Charles Wright Wills.

Army life of an Illinois soldier, including a day by day record of Sherman's march to the sea; letters and diary of the late Charles W. Wills, private and sergeant 8th Illinois Infantry; lieutenant and battalion adjutant 7th Illinois Cavalry; captain, major and lieutenant colonel 103rd Illinois Infa online

. (page 1 of 31)
Online LibraryCharles Wright WillsArmy life of an Illinois soldier, including a day by day record of Sherman's march to the sea; letters and diary of the late Charles W. Wills, private and sergeant 8th Illinois Infantry; lieutenant and battalion adjutant 7th Illinois Cavalry; captain, major and lieutenant colonel 103rd Illinois Infa → online text (page 1 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook









Including a Day by Day Record


Sherman's March to the Sea

Letters and Diary of the L-ate

Private and Sergeant 8th Illinois Infantry; Lieutenant and

Battalion Adjutant 7th Illinois Cavalry; Captain,

Major and Lieutenant Colonel 103rd

Illinois Infantry.


Copyright by Mary E. Kellogg, Washington, D. C.



To his surviving comrades of the Fifteenth Army Corps

these letters and diary of their former fellow soldier,

CHARLES W. WILLS, are respectfully dedicated. They do not

profess to be a history of the war; only a chronicle of events

recorded from day to day when the impressions were fresh

& and vivid. Some opinions are expressed which time after-

>. wards modified or reversed. Doubts and criticism of the

2 strategy of the commanding generals reflect the views that

3 prevailed at the time they were written, and show, as the
writer himself says, how little the actual fighting soldiers

5? sometimes knew of what was going on around them. Neverthe-
<8 less it is believed that the story of courage, endurance, self-
control and unflinching patriotism herein told, with character-
istic modesty and quaint humor, and the life-like portrayal of
. incidents of the great struggle and of the social conditions pre-
O vailing in the Border and Seceding States during the contest
)J will be found of interest and historic value.
CHARLES WRIGHT WILLS was born in Canton, Fulton County,


Illinois, April 17, 1840, of Pennsylvania parentage, and was
^ educated in the Canton public schools and the State Normal
School at Bloomington, Illinois. On the outbreak of the war,
responding to the first call of President Lincoln for three
months' volunteers, he enlisted in Company E, Eighth Illinois



Infantry, April 26th, 1861, and re-enlisted for three years at the
end of his first term of service. Subsequently he was commis-
sioned First Lieutenant and Battalion Adjutant of the Seventh
Illinois Cavalry. When by order of the War Department in
1862 all Battalion Adjutants were mustered out of service, he
returned to Canton, raised a company in the One Hundred and
Third Illinois Infantry, and was elected its Captain. In 1863
Major General Oglesby appointed him upon his staff, but after
a brief service as such, he gladly returned to active duty with
his regiment, and on the resignation of Major Willison, was
unanimously chosen to succeed him, though he was at that time
the youngest Captain in the regiment. During the campaign in
the Carolinas he was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel, but
was never mustered. At the close of the war he settled in
Louisiana and engaged in sugar planting. He died on his plan-
tation at Jeannerette, on the banks of Bayou Teche, Louisiana,
March 24, 1883, and was buried at Canton, Illinois. His
widow now resides in Denver, Colorado.

Washington, D. C, August 8, 1906.

Army Life of an Illinois


April 28, 1861 to January 30, 1862. Full private in the 8th Illinois
Infantry. Early days of drill, expectancy and enthusiasm. Traitors
and spies in camp. Primitive arms and equipment. Rough side of
camp life. False alarms of threatened defective attacks. Hospital
service. Whipping and hanging of Union men in Missouri and Mem-
phis. First uniforms. Reconnoitering down the Mississippi. River
communication with the South cut off. Sleeping on cornstalks,
cord wood, gates and rails in the rain. First experience in tents.
Scouting in search of a fight. Promoted sergeant. Learning to
confiscate and appropriate. Acting sheriff of court martial. En-
trenching and bridge guarding. Hunting the elusive Jeff Thomp-
son. "Cramping" live stock on a Rebel plantation. Taking further
liberties with Rebel property. Adverse opinion of the Belmont
fight. Log houses for winter quarters. Skinned "deer" that ate
like pork. Heavy muster of gunboats. A New Year's frolic in
camp. Investigating a disloyal regiment. Murder in a pirate's den.
Mismanaged river expedition. Commissioned first lieutenant of
cavalry and appointed battalion adjutant.

Cairo, April 28, '61.

This is the twilight of our first day here. We started from
Peoria last Wednesday at n a. m. amid such a scene as I
never saw before. Shouting, crying, praying, and shaking


hands were the exercises. Along the whole line from Peoria
to Springfield, from every house we had cheers and waving
of handkerchiefs. Got to Springfield at dark and marched out
to Camp Brick (it is a brickkiln) by moonlight. Our beds
were of hay, scattered on the earthen floor of the dry shed.
We had to sleep very close together, being cramped for room.
Our eatables are bread, bacon, beef, coffee, beans, rice, po-
tatoes and sugar and molasses and pickles.

I had to quit last night because the light wouldn't wait for
me. Well, we stayed at Camp Brick until Thursday 25th in
the p. m., when we were marched over to Camp Yates to form
a regiment. Ten companies of us, numbering from 93 to 125
men in each, were trimmed down to 77 rank and file, each.
This created considerable dissatisfaction and made a deal of
very wicked swearing. Some of the men who were turned
out of our company threatened to shoot our captain, but he
is still living. After we were trimmed to the required num-
ber we were sworn in by company and then quartered in
Camp Yates, though we elected our officers first. You will
see by the papers who they are. To be certain I will put them
down: Colonel, Oglesby; Lieutenant Colonel, Rhoads; Major,
Post; Captain, Denison; First Lieutenant, Wetzel; Second
Lieutenant, Probstein. Our quarters are the old cattle stalls.
Eight men are allowed the same room that one cow or jackass
had. I heard Douglas Thursday night and cheered him for the
first time in my life. Saturday night at 9 we started for this
place. Flags were displayed from houses the whole distance,
and the feeling seems as good here as at home. Sixty miles
above here, at the Big Muddy bridge, occurred the only trouble
the boys have had here. A lot of traitors from over the Ohio
river tried to burn the bridge and are still trying to do it. A
company of Chicago Zouaves are posted there with a 6 125 field
piece. They shot at fellows spying around four times Saturday
night. We are more afraid of ague here than of the enemy.
We drink no liquors and keep ourselves as cleanly as possible.
There are 3,000 of us here and we think we can hold it against
15,000. If they cut the levee the river is so low that we will not


be flooded. We have 15 cannons now and will have 15 more
to-day. We stop every boat that passes and take off all pro-
visions and ammunition and clothing. The boys are allowed
to appropriate what clothing they need from that which is
seized. There are now 5,000 men twenty miles below here,
at Columbus, Ky., who intended trying to take this spot, but
the arrival of our regiment will, it is thought, stop that move-
ment. It is well worth their trouble to take us for we have
thousands of dollars worth of their goods here which are
seized. You cannot conceive anything like the feeling that
possesses our troops here. Although about half of us are
green, raw militia, and will need discipline to make us what
we should be, yet to a man they all pray for an assault. Ken-
tucky, right across the river, is as strongly for secession as
Mississippi can be, and I have no doubt but that we will be
attacked the latter part of this week if no more troops come.

Our quarters here are much the same as at Camp Yates.
The shed in which our company sleep is entirely open to the
south, and very well ventilated otherwise. It is quite warm
here though, and we all go in our shirt sleeves even when off
duty. The trees are nearly in full leaf and grain is up eight
or nine inches.

If any boys go from Canton, they should have a pair of
woolen undershirts, ditto drawers, and two flannel overshirts,
woolen stockings (feet don't blister as quick in them) and a
heavy blanket or pair of light ones. Our company all have
a revolver (Colt) and knife each. Mine were given to me
by friends in Peoria.

This is a lovely place a gorgeous hole ! It smells just like
that bottom below Dorrance's mill, and will breed fever and
ague enough to disable all the men in this state. I just now
hear the boys saying that we move to-morrow up the river
to form a battery to stop a move expected from the Rebels.
We can't rely on any of these rumors, though. The boys
are shooting at marks all round us with their revolvers. I
shoot about as well as any of them.


George Bestor, Jr., sits near me and just now said that he
saw a man from Memphis this morning, who said that they
were making preparation to come up here and take this Point,
relying partly on the disloyal citizens for help. They will
have a good time of it.

Cairo, May 5, 1861, Sunday, n a. m.

The bells are just ringing for church. I intended going,
but it is such hard work getting out of camp that I concluded
to postpone it. Anyway, we have service in camp this p. m.
This is an awful lazy life we lead here. Lying down on our
hay constitutes the principal part of the work. As our rou-
tine might be of interest to you, I will give it. At 5 a. m. the
reveille is sounded by a drum and fife for each regiment. We
arise, fold our blankets in our knapsacks and prepare to march.
We then "fall in," in front of our quarters for roll-call ; after
which we prepare our breakfast and at the "breakfast call"
(taps of the drum at 7) we commence eating; and the way
we do eat here would astonish you. At 9 a. m. we fall in for
company drill. This lasts one hour. Dinner at 12. Squad
drill from i to 3 and supper at 5 :3O. At 6 p. m. the whole
regiment is called out for parade. This is merely a review by
the colonel, and lasts not more than 30 minutes and often but
15. After 8 p. m. singing and loud noises are stopped ; at 9 :3O
the tattoo is beat when all are required to be in quarters, and
at three taps at 10 p. m. all lights are put out, and we leave
things to the sentries. Our company of 77 men is divided into
six messes for eating. Each mess elects a captain, and he is
supreme, as far as cooking and eating are concerned. Our
company is considered a crack one here and we have had the
post of honor assigned us, the right of the regiment, near the
colors. Our commanders, I think, are anticipating some work
here, though they keep their own counsels very closely. They
have spies out in all directions, down as far as Vicksburg. I
think that Bradley's detective police of Chicago are on duty in
this vicinity. We also have two very fleet steamers on duty
here to stop boats that refuse to lay to, and to keep a lookout


up and down the Mississippi river. Yesterday, p. m., I noticed
considerable bustle at headquarters which are in full view of
our quarters, and at dark last night 20 cartridges were dis-
tributed to each man, and orders given to reload revolvers
and to prepare everything for marching at a minute's notice,
and to sleep with our pistols and knives in our belts around us.
That's all we know about it though. We were not aroused
except by a shot at about 2 this morning. I heard a little
while ago that it was a sentinel shooting at some fellow scout-
ing around. The Rebels have a host of spies in town but I
think they are nearly all known and watched. The men con-
fidently expect to be ordered south shortly. Nothing would
suit them better. I honestly believe that there is not a man
in our company that would sell his place for $100. We call
the camp Fort Defiance, and after we receive a little more
drilling we think we can hold it against almost any number.
We have 3,300 men here to-day, but will have one more regi-
ment to-day and expect still more.

We are pretty well supplied with news here; all the dailies
are offered for sale in camp, but we are so far out of the way
that the news they bring is two days old before we get them.
Transcripts and Unions are sent to us by the office free. I
wish you would send me the Register once and a while, and
put in a literary paper or two, for we have considerable time
to read. We have a barrel of ice water every day. Milk,
cake and pies are peddled round camp, and I indulge in milk
considerably at five cents a pint. Everything is much higher
here than above. Potatoes, 50 cents ; corn, 60 cents, etc. It
has been raining like blue blazes since I commenced this, and
the boys are scrambling around looking for dry spots on the
hay and trying to avoid the young rivers coming in. Almost
all are reading or writing, and I defy anyone to find 75 men
without any restraint, paying more respect to the Sabbath.
We have not had a sick man in camp. Several of the boys, most
all of them in fact, have been a little indisposed from changfc
of diet and water, but we have been careful and are now all
right. There are 25, at least, of us writing here, all lying on
our backs. I have my paper on a cartridge box on my knees.


Camp Defiance, May n, '61.

We have been seeing and feeling the roughest side of camp
life, ever since my last. Rain in double-headed torrents;
lightning that will kill easily at five miles ; thundering thunder ;
and wind from away back. But the mud dries like water on
a hot brick, and six hours sun makes our parade ground fit
for drill. Afternoon when the sun is out its hot enough to
scorch a phoenix; yesterday we drilled from i to 3. I was
almost crisped, and some of the boys poured a pint of grease
out of each boot after we finished. Up to 10 last night when
I went to sleep it was still boiling, but at five this morning,
when we got up, we shivered in coat, vest and blankets.
Bully climate! And then the way that the rain patters down
through the roof, now on your neck; move a little and spat it
goes, right into your ear, and the more you try to get away
from it the more you get, until disgusted, you sit up and see
a hundred chaps in the same position. A good deal of laugh-
ing, mixed with a few swears follows, and then We wrap our
heads in the blankets, straighten out, "let her rip." I never
was in better health, have gained four pounds since we started,
and feel stronger and more lively than I have for a coon's age.
Health generally excellent in our company, because we are
all careful. There has not been a fight yet in the whole camp.
A man was shot dead last night by one of the guards by ac-
cident. We have a fellow in the guardhouse whom we arrested
a couple of days since as a spy. He is almost crazy with
fear for his future. His wife is here and has seen him. His
trial comes off this p. m. We all hope that he will be hung,
for he laid forty lashes on the back of a man down south a
few weeks since, who is now a volunteer in our camp. The
boys would hang him in a minute but for the officers.

The news of the fuss in St. Louis has just reached us. We
suppose it will send Missouri kiting out of the Union. Gen-
eral Prentiss has some information (don't know what it is)
that makes our officers inspect our arms often and carefully.
I know that he expects a devil of a time here shortly, and
preparations of all kinds are making for it.


The boys are just now having a big time over a letter in
the Transcript of the loth, signed W. K. G. Of course it is
a bundle of lies. We have given nine groans and three tiger
tails for the writer W. K. G. A man just from Mobile is in
camp now. He landed this morning. He took off his shirt
and showed a back that bore marks of 30 strokes. They laid
him across a wooden bench and beat him with a paling. His
back looks harder than any one I ever saw. He says that
nine men were hung the day before he left, good citizens, and
men whose only crime was loyalty to the United States Gov-
ernment. They would not volunteer under the snake flag.
He reports 1,500 men at Memphis, a few at Columbus, only
50 at Mobile, and none worth mentioning at other points. A
man has been here this morning from 20 miles up the river
in Missouri. He wants arms for four companies of Union
men that have formed there, and who are expecting an attack
from the secessionists. The Union men have but 20 shotguns
now. A boat came up yesterday crowded with passengers.
Looked as though she might have a thousand on her. All

One of the boys has just come in with a report that there
are "to a dead certainty" 5,000 men now at Columbus (20
miles below) who have just arrived this morning. They are
after Cairo. The boys are all rumor proof, though, and the
above didn't get a comment. One of the boys has just ex-
pressed my feelings by saying: "I don't believe anything, only
that Cairo is a damned mud hole." I have not stood guard
yet a minute. Have been on fatigue duty is the reason. A
general order was given last night for every man to bathe
at least twice a week. Most of us do it every day. The Ohio
is warm enough and I swim every night now. There were
over 2,000 of us in at once last night. We had a candy pull-
ing this p. m. There was an extra gallon in to-day's rations,
and we boiled it and had a gay time. Our company is, I be-
lieve, the orderly one here. We have lots of beer sent us
from Peoria, and drink a half barrel a day while it lasts. (Do
those two statements tally?)


Sunday, May I2th, 6 p. m.

Several men from Alabama arrived here to-day with their
backs beaten blue. We caught another spy last night. The
drums rolled last night at n and we all turned out in the
biggest, dark and deepest mud you ever saw. It was
a mistake of the drummer's. Six rockets were let off and he
thought that they stood for an attack but they were only sig-
nals for steamboats. We thought sure we were attacked, but
the boys took it cool as could be, and I think never men felt
better over a prospect for a fight. Two hundred troops have
landed since I commenced writing this time. Just now the
clouds seem to be within 100 yards of the ground. Prospect
of a tremendous storm. I am writing standing up in ranks
for evening roll call.

May 17, 1861.

Sun and dust. Hot as the deuce. Lots of drilling

and ditto fun. Suits me to a T. Am going in for three years
as quick as I can. All chance for fight is given up here. We
are getting sharp. We trade off our extra fodder for pies,
milk and good things.

It's too hot to write. I am going to sleep.

Cairo, May 23, 1861.

Lots of men come through here with their backs blue and
bloody from beatings ; and nine in ten of them got their marks
in Memphis. A man from St. Louis was in camp a few days
since with one-half of his head shaved, one-half of a heavy
beard taken off, two teeth knocked out and his lips all cut with
blows from a club. This was done in Memphis the day be-
fore I saw him. My health continues excellent. Never felt
so well, and think that care is all that is necessary to preserve
my health as it is. I can't think that this Illinois climate is
mean enough to give a fellow the chills, after it has raised
him as well as it has me.

I never enjoyed anything in the world as I do this life, and
as for its spoiling me, you'll see if I don't come out a better
man than when I went in.


We 'have commenced fortifying this Point. One company
is detailed every day to work on this. It is said that it will
cost three million. As for enlisting for three years, I can't,
or rather won't say now. 'Tis a sure thing that as long as
this war continues I will not be satisfied at home, and if I
would there will certainly be no business. There is no use
trying to coax me now for I can't tell until my three month's
are up. Then, if I feel as now, I shall certainly go in for the
war. Our company gets compliments from all the newspaper

The whole camp is aching to be ordered to Memphis. Bird's
Point is not occupied. We had a company there for one day
but withdrew them.

I commenced this about 12 last night in the hospital, but I
had so much to do and there were so infernal many bugs that
I concluded to postpone it. We do have the richest assort-
ment of bugs here imaginable, from the size of a pin-head up
to big black fellows as large as bats. I was sitting up with an
old schoolmate from Bloomington, whose company have gone
up to Big Muddy and left him to the tender care of our sur-
geons. The poor devil would die in a week but for the care
he gets from a dozen of us here that used to go to school with
him. There are about 50 men in our regiment's hospital, and
save the few that go up to care for their friends unasked, the
poor fellows have no attendance nights. I gave medicine to
four beside my friend last night, two of whom are crazy with
fever. One of the latter insisted on getting up all the time,
and twice he got down stairs while I was attending the others.
Not one of our company is there, thank heaven.

Yesterday our company with the whole /th Regiment were
at work on the fortifications. Wheeling dirt and mounting
guns was the exercise. The guns we mounted are 36 pounders
and weigh three and one-half tons each. Our regiment, ex-
cept this company, are at the same work to-day. To-morrow
the pth works. General Prentiss paid us a very handsome
compliment in saying that our company did more work than
any two companies have yet done in the same time. You


should see our hands. Mine are covered with blisters. You
might as well be making up your mind to the fact that I am
not coming home soon. There is but one thing in the way to
prevent my going in for the war. That is the talk of cutting
off the heads of all lieutenants over 25 years of age, and of
all captains over 35. Now under that arrangement all three
of our officers will lose their heads, and we know we cannot
replace them with as good. This thing, though not certain
yet, has created a great deal of excitement in camp, and if it
goes into effect will smash our company completely. Our
company is the best officered of any in camp. There are no
two sides to that proposition.

You'll see that your Canton company will not regret the
selection of officers they have made. The companies here
with inexperienced officers have worlds of trouble, and five
captains and one lieutenant, though good men at home, have
resigned at the wish of their companies. Four of these com-
panies tried to get our first lieutenant for captain, but he won't
leave us. The thousand men who occupied Bird's Point the
other day are most all Germans ; many of them "Turners," and
a very well drilled regiment. They will get their cannons from
St. Louis next week. None of the men expect an attack here,
but we know that General Prentiss thinks it at least possible,
and from his actions we think he expects it. A family were
in camp yesterday who were driven away from a place only
12 miles from here in Missouri, and left a son there with a
bullet through his brains. It happened yesterday morning.
We have had our uniforms about a week. Gray satinet pants
and roundabout, with a very handsome blue cloth cap. Nine
brass buttons up the jacket front and grey flannel shirts. We
are obliged to wash dirty clothes the day we change and to
black our shoes every evening, and polish our buttons for
dress parade. Our company is the only one that does this
though, and they call us dandies. We have done more work
and better drilling though, than any of them, so we don't
mind it.


Cairo, June 9, 1861.

I have been over to Bird's Point this morning for the first
time. They have thrown up breastworks and dug a deep
ditch outside of them, making a pretty strong camp. We
don't apprehend a shade of a fuss here but the officers are
making as much preparation as if a Waterloo No. 2 were
coming. I went to old Bird's house this morning. It is just
like the pictures we have seen in Harper's of southern plant-
ers' homes. A wide, railed porch extends around two sides of
the house from the floor of each story. On the lower porch
sat Bird and his family talking with a number of officers and
their ladies. Looked very pleasant. Back of the house were
the quarters filled with 46 of the ugliest, dirtiest niggers I ever

Online LibraryCharles Wright WillsArmy life of an Illinois soldier, including a day by day record of Sherman's march to the sea; letters and diary of the late Charles W. Wills, private and sergeant 8th Illinois Infantry; lieutenant and battalion adjutant 7th Illinois Cavalry; captain, major and lieutenant colonel 103rd Illinois Infa → online text (page 1 of 31)