Captain Kaufman’s Captured Diary: A Relic of Chickasaw Bayou
Captain Peter R. Kaufman served in Co. E of the 58th Ohio Volunteer Infantry until he was killed in action December 29, 1862 at Chickasaw Bayou. After this regiment, also known the 4th German Ohio Regiment, charged the Confederate works at Chickasaw, Kaufman’s body was left behind and pilfered by the Confederates. Among the items taken from Kaufman’s body was his personal diary which was shown to the editors of the Vicksburg Daily Whig, who then published its contents in the January 1, 1863 issue.
“We are indebted to Captain [Anderson J.] Moss of the 26th Louisiana regiment for the loan of a diary taken from a dead Yankee after the battle of Chicksaw Bayou on Monday,” it reported. “It belonged to Lieutenant P.R. Kaufman of the 58th Ohio volunteers, a resident of Cleveland, Ohio. It contains his commission as second lieutenant of the 58th Ohio Volunteer Militia, and his commission as first lieutenant in the same regiment when it was mustered into the service of the United States in March last.”
The diary gives a succinct account of the owner’s movements from the time he entered service in January last up to the day of his death. After serving for a while as police guard at Camp Chase, the regiment was ordered to Tennessee and figured in the taking of Fort Donelson, after which he went up the Tennessee River to Savannah, from whence he went to Pittsburg and was in the battle there. Started from Corinth in June and went to the Memphis Fairgrounds. Next went to Germantown where he heard Richmond was taken and Vicksburg burned. Was not pleased with the sentiment of the people of Tennessee- found them principally Rebels. Went to Helena in July.
The next item of importance that we find in the diary is the capture of the Fairplay. The fleet consisted of two gunboats, three rams, and six transports. The next, an expedition went up the Yazoo River, consisting of the rams Lioness and Monarch, and the gunboat Benton under Colonel Wood. One of the boats was snagged badly, but was soon repaired when the fleet went up the river again. Read the Vicksburg papers near Providence giving an account of the capture of the Fairplay. Drove our men in at Greenville. Next, landed at Bolivar where our men killed one and wounded two of their cavalry. After their arrival in Helena, they remained in camp until October when they were ordered to St. Genevieve, Missouri.
On the 16th of November, the regiment, in company with several others, started down the river for Helena. On the 22nd of December, part of the regiment started for Vicksburg on board the steamer Polar Star. They partially destroyed Daniel’s Landing, below Gaines’, on account of our guerillas firing at them. Next day the Polar Star collided with the Adriatic and came near sinking. Milliken’s Bend, Kaufman says, “the houses were fired and other acts of vandalism committed.” Our pickets were posted at the Bend and some light skirmishing took place.
On Friday, they started up Yazoo River and landed at Captain Johnson’s. Heavy firing commenced at Snyder’s Bluff at 4 o’clock. “Blair’s brigade was ordered out and marched four miles driving the Rebel pickets- in evening, turned back and camped in the woods.” On Saturday, he was detailed for rear guard. The regiment was ordered out on skirmish and scoured the woods, driving our pickets about a mile with the loss of Captain [Christopher C.] Kinsor [Co. H] and five others. They camped in front of our pickets that night and the next morning were ordered back to the brigade. He says the brigade was ordered out again and drove us from across the lake, after which they returned and took up “a position on the island near ‘Fort Morgan’ for the night.”
Monday the regiment was put on the reserve, but Kaufman was prevented from chronicling the proceedings of that day. The reserve took part in the battle and he, like many of his deceived and misled companions, was sent where the roar of cannon and clash of steel are not heard. The diary is ended, and Lydia, Maria, and Ida will fail to receive the regular missives from Peter. [Lydia was his four-year old daughter, Maria was his six year old daughter, Ida was his wife.] Ida will miss the deposits made for her in the Cleveland Savings Institution, and Captain [Samuel]Morrison [Co. I] and Lieutenant [Stephen] Defenbaugh [Co. I] will perceive the want of frequent visits of Peter Kaufman.
About a week later, Orderly Sergeant Robert Specht of Co. E wrote a letter to Captain Kaufman’s widow back home in Ohio in which he gave the circumstances of the captain’s death, and the condition of his body when the Federals retrieved it on December 31, 1862. The 58th Ohio served as part of the General Frank Blair’s Brigade of the Fourth Division commanded by General Frederick Steele. Specht’s letter was published in the February 4, 1863 issue of the Ohio Repository which was published in Canton, Ohio.
On board the steamer Polar Star on the Mississippi River
January 7, 1863
Mrs. [Ida] Kaufman, madam,
I regret to make the following sorrowful statements to you in regard to your husband, our most beloved and esteemed commander and friend.
I believe he had written to you from Helena, Arkansas about an expedition which was going down river with the intention of taking Vicksburg, Mississippi. We went down with 80 transports loaded with troops and arrived at the mouth of the Yazoo River on the 26th of December. We departed the same day for Fort Morgan and arrived there on the 27th. In the afternoon, our regiment was sent out to employ the Rebel skirmishers. We soon found them and drove them about one mile with the loss of one captain and four private soldiers. We were relieved at dark by another regiment.
The next morning, we were employed to support batteries and in the afternoon we were engaged in keeping the Rebel sharpshooters from our lines but we had no loss this day. The next day, December 29th, was fixed to take the fort by storm. Blair’s brigade was ordered to do it; it consisted of the 13th Illinois, 29th Missouri, and 58th Ohio regiments, altogether about 2,000 men. [The brigade consisted of the 13th Illinois, 29th, 30th, 31st, and 32nd Missouri regiments, the 58th Ohio, Capt. Louis Hoffman’s 4th Ohio Battery, and Co. C of the 10th Missouri Cavalry.]
At about 11 a.m. we were ordered to fix bayonets and in a double quick and with hurrah after hurrah, we commenced the fearful struggle. It was nothing but a struggle; yes, it was murder by wholesale, privileged by law. We had hardly reached the edge of the woods where we could see their fortifications when the Rebels commenced to throw shell after shell into our ranks. We could hear nothing but the whizzing of balls and the cracking of shells. To have an imagination of this fearful struggle you only need to look at our loss. We lost in about an hour’s time about 1,300 of our brigade, and your husband shared the same fate. [The 13th Illinois, 29th Missouri, and the 58th Ohio from Blair's brigade lost their colors at Chickasaw Bayou. The 16th Ohio was also reported to have lost one stand of colors.]
He died a soldier’s death on a dark and bloody battlefield. He received a slight wound in the right arm first and we begged of him to go back to the doctor and get it dressed, but he would not go. Then we lost sight of him. The battle was over, and we could not find our beloved Peter. We looked everywhere, on every hospital boat, and every hospital, but could not find him. The next day we tried with a flag of truce to go on the battlefield and look for our wounded, but the rebels would not let us.
At last on the 31st they agreed to let us bury our dead, and then it was that we found your husband’s body. He was stripped of everything valuable: watch, diary, sword, revolver, and money, even his boots they had pulled off but no other clothing. He had received a wound in his right breast from a piece of shell. He was looking as natural as if he was living yet. We buried him not far from the battlefield and put a piece of board with his name cut in on the grave. May he rest in peace.
Our loss in the regiment is very heavy: out of 17 officers we have lost 12 in killed and wounded and out of 290 privates we have lost 111 killed and wounded. In the Missouri regiments the loss is heavier still. One of the Missouri regiments has lost its flags.
Your husband’s trunk will be forwarded to you as soon as practicable. If you want any other information, I am always at your service. Helping this calamity will find you well-prepared, I remain your obedient servant,
Orderly Sergeant, Co. E, 58th Regt., O.V.I.
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