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William Burdette Smith of the

13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, Co. F.,

Writes Home from California
Contributed by the family of William Burdette Smith

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This letter describes William Burdette Smith trip across the U.S. to San Francisco as a member of the 13th Minnesota Volunter Infantry.

William Burdette Smith, 13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry
William Burdette Smith
The letter:

Dear Sister:

I believe I have crossed a part of the finest country on earth and think I have been well paid for the time. There is no place that I have seen thatcompares with California & San Francisco the finest city for beauty. I am quite lost to think of describing them in language or on paper. We left Minneapolis at 9:30 June 15. We went to bed shortly after leaving, being tired from a long day's drill. We had Palace sleeping cars & did not know the difference between it & our own bed at home. We got up at Fargo, N.D. at 6:00 A.M.  From Fargo west we went through a fine farming country crops looking well. Then across the Great Plains where the surface looked as white as sheets this extended about 70 miles & was very hot, dusty & the air light.  After which we came to a desert of sand where nothing grew except sagebrush & from this extended the Badlands extending about 100 mi. This was the most interesting feature of country we had yet reached. Large mounds or bluffs looking as though they were artificially built upon the plains. They have no vegetation what ever on the side or top the walls extending sometimes perpendicular & sometimes slanting in steps. Some have large pillars in symmetry extending in front & look like a mammoth castle. These are not scattered here & there but extend in chorus & another peculiar feature was the varying strata of different color. Beginning at the top they were red & brown with a black strata which is of coal formation & then becoming light gray at the base. This scenery became continuous & in the evening of the 16th we reached Glendive, Mont., where we were greeted by a brass band & bouquets of lovely flowers. From here we gradually ascended the mountains & in the morning of the 17th were in the land of the snowcaps. This was beautiful to see, where the sun was raising & reflecting the white against the sky, it looked like a great mountain of silver. Here we crossed deep gulches and went through long tunnels. We saw cow-boy in their real state. We reached the line of continual precipitation of little way west of Livingston, Mont., then descending to 1000 ft. in 8 mi. We were turned loose in Helena for about 15 min.  Here not a thing except postal cards can be bought for less than 15 cents including sandwiches, beer & cigars etc.

We saw none of Idaho for we crossed it in the night. On the morning of the 18 we were in Spokane, Wash., & from here extended a vast desert of Western Wash. It was sandy, dry, & hot, all before noon but we were gradually ascending the cascades where it became cool & vegetation dense. This was the most beautiful of mountain scenery. At the top we were above the clouds, we could see them touching along the side of the mountain below us & the tops above were covered with snow.

On the evening of the 18th there was a grand reception for the soldiers at Tacoma. Given by the ladies of the Red Cross Emergency corps. We had sandwiches, coffee cake and fruit & were decorated with a fashion of the most beautiful flowers. But this was only a beginning, for at Centralia we were met by a large crowd of enthusiastic people & the same thing repeated. This aroused the boys, who responded in volley after volley of loud cheers. That night we did not retire until 2:30 for we had to change cars at Portland Ore. I was on guard from Centralia to Portland & was out side to where we crossed the Columbia River on a large ferryboat. The whole train was run onto the boat in 3 sections 12 sleepers 1 baggage & 2 locomotives. We reached Portland at 2:00 am, but were expect there at 8:00  & the ladies of the Red Cross had not forgotten us here.  The whole train was decorated in side with flags & flowers.  In each seat we found 2 large boxes of food containing sandwiches, cheese, cake, fruit, chicken & etc. & a card with the name of the giver. In the vestibule was flowers in large baskets piled almost to the top. And such beautiful flowers I had never seen before. We were quite disappointed in finding no one to which to show our gratitude. The ride from here south was through the most beautiful country of Oregon & Cal. All the way we were greeted by large crowds of enthusiastic people bringing flowers & refreshments for the boys in blue. At Ogden we crossed the Sacramento River on the largest ferry in the world, The Salavo, and at Oakland we were carried across the bay by, The San Francisco. This is the first ride I ever had upon the salt water. On reaching San Francisco we were met by the rest of the 13th & their military band. We marched in to a large hall & were given a grand reception by the ladies of the Red Cross & toasts were offered by the citizens & we made the old building quake with cheers. After we had refreshments we marched to the camp. Most all the way crowds filled the street leaving only room for us four abreast. At the camp we were given a general welcome by all. I met many friends from Minneapolis who came on the first call.

Camp Merritt, San Francisco, California

 Part of Camp Merritt at San Francisco

San Francisco is a very beautiful city. The parks are extensive & most beautiful. Would send you some views if I could get them. Well Myrtie, the army life is not so bad as most people think for & much better than I expected. We have plenty of good food. For dinner I had a beefsteak, onions, potatoes, coffee with milk & sugar & bread. We get 4 hours drill each day from 9 until 11 o'clock in the morning & from 3 to 5 in the after noon. The rest of the time is for eating, cleaning camp & to take in the sights.

Now Myrtie we can not get paid until Sept. 1st & I am about strapped, could you let me have a few dollars until I can get it. You see I need some for baths & keeping up my toilet. We are allowed $48 for clothes for the first 6 mo. & get $15.60 per mo., while in the service. I will not need to use more that of the clothes fund & that will be to my credit.

Now I will have to close it is nearing drill hours, hope you are well. Tell me how all they are getting along when you write. I do not know when I shall cross the Pacific but not soon at any rate. It will be at least a month.

The Minn. 13th is the flower of the Pacific army. Gov. Budd said there had been nothing in Cal., to equal them.

Write soon Myrtie & I will write a better one when I can collect my thoughts.

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