Nesbitt Memorial Library

Letters of Benjamin Marshall Baker, Sergeant, Company B, 5th Texas Infantry

Benjamin Marshall Baker came to Columbus in 1857 to work on the Colorado Citizen, a newspaper that his older brother, James Davis Baker, established. In early 1861, the younger Baker joined a company of Confederate infantry that was slated for membership in Hood’s Texas Brigade and, accordingly, the Army of Northern Virginia. He sent letters describing the company’s trip to Virginia to his brother, who published them in his newspaper. No copies of many of the 1861 issues of the newspaper have been found. It is likely that some of the missing issues also contained letters written by Ben Baker. These letters were published collectively for the first time in Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, January 1998, pp. 33-37.
1. Benjamin Marshall Baker to James Davis Baker, July 30, 1861, from the transcription published in the Colorado Citizen, August 3, 1861

Lookup Camp, near Harrisburg, July 30, 1861

Dear Citizen:
    The "Echo" Company, from Colorado county, is now encamped within one and a half miles of Harrisburg. The Camp of Instruction is very pleasantly situated, good water and plenty of wood being convenient. The timber is red oak, lynn, hickory, sweetgum, walnut, magnolia, pine, &c. This last reminds me of my early home in Eastern Texas, and I hear again the "sweet and saddening music of the mournful pine tree." We have the requisite number of men, if they were all upon the ground; but some have not yet arrived, and others are in Harrisburg. We think we will be mustered into the service of the Confederate States of America tomorrow. The officers of the company are: Captain, John C. Upton; First Lieutenant, J. H. Bullington; Second Lieutenant, J. D. Roberdeau; Third Lieutenand, Ed. Collier; First Sargeant, W. D. Denney; Second Sargeant, Walter S. Hare; Third Sargeant, D. H. Henderson; Fourth Sargeant, Ben Baker; First Corporal, J. D. Buchanan; Second Corporal, J. B. Wall; Third Corporal, John S. Miller; Fourth Corporal, W. W. Pinchback.
    Some sickness prevails in camp, mostly chills and fever, owing to change of living, water, &c.
    It is rumored in camp that as soon as we are mustered in we will move for Virginia, and that an attempt will be made to run the blockade. There are six companies here—the Gonzales, Travis, Guadalupe, Robertson, Bexer, and Colorado.
    All the other companies are in a better position, as regards equipment, than that from your county. When I reflect that Colorado stands among the foremost in wealth, I feel sorry that we received so little encouragement—nay, so much opposition—from parties in Colorado. But 'tis no use to repine, and as I have little time, I must close.
    Your Bro. Ben

2. Benjamin Marshall Baker to James Davis Baker, August 1, 1861, from the transcription published in the Colorado Citizen, August 3, 1861

Camp near Harrisburg, Aug. 1, 1861

My Dear Citizen—
    I snatch a few moments from the drill this morning to write you. I have an old tambourine for a desk, and as it has no legs of its own I have loaned it mine. We have a beautiful camping ground on the east side of Oyster Creek, the ground sloping and covered with trees, bordered by a fine, grassy prairie. We cook and eat our biscuit and bacon in the shade of pines, magnolia, etc. There are at present about one thousand men in this camp. I cannot enumerate the different companies. We were the third company on the ground, and we have stood by and seen six companies mustered in who arrived after we did, because we lacked a few men, and now they have raised the minimum number of men to seventy-eight. I hope no citizen of Colorado county will ever gas about war again; if any one should, just tell him to come and fill this company, or—dry up! If our company is not filled, some of the men will return and others will join the different companies already mustered in, of which number I am one.
    If a few of your citizens would emulate the example of your liberal and patriotic candidate for Congress—Mr. C. C. Herbert—our company would no longer languish. He called at our camp the other day, encouraged to the amount of Fifty Dollars, and returned to Colorado to beat up recruits.
    Your Affectionate Bro.
    B. M. B.

3. Benjamin Marshall Baker to James Davis Baker, August 3, 1861, from the transcription published in the Colorado Citizen, August 10, 1861

Camp Van Dorn, August 3, 1861.

Dear Citizen:
    I hasten to present to you the gratifying information that Capt. Jno. C. Upton's company (the "Echo") has been mustered into the Confederate States' service. The ceremony came off just before sundown, when the golden orb was casting his bright-hued beams through the glittering spires of the beauteous pine trees, and while the tri-colored, honored flag presented by the ladies of Columbus was fluttering in the evening breeze. Oh! what a shout arose from our little band upon that occasion! Everybody appeared in better spirits, and their hearts seemed to beat freer after they had become the not unwilling servants of "Uncle Jeff." R. A. Bell, of Alleyton, is with us; was not mustered in, but says he is determined to go to Virginia with our company.
    I desire to speak in terms of great praise of the conduct of our men since their arrival at this encampment. Ours is one of the most quiet and orderly company on the ground. Particularly do I laud my friend, W. J. Darden, Esq., for the manner in which he takes "camp life." As he is the only married man in the company, and has made many sacrifices to accompany us, I feel that much honor is due him.
    Mr. Legg and the Messrs. Hurley have the fever, but under the medical care of Dr. Park, of the Guadalupe company, it is believed that they will soon recover. Save these cases, our company is in good health and fine spirits.
    We would be glad if old Colorado would send some more of the "boys," so we can have a a full company. Wasn't the battle at Manassas "glory enough for one day?" In the language of Tom Moore's jacknaw, "God, how they knick 'em!"
    Soldier life don't go as easy as some credulous persons might imagine. I can get along very well with everything except washing my own clothes. That is an operation which rather takes the self-conceit out of the subscriber, but I am getting along, and with more experience, will probably acquire such proficiency as to set up (if Black Republican bullets should spare me) a "Washing and Ironing Establishment"
    Rev. Mr. Seat preached to the volunteers a few nights ago, and had such a crowd that all could not hear the sound of his voice. Rev. Mr. Castleton made a most noble and patriotic prayer; and when the singing commenced, the manly voices made the very woods resound with the notes of praise.
    There are between fifteen and eighteen hundred soldiers on the ground, and companies coming in every day. I must close for breakfast.
    Your Bro. Ben.

4. Benjamin Marshall Baker to James Davis Baker, August 10, 1861, from the transcription published in the Colorado Citizen, August 17, 1861

Camp Van Dorn, Texas, Aug. 10, 1861.

Dear Citizen—
    We learn here in camp that the first division of Texas Volunteers will start for Virginia next Tuesday; and that the other divisions of the regiment will follow on as soon thereafter as practicable. The "Echo" is in the third division, and will not leave as soon as the first and second divisions, by some days. The boys are all getting tired of the suspense of living in camp life on uncertainty.
    The fight at Galveston amounted to nothing more than showing the blockading vessels that they could not too closely approach our shores without danger. The ladies of the city entered into the patriotic feeling prevalent, and during the engagement stood on shore watching the fight, and at every shot from our batteries threw up their bonnets and clapped their hands for very joy. With such inspiring manifestations on the part of the ladies, who could blame the Southern troops if (as a New York paper says) "they fought like demons?"
    The health of our company is much improved, and the boys in fine spirits—ready and anxious to go to Virginia. I shall write you soon again.
    Your Bro. Ben.

5. Benjamin Marshall Baker to James Davis Baker, September 11, 1861, originally published in the Colorado Citizen, September 28, 1861 (now lost), this text from the transcription published in the Colorado Citizen, November 13, 1908

Canton, Miss., Sept. 11, 1861

Dear Citizen:
    Well, here I am, with the rest of the "Echo" company, in the great old State of Mississippi. We arrived in New Orleans on Sunday, the 8th inst., and took the cars for Richmond, Virginia, the Tuesday ensuing.
    We were treated with great hospitality in many places; in others, very rudely. No marvel that the boys occasionally took the liberty of working things to suit themselves. At New Iberia we were furnished dinner and supper the day of our arrival, and the people on the road leading to the city furnished us with wagons, carriages, buggies and every other means of transportation. I can not speak too much in praise of the French who live on the route from Niblett's Bluff to New Iberia. They gave our volunteers milk, potatoes, bread, etc., and, in short, seemed to vie with each other in their efforts to do the agreeable for us. They are actuated by the most ardent spirit of patriotism, and wished us much good luck in whipping out the Abolitionists. They will long live in the memory of our company. In New Orleans, also, we were treated with some consideration. The people sent us some provisions, and gave us the use of a room during our stay in the city for the sick, of whom, I am glad to say, our company has only a small number.
    We encountered a great many hardships on our march from Niblett's Bluff, Calcasieu Parish, to New Iberia. We waded in water every day—sometimes up to our neck; were not provided with sufficient provisions by the Government officer; had wet blankets to sleep on at night, and were generally in bad luck. Added to this I may mention the interesting fact that it rained on us every day from the time we left Houston till we arrived in New Orleans. The boys stood it with all cheerfulness, and the most of the grumbling was when we were delayed, as we are today, on our "forward march."
    Canton is a pretty town, containing some two thousand inhabitants, situated on the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railroad. There are some sixty ladies at work here making clothing for the soldiers, some three hundred of whom have gone from this county to Virginia.
    Everywhere we have been the mass of the people are almost a unit in favor of fighting the North, and have our independence achieved, or die in the effort. Want of time prevents me giving more than this imperfect scrawl. The first opportunity I shall write again. The boys request me to tell their friends to write to them at Richmond, Virginia.
    Your Brother, Ben.

6. Benjamin Marshall Baker to James Davis Baker, September 28, 1861, originally published in the Colorado Citizen, October 19, 1861 (now lost), this text from the transcription published in the Colorado Citizen, November 20, 1908 and November 27, 1908

Richmond, Va., Sept. 28, 1861

Dear Citizen:
    I must commence this epistle by stating that I have delayed in writing you until the present time on account of arranging camp, washing old clothes, and getting ourselves in a semi-pleasant position since our arrival in this State. The long and toilsome journey thither, endured by the Texas boys, placed them in anything but the best plight, so far as appearance was concerned, for their debut in Richmond, and I assure you that they presented rather a rough and hardy exterior to those even quasi civilized.
    Our company arrived in Richmond on the 17th inst., and encamped in the suburbs, in close proximity to the residue of the Texas Volunteers, numbering seventeen companies. We believe our company stood the trip and arrived here in better condition than any other, though we were compelled, on account of indisposition, to leave Lieut. Bullington, Cabaniss and Perkins at Canton, Miss., and Coffee at Lynchburg, of whom we have heard nothing since our arrival here, and consequently I can not report of their condition. We left them in the hands of friends who kindly volunteered to attend to their wants. We have now sick in camp Col. Tanner, considerable fever, Pat Lundy, chills and fever, J. S. Obenchain, fever, and Corporal W. W. Pinchback, chills and fever. I am thus particular in stating these cases, not because they are in any manner serious, but because some of the boys have not had an opportunity to write home. As a general thing, our company has been in very good health since we have been in camp.
    Of Virginia, I must say that I am very much disappointed. Apparently its chief productions are tobacco, rocks, high hills and shin plaster currency. The latter commodity is more abundant in this "neck of the woods" than mud-holes in Louisiana. They range from five cents to five dollars, and constitute the medium of change in this metropolis. Though illegal and their issuance in such sums unauthorized by any law of the State, certain individuals have taken the liberty of putting them forth for the sake of convenience and profit. There is little money in this country in a "floating" condition; but in the matter of shin plasters the natives here contrive to hold a limited hand with any people beneath the sun. You can probably imagine the unbounded astonishment of the subscriber the other day when purchasing cigars—positively cigars—and receiving his change in leather! yes, sir, plain, unmitigated leather!—leather, and as Poe sayeth "nothing more." I expostulated with the thin-visaged Teuton for offering that species of currency to a citizen of Texas and of the Confederate States of America—with a blue shirt on—but were told that "dat vash de pest I can do;" and he added that the aforesaid leather was, each distinct and separate piece of it, "goot for one drink ash de par." Need I add that leather was as good a thing, during the war, as I wanted?
    I say I am much disappointed in Virginia. I, filled with that characteristic innocence for which I am, in a measure, remarkable, expected to see rich, fine farms, magnificent residences and palatial country-sites miscellaneously and tastefully scattered all over the country. Instead, my expectant vision has been forced to gaze upon poor lands, not very remarkably fine residences, and as to country sites, the richest one I have yet beheld was a Virginia maiden, with violet eyes and raven locks, who, to use the expression of a smart lad in our company, "was standing by the railroad flirting apples at we!" The only consolation I have is the assurance that the railroad runs through the poorest part of Virginia. But of her mountains and hills, valleys and streamlets, one can never grow tired of beholding.
    I have visited, during my rounds, the capitol grounds in this city, which have a reputation for elegance and artistic beauty, almost world-wide. Here is erected the monument to Washington upon a high hill, or, rather, the apex of the grounds. It is a bronze statue of the great Chief, mounted on a pedestal some thirty-five or forty feet high, and can be seen from many parts of the city. Upon the front niche of the monument are the statues of Henry, Mason and Jefferson. The whole fabric is a most admirable work of art, and will interest any one who has an eye for the beautiful. The visitor can also see the statues of Clay, LaFayette, and others, and also that of Washington by Stuart, which is very life-like, and said to be the finest in the world. The grounds are naturally very beautiful, the grove of trees throughout presenting a fine appearance. Its natural beauty has not been very greatly changed by art, though the situation of the grounds renders them capable of being made very grand and picturesque.
    We are not encamped three and a half miles from Richmond on the Norfolk railroad, in a grove of pine trees, very like portions of eastern Texas. Wood and water are convenient—the latter the best I ever drank. As yet, we do not know what disposition will be made of us. It is said that, as we have enlisted for the war, that we will not be called into service yet, but kept until the time for which other troops have enlisted (some over twelve months) has expired. This is not positive. At present we occupy our time in drilling. I learn today that Col. R. T. P. Allen of Bastrop is to be our Colonel.
    It is understood that the Confederate Government is now sending ordnance from this place to Maryland for the purpose of driving the Hessians from that State. A call has been made for some more artillerymen.
    A rumor is current that General McClellan has been shot and very seriously wounded in Baltimore. It needs confirmation.
    There are fifteen or twenty thousand troops encamped near Richmond, and the city is always full of epauletted officers, subordinates and privates.
    For the present must close.
    Your brother, Ben.