Civil War Journal of Samuel Oliver Bereman
January 1, 1863
Jan. 1st Helena Ark. January 1st 1863
I do not propose to keep a daily record of all my travels, the state of the weather &c. but to note down the most interesting incidents of my life as a soldier.
I have lived for the most of my life in Henry Co. Iowa where I was at the breaking out of the rebellion. I did not enlist at the first call for troops. I was too young to enlist without the consent of my parents and being the only boy left at home it was not an easy matter to gain that consent. However in the fall of /61, the "war-fever" got so high that I could not resist, and enlisted, but after enlisting asked the consent of my parents, which was obtained although with much reluctance on the part of my mother especially.
I enlisted on the 25th of Oct. 1861 in co. K. 4th Iowa Cav. then being organized at Mt. Pleasant under Col. A. B. Porter, who was a Major in the First Enfty. & was at that time very popular. (The Col. has since resigned, (not perhaps with as much honor as some other officers whom I might mention) (and Lieut. Col. Swan now commands the regt.) Our regt. spent the first winter of service in barracks of our own construction at Mt. Pleasant. It was called Camp Harlan. We spent the time in drilling and camp guard duty, by which some of us came near freezing to death. We kept our guard lines with as much care and watchfulness as if we were surrounded by the enemy on all sides.
We were blessed with a Regular Army Officer for Lieut. Col. at that time. Thos. Drummond by name - who was as strict as Reg. Army officers are generally reputed to be. He used to try all manner of plans to catch the guards off duty or neglecting it in some way. However we were generally sharp enough for him, as the following incident will show. One very cold dark night he came slipping around the lines and attempted to pass. He had either forgotten - or had neglected to get the countersign. He was halted by the guard & ordered to give the countersign - but not having it, of course could not give it, and the guard would not let him either pass or return. "Do you not know who I am" said he in great rage to the guard. "I know no one unless he have the countersign" replied & kept him standing there "marking time" untill the next relief came round - about an hour - when the Corpl. gave him the password & relieved him.
We left there on the 26th of Feb. /62 for St. Louis where we arrive on the night of the 28th, and started out to Benton Barracks. (I met with a little incident on the way out. (My horse did not like the appearance of the Street cars, & as we were passing one, or just as we met one rather - he reared & plunged so that my saddle turned and I came to the ground. I held on to the reins of the bridle, but the regt. all passed out of sight before I could get my saddle righted & ready to follow.
As I was a stranger in the city, & it was very late at night, you can imagine my predicament. However I at last found the barracks & my Co.) We remained at St. Louis two weeks when we went out to Rolla on the Pacific R.R. Arrived there about 12 oclock at night, It was very dark and raining. We had to unload our horses and camp equippage from the cars and then laid down on the ground & slept soundly in spite of the rain and mud. This was our first night at camping out and a pretty - good introduction thought I.
The next morning we moved out about two miles and camped & got dinner, when 40 men from my Co. & the same no. from Co. D were detailed to go out out on a ten days scout. We were under command of Capt. Spearman of Co. D. At this time we had only very heavy sabres & old revolvers that would kill about as often behind as before. Often every charge would go off at once and only two rounds of cartridges at that. It was well there was no rebels in that vicinity - well for us I mean. We went to Salem and made that place our head qrs. while we scouted around the country till we ran out of provisions and started back to Rolla, but met a small detatchment of the Regt. with orders for us to go to Springfield. We started for that place, but being out of rations had to subsist off the country, & such subsisting! We were not used to Jayhawking then and made very poor work of it.
We took corn to the mills along our route & ground it up which was our principal diet. I remember the first sheep we killed. Such a sensation it created! And how we kept it hid from our Officers! But they found it out. And then such stories as we told about it, one of which was that it came up where our horses were eating and they kicked it over, & so we just skinned it & cooked some of it! Another that it tried to bite one of us & he killed it in self defense.
We had nothing to cook our meal in when we got it ground - but made it into mush in our camp kettles. I remember cooking some cakes on a smooth flat stone laid over the coals & heated! But being "naturally depraved" we soon learned to appropriate such things as we needed. How well do I remember "Chicken Valley". We became perfectly demoralized here & "went for" the potatoes apples, and especially the chickens, & had a regular feast. Then came such a lecture from the officers. But we called it a "Military Necessity" & went to sleep. We named the place "Chicken Valley" in honor of the "feast of fat things" there had.
Well we arrived at Springfield where we found the rest of the regt. Here we stayed about a month drilling & doing guard duty. We received an addition to our arms here in the shape of some old Austrian Rifles - very long(for Cav.) heavy & totally unfit for Cavalry. Marched south from here through the Ozark Mountains into Ark. We camped a few days at Spring River Mills just on the line between Mo. & Ark. (Here is the largest Spring I ever saw. It is nearly a hundred yds. in diameter, & we could not find the bottom with a sixty feet rope.) (It starts a stream large enough to turn a mill) - We had a "false alarm" here one night. One of Cos. unknown to the pickets were out foraging & were returning late in the night. The pickets hearing them approaching & supposing it to be the enemy, fled to camp firing their revolvers as fast a they could all the way in. "Boots & Saddles", (a call to saddle up) was sounded & such a confusion I never saw before. If it had been the enemy, they could have captured every one of us before we had known it.
We arrived at Batesville on the White River about the middle of April where we joined Gen. Curtis with an army of about 20,000 men. The whole army marched to Little Red River on the road to Little Rock. A pontoon was laid over this river and I suppose it was the intention to go on to the capital of the state, but for some reason it was given up, and we returned to the vicinity of Batesville. Search Campaign we were required to patroll the road between B. & the Red River. We did some very hard marching while here. We used to have to go from our camp to Red River & return, a distance of 80 miles, in one day. Have done it as often as three days in the week, while our horses had nothing to eat but green grass & wheat pulled up by us before it was ripe. I have seen a regt. of cavalry get into a field of wheat or oats just ready for the sickle & in half an hour there would not be left enough to make Ruth a decent biscuit.
We laid at Batesville two weeks when it was reported that our provision train from Springfield was captured by the rebs, when we started on the march to Helena on the Miss. River where we arrived on the 18th of July in a sad flight indeed. We had been six weeks on half rations, (the country was so poor we could not steal any thing) had been on the march during that time, the weather extremely hot, very dry and dusty, and so forth. (I have made coffee out of water that making it very strong would not change the color of it a bit.) Water was very scarce, have carried water in my hat up a steep bank to water my horse where I could not get him down to drink.
The advance of the army gen. Steel & Austerhaus had some fighting on the road, but as we were not in it did not learn the particulars. We have been laying here ever since July - doing picket duty and scouting the country over after bushwhackers. We occasionally have a skirmish with them in which we generally but not always came off victorious. My first skirmish - fight with 5th Kansas. The most interesting of them is the following. Major Rector of the 1st Battallion was out on a scout with three cos. but had seen no rebels at all and was returning, when within a few miles of camp he Jan. was surprised by a large party of rebels who came charging on them yelling like demons. It was so unlooked for, taken at such a disadvantage, and being so poorly armed our men were routed - several killed & wounded & twelve among the number Major Rector - taken prisoner. But just as the rebs had completed their work Capt. Peters of Co. B. who had been out on another road, & was also returning to camp hearing the firing hastened to the scene & charging on the rebels put them to rout with a greater loss than we had sustained. Among the prisoners was a ret. Lieut. Col.-sent up to Memphis Hospital sick for several weeks.
Received a box of notions from home today - consisting of canned fruit butter clothing and c. and "Mess No. 3" had a feast. The weather at present is warm and nice for the time of the year. But then we are not in Iowa now, but several hundred miles south of it.