Tuesday, December 14, 2010

John Watkins', 19th Ohio Battery, letter home with comments about the battle of Nashville, prostitution and race relations in Nashville

Nashville Tennessee Dec 14, 1864

Friend John,

It is almost imposible for me to do anything else this morning and for that matter all day but sit in my tent. I have concluded to sit down and write you a few lines. for it will help pass away the time and it is plenty warm enough to write this morning. we are in camp on the south side of town and hardly 15 minutes walk from the Capitol and less than 1000yds from the line of works held by our troops on this side of town. Since we have been the rebels have made no serious moves towards our lines. they moved up and established a line in front of us. but almost out of reach being 3 miles off. But within reach of the 30 pdr Parrots in Fort Naglee . farther to the right of us they established there line within 1000 yards in some places of our line. and once opened a Battery but they were speedily hushed up and since then have remained remarkably quiet. Fort Naglee is one of the most important works erected to defend this place there are a present 7 – 30 pdr Parrots 4-3 inch guns 4 or 6 Napoleon guns some 24 pdrs howitzers and above all 1 large 7 inch swivel gun, rifled and there is but very little of the ground near the fort that some of those guns do not cover. and there Batteries stuck along the breast works that it seems as though nothing can approach them. Yesterday I was up at the fort to see what was the occasion of such much musketry. while there I saw three of four lines of battle advancing toward the rebel lines and in a piece of woods in the advance of them the skirmishers were having a lively little time. But I could not learn the results of the movement. it has been reported that the rebels were moving and the bulk of there army is gone. and I suppose the movement was to ascertain what force there was there. the troops were mostly negroes. for a few days back the Johnnies have been coming in pretty lively with frozen feet and toes. They are without blankets and many of the without shoes. and the late cold weather has been severe on them. last Sunday was a very cold day a piercing cold wind blowing al the time and that night it froze up hard. Monday the wind subsided and it was not quite so cold. yesterday it was a little warmer. Thawing all day and night last night with a little rain. and this morning the frost is almost all out of the ground and there is mud almost bottomless. yesterday morning we were expecting to move. but for some reason or other the order was countermanded and I was gland of it. Of all the nasty muddy places when it is muddy these large Military posts heart all the immense amount of business down here keeps all the streets crowded all the time but in more than one respect I think is decidedly the worst place in the country there is more black legs and thieves than I had an idea there could be in one place and prosper and when we first came here there was not a night but someone was killed. I have been woke up several time by the firing of pistols. our fort that we first went in was in an abandoned part of town given up most entirely to prostitutes. and there is hundreds of them and I hear they have licensed houses, when we were in Lexington I thought there was a good many there but this place is ahead of anything I ever saw. It seems though there was nothing else here. for they monopolise everything. all the public hacks and drives. The front seats of all places of amusement I have seen 6 & 8 in a carriage driving by drinking and carousing singing and hollering like so many drunken men. they are dressed up in the height of fashion all the time. And it is out of the question for a man to go anywhere with me meeting some of these painted sephubcres.[1] and U. S. officers are there principle maintainers as a matter of course a great many of the night brawls and fights that very neighborhood and the first thing resorted to is the pistol. and the quickest man is the best but the private soldiers are a great many of them but there wages do3s not carry them far there was one spell that the 15th regulars doing provost duty got down on the negroes soldiers and most every night killed some of them. the night we came here Any Johnson made a speech to the black soldiers and in the course of the evening they had a torch light procession one of those 15th soldiers was drunk and kept following them around and hurrahing for McClelland calling Johnson and Old Abe h------b**[2] and everything else they could think of finally he struck one of them and then they shot him without any ceremony right in front of Johnsons house putting 17 balls in him I believe that vexed the regulars so that [they] resolved to kill every nigger they could. but I guess it all stopped now for I have not heard anything of it lately-----[sic] but I must bring this to a close. hope you will soon be able to get around and all of you get well. I suppose you have heard before now that Bud Carter is at home. I am enjoying good health as usual my respects to all. the same to yourself and wife
John Watkins

Direct to the care of Capt Frank Wilson 19th Ohio Battery, 3d Division, 23rd AC Nashville

John Watkins Collection, University of Tennessee Library Special Collections Division

[1] The editor believes the author may have meant "sepulchres" i.e. painted tombs. He may likewise have meant "succubus," a demon in female form supposed to have sexual intercourse with men in their sleep and so rob their souls.

[2] Ed note. Perhaps Watkins meant "humbug," which in the twenty first century hardly seems a name that would lead to the violence he goes on to describe.