Copyright
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

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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 11 of 31)
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with from 50 to 250 hands, each. The negroes are under no
restraint whatever, now. Don't half work, their masters say,
About 40 negro women who were clearing a piece of wood-
land dropped their axes and picks and came out to the road as
the train passed. They were by odds the most antic and amus-
ing lot of slaves I have yet seen. So clumsily ludicrous, with
their close-curled wool, great white and black eyes, and heavy-
ended motions. Some wore sun bonnets, some men's old hats,
but most were bareheaded. The negro women all wear
handkerchiefs (I think they are), turban fashion, while in-
doors, and sun bonnets, or go bareheaded, when out. They
seem to be all dressed alike, in very ragged, shabby, thick, cot-
ton stuff, which is either white or yellow. I have never seen
one of these dresses clean enough to tell which. I have seen



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 123

but two negroes yet that have marks of severe punishment.
They were man and wife, and belong to a planter living 12
miles from here. The man I think is made a cripple for life
from blows by a club on his ankles and knees, the woman is
badly cut on the arms and shoulders, as with a horsewhip,
but she's all right yet. How a man can be fool enough to so
abuse such valuable property as this is more than I can under-
stand. You have no idea to what an extent the habit of dip-
ping is carried here. I have, while talking to women who really
had in every way the appearance of being ladies, seen them spit
tobacco juice, and chew their dipping sticks, perfectly at ease.
I don't think it common to do it so openly, but I have seen
two ladies, and any number of common women, engaged in
the delightful pastime. Colonel Kellogg seems to think that
I will be mustered out in a short time. I'll promise you one
thing, that if I am, I'll not enlist again until the policy of this
war changes, and in actions as well as words, too. J. Pope is
disgusting me with him very rapidly. John is a horrid blower
of his own horn. If he don't astonish this country, after all
of his blowing, the country will astonish him to his entire
dissatisfaction before he's many months older. Oh! if Grant
will only go to work and get somebody whipped, or if he'd
retreat, that would be better than doing nothing, though not
as good as advancing.

Tuscumbia, Ala., August 8, 1862.

My pet negro got so lazy and worthless I was com-
pelled to ship him. I'll take back, if you please, everything
good that I ever said of free negroes. That Beauregard
nigger was such a thief that we had to also set him adrift.
He stole our canned fruit, jellies and oysters and sold some
of them and gave parties at the cabins in the vicinity.
This was barely endurable but he was a splendid, smart
fellow and the colonel would have kept him, but he got to
stealing the colonel's liquor. That of course, was unpar-
donable, when the scarcity of the article was considered.
In my last I spoke of a ride on the railroad and having to



J24 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

turn back on account of bridges being burned There were,
maybe, 150 sick soldiers on board, and they concluded to
march to Decatur, only 10 miles. They were attacked
just after we started back, five of them killed and about
IOQ taken prisoners. There was a woman along and she
was wounded. There were three little fights yesterday
between here and 25 miles east. In all, four killed and 13
wounded. The fight first spoken of was day before yester-
day. Orders have been given us to put every woman and
child (imprison the men) across the line that speaks or
acts secesh, and to burn their property, and to destroy all
their crops, cut down corn growing, and burn all the cribs.
That is something like war. 'Tis devilish hard for one like
me to assist in such work, but believe it is necessary to
our course. Having been very busy preparing reports and
writing letters all day, feel deuced little like writing you.
People here treat us the very best kind, although they are
as strong Rebels as live. Bring us peaches and vegetables
every day. I can't hardly think the generals will carry
out the orders as above, for it will have a very demoraliz-
ing effect upon the men. I'd hate like the deuce to burn
the houses of some secesh I know here, but at the same
time don't doubt the justice of the thing. One of them has
lent us his own cook, or rather his wife did ; and they don't
talk their secessionism to you unless you ask them to.
We are getting a good many recruits from this country.
All poor people, in fact that is the only kind that pretend
to any Unionism here. There are now three full companies
of Alabamians (Union) at Huntsville, and many more
coming in. It is the opinion of the court that this new law,
a copy of which you sent me, will boost me out of the
service. I will make no objection, although would rather
stay in if I thought the war would last 30 or 40 years. Don't
see how the boys can stay at home under the pressure. A
young man here, and a splendid fellow, if he is a Rebel,
showed me four letters from different young ladies urg-ing
him, by ridicule and appeals to his pride to go into the



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 1 25

army. He was in for a short time, and was stationed at
Fort Morgan. Business keeps him out now crops, ete.
I think will arrange things so that he can leave, if we carry
out orders. 'Twould be quite a change for me to be out
of the army now. I don' know how I would relish it while
the war continues, although am sure could stand it if peace
times would come again.

Tuscumbia, Ala., August 14, 1862.

Things are progressing here swimmingly. Seldom have
more than two bridges burned in the same night, or lose
more than five or six men in one day. Scared a little though,
now. The 7th went down yesterday through Moulton,
where they were encamped but a few days since, and
gained us the information that they had evacuated that
post. People here are considerably scared about the free
and easy way we are gobbling up their little all. We are
raking in about 100 bales of cotton per day and could get
more if we had the transportation. It makes the chivalry
howl, which is glorious music in our ears, and the idea of
considering these confederacies something else than erring
brothers is very refreshing. But I can't talk the thing over
with them with any pleasure, for they all pretend so much
candor and honesty in their intentions, and declare so
cheerfully, and (the women) prettily, that they will do
nothing opposed to our interest, and express so much hor-
ror and detestation of guerrillas and marauders of all
kinds, that one can't wish to do them any harm or take
and destroy their property. But the murders of Bob Mc-
Cook, a dozen of men in this command, and hundreds in
the army, all tend to disipate such soft sentiments, for we
are satisfied that citizens do ten-elevenths of such work;
and nothing less than the removal of every citizen beyond
our lines, or to north of the Ohio river, will satisfy us. We
are all rejoicing that "Abe" refuses to accept the negroes
as soldiers. Aside from the immense disaffection it would
create in our army, the South would arm and put in the
field three negroes to our one. Am satisfied she could do



126 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

it. The Tribune couldn't publish those articles in the army
and keep a whole press one day. Hundreds of the officers
who are emancipationists, as I am, if the brutes could be
shipped out of the country would resign if the Tribune's
policy were adopted. Within an hour some rebellious
cusses have set fire to a pile of some 200 bales of cotton,
and the thick white smoke is booming up above the trees
in plain sight from where I sit. I think 'tis on the Russell-
ville road, and about eight or nine miles out. Our cavalry
were through there yesterday and this morning. How glo-
riously the people are waking up again in the North.
Should think from the papers that the excitement must
be higher than ever. A man that don't know when he is
well off, or enough to keep a good thing when he has his
fingers on it, deserves what? "Nothing!" I believe you are
right; yet such is my miserable condition. Not one officer
in a thousand in the army has as pleasant a place as your
brother, and yet here I am ready to go at the first chance,
and into an uncertainty, too. Colonel Mizner has assured
me that I suit him, and that if he is made brigadier he will
promote me. Where I am going there is no chance for
promotion unless Brigadier General Oglesby is appointed
major general. Think I will have a better chance to work
with Governor Yates, too, and then probably to not more
than a captaincy. But I have decided to go, though I am
anything but anxious about the matter. Any of the three
places are good enough. I see by the papers that a scouting
party from Cape Gjrardeau went through to Madison, Ark.
to Helena, or Memphis rather. I wish I were over there.
What delightful breezes we have here. Believe me, it's all
gumption about this being a hot climate. These weak
kneed, billious-looking citizens, (so because they are too
lazy to exercise their bones) puff and pant with their linen
clothes, so thin you can see their dirty skins, almost, and
we all wear our thick winter clothes, and at that feel the
heat less than we ever did North. Such loves of nights,
so everything that's nice ; and invariably so cool that blan-
kets are necessary after midnight.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. I2/

Tuscumbia, Ala., August 19, 1862.

Tis the old, old, story, burning railroad bridges, skirmish-
ing between our scouts and theirs, etc. They opened on a new
program by firing into a train, two days since, wounding five
men only, though they put 200 shots into the engine and cars.
They are burning cotton in very good style. Night before
last eight fires were visible from our headquarters, and last
night four. They destroyed about $300,000 in the two nights.
They're getting scared about their negroes, and are carrying
them off to the mountains as fast as possible. The blacks
are scrambling in this direction to a very lively tune. Over
100 came in on one road within the last 24 hours. About 50
can be used in a regiment to advantage, but I am thoroughly
opposed to receiving any more than we have work for within
our lines. You have no idea what a miserable, horrible-look-
ing, degraded set of brutes these plantation hands are. Con-
tempt and disgust only half express one's feelings toward any
man that will prate about the civilizing and christianizing in-
fluence of slavery. The most savage, copper savage, cannot
be below these field hands in any brute quality. Let them keep
their negroes though, for we surely don't want our Northern
States degraded by them, and they can't do the Southerners
any good after we get them driven a few degrees further
down. These nigs that come in now, say that their masters
were going to put them in the Southern Army as soldiers.
I'm sure the Southerners are too smart for that, for a million
of them aren't worth 100 whites. General Paine is gobbling
up these secesh here and starting them North kiting. How
they are shaking in their boots. Paine is going to clean out
the country and make it Union if there is nothing but desert
left. There are a number of very fine people here, such men
as Jacob H. Bass, highly honorable, conscientious, etc., but
strong believers in State sovereignty, and because their State
has seceded, they are secessionists, and for no other reason.
Paine is going to make them walk the plank with the rest. It
looks a little hard to me, as they are willing to be paroled,
but I'll never say stop when anybody is pounding the secesh.



128 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

Tusciiiiibia, Ala., August 28, 1862.

The order has been issued requiring battalion adjutants to
be mustered out of the service, but Colonel Mizner insists on
our remaining, and being either assigned to companies or
made regimental adjutant commander and quartermaster,
which offices this new law provides. General Oglesby wants
me very much. I was down to Corinth a few days since and
saw him. Told him about this order mustering me out, and
he offered to go with me to General Grant and ask for an or-
der excepting me from muster. I knew that the wording of
my commission wouldn't allow such an irregularity and had
to decline. If I stay with the regiment now, I will not be
able to get on Oglesby's staff, as I wish, for in either of the
three places which I can get, I could not be detached. But
General Oglesby said that he would give me plenty of time to
go home and hunt a lieutenancy in the company, and then he
would have me assigned to him. I could not get home in less
than eight days, and by that time I think would have a diffi-
culty in getting a position, for regiments will be so near or-
ganized that new comers will stand a poor chance. Have
almost made up my mind to go home and run my chances.
I know I am worth more than a lieutenancy, and that in these
regiment staff places there is no chance for promotion. Would
almost as lief commence again in the ranks. Am sure I
would be a captain as quickly.

[He came home and raised a company in the iO3d Illinois
Infantry, and was elected captain. Ed.]

Camp Peoria, October 3, 1862.

I suppose this is the commencement of another series of let-
ters from your army correspondent. You can't imagine how
kind of old-fashioned good it seems to be in camp again. You
know, of course, that my lucky star still rules, and that I have
been elected captain. I think I have an excellent company,
though I have but few men that I ever knew before. Charley
Mattison is my first lieutenant, and John Dorrance, my sec-



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. I2Q

and. The first lieutenant is able, willing and industrious. Dor-
ranee will make a great deal better officer than you imagine.
Think I will manage to visit you before we march, but can't
promise. I am confined very closely, and have a great deal
of work to do. But thank fortune, I partly understand it.

Camp at Lagrange, West Tennessee, November 7, 1862.
To say that we have been crowded, jammed, put through,
hustled, skited, etc., don't half express the divil-of-a-hurry
headquarters has shown and is showing us. We left Peoria
one week ago last night, crossed the bridge at precisely 6
o'clock p. m. Since that we have traveled one day and one
night on the cars, a day resting, beside stacked arms waiting
orders, the first quarter of a night pitching tents, then received
orders to march with five days' rations at daylight, and the
rest of the night spent in preparation therefor, then two days'
marching through the aw fullest dust you ever saw, so thick
we almost had to kick it out of the way to get our foot to the
ground, then a day of rest and fat living off secesh pork, etc.,
and the seventh day a march of 20 miles by our whole brigade,
after a little party of Rebel cavalry that couldn't more than eat
a hog a day. Pretty good work for a green regiment, wasn't
it? It seems real natural to be down in Secessia, the country
where a 3OO-pound porker don't cost any more than a chicken
that costs nothing. But some things we have to buy for our
mess, and to show you what they cost, I will mention the
items of flour and salt. The former is worth 50 cents per
pound, and the latter $i a pound. We wouldn't have to buy
them of citizens, but scarcity of transportation obliged our
A. C. S. to leave everything but traveling rations, viz. ; Bacon,
sugar, coffee and crackers. There is a man making boots in
town at $45 a pair, and he can't get leather to fill his orders.
Fine country. Between here and Bolivar, some 30 miles, I
think there is not a house left or rail left unburned, and 'twas
all done on our trip down. The fires were all lit by troops
that marched ahead of us, and although the smoke and heat
were disagreeable enough, yet I think the iO3d generally ap-



I3O ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

proved of the proceedings. Yet I was glad enough when the
colonel, by the general's orders, called us to answer the ques-
tion, "Do you know that any of your men burned rails, houses,
or destroyed any property on the march from Bolivar?" that
the iO3d had not participated. Major General McPherson,
commanding this corps, disapproves of such conduct and will
severely punish offenders if caught, which latter item is not
at all probable. 'Tis generally understood that the Union Ten-
nessee Cavalry did the work. The 7th Illinois is here with us
and all are well that you know.

We have good tents and are otherwise better prepared for
soldiering than I ever was before.

We have between 30,000 and 40,000, I suppose, between here
and a point eight miles east. Price is supposed to be in the
neighborhood of Holly Springs, 30 miles southwest, with
40,000 to 60,000. They say we are waiting for the Memphis
troops to join us before we go down and scoop him. We
have the half of the old army of the Mississippi here, and part
of the army of West Tennessee, nearly all experienced troops.

Camp near the Tallahatchie, seven miles South of
Holly Springs, Miss.,

December 3, 1862.

We received marching orders at Lagrange, Tenn., at 9
o'clock p. m. on the 27th, and moved at 6 a. m. on the 28th,
on the Holly Springs road. We marched some five miles and
then waited four or five hours for the divisions of Ross and
McArthur from Grand Junction, and Quinby and Moscow to
file into the road ahead of us. About 4 p. m. we were again set
in motion, and at 7 p. m. (moonlight) we turned into the
woods, about 10 miles from Lagrange, and bivouacked for
the night. Fell in at 7 a. m., 29th, marched nine miles by
2:30 p. m. to Coldwater, a very nice little stream, the water
in which is as cold in July as in December. Here we rested
until 6:30 p. m. and then marched six miles by moonlight to



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 13!

Holly Springs, Miss., where we camped for the night. At
8 a. m., 3Oth, moved out and arrived at the present camp about
2 p. m. The last five miles we were cheered by the enlivening
music of artillery firing ahead, pretty lively at times and then
subsiding into an ocasional bellow, bringing the good old
Madrid and Corinth times very distinctly to my mind. It's
astonishing what an amount of ignorance I am guilty of in re-
gard to the situation of affairs here, but I really haven't in-
quired of or listened to any of the powers that be on the sub-
ject. I've had my mind set on a fight in the neighborhood,
and if we get that I don't care about details, if not I'll find
out what I can, though 'tis an awful sight of trouble to sift
sense and matter to be credited out of camp rumors, and that
is about the only source a line officer has for getting informa-
tion. Believe I'll give you a little list of rumors condensed,
(i) Enemy 50,000 strong fortified on this side of Tallahat-
chie. (2) Rebels driven across the river, only rifle pits on this
side. (3) Sherman has turned their right flank and we've got
them sure. (4) Enemy only 30,000 strong in tremendous for-
tifications opposite side of river ; bridge burned, will be rebuilt
by midnight, when we'll pitch into them, etc. (5) Pemberton
wants to fight; Price opposes the idea. (6) Fortifications
evacuated night of ist inst., and Sherman pushing the enemy's
right as they retreat (To back this No. 6 rumor, heavy col-
umns were pushing past us all day yesterday in a driving rain).
(7) Steel and Curtis have pushed across from Helena or
Napoleon and taken possession of Grenada, cutting off the
Rebel line of retreat; Curtis' force 25,000. (8) Price has
cut through Curtis' force and escaped. (9) Price attacked
Curtis, was repulsed and is now coming back this way, etc.
There has been cannonading the last three days some four or
six miles ahead, but none to-day. Squads of prisoners pass
us going to the rear every day. The country from Lagrange
to this place is very good, clearings much more extensive and
more evidences of wealth than on the Mobile and Ohio road.
We were on picket the ist inst. some two miles in advance of



132 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

our camp and had a grand time. This iO3d out jayhawks old
Jennison himself. The regiment went on picket the last time
with one day's rations, and I swear I believe they came in
with six days'. My company "found" 150 pounds of
flour, a hog, a beef, two and one-half bushels of sweet potatoes,
chickens, ducks, milk, honey and apples. The night we stopped
at Holly Springs, Company G must have confiscated $300
(the way these people figure) worth of eatables, among which
were one barrel of molasses, 300 pounds of sugar, one barrel
of flour, four hogs, etc. But I don't allow them to take any-
thing but eatables. I think it right, and can find no argu-
ments for any other side of the question. Holly Springs is a
beautiful little town, but not so rich, I think, as Jackson,
Tenn., which beats everything for its size, I ever saw. Our
army, trains and all, stretched out in marching shape, is, I
think, 30 miles long. Believe without Sherman it numbers
from 40,000 to 45,000. Anyway we have enough to skin Mis-
sissippi. Major General McPherson commands our right wing
of two divisions, Logan's and McKean's. Hamilton has the
left wing of three divisions, McArthur, Ross and Quinby.
Don't know what Sherman has, but he holds a good hand and
has some trumps that we know of, particularly Hurlbut and
Lanman. I never saw men in as good spirits and so confi-
dent as this army now appears. We are splendidly equipped
and want nothing. The only drawback is the men's having
to carry their knapsacks, but if the fine weather will only
continue we'll stand that. We don't use any tents at night
when marching, and 'tis no hardship to lie out at night yet.
The boys strip to their underclothing, with only two blankets,
and never grumble. I can't see why people will stay at home
when they can get to soldiering. I think a year of it is worth
getting shot for to any man. I believe I used to get a little
homesick or girl sick, but my brief furloughs have taught me
the vanity and vexation of spirit folks are liable to in the
States, and I think I'll hanker thereafter no more. If I can
get into the regular army, I'll do it sure.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 133

Provost Marshal's Office, 4th Division, Army of the
Tennessee, near Tallahatchie, Miss.,

December 8, 1862.

Still we tarry by the wayside anxiously awaiting the order
to move forward. We did provide three days' rations once,
but devoured them without leaving camp. Two divisions, Mc-
Kean's and Ross', have left here, while the remainder of the
army has pushed onward. We hear of the advance skirmishing
50 miles in front of us. Think the main force is at Oxford,
about 25 miles from here. We're probably waiting for the
railroad to be repaired so that supplies can be furnished us
when we move. The retreating Rebels destroyed every cul-
vert and bridge as they fell back, and it of course takes time
to rebuild so many. The road is not yet in running order to
Holly Springs, and everything has to be wagoned to the army,
which but a very little rain in this country makes impossible.
We suffered three days of cold, drizzling rain last week which
most effectually blockaded the roads, but the last three days
have been beautifully clear, etc., and travel is again resumed.
We will change camp to-morrow to improve our water facili-
ties, probably moving four or five miles back toward Holly
Springs. One mile northward is harder to travel than 10 in
the opposite direction. My whole company is detached from
the regiment as provost guard. It relieves us from picket duty,
fatigue, etc., gives us officers' quarters in a house (there are
a sofa, two rocking chairs, soft-bottomed chairs, a library,
feather bed, etc., in the room I am now writing in and occupy) .
I've soldiered long enough to never refuse these little good
things Providence throws in my way. The detail is perma-
nent, but suppose I can get back to my regiment when I feel
disposed. The 7th Cavalry had a little skirmish in front a
day or two since; Coe, and a number of others were taken
prisoners. Nelson was a prisoner once, I hear, but was re-
taken by his men, or the 2d Illinois Cavalry. Rumor has it



134 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

to-day, that our forces have possession of Jackson, Miss., and
have captured 3,000 of General Holmes' Army, which was at-
tempting to reinforce Pemberton. Don't think the rumor
worth doubting, unless McClernand has got within striking
distance. Can't hear a word from his expedition. Wonder



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 11 of 31)