I believe this partial letter was written by a civilian tasked by the government to arrange for the transport of cotton bales from Eastport, Mississippi, by steamer up the Tennessee River for sale in the North in the days following the close of hostilities. The cotton was no doubt confiscated by the US Government during the Civil War and stored in warehouses throughout the South. Northern newspapers reported that a cargo of 250 bales of cotton from Eastport, Mississippi, arrived in Cairo on 19 July—one month after this letter was written. It is estimated that over a million bales of cotton had been accumulated in the cotton-growing region of the southwest during the Civil War.
June 19th 1865
Monday, 10 o’clock A. M.
My dear Mother,
Yours of the 11th inst. just received. I hasten to answer and will give an account of myself since leaving here on the 9th inst.
Receiving instructions from Mr. [James R.] Dillon ¹ on the morning of the 9th to proceed to the Nashville & North Western Railroad to Johnsonville, terminus of the railroad on the Tennessee river & by steamer from there to Eastport, Mississippi. I left here at 11 A.M., reached Johnsonville 5 P. M., learned that the boat would not arrive until sometime during the night. After eating some supper, looked around the place which consists of 6 large buildings for storing govt. property, depot, &c. and about 12 log & canvas houses which are used by sutlers, refugees, & niggers. The Hotel at which I stopped was two stories high, three rooms in each story. The lower floor front room was used as grocery. The other two for dining & cooking rooms. When I went to bed, they put me in a room with a dozen other poor mortals who were trying to rest on narrow bed sacks filled with corn stalks. I slept what little I could.
Was awakened at 3 A.M. & took passage on Steamer Jonas Powell for Eastport. Was able to procure a stateroom &c. The boat is a very fine one, set a fine table, and everything is neat & clean. The speed of the boat is just enough to make the air cool & delightful. The scenery of the Tennessee [river] is rather monotonous although on the whole it is pleasant for its shores are thickly wooded with only once in a great while a clearing. We stop at every landing & traders who have come for the purpose traffic with the people who bring down butter, eggs, chickens, milk, &c. which they trade way for groceries & dry goods. Butter is worth only 10 cents per lb. & eggs the same per dozen.
I think I have met some of the lowest species of humanity. The women are round shouldered, sallow complexion, sunken-eyed, & very filthy in their appearance. The children are mostly half naked and chew snuff the same as their Mothers & sisters.
Reached Eastport 7 A.M. Sunday morning. After breakfast aboard the boat, walk to [Brig.] Gen. [Edward] Hatch‘s headquarters ¾ mile from the river. The General was glad to receive me, told me to stop in his tent & eat at his table while I rec_____ed. I came to look after cotton but it not having arrived yet, may have to wait sometime. The officers of the General’s staff were very pleasant. In evening with General, called on a lady whom he said was the Belle of Eastport. By the way, I have forgot to mention Eastport is not so large as Johnsonville. Boasts of only 3 government buildings. No people live here—only a few in vicinity. I have spent my time profitably as possible by reading what few books I could find around headquarters. The people through all this section of country are very destitute. One mama & child starved to death last week.
[Letter unsigned; missing the end]
¹ James R. Dillon was a special treasury agent charged by the US Government with taking possession of the confiscated cotton reaching Nashville’s quartermaster depot managed by Chief Quartermaster Col. A. J. Mackay.