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SELECTED LETTERS OF SALMON P. CHASE

(Private)

NEW ORLEANS, LA., March 21st, 1863.

DEAR SIR: From the newspapers you will obtain as much information, regarding late operations near Port Hudson as I am able to give you. Gen. Banks is still up the River, but is expected to return soon. I have delayed writing until this last moment, with the hope of seeing some officer lately arrived from above, or Gen. Banks himself.
The "Hartford" and "Albatross" are above the Rebel batteries, and are believed to be not much injured. The Mississippi was destroyed. No other vessels were materially injured and our loss in men was small. One Brigade of Gen. Banks' troops is on the West side of the River opposite Port Hudson. It is said that other vessels can run past the batteries whenever it becomes necessary.
I am satisfied that my statement of the number of troops on either side, was exaggerated. This statement was made in my last letter. I am informed that the column which advanced under Banks was 18,000 strong, four or five thousand being left at Baton Rouge. The late demonstration is said to have been for the purpose of assisting Farragut in passing the batteries. The presence of Gov't. vessels above Port Hudson is of the utmost importance, as thereby the rebel supplies via Red River, are cut off. What are the plans of Gen. Banks and the Admiral, I am unable to say.
It seems to me that Government does not appreciate the great importance of the Mississippi River. The rebels do. The great interest of the war is gradually centering on this River, and ultimately the contest will be decided here.
For military purposes, the various positions on the River are peculiar. On the west bank for its whole length, there are no bluffs nor places favorable to fortification, but the whole shore is level and even.
On the East Bank however, are many high bluffs easily made formidable. Coming down the River, the first of these places held by the rebels, is Vicksburg - the lowest is Port Hudson. Between these two are 4 or 5 other similar positions, of which Grand Gulf is one and Port Adams another - but none are fortified except the two first mentioned. Port Hudson is the terminus of a railroad and so is Vicksburg. None of the others are. Port Hudson is below the mouth of Red River - down which come all the vast rebel supplies from the West, and these supplies are protected by the Port Hudson fortifications.
Once open the River, and occupy the six or seven high bluffs above mentioned, on the left bank of the River, and the rebels could never control the River again.
A great mistake was made in sending raw troops with Gen. Banks. None of them had ever seen service, and many of the regiments did not receive muskets until they landed in New Orleans. Had these forces or one half of them, been experienced troops, Gen. Banks could have taken Port Hudson and controlled the River at once. I think he could have done it any way, for it was a weak place then, but Banks is a cautious man. Now Port Hudson is very strong and I hardly think Banks can take it. We need here more troops and the best the Government has - and Gen. Butler at the head. Without doubt, people in Washington feel the liveliest interest in events occurring near them, and thinking of Virginia and North Carolina so much, they fail to comprehend the greater importance of the Mississippi Valley. Our possession of the Mississippi will cut the enemy in two, and will speedily end the war. I have frequently made these same statements to you heretofore. I think it will take 200,000 men above and here to open the river - but (by fortifying the strong places above mentioned) Seventy Thousand men can keep it open and protect it. I hoped the great expedition on the Atlantic coast was coming here. They could take Port Hudson at once and then go away to other business.
Gen. Banks troops are not yet efficient because raw. We need better men here - more men - and need them at once with B. F. B. at their head. I received yesterday intelligence from Matamoras. There are Seventy-five sail there, waiting to discharge cargo. Most of them are from foreign ports. Undoubtedly most of these cargoes will go to the benefit of the enemy.
Mr. Bullitt does very well. I had no high opinion of his business ability and have less now. He is a pleasant gentleman, and what is called generally a first rate fellow. Fortunately he appreciates his inexperience, and is docile and tractable. His presence lightens my labor but little - I have nearly as much to do as heretofore.
Concerning the Internal Revenue, no instructions have yet been received, and nothing is known of the needed appointment of Assessor. Cotton begins to come in from beyond our lines, generally against the wish of the Rebel authorities. I have commenced collecting the tax on it.
The action of the Assessor is necessary before almost any tax can be collected. Unless an assessor is soon to be appointed, I make the following request. That authority be given me to act, also, as assessor in respect to sugar, cotton and licenses. Or that I be authorized to appoint, temporarily, an assessor to discharge the duties of that office in respect to sugar, cotton and licenses.
At present here, manufactures, except Sugar, do not amount to much. The distillation of liquors is prohibited by military order.
Accounts are frequently received from across the Lake. The rebels everywhere are greatly distressed - and their wants are becoming greater every day. In Jackson, Miss., Whiskey is worth Two Thousand dollars per barrel in confederate money. I enclose a Jackson paper of the 13th, inst. If you are familiar with the braggadocio style of southern papers generally, you will be able to detect condiderable despondency in the various articles of this paper.
I send to-day about $50,000 to U. S. Asst. Treasurer at N. Y. - being total balance of duties collected by me up to Mr. Bullitt's arrival. A bill of lading will be forwarded to you with statement of ac. by next mail. Pardon the haste in which I am obliged to write.

P. S. Gen. Banks has just arrived from above.

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Annual Report of the American Historical Association; Volume II; Washington, Government Printing Office; 1903

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