- by Marco Giardino, Ph.D.
The Koch family letters reveal much of life in Hancock County during the Civil War. They were meant to be intimate communications in time of severe hardship and insecurity. As such, they reveal the humanity of some of those who came before. One who walks in their paths may well feel a sense of awe.
Marco Giardino and Russell Guerin co-authored a book on the Koch family called Mississippi's No-Man's Land: An Echo of the Koch Family Letters. It can be purchased online, at Bay Books, or at the Hancock County Historical Society.
Russell Guerin is a retired insurance executive who found new opportunity to pursue his passion for local history when he bought a home in Hancock County ten years ago. Having spent his summers there as a child and long weekends in his working years, he had become aware of the rich history of the area. His retirement made it possible to research the early settlers and their stories.
In 1841, Christian married Annette Netto of Bay St. Louis, and in 1854 they settled in Logtown, on Bogue Houma bayou, which bounds Logtown on the north.
The Koches were letter writers. Hundreds of these letters covering a period from 1829 to 1883 are housed in the Hill Memorial Library at Louisiana State University. Many of these letters date from the Civil War, when Christian and his schooner, The Experiment, were embargoed by Union troops at Fort Pike while Annette struggled to raise their 12 children and to keep their Logtown farm running.
Koch had no sympathy for the Confederate cause; in fact, in a letter from 1854, he noted that there was more liberty in Denmark than in the southern states. When Federals seized his schooner in 1862, he wrote to Annette that he expected $15 a day for its use. Despite working for the Union, he was often unable to get passes to breech blockades and visit his family in Logtown.
The ugliness and hardship of the Civil War dominates the correspondence between the Koches. A letter from Annette to Christian from April 1863 describes conditions: “The Yankees burned all the schooners on Mulatto Bioue... There is talk that the government will take all the cattle, they put price down to 10 cents pound and if not ok, government will take anyway.”
Annette continued to describe a litany of problems: merchants would not take Confederate dollars; trees were hard to find and birds caused corn to be replanted four times. She had tried unsuccessfully to forestall an infestation of worms by spraying pepper tea, and the hogs filled the place with fleas.
Also of concern was the threat of conscription for their two oldest sons—Elers, 18, and Emil, 16. Christian wrote to Annette, September 10, 1862, saying, “If they [Confederates] have not yet taken Elers, send him for God’s sake... let him stay in the swamp with J. Parker.”
Elers did end up fighting for the Confederates by early 1863. In April he wrote from Camp Johnson, in Lawrence County, Mississippi. “They are pretty strict here they make a fellow tow the mark they drill us from 2 to 6 hours a day on horseback, we have not got any tents only 4 tents in the company… We have enough for our horses to eat barely, when you write to me leave some blank paper for me to write back again.”
Conditions were not better back home in Logtown. Annette wrote to Christian, who was still embargoed at Fort Pike, on April 21st and informed him that they had not had meat and coffee since he had left except for one sheep. She added that she had been trying to help (neighbor) “Old Jacks” by offering work. Annette, like many other citizens of Hancock County at that time, did all she could to assist those less fortunate. She wrote, “As long as he [Old Jacks] is here I will try to feed him and his family. They are poor, poor. Mary [his wife] looks like an old woman.”