This letter was written by Luther G. Ashly [or Ashley] (1834-1906) of Co. G, 4th Massachusetts Infantry. Luther was the son of Elbridge Gerry Ashley (1810-1888) and Henrietta Mariah Booth (1810-1889) of Taunton, Plymouth County, Massachusetts.
Company G (Taunton Light Guard), Capt. Paull, and Company K, Capt. William H. Bartlett, went into camp (Joe Hooker) at Lakeville Sept. 15, 1862, and were mustered into the United States service on the 23d, in the Fourth Regiment, Col. Walker in command, for nine months’ duty. The regiment left for New York September 27th, and on their arrival there embarked on board the ship “George Peabody” for New Orleans, as a portion of the “Banks Expedition.” After a passage of 47 days, the regiment disembarked at Carrollton, and left March 1st for Baton Rouge by steamer, on their arrival taking part in the demonstration against Port Hudson in aid of Commodore Farragut’s exploit of passing the rebel batteries. Left April 3d, by steamer, for Algiers, thence (8th) to Brashear City, and on the 13th and 14th were in the battle at Fort Bisland; no casualties. Returned to Brashear City, acting as a garrison for that place, which was of some importance as the base of supplies for Gen. Banks’ army corps, then on a circuitous route for the investment of Port Hudson.
Company G was detailed for duty under the provost-marshal, and charged with preserving peace and good order, as about two thousand rebel prisoners were received and forwarded thence to New Orleans. Capt. Paull acted as deputy provost-marshal, with a portion of his company, at a station sixteen miles below on the line of the railroad, whose delicate duty it was to persuade the contrabands to remain on the plantations, instead of following the army, as they were inclined, that section of Louisiana being excepted in the Emancipation Proclamation; at the same time the law of Congress made it a punishable offense for an officer to assist in the rendition of a slave to his master.
On the 30th of May the regiment (with Companies G and K) left for Port Hudson, where they had a full share in the siege of that place. On the 14th of June followed the hand-grenade slaughter of the brave men under Capt. Bartlett, whose death has been duly noticed, in the attempt to take that fort. It was one of the deplorable mistakes of the Banks campaign, as a few days’ time must have compelled a surrender of the rebels without the reckless loss of valuable lives, accomplishing nothing. Capt. Paull, the senior captain in the regiment, was frequently acting major commandant in the absence of the regimental officers on detached duty or from illness. The command of Company K devolved upon Lieut. John H. Church after the death of the lamented Capt. Bartlett. Lieut. Philander Williams was quartermaster, after the promotion of Lieut. T. J. Lothrop to the brigade quarters. Companies G and K had the confidence of the officers of the regiment, as they were detailed to serve on all difficult and dangerous occasions during the campaign. The regiment returned home in August, and Companies G and K were received in Taunton with hearty demonstrations of “welcome home.”
Burwick City [Louisiana]
May 28th 1863
I now seat myself to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope you are all enjoying the same blessings at home. I received a letter from Susan Macomber yesterday stating that you had not had a letter from me for four weeks. the reason I have not wrote oftener was for want of writing materials which I could not obtain for want on money and not for lack of feelings. I expect you heard by the way of others how I am. I suppose I might [have] wrote oftener if I had begged paper as the rest do. They would beg the last thing a man had but that is not my style. When I have had any, I have had to give it away and go without myself. I am alright now. Have got plenty of tobacco.
The most of the boys are well and all so as to be about. I do not see them all very often. We are divided int three squads. Ed Macomber is with a few doing provost duty at a depot on the railroad about 20 miles from here. He was here last night. He likes there first rate. It is a healthy place and he is getting fat. I crossed the river yesterday with a dispatch and see the boys. There is about half of the company looks rather slim. We have lost two men from our company lately — one from our squad [Thomas Bliss] — and there is one more of them sick and I guess will not live.
There was a great excitement here last Tuesday night. I and Ike Howland was on picket on the road a short distance out. About two o’clock there was three cavalrymen came dashing down with dispatches that there was six thousand guerrillas coming down upon us in advance of our troops. It created the greatest excitement across the river where they was out of danger. There was only two of us here. We soon got orders to put out our fire and keep a restricted watch and when the rebels come to make sure it was them and one of us was to be out one side in hearing and if they came, we was to run for the guard house and if not able to get there, we was to fire a gun and then the fort was agoing to fire into them from the opposite side. If we had escaped from them, it would been a miracle. They did not dare to send troops from across the river for they thought it would be of no use and that we should all be lost. But they did not come, but they attacked the rear of our train that was a coming down but did not do much damage. It was the greatest train of teams I ever see, It was 7 or 8 miles long. You had ought to of seen them. There was about three thousand Negroes and as many soldiers. They had carts as big as a dozen of them at home loaded with their goods and ragged young women. They were all day getting into town and all night a crossing the river. I suppose you would have a nice time a talking with them if you was here. I have been to some of the Negro meetings. They hold their meetings in an old building opposite where I stop and they have some glorious old times about 3 nights in a week and keep it up till morning. They make some as good prayers as I ever heard and they all kneel down while engaged in prayer. They seem to like singing and they rise and all go in together. I generally peak through the window for there is not room inside.
The regiment that Alphonse Braley [Co. A, 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry] is in come down with the train. I see him yesterday. He is well and tough. He has been up to the Red River. I tell Susan I was very glad to hear from her and will try to answer her letter if I have an opportunity. But I am getting most too lazy to write. I expect this is my last letter as I expect to start for home in a week or ten days. Then whorah for home. There will be a jolly set of us then and I hope I shall find you all well.
From your unworthy son, — L. G. Ashly
Have a pan of milk and a roasted chicken ready for me when I get home and some biscuit and butter.