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The American Civil War is said to have been the last of the old-fashioned wars. But being the last old-fashion war, it must also be the first of a new type of warfare - a modern war. Awkward muzzle-loading weapons gave way to repeating rifles, and new deadly inventions were being tested regularly - inventions such as land mines, torpedoes, rockets and submarines. Just how outlandish did some of the schemes sound to those in whose hands they were laid? A letter, written by a Confederate private of the 9th Regiment Mississippi Volunteers, Isham Walker, and on file in the National Archives, suggest how outlandish.

Walker proposed that bombs filled with poisonous gas be dropped on Fort Pickens and Federal ships from the air. His letter, along with a sketch, was sent to Confederate Secretary of War, L. P. Walker. Apparently, nothing came of Walker's proposal, and records show that he received an honorable discharge from Bragg in October of 1861. Below is Walker's letter in his own words, in an unedited version:

 

Camp Magnolia Near Pensacola, Florida, June 14/61
Hon. L. P. Walker -Secretary of War

Hon. Sir about one month ago the undersigned addressed his excelency Jefferson Davis, proposing to donate his skill and body in an adventure to distroy the fortress Pickins and the fleet adjacent.

I am now informed that I must address you Hon. to get my scheams properly noticed, inclosed please find a rough sketch of my plan for Bombarding Pickins and the fleet from a baloon held in equilibum by 4 copper wires anchored as shown and at an altitiude of two miles, drop Poisonous Bombs into the fortress and fleet, which will be more effective than all of our battries also shown in the sketch, the adventure is Practicle, Safe and Sure, endangering no lives in the Confederate army, and the whole cost only Twelve Hundred Dollars for Baloon, wire, and chimicals, after the reduction of Pickins I offer my cirvices with the Baloon as a araunatic reconnoiter, takeing Potographic positions of U. S. A. the undersigned is a practical baloonist, also a native of Tennessee and now a citizen of Holly Springs, Miss. a privat in Company, D, better known as the Jef Davis Rifles Hon Saml Benton Captian 9th Regiment Volinteers.

An adventure of this kind would greatly facilitate the operations of the Confederate army, and I desire to be engaged in this branch of the cirvice, with or without any rank as it may please his Excellency the Prisident of C. S. of A. I would most respectfully call your attention to the fact, that Louis Napolion employed my old friend, mon Goodard in his last campaign against Austra--Goodard before an attact would ascend from the rear of napolions army and sketch the postion of the Austran army, thus informed napolion would attact the Austrans and the result was he won every Battle, for the attact upon Pickins I propose to place in the Bombs along with the powder a powerfull subtile Poison perfectly inocent untill ignited but deadly and awfully distructive when fired, Poisoneing the atmosphere for several rods in every direction produceing the Same effect upon the surounding air on the "Bohon Upas Tree of Africa."

From the sketch your Hon will readaly See the practibility of Reducing Pickins and the fleets near this camp nearly every day we have a perfect Calm in the evening, and in the morning a gentle breeze from the Redoubt toward Pickins thus favouring my Scheame for gently ascending from near the Redoubt two miles high then slackening on the land cables untill I shall reach the position of rite over Pickins and then drop those deadly Bombs, with more uneerring aim than can be had from any mortar, they decending with accillerated motion for two miles would pass cleare through any covering on any fortress and when they exploded death would be the cirtin doom of every liveing creature near, I wish to take Pickins and Monroe by this Stratigem I will risk my life in the adventure and if Successfull Save the life of many of my friends and relations eager to attact Pickins. I could come to Montgomery or Richmond and make the Baloon and get ready for the ascention in SIx weeks, I send you a cirtificate of my standing at Home which you will please mail back to me. I would also most Respectfully inform you that graphic Observations of the positions of the Confederate troops in Viriginia. I most humbly ask to be engaged by his Excelendy to give them a heave over at Pickins and at fort Monroe.

Anxiously awayateing your Reply I subscribe myself your must Humble Servant

Isham ...Walker
Jeff Davis Rifles
9th Rigment miss Volinteers
Ceare of Saml Benton

 

Attached was the following certificate which Walker refers to in his letter above:

To the Officers and Breathern of the Independent Order of Good Templers.

In Compliance with a resolution passed in Phoenix Lodge No 35 of the I. O. of T. T. at Holly Springs Missi, May 2d 1860, We take great pleasure in recommending to your favoravle Consideration Our worthy brother Prof. I Walker, Who is an able eloquent & fearless Lecturer, a gentlemen of Sciantific research and unexceptionable moral character and whose whole sole is enlisted in the cuase of Temperance. Prof. W. is about starting on a tour throughout the state of Mississippi as a commissioned D. G. W. C. Templer he having received his commission from the Rev. H. Paine G. W. C. Templer of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi. In witness whereof we assign our names and affix the Seal of this Lodge May 3d 1860,

E. A. Thomas W. C. T. ,
Charles L. Brackin, W. S.



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