"There is nothing certain in the Army"Letter from 18th New York Cavalryman Stationed at Matagorda Island, Texas, with Hand-Drawn Map, 1864. Sergeant Philip G. Altland Autograph Letter Signed (four pages, 7.75" x 10", "Head Qrts. Passcovallo, Texas, Madagorda Island", May 10, 1864), along with the original transmittal envelope. The toned letter bears minor foxing.
On the top half of page three, the young soldier drew a detailed map of "Madagorda [sic] Island." In his drawing, he identifies St. Charles Bay and the "Main Land of Texas" to the north of the island, which he lists as part of "Rebel Possessions." To the east and west he labels "Madagorda [sic] Bay" and St. Charles Island. He determines the island, bound on the south by the Gulf of Mexico, to be "45 miles long". On the island, Altland identifies the bayous and locations of animal herds (sheep, cattle, goats, and deer). He also identifies the locations of "Our Cavalry", "Mounted Infantry", "Texan Scouts", "Head Quarters", the "Steamboat Landing", a "Light House", "Fort Esperanza", and more. "This Island is very well fortified," Altland writes in the body of the letter. "There is a strong fort at the landing called fort Esperanza. There are some twelve or fifteen heavy guns mounted . . . several gun-boats are here all the time." He also notes that he is "perfectly satisfied" to remain on the island because "it is a very healthy place and not much danger of any fighting."
Even though the island was relatively safe, the Union soldiers felt isolated ("we have had no mail since we are on this Island which is nearly two months"). Altland, seeking recent political news, asks his father, "Who will be the candidates for President? Do you think Old Abe will be reelected if he is a Candidate? I would rather see someone else for my part for their [sic] could not be more corruption in the Army officials no How. And I should like to see our administration changed." In the letter's postscript, the soldier further asks, "Please let me know wheather [sic] Gen. Grant is doing any thing in the Army of the Potomac."
Sergeant Philip Altland enlisted as a twenty-four-year-old in August 1863 at New York City. He was a member of Company F, which, along with Company A of the 18th New York Cavalry, had been detached from the regiment to hold Matagorda Island. The young soldier explains to his father in Pennsylvania that the rest of the regiment was involved in the Red River Campaign "in Western Louisana [sic], and I heard three Companies were pretty badly used up." Altland himself died of disease in Marshall, Texas, one year and two months after writing this letter.
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