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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 12 of 31)
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what the deuce Banks is going to try to do. Hope we won't
fool away his time and the lives of his men in Texas. We've
had enough of those coast expeditions. The one under Butler
was the only one that paid expenses. Burnside is beaten badly.
Will bet that another change of base will be necessary before
Richmond is ours. We're out of all patience with that army.
We are slow enough in all reason, but they certainly beat us
crawling, wonderfully, making slowness the gage. Our men
are using this country awfully rough. Such animals as chick-
ens, fences, swine, etc., are entirely unseeable and unfindable
within 15 miles of where our camp has been this last week.
This alone is not so bad; but if you wink at this amount of
license in soldiers, they go farther and insult and almost scare
to death women and children, all citizens indiscriminately.
Guess that 'tis the intention of the general commanding to
reform this matter. Says he is going to hold company officers
responsible for the conduct of their men and punish officers,
not soldiers, hereafter for outrages committed. I send my boys
out as patrols, and whenever they catch a man with poultry or
meat of any kind they relieve him thereof, take him under
guard to his regimental commander, and Company G eats up
the chickens or pork, or potatoes, of course; so you see
this provost duty is not so bad as it might be on us. I have
also in my charge 35 Rebel prisoners, Louisianians and North
Carolinians. Price had three Kentucky regiments, but they
have nearly all deserted him, hundreds have taken the oath at
different points along our line and gone to their homes. I
have an old negro here now that I wish I could send to you
to cut the wood and do your errands. He is 63 years old, but
is good for twenty years yet.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 135

Provost Marshal's Office, Waterford, Miss.,

December 12, '62.

From captain of the provost guard, I have been changed
to provost marshal. I had charge of two companies, doing
the guard duty for the provost of our division until yester-
day; the division was ordered forward to Oxford, except
our regiment, which was left to guard the railroad between
this point and the Tallahatchie river. Headquarters be-
ing here, Colonel Dickerman appointed me provost and
sent my company to guard a bridge one and one-half miles
south of this place. My business is to attend to all prison-
ers, deal with citizens (administer oaths, take paroles,
etc.), give all passes for citizens and soldiers leaving, have
charge of all soldiers straggling from their regiments, issue
permits to sutlers, etc., and overlook the cotton trade.
Altogether, quite enough for any one man to attend to.
The little advantage of having a comfortable house to live
in, etc., is worth something; but I kind o' feel as if I would
rather be with my company. Another regiment came in
to-night, I2th Indiana, and we may possibly be relieved
to-morrow. Shall be glad if we can only get with our di-
vision again. General Lanman has again taken command
of our division, and although we know nothing against
McKean, yet we know so much good of Lanman, that
we're much pleased. Eight of our companies are guarding
bridges, so we only have two here. Confound this rail-
road guarding; I'm down on it. 'Tis more dangerous than
regular soldiering, harder work, and no shadow of a chance
for glory. There's a smart chance of fun in my present
business, particularly in the citizens branch thereof. It
would have furnished you with amusement enough for a
month, could you have heard an old lady talk who visited
me to-day. She was a F. F. and blooded, Oh, Lord! We
let all come within the lines ; but before they can pass out,
an oath or parole is required of them. How they squirm !
Rebels, though they are, 'tis shocking and enough to make



136 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

one's blood boil to see the manner in which some of our
folks have treated them. Trunks have been knocked to
pieces with muskets when the women stood by, offering
the keys, bureau drawers drawn out, the contents turned
on the floor, and the drawer thrown through the window,
bed clothing and ladies' clothing carried off and all manner
of deviltry imaginable perpetrated. Of course the scoun-
drels who do this kind of work would be severely punished
if caught, but the latter is almost impossible. Most of the
mischief is done by the advance of the army, though, God
knows, the infantry is bad enough. The d d thieves even
steal from the negroes (which is lower business than I ever
thought it possible for a white man to be guilty of) and
many of them are learning to hate the Yankees as much
as our "Southern Brethren" do. The army is becoming
awfully depraved. How the civilized home folks will ever
be able to live with them after the war, is, I think, some-
thing of a question. If we don't degenerate into a nation
of thieves, 'twill not be for lack of the example set by a fair
sized portion of our army. Do you remember that I used
to write that a man would no sooner lose his morality in
the army than at home? I now respectfully beg to recall
the remark, but I believe the sight of such devilish, point-
less wickedness disgusts me, and that your brother's moral
principles are strengthened by contact with these ungodly.
Instance, in my present position, I know without danger of
exposure, I could pocket at least $500 within five days ; but
for conscience sake and my self-respect, I sit back with my
purity, and tumble my keys and comb round in my other-
wise empty pockets and feel good. Well, it won't do to
brag on such a subject, but my confidence in the honesty
of man has waned so much since I entered the army that
I can't help saying, there are few that would not, in my
position, make a raise. Can't hear anything from the front.
Know that part of Sherman's army has returned to Mem-
phis to join the expedition down the Mississippi and that
is all. This town only contains a dozen or 20 houses, but



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 137

they are good ones. Great many here profess to have al-
ways been Union, and many are taking the oath willingly.
Good joke on them when the guerrillas come in after we
leave. Suspect they have most all been Rebels, so I don't
pity them as much as I do out-spoken seceshers. I rode out
in the country eight miles day before yesterday, and found
three convalescent soldiers of Price's army at one place,
A lieutenant of the 53d Illinois was with me, so we brought
them into camp and put them with the other prisoners.
We have now nearly 3,000 soldiers in the hospital at La-
grange and yet the army is very healthy. Don't be much
surprised if you hear of us being gobbled up by the guer-
rillas, for these railroad guards are only baits for them;
nothing more.

Provost Marshal's Office, Waterford, Miss.,

December 23, 1862.

Suspect this will be my last from this country. Where the
army is going I know not, but the divisions which have been
in front are now filing past us, faces northward. The move-
ment commencing at the time of the raid on Holly Springs,
gives it the appearance of a retrograde for that reason, but I
think that has nothing to do with the matter, for though I
have no idea of the future plans of the general commanding,
yet have known for some time that it was not the intention
to pursue further than Grenada on this line, and that point
has been evacuated by the enemy for some days. The raid
into Holly Springs was capitally done. The Rebels made a
No. i haul. Immense stores of clothing, commissaries and
ordnance fell into their hands, all of which, however, they were
obliged to destroy, save what they could carry away on their
horses. About 1,200 or 1,500 officers and soldiers were pa-
roled by them, some 1,000 horses carried off ,and I think not
less than $1,000,000 of greenbacks. One-half million worth
of cotton was burned, etc. ; loss to Government cannot be



138 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

less than three or four millions of dollars. Colonel Murphy is
the man who is responsible for the whole thing, and I can
think of no punishment equal to his deserts. 'Twas but nine
miles from us and we of course immediately prepared for a
visit, but were not so honored. These successful raids of the
enemy almost make me sick. If our men would only be on
the alert so that they could make something of a fight, I

wouldn't care a d n. But to lose a thousand prisoners

without the enemy's having one killed ,makes me disgusted
with the army. I'm allying a little fun with business as op-
portunities offer. Friday last I got permission of the colonel
to make a little reconnoisance of the country along Tippah
river, and on the Tallahatchie between the mouth of Tippah
and the railroad. I stayed six miles from camp the first night
and went possum hunting. Hunted until 2 o'clock a. m. and
although we treed a good many, couldn't get them. Examined
the country thoroughly next day, made a map of it, found there
were no guerrillas near our camp and then got a shot gun and
hunted. The young fellow I was with and myself, in an hour
killed seven squirrels and a coon. Got back to town at dark,
Saturday night, and found everybody terribly excited about
the Holly Springs affair. They had given me up for a goner.
The regiment laid on their arms and I laid on my featherbed,
for I knew devilish well there was no danger. We've been on
the alert ever since but the enemy has gone. To-day the guer-
rillas have been seen on all sides of us within a few miles, but
Ross' division has just arrived so there is no chance for a
fight.

Provost Marshal's Office, Waterford, Miss.,

December 30, 1862.

Fifteen days outside the world and still we live. No pa-
pers of later date than the I5th inst. have reached us, and 'twill
be at least five days' move before we can hope to see one. In
that time there have been some six or eight fights in this coun-



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 139

try all to our disadvantage, and two cowardly surrenders,
Holly Springs and Trenton. Pemberton's cavalry under Van
Dorn, turned our left, and striking at our line of communica-
tion, first surprised and captured Holly Springs, burned every-
thing belonging to our army with the houses containing the
stores; then while a portion of the column retreated another
portion successively attacked our troops stationed at Coldwater
bridge, Middleton, Grand Junction, and outposts near Bolivar,
in all of which they were repulsed. About the same time a
portion of Bragg's forces crossed the Tennessee river at or
near Musch Shoals, Ala., and marched along the south side
of the river toward Corinth. General Dodge at Corinth sent
out Colonel Sweeny, who met and defeated the enemy, driving
him across the river. The enemy then again crossed the river
near Savannah, and moving toward Jackson were met by Bob
Ingersoll, whom, after something of a fight, 'tis said, they cap-
tured with his command. Trenton was then cowardly sur-
rendered by some 250 Tennessee cavalry. Attacks were made
on several other posts garrisoned by our troops, in all of which

the enemy were repulsed. Altogether there has been a d 1

of a time. When Van Dorn had finished his little bonfire at
Holly Springs, this army was left with about five day's ra-
tions, which we have to make do 15 at least. In order to make
up the deficit in commissaries, General Grant ordered that
everything eatable that could be found in the country be seized
for army use. In the strip of country from Holly Springs
to Coffeeville, for, say 15 miles wide, there is not enough left
to feed 50 chickens a week. Colonel Dickerman and I visited
Holly Springs yesterday and took a little look at the ruins.
I suppose the damage to the citizens amounts to nearly as much
as the Government's loss. Most of the best and largest houses
were burned. General Grant told Colonel Dickerman that our
regiment would be sent to Jackson in a few days to guard that
place. Well, if we have to go into winter quarters that
will suit your brother very much. We will be nearer home
and communication will not be so apt to be broken between us.



140 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

January 4, 1863.

There I quit, for we received orders to get ready at once to
march to Jackson, Tenn. The colonel ordered me to take
charge of the train (wagons) and with my company guard
it through by the wagon road, while the other nine companies
went through by railroad. The regiment got off that evening,
but I was delayed until the 3ist, when just as I got my com-
pany into line to start a couple of the finest houses in town
took fire, and burned down. The colonel commanding the I5th
Illinois Infantry, which had just arrived, put me under arrest
and stationed a guard around my company, but after an hour's
detention, my strong protestations against arrest and my ar-
guments in favor of the honorable acquital of my men of the
charges, induced him to allow us to proceed on our way. By
Lieutenant Mattison's personal smartness the train was taken
from the road in the p. m., while I was ahead selecting camp-
ing grounds for the night, and I did not get with it for two
days, which I traveled alone. The distance is about 90 miles.
The first night I stayed at Holly Springs and slept in the bed
which General Pemberton, Van Dorn and Lovell of the Rebel
Army, and Hamilton, of ours, in turn occupied. 'Twas in the
room they occupied for headquarters. Mrs. Stricklin, the lady
of the house, was charming. Her husband is a major in the
Rebel Army. I ate my New Year's dinner at Dr. Ellis'. He
was not at home, but his lady treated me very politely, and I
give her credit for having the noblest face I ever saw on
woman. She is a sister of Rebel General Hindman. Stayed
at a private house at Lagrange that night (Mrs. Cockes) and
heard some delightful music made by a daughter. Saw seven
mounted Rebels on the 2d, and felt uneasy traveling alone, but
got through safe to Bolivar. Here I caught up with my train
which I thought was behind. When we started my men were
on foot, when I caught up with them at Bolivar, 38 of them
were mounted on horses or mules. Stayed at Medon Station
last night, and arrived here at 3 this p. m., all safe. I have
to go back to Holly Springs to-morrow to testify against
the i OQth for disloyalty.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 14!

Camp at Lagrange, Tenn., November 17, 1862.
Our whole regiment went on picket Saturday evening. Didn't
reach our posts until 9 130 p. m. Had plenty of fresh meat next
day (notwithstanding stringent orders), and beautiful weather.
Our going on picket saved us a tramp of 22 miles, for which 1
am duly grateful. They had a scare at Summerville while we
we were out; our brigade (except we who were on duty) were
started out, nobody hurt, happy to chronicle. Squads of prison-
ers taken by our cavalry are constantly arriving from the front.
Very little skirmishing though, mostly unarmed citizens, etc.
There are an immense number of slaves at the different military
posts through here and in this vicinity. The officials are using
them to good advantage in securing the large crops of cotton
to the Government. The camps are overflowing with them,
and their music and dancing furnish the boys with amuse-
ment unlimited. Don't have half the fun with the natives
that I used to, in fact haven't spoken to any since I have been
out this time. Guess I'm steadying down some. Like soldier-
ing as well as ever but the novelty's gone, and its more like a
regular way of living to me than a spree as it used to be. Don't
see any immediate prospect of a move, but a chap can't tell
what any symptom means here. I'd bet several times that
we're on the point of starting. We have been reviewed twice
within four days by Grant, McPherson, McKean, Logan and
Pugh.

Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, La Grange, Tenn.,

November 21, 1862.

Every one seems to think that we will start about day-
after to-morrow, Monday. We have drawn eight days'
rations, and 200 rounds of ammunition has also been drawn
for our corps. I don't think we have more than 14,000 in
our corps, Logan's and McKean's Divisions, although
there are some eight or ten new regiments here that I
don't know, where assigned. Report to-day says that Sher-
man has moved from Memphis on the Holly Springs Pike.



142 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

We are having delightful weather. No fires are necessary
until dark, and we have had no frosts since our arrival.
Hope we will keep ahead of cold weather if compatible
with the interests of the service. I "borrowed" some citi-
zens clothes and wrote myself a pass as suttler's clerk,
last night, and strolled around the town a couple of hours.
There are many fine buildings here, among the rest two
very large academies. Many of the Memphian nobility
have country seats here, some of them most elegant.
Holly Springs, though, is the most important summer ren-
dezvous for the Memphis folk. Our people have left the
Springs, and I don't know that we have any troops in ad-
vance of this place. I am very comfortable in my quarters.
Have plenty of blankets and a good stove. My colored
boy, Dave, went into the country 20 miles last night and
returned this p. m. with his wife, a delicate looking black
woman, neat and much above the ordinary slave. She has
been a sewing girl all her life, and I think would be worth
something to a family that has much plain sewing to do.
I think I will try to send her to Mrs. S. C. Thompson.
"Dave" is a first rate cook and waiter, and I'll keep him
with me until the war closes (if he don't spoil) and then
take him to his woman. How'd you like a good colored
woman for your kitchen? This woman mended my pants
(I have two pairs) as neatly as any tailor could. Our regi-
ment beats 19 out of 20 of the old ones for discipline, and
averages with them for drill. Colonel Dickerman is a star,
and Lieutenant Colonel Wright is proving himself much
better than we expected. Colonel Oglesby has figured away
ahead of anybody I've heard of yet in procuring wagons,
tents, etc., for this regiment. Ours is the only regiment
I've heard of yet that is allowed to retain the old comple-
ment of transportation, equipage and tents. I'm officer of
the day and 'tis my duty to make the rounds of the senti-
nels to-night at I or 2 o'clock ; but in consideration of etc.,
think the formality will be dispensed with.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 143

Camp at Lagrange, Term., November 15, 1862.
We're having more of a rest here than we anticipated
when we arrived. Suppose that the organizing of the army
into divisions and brigades delays us some; and, maybe,
the change of commanders in the Potomac army has some-
thing to do with it. Or possibly we're waiting for Mc-
Clernand to move from Memphis. I don't think our army
here (the Corinth and Bolivar forces) is very large, though
some estimate it quite strong, as much as 50,000 or 60,000.
I think we have about 35,000, maybe less. General Lan-
man has been relieved from command of our division by
General McKean and ordered to Memphis. Am sorry to
lose him. He has few equals for skill in handling a divi-
sion or honor and courage as a soldier. Am much afraid
that the rainy season will catch us in the midst of our slow
motions, and then good bye all hopes of the war's closing
next spring. McPherson and Logan promised in speeches
a few days since that we would finish up the business
within 40 days ; and I believe we can, West of Georgia, if
this weather will continue and our commanders will im-
prove it. Don't believe that Price will date to fight us
anywhere, certainly not this side of Jackson. We can't
have more than 40 days' of marching weather yet until the
rains come, and in that time we ought at least to make 250
miles. The more I think about the matter, the surer I am
that we won't do much before next May. Well, I enjoy
soldiering and can stand the delay in proportion; but in-
activity when a fellow can't see the reason therefor, is
provoking to a degree extensive. We made a capital start
from Peoria to this place in five days, but the thing hasn't
been followed up. Our cavalry has been doing some dash-
ing work here, sums up about 300 prisoners, etc. But the
7th hasn't figured much therein, at least not in reports,
although the 7th boys say they did their share. I have
seen all my acquaintances in the 7th, and the 8th Infantry is
also here. Fred Norcott and Milo are both looking splen-



144 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

didly. Also Ben Rockhold. Tis said that General Logan
publicly disgraced the I7th to-day for some insult to him-
self. Never thought much of that i/th and think less now
than ever before. They certainly show no signs of
discipline that can be seen by the naked eye. The 7th
Kansas Cavalry, 'tis said, proposed in writing to General
Grant, that if he would give them a certain time, (no other
condition), they would capture or kill General Price. I
wish he'd do it. They would raise the d 1 around the
Rebel army, and I believe it practicable at any time for
500 daring men to reach the person of any of our com-
manders, and why not theirs. They are cutting our
baggage down to a very small compass, so that six wagons
can haul for ten companies. I'm opposed to it, but Halleck
ranks me and I will have to submit. Nobody in this coun-
try seems to care a cuss whether McClellan is removed or
not. General feeling is that the Potomac Army is only
good to draw greenbacks and occupy winter quarters.
We're in hopes that Pope will be sent back to us after he
finishes hanging those Indians. I don't believe there is
a regiment in this army that would not cheer him as its
corps commander. Everybody seems to be willing to bet
something on Pope. Hurlbut is the most popular man
here as a division commander, and I think that Grant
could get more votes than any other man for commander
of the army, always excepting Rosy. Grant is not so popu-
lar among the general officers, as far as I know, but the
whole line believe in him, mostly, because he is for going
ahead and will fight his men. The Memphis force hasn't
moved yet that I can hear of. Everything goes on swim-
mingly in the iO3d. The old regiments try to bore our
boys by calling them conscripts and $40 men, but don't
succeed well. In a march of 15 miles last week an old
regiment, 3d Iowa, tried to run us down but it ended in
our marching right through them. Dorrance is an excel-
lent fellow in the field, wouldn't trade him for any other



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 145

lieutenant in the regiment. The Democratic victories at
the polls don't excite anyone here. We only wish the
soldiers could vote. Illinois would talk differently if we
could..

Camp I03d Illinois Infantry, Jackson, Tenn.,

January 12, 1863.

Your letters are beginning to come through with more reg-
ularity and on decidedly better time. Have received your date
of December 30, although the last was dated November i6th,
and was the first you wrote after we left Peoria. You bewailed
our being sent south of Cairo, which I think very un-
generous in you. Well, you'll probably be suited in our
present location, which is the only consolation I have in be-
ing sent so far rearward. There are some slight hopes though,
that we may be sent to Vicksburg, which will ripen into a
distant probability (nothing more I'm afraid) if the news of
our repulse there be true. We're encamped in the suburbs of
this delightful little town, but so strict are the orders of the
general (Sullivan) that, as far as seeing the town or making
purchases therein are concerned, we might as well be camped
on Pike's Peak. All right, Mr. Sullivan, have your own way.
He is by all odds the most like a soldier of all the garrison
commandants I have been under. Will wager that you will
never hear of his being surprised. The news from Holly
Springs is that the last house in the town was burned night
before last. Pretty rough, but I say, amen. Its pretty well
understood in this army now that burning Rebel property is
not much of a crime. I for one will never engage in it, until
orders are issued making it duty, and then I think I can enjoy
it as much as any of them. If any part of this army is ever
called home to quell those Illinois tories, orders to burn and
destroy will not be necessary. Since I have seen the proceed-
ings of that traitorous legislature, I begin to understand why
these loyal Tennesseans and Alabamians are so much more
bitter against traitors than we are. It would make your blood



146 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

run cold to hear the men in this army, without regard to party,



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 12 of 31)