To His Parents While Serving at the Front—Experiences and Horrors

The recent death of Thomas P. Latimer, a soldier who was in more battles perhaps than any other soldier in Page or Fremont counties, makes the following letter written by him just 49 years ago today of more than ordinary interest:

Arkansas Post, Arkansas, Jan. 12, 1863.—Dear Father and Mother: I again take my pen in hand to write you a few lines to let you know that I am still in the land of the living. I wrote you a letter a few days ago before we started up the Arkansas river.  

We have had some pretty hard experiences then. We started up the river on the morning of the 9th and landed, about three miles below the fort. On the 10th we started to get in back of the fort. There was some pretty hard cannonading that evening. The rebels tried to keep us back. All was quiet on our side. Sunday morning we went on taking our position in the forenoon without paying any attention to their shells. They kept throwing shells at us all tne morning, but did not hurt us very much.

At about 2 p. m. we were all ready to go for them.   We opened on them with all our land batteries and the gunboats.   At the same time the infantry were pecking into them whenever they would show their heads over the works. The battle lasted about two hours, when the rebels ran up the white flag.   It was pretty hard fighting while it lasted, almost as hard as it was at Shiloh.

Tuesday, Jan. 13.—I had to go on guard and did not finish my letter last night. We made a clean sweep of them, bagging the whole kit. There were between six and eleven thousand of them, all Texans except one regiment from Arkansas. Our loss was about five hundred killed and wounded. Our regiment was in the second line and in support of the first line, to be ready to charge on their works at any moment if necessary, but happily it was not necessary. The gun boats tore their fort all to pieces. They had two big 120 pounders mounted in the fort and both were dismounted. One was knocked off its trunions and the other had part of its muzzle broken off. The rebels were well fortified.

Gen. McClelland is in command of our forces here now and Sherman is second in command . We had only one man killed in our regiment and four wounded. I hope we will always come out that well. Company K did not lose a man.  They had breastworks about miles Iong from the river below the fort to the river above the fort.     I never saw things so tore up as they were inside the fort.   Nearly every one of the artillery  horses were  killed.    1 sawv twelve lying in one pile and six in another still hitched to the caissons, which were torn to pieces with our shells.   I do not know how many the rebels had in the battle.    I saw a great number of their dead. They were  terribly  mangled,  some with their heads torn off and some with both legs off.   I saw one pour fellow who had all his lower parts blow-off with a shell.   His shoe with his foot still in it was blown clear over on the outside of the works.   It is a terrible sight to look upon a battlefield after the battle.

There are several of the boys complaining of the diarrhoea. The change of water and being confined on the boats so long is rather getting some of them down. I wrote you after our Vicksburg tramp and told you about the scrap we had on Chickasaw bayou, which you have no doubt got before now. I received yours of the 29th and 30th yesterday. It gave me much pleasure to hear from home again. The last word I had from Joe was written on the 10th of December. They were expecting an attack from Forest when he wrote. He and Doc were well. The health of their regiment is improving.

I got this leaf of paper (on which the letter is written) out of an old account book that was used bv the Indian agent when this was an Indian trading post. You will see one entry, Jan 8th, 1827, to deer skins, $400.

Lovingly your son, Tom

[Sentinel Post, Shenandoah, Iowa, Jan 12, 1912]