Nancy Clendenin Mann (1829-1912) lived in Liberty (now Rockwood), Illinois, a small town on the Mississippi River about ten miles below Chester. During the Civil War her husband John served in the Fifth Illinois Cavalry. Nancy kept house and raised their four daughters. Her letters to John kept him informed about town news, the girls’ activities and health, the price and availability of local commodities, and news of friends and relatives in other regiments.
Looking out on the busy Mississippi, Nancy sometimes witnessed scenes that brought the war to her doorstep. On February 20, 1862, she watched as five boatloads of Confederate prisoners, captured at the surrender of Fort Donelson on February 16, passed Liberty on their way to prison camps at Camp Butler in Springfield or Camp Douglas in Chicago. Nancy wrote a breathless description for her husband, who had barely finished training camp and seen nothing yet of the war.
“My eyes are so tired with looking through the spy glass at rebel prisoners that I can scarcely see to write. The S. B. Alex. Scott is laying at Hamiltons wood yard, laden with prisoners taken at Fort Donelson. Emily, Nannie and I, have been looking through the glass at them. They are clad in dirty looking garments of various colors. They have no uniformity of dress, they do not have overcoats but wear a blanket with a hole in the center through which they put the head. This gives them a very slovenly appearance. The blankets are some red, some striped, some white, the dirtiest things you ever saw. Tthe men walk, or sit, around on the boat. They do not make a very lively appearance. Our men who are guarding them on the boat step round with their heads up and try keep themselves warm. You will never know what a contrast there is between the Union loveing men and the rebels untill you see them together,…” (Mann Family Papers; punctuation and capitalization corrected)
Launched in 1848, the steamboat Aleck Scott plied the Mississippi for more than a decade. Samuel L. Clemens served as cub pilot on the Aleck Scott from December 1858 to April 1859, making five trips between St. Louis and New Orleans. After the fifth trip Clemens acquired his pilot’s license, having worked two years on the river. The dates and boats he served are chronicled here by the Mark Twain Project at the University of California at Berkeley.
Pressed into Union Army service as a quartermaster ship in 1861, the Aleck Scott was renamed Fort Henry after February 1862. In September 1862 the ship was converted to an ironclad, renamed Lafayette and transferred to the Navy.