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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

. (page 13 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 13 of 31)
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curse those traitors. There is a gay time in prospect for those
chaps. Don't think I am much out of the way in saying that
Merrick, Jem Allen, Dick Richardson, and the editors of the
Chicago Times would be hung if caught within the lines of
many Illinois regiments in this army. There are many officers
who, while they doubt our ability to subjugate (that is the ques-
tion) the South, would take an active part in ending the man
who would propose to give the thing up. I come pretty near be-
longing to that party, though I think that if we can't accomp-
lish the whole end desired, we can confine the Rebels to Vir-
ginia (Eastern), the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. Alabama,
I believe, we can hold if we get Mississippi. Boats which left
Vicksburg on the 6th inst. reported it taken, but it must be
a mistake, as it has not been confirmed. I think it was wicked
to put that brave old 8th Missouri and 4th Iowa into the front
of the battle, after they had suffered so severely at Donaldson,
Shiloh, Farmington, etc., but ever since Shiloh it seems that the
old soldiers have had the front all the time. 'Tis reported that
when Grant moves again, he will leave all the new regiments
as railroad and property guards, and move with the old army.
The last night I stayed in Holly Springs, Mrs. Stricklin in-
vited in some young ladies to help entertain the colonel, Lieu-
tenant Nickolet and myself. They beat all the secesh I have
seen yet. One of them played all the secesh pieces she knew,
and when I asked her to play "John Brown," she swelled up
so with wrath, that I was strongly tempted to propose tying
my suspenders around her to save hooks and eyes. One of them
asked me if I did not think the Southerners the most polite,
refined and agreeable people I had ever met. It took me
twenty minutes before I could finish blushing for her lack of
modesty, and then I was so dead beat that I could only take up
the word refined, and tell her how much I admired their beau-
tiful use of language. I instanced, "what do you'uns all come
down here to fight we'uns for," "I recon we war thar," which
you'll hear from the best of them. That first quotation as
they speak it is the funniest sentence imaginable. I got into



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 147

a row with every one I talked with, but finally, was fool enough
to escort one home. Rumor (almost official) says to-night
that we go to Memphis to-morrow, or soon, and thence to
Vicksburg. Congratulate us on our good luck. This regiment
will never be satisfied without a fight. They run in in our
pickets once and awhile here, and I believe two were killed
(pickets) yesterday, but guess there is no chance for a fight.
The i8th Illinois Infantry is being mounted.

Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, Jackson, Tenn.,

January 16, 1862.

It commenced raining early the morning of the I4th and
did not cease until about 2 a. m. the I5th, since when it has
snowed steadily until within two hours. The snow is some
eight inches deep, underneath which is mud immeasurable.
The rain the last six or eight hours came through our tent
as through a sieve, the snow came in at the top, through the
door, and blew under the curtains. Everybody's wearing ap-
parel, blankets, and self absorbed all the damp possible, and
besides carried all that would hold on outside. Our stove was
in this extremity our comfort and our joy. We kept two loyal
Ethiopians busy during the two days, getting wood, and feed-
ing said comforter. Great was the tribulation, and much
audible cursing resulted, while the secret history of oaths
unuttered, would I'm afraid, fill many volumes, and in all hu-
man probability cause, if made public, the appointment of
many army chaplains. This is the first winter weather that
we have had, and I'll be willing if it proves the last, although
there is a half melancholy pleasure in spludging around in this
slop and taking the weather as it comes, without its first be-
ing made to feel the refining influence of house walls and good
warm fires. Our men have become quite soldier-like, and en-
dure without much murmuring the little ills as they come.
It shows some of the principles of manhood, you must be-
lieve, when men stand this weather in these worthless little
wedge tents, without fires and without grumbling. I got four
of my men discharged to-day, and want to discharge some



148 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

six or eight more. When I get my deadheads off my hands
will have some 70 good men left. Rather think now, that we
are stationary here for the winter, but we may possibly be
sent to Vicksburg, than which nothing will suit us better There
are some eight or nine regiments here, two or three of them
cavalry. The enemy is pretty well cleared out of this strip
of country, and if Rosecrans gets down into North Alabama,
opinion seems to be that some of us can be spared from here
for Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Several houses have been
burned here lately. This town will share the fate of Holly
Springs, sure, if the Rebels trouble us here any more. 'Tis
fearfully secesh, and a little fire will, I think, help to purify it.
Isn't it wonderful how with so much fighting everywhere I
have escaped so long? The whole of the loth Illinois In-
fantry were with me in luck until the last fight at Murfrees-
boro, and am not certain they participated in that. There are
two regiments here that have endured all of this storm with-
out tents. I suppose the Lord takes care of them fellows, if
it's a fact that he looks after sheared sheep and birds. From
my heart I pity them, though that strikes me as something
like the little boy who, when his mother put him to bed and
covered him with an old door, told her how much he pitied
folks who had no doors to cover themselves with while they
slept. That's a story mother and aunt used to tell me in my
trundle-bed days. Wonder if aunty has forgotten the story
that used to make Tip and me rave. All about how that "great
big prairie wolf bit a wee boy's head off." I almost forgot
that I am out of woollen socks. Have only the pair of socks
that are on my feet. Put them on this morning, and there
were so many holes that I could hardly tell where to put my
feet in. Wish you'd send me three or four pair. Will make
cotton ones do until then. I can send you a nigger baby
if it would be acceptable. They are more "antic" than either a
squirrel or monkey. I have two he niggers, two she's and
three babies, mess property. Think I will either have to drown
the babies, or sell them and the women, whom I endure be-
cause their husbands are such good hands. Will you take
one?



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 149

Camp Reed, Jackson, Tenn.,

January 22, 1863.

I received your four- volume letter of the 5th, I2th, I3th
inst. last night, and return you my sincere thanks for the time
and writing material you expended in my behalf. I suppose
that you now understand why you did not receive my letters.

You ask me how I like the news from Vicksburg. All right.
That was only a little reconnoisance in force, which paid its
way by gobbling up Arkansas post. We want to get these
seceshers all together at Vicksburg and then close the war in
this country. Wait about a month, if you want to hear a call
for bombazine, etc. We'll have that little town then, or a
very large portion of the loyal people of Illinois will go to
make that a very fertile point. By the way, aren't you afraid
that Rosecrans will get his hands full if it be true that Long-
street with 13 brigades has arrived at Chattanooga? Guess
those Eastern Rebels must know better how to fight than
Bragg, Price, Van Dorn, etc., at any rate I'm a little suspi-
cious of that Longstreet and wish that one or two of these
divisions here could be sent to oppose. Believe I would rather
we would be whipped here than see "Rosy" beaten. There
will be somebody awfully hurt though, before that latter item
takes place, and Rosecrans himself will never live to read an
account of it.

Staff appointments are nicer than the line business, but
chance for promotion is not so great nor so honorable in my
opinion. Although one does get more credit in reports, and
has more influence. Anyway the chances for a captain to be
detached on staff duty are very limited, and nearly always
matters of outside influence. A first lieutenant's chance on
his merits are much better for several reasons. Officers are
beginning to resign in a very lively manner in our regiment.
Am satisfied that of the original captains, only Sid., Frank
Post and myself will be left in two months from now, and I
can see that both Sid. and Frank would not object to being
let out gently and honorably, especially if they could happen



150 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

on a good little fight shortly, and then leave. Poor fellows!
One has a new wife and the other an old girl, each gets five
letters a week and looks a little sicker after each letter than
before. Guess I'll have to get me one of them girls to be in
the fashion, though I haven't yet got over that one's patting
me on the shoulder when I enlisted, telling me what a
fine, brave fellow, etc., I was and then marrying within three
weeks after I'd gone. I'm not very desperate in consequence,
but can't think it was fair. Sid. got back from Cairo to-night
with his men, minus 30, of whom some ten deserted and the
remainder were left sick. Profitable trip. We are on half
rations again for five days, but I managed to secure a 700-
pound beef for my company, so we'll not starve. I report
more men for duty than any other company in the regiment.
Call that doing pretty well when you consider that mine is a
picked company. Major Phelps is here and says we will be
paid off shortly. That means between now and July as I
take it. Am not particular though. Uncle Sam can go to the

d 1 with his greenbacks, if he'll only send us to Rosy or

Vicksburg. Weather here has moderated considerably. It is
I o'clock a. m. now and I am without coat or fire and am com-
fortable. I never retire before I or 2 o'clock any more. Am
ashamed to say what time I get up. We think here that this
place and Corinth will be evacuated ere long Troops are pass-
ing through here from Corinth every day, going to Vicksburg.
Every sign says that we will leave here within ten days, but
all signs are unsartin. The moon to-night says a dry month.
Don't I hope she won't fool us. This half-ration business is
only so in name, the full ration has a tremendous margin for
waste and men can grow fat on half rations. I do believe that
they live just as well. When the ist of January proclamation
was issued a number of our officers became very much ex-
cited. Several of them talked strongly of tendering their
resignations in consequence thereof, and one of them really did.
But we were too strong for the d d compromising lick-
spittles, and to-day you can't hear a whimper against it. The
major and adjutant were strongly opposed to it, but they dare



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 151

not say so to-day. All of that excitement at home is working
on the army though, and even if it requires bayonets, the good
of the army demands that the agitation cease. That is the
cause of all the desertions, and they are many that are occur-
ring, and nine-tenths of the discontent and demoralization
spring from the same source. A tremendous number have de-
serted of late and the evil is growing.. Thousands would leave
if we could be stationed on the border. Well, the old soldiers
are very, very tired of the war. Any number of them would
recognize three or four confederacies to get home, and their
influence over the new men is boundless. The Confederate
rank and file feels the same way. Nineteen-twentieths would
vote for the United States or any other man to secure peace,
but their officers and citizens control the matter. It don't
make any difference what commission you intrust your sani-
tary stores to for the stealings are all in the hospitals, and
these sanitary commissaries all issue to any hospital that is in
need.

Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, Jackson, Tenn.,

February I, 1863.

I'm on duty as "field officer of the day," and have been
temping around in the mud looking to policing, guards,
etc., and just now a detail has come for me to go on picket
to-morrow. I was only relieved from picket yesterday
morning. We are very short of officers, having only n
for duty in the regiment. All sick. D n 'em, they ought
to resign and let men draw the pay who do the work. I
have seven men in the hospital now, one of whom is going
to die. Poor fellow, how I do pity him. I never thought
as much, even of my sick comrades in the 8th, as I do of
my men when they get sick. James Colton is the one's
name who is the sickest. He is a real good young man and
has a wife. Lives in the west part of the country. Mine
is the only company that has no deserters yet, and I don't
believe I will have any. Half of these desertions are the



152 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

fault of officers. I have been out this evening calling on
a family named Stephens, living near our camp. They are
strongly secesh, but very fine people. No girls in the
family but a splendid looking young wife. I guess that
we are cut out of that Vicksburg fight, though if this
place is evacuated, there is a chance yet. That is the only
one though, for all the troops except our brigade have left
here. Some to Memphis, and I suppose, below. It makes
our duty pretty heavy. Picket every third day, besides
police, foraging, and fatigue and camp guard. But I al-
ways enjoy duty better than quiet camp life. I'm afraid
this agitation North is going to play the d 1 with the
army. The great body is loyal enough but can't help being
discouraged and, in a degree, disappointed when treason
is preached openly in the North and unrebuked. Confin-
ing a lot of those traitors would have an excellent effect on
the soldiers ; but I believe that Lincoln is almost afraid
to try that again. If this regiment is paid off before there
is the change in officers there should be, I'm afraid deser-
tions will be very numerous. I begin to feel some of the
old soldier's prejudice against the "forty-dollar man," but
I do believe we can, if properly officered, make a crack regi-
ment. I tell you, between ourselves, that of the 30 line
officers there are not more than six that are worth their
salt. The others do 100 times more harm than good to the
service. I modestly count myself one of the six, so that
you can judge better what I think they are. I read Dick
Oglesby's speech to-day. The sentiment is all right, but he
can talk much better than that. Suppose he is out of prac-
tice. We are a little afraid of the result of the Vicksburg
fight. If we get whipped I'd like to die there, for I believe
if that army is whipped it will be annihilated ; and the cause
about lost, which little event I don't care to live to hear.
You can't imagine how careful the commanders are here
of secesh property. Well, if 'tis through the right motive,
I say all right, and I guess it is, but it hurts me anyway.
I can't help hoping that this town will be burned when evac-



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 153

uated, for it is the most intensely secession place of all. It
first unfurled the Rebel flag in this State, and sticks to its
colors nobly. It is rumored that Van Dorn is coming in this
direction again. I do hope he will come here, for if we can
drive him off, it would hurt the natives so much to see him
whipped.

Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, Jackson, Tenn.,

February 7, '63.

There was a dose of medicine administered to the command
in this district yesterday that will certainly be productive of
good. I already feel that it has indued me with fresh vigor
and really made me quite young again. "The sale or introduc-
tion of the Chicago Times in this district is hereby forbidden
until further orders." By order of Brig. Gen'l. J. C. Sullivan.

That same d d old skeesicks has been protecting secesh

property here in the strictest manner, and I'd never thought it
possible for him to do as good a thing. It will do an immen-
sity of good to the army, and if the President will only sup-
press the paper and several others of the same stripe, and hang
about 200 prominent copperhead scoundrels in the North, we
may then hope that the army will once more be something like
its former self. Just as true as there is a God, if I was
provost marshal in Fulton County, with my company for a
guard, I'd hang at least ten men whose names I have. I know
I'd be wrong, and would have no right to do so, but the good
I'd do the Uuion troops would amply repay me for getting my
own neck stretched. You can't imagine how much harm those
traitors are doing, not only with their papers, but they are
writing letters to the boys which would discourage the most
loyal of men, if they failed to demoralize them. I believe that
about every enlisted man in our regiment has received one
or more of these letters. My boys have shown me a number
from their friends, all of which would help to make a man
who relied on his friends for his ideas, discontented. I assure
you that it is by no means the lightest portion of an officer's



154 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

duties now, to counteract the effect of these letters. I know
that I put in a great deal more of my time than I wish to, in
talking patriotism at the boys and doing good, round, solid
cursing at the home cowardly vipers, who are disgracing the
genus, man, by their conduct. I have the satisfaction of know-
ing that expressing myself on the subject as I have, and Lieu-
tenant Dorrance's talking the same way, have had a good effect
on our men, for not only have we had no deserters, but the
copperhead letters received in our company have been an-
swered as patriots and soldiers should answer them.

Ninth. Papers of the 6th give me much pleasure. The dash-
ing move of the ram "Queen of the West," the gallant fight
of our soldiers at Corinth, are certainly enough good news for
one day. At noon roll call to-day, I spoke to my men of the
resolutions passed by the officers at Corinth and approved by
the soldiers, and told them that a chance would be offered
them in a few days to vote on similar ones. They received
the latter statement with a cheer that plainly showed their
mind on the subject. I believe that the whole regiment with
a proper action of the officers for a few days, will denounce
copperheadism, even in terms strong enough to suit the Chi-
cago Tribune. 'Twill be the officers fault if we don't. If we
were only officered properly throughout there would never
have been a word of dissatisfaction in the regiment. That is
rather a solemn subject. I have advised my men to whip any
enlisted man they hear talking copperheadism, if they are able,
and at all hazards to try it, and if I hear any officer talking it
that I think I can't whale, I'm going to prefer charges against
him. Doing plenty of duty now ; on picket every other day.
Last night I had command of a guard at General Hospital No.
i, or rather we guarded it in the day time, relieved at 9 p. m.
and went on again at daylight. I had some friends in the
hospital, steward, warden and clerks, and they made it very
pleasant for me. That is they fed me on sanitary cake, but-
ter, etc., induced me to drink some sanitary wine, beer, etc.,
and also to sleep between sanitary sheets, with my head on a
sanitary pillow, etc., and again this morning to accept a bottle



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 1 55

of sanitary brandy and a couple of bottles of sanitary porter.
All of which I did, knowing that I was sinning. I write you this
that you may feel you are doing your country some good in
forwarding the above articles for the benefit of the soldiers.
You will of course, give these encouraging items to your co-
workers.

Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, Jackson, Tenn.,

February 15, 1863.

It's 1 1 o'clock now, so I haven't much time to write. We've
been having some trouble in the regiment this week. The
colonel appointed Lieutenant Mattison, captain of Company
"I," vice Medley, resigned, and Lieutenant Dorrance, cap-
tain of Company K, to fill the vacancy occasioned by King's
death. The men in both companies swore they wouldn't do
duty under the new officers, and the devil's to pay. The col-
onel finally relieved them both from their new commands,
doubting his right to enforce obedience until the new officers
had received their commissions, which will probably be some
two or three weeks hence, when the men will undoubtedly have
to submit, even if harsh measures have to be resorted to to
make them. The colonel has appointed Geo. Wilkinson, of
Farmington, and Mr. Wagstaff, who formerly worked in the
Ledger office, for my first and second lieutenants. My com-
pany have received them well, and I am well pleased with both
of them so far. I like quiet people. I enclose you some
resolutions which have been submitted to all the troops here
for their adoption. We voted by companies. Company A, I,
and F opposed them strongly, more on account of the spirit
of dissatisfaction and discontent, which is rampant among
them, than because of opposition to the principles they embody.

Colonel D seems to allow the trouble in his regiment to

wear upon him. He has not the decision I once gave him
credit for. Wears gloves at the wrong time in handling men.
One more case where my judgment has fooled me during my
army experience. Can't now remember where it was correct.



156 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

You certainly have to measure men by different standard in
the army from that used at home. Everybody thinks we are
going to evacuate here within a month. It looks like it, but
can't see why we should. Nearly all the troops are gone. Our
regiment and the 5oth Indiana have to do all the picket duty.
We are on every other day as regularly as clock work. I like
it better than lying in camp. Union citizens say that we will
be attacked here the last of this week or first of next, by
forces which are now crossing the Tennessee. That's too old,
played out, etc. There's never any danger of a fight where
I am. One of my boys died the other day, the first I have lost.
Typhus fever, following measles, killed him. Was a real
good soldier. Geo. Trader by name ; lived near Ellisville. I
have two more quite dangerously sick, but the general health
of the regiment is improving. You don't know how much I
love these men I have under me. Not as individuals many of
them, but as soldiers, of my company, for whose actions, and
in a measure, health, I am responsible. Something, I suppose,
like the love of a parent for his children. I never thought I
could feel half the interest in the welfare of my brother man
as I do now for these men.

Camp I03d Illinois Infantry, Jackson, Tenn.,

February 18, 1863.

The prominent rumor to-day, and one in which there seems
to be considerable stock taken, is that Governor Yates has
obtained authority from the general government to have sev-
eral regiments from Grant's army returned to Illinois, as a
kind of public police. That is, to repress copperheadism, en-
force the collection of the taxes, etc. The sequel is: Colonel
Babcock and Colonel Kellogg are now with Grant, bearing dis-
patches from Governor Yates to the above effect, and figuring
to get certain regiments, one of which is the iO3d, and that
we will be in Springfield within three weeks. All very nice
but etc. I know that if we are sent up to that copperhead-
infested country we will not be used for anything but to guard



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 157

Rebel prisoners ; and I do pray to be excused from any such
"pursuit of happiness." I would love right well to help manu-
facture loyal men ojut of some of those Illinois traitors, but am
considerably suspicious of the trip. We finally got those reso-
lutions adopted, after a speech from Colonel Dunham, without
a dissenting voice, though it was by no means a unanimous vote.
Don't think that more than two-thirds voted aye, though don't
let any of the democratic 'friends know anything to the con-
rary, but that we all voted for it. The regiment is going to

the d 1 as fast as time will let it ; though my company and

Sid's, are all right yet, and two more are tolerable. It almost
gives me the blues. Don't say a word of the above, but I can't
help writing it to you. 'Tis so late and I'm so sleepy that I
must adjourn. Was on picket last night in the rain all night.

Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, Jackson, Tenn.,

February 25, 1863.

I guess it's full two weeks since I wrote you last, excepting



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 13 of 31)