was ready to march to the boat which was to take us to the scene of action. But by this time the firing had ceased, and we were ordered to our quarters, with instructions to be ready to move up to Indianola the next morning at seven o'clock. We afterward learned that the cannonading was the 7th Michigan battery shelling a large body of rebel cavalry who were reconnoitering our position. Our infantry did not become engaged, if we except one volley fired by the 8th Indiana.

Early on the morning of the 13th we were up and doing, but did not push off from the wharf till near noon, arriving here early in the evening. The distance between Indianola and Decrow's Point is about twenty miles by the bay, but not more than ten or twelve by land. When we first came here we were quartered in houses, and began to think we had at last found the comfortable quarters General Washbourne promised us at the close of a ten days march, just before we left Carrollton for our trip up the Teche. We were two days and nights in the houses, and were having things put up comfortable and convenient, when we were ordered to move back of town and put up our tents again. To say the boys were not displeased and did not curse a little, would be going beyond the bounds of truth. But swearing was of no avail, and here we find ourselves on a low flat just back of town, or rather between what is called old town and new.

Indianola was before the war, quite a thriving country town, of about 2,500 inhabitants. The young men are all in the Southern army. Many of the houses are deserted - the inhabitants still here being women and children. The poorer citizens appear to be in favor of the old Union, and say their friends only wait for an opportunity to come into our lines. The rebel infantry are of this class, and it is only by threats that the officers can make them fight. Part of them were sent to the interior because their officers leaned toward the good old flag, and it was feared would come with their companies to us. When driven from Fort Esparenza, a squad of 120 hid themselves here, hoping we would come right on and take them; but as we did not follow them within the week, they were all picked up and taken off with their army again.

The boys of the 16th are generally in good health. Western Louisiana and Texas appear to be exceedingly healthy localities for Ohio soldiers. I send you a rebel's opinion of the way the Yankees took Fort Esparenza, clipped from the Horn Extra, a soldier's paper, published semi-occasionally, in this place, for one (10) Washington in green (10) to defray expenses. If it be not too long please publish it; I know it will interest your readers.

From the Horn Extra (Rebel)

Port Lavacca, Texas, December 3, 1863.

After what I wrote you the other day, when I was about to start down to the fort, you will naturally expect me to say something of the finale of that affair, especially as it has created quite a sensation in the State, and is really a very unfortunate affair for our cause. Those who are guilty are the very ones that will escape in the whole matter, and these brave officers and men who periled their lives in that man trap, called Fort Esparenza, are the victims of course, to what ever odium is attached to evacuation.

You have no doubt heard that the work was splendid, and so it was, for a prettier thing to look at no man would wish to see; and until I saw it tried, I though it the best thing in the world. But it only shows that a man may know very well how to dig a trench or grade a street, and yet know nothing about military matters or preaching. I therefore infer that a man may go to school a heap, and learn to make a beautiful drawing on paper, and then by aid of the bone and sinew of the country can construct a pretty thing to look at, and yet, after all, not know the first thing about military matters or preaching. This is the idea that occurred to my unmilitary cranium. In other words, the fort was built with the sole view of an attack by water, and if they had made it in that way, they might have hammered away till doomsday, and we would have been there yet; and I have not the slightest doubt but we could have demolished the whole ten vessels that were off the bar. But, unfortunately for us, the enemy knew our weak points, and lay off the land, just as well as we did; hence, they landed at the west end of the island, in Cedar bayou, where they found no opposition, and took their time to get everything on shore in good order, with their 2,500 veterans and 500 horses, and with all their appliances, came upon us in our rear, picked their locations and went to work on us with their rifled guns, and in a short time got our range to such a nicety that almost every shell dropped into the fort -- every one of which was liable and perfectly able to penetrate one or all of our seven magazines, which were adjoining our bomb proofs, that were intended for the protection of our men, thereby making them the most unsafe places in the fort; in fact, the only safe place about it was the parapet.

Some may say that it is the business of a soldier to die; and that we ought to have staid there till at least half of us were killed, and then surrendered to a merciless enemy, whose motto is No more exchange of prisoners till the war ends. This very pretty talk for those who are at a safe distance; but I would suggest a change of place for the time being. Let them imagine themselves cooped up in a pen like sheep for the slaughter, and this too, with little or no means to hurt the enemy, while they had all the means to hurt us they could ask. Let them also imagine their number to be only 600, a large majority of whom had never been in battle, and about half the number State troops, who although they were good and true men, yet knew very little about the drill of a soldier, and consequently were not near so effective as they otherwise would be, and that the guns of our fort were located with strict reference to a water attack, and were of very little use for a rear attack from a force of 2,500 veterans, with rifled guns that could throw with as much precession (almost) as an old deer hunter could shoot a buck at 100 yards. I say, let those who are disposed to criticize our evacuation, at safe distance, place themselves in our position for a moment, and then let them say what they would do; otherwise, let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.

But I have not told all the troubles we had, for the fort is on an island, bounded on the east by Pass Cavallo, where the gun boats would have been up as soon as the norther ended, which proved to be the next morning; on the west and south-west by the enemy, in full possession of the prairie, with their teams, and sixteen horses to a gun, dashing about at full gallop, and taking position wherever they please, as we had no cavalry to oppose them, and the little harm we could do them with our smooth bore guns, did not seem to trouble them at all. In fact, the whole three days' fight seemed to be a sort of holiday for them, and reminded me of a cat at play with a mouse that she knew to be perfectly in her power.

On the north we were bounded by Salura bayou, nearly two miles from the fort, and it a wide deep one, with only one tolerable ferry boat, the rope of which was old and rotten. Then two miles this side is another, called Big bayou, and is, like Big river, also crossed by one frail ferry boat. Then, before we get to Powder Horn, there are two small ones, with a bridge over one and a ferry the other.

Now then, with all these bayous to cross, and by such frail means, with a wily foe, that we knew could surround us at their leisure with batteries, I would like to know what else we could do but evacuate while we could!

I regret this sad affair as much as any one possibly can, but we had the alternative placed before us to evacuate and destroy everything, or wait a day or two and surrender with what men we might have left, there by giving the enemy the full possession of the fort and all our munitions of war. Now, if we could have had a regiment of well drilled cavalry, to have skirmished with them and kept them at bay when they first began to come in sight, till our reinforcements could have got to us, the case would have been different. Yet, with such field batteries as they have got, while we have none, we have got to be pretty strong to fight them, even in the open field. They will no doubt make raids up here among us, and do us a heap of damage, but unless they are largely reinforced, and that soon, we will soon pick them up -- although it would be considered contraband for me to say why I think so. We have news from below this morning, that the whole fleet is inside the bar, also, that two or three heavy guns were heard today near the gulf shore, off the Guadaloupe, and we hope that Semmes has got among them. Our fight at the fort occurred on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, November 27, 28 and 29. For particulars see official report.

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