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

. (page 14 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 14 of 31)
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a half sheet a few days ago. My reason is that it has been
raining ever since, and my tent leaks so that (that's rather a
larger story than I think you'll swallow, so I'll not spoil paper
by finishing it) ; but, Scotland, how it does rain here. Com-
mences slowly and gently, comes straight down and continues
coming for about 24 hours in the same manner. Mercury at
about 35 degrees. Then the wind will commence blowing,
cool, cooler, cold. Stop the rain, scatter the clouds, and get-
ting warm again will, in a day or so, gather the moisture from
the surface, and probably give us one pleasant day, rarely more.
It seems to me there has not been a day this winter when the
sun shone, and the air was calm, that I needed a fire, and I
remember but one day during which the mercury sunk as low
as 10 degrees. We had two nice "falls" of snow, but they
found they'd lit in the wrong country and evacuated in quick
time. It can't snow here to much advantage, but I am sure
the rest of the world could learn from this region on the rain
question. Canton is a parlor compared to this town. Part of
the town is on rolling ground, but the hillside seems even
muddier than the valleys. This town is thrice the size of Can-



158 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

ton, and has ten times as many costly dwellings, but the side-
walks and streets will not compare with yours. The arrange-
ments of gardens is passable and much taste is shown in the
distribution of evergreens. One gentleman living between our
camp and town has 10,000 pines, hollies, cedars, etc., in the
grounds surrounding his house. The grounds comprise may-
be fifteen acres. I mean he had 10,000 trees, but the Yankees
burned the fences around his paradise, and have in various
ways managed to destroy a few thousand evergreens A kind
of a parody, you understand, on that Bible story of the devil
in Eden. Colonel Kellogg is here to-night, but goes to Mem-
phis to-morrow where he will join Colonel Babcock. They may
both be here again within a week, but it is not certain. He
says we may be thankful we are not in the Yazoo Swamp or
at Vicksburg, but two months heavy picketing here have ren-
dered me unable to see it in that light. Our pickets have been
fired on twice during the last two days. Nobody hurt, I be-
lieve. We have news to-night of General Dodge, of Corinth,
capturing some 200 prisoners and a train of wagons at Tus-
cumbia, Ala. How I do wish we could be sent into that coun-
try again. It's worth all the rest of the South that I have seen..
I have ii negroes in my company now. They do every par-
ticle of the dirty work. Two women among them do the
washing for the company. Three babies in the lot, all of
which have run barefooted all the winter, and though they
have also run at the nose, etc., some, seem to be healthy all
the time.

Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, Jackson, Tenn.,

March 5, 1863.

You certainly should not complain of my neglect, in writing
no more than once in ten days while we are quartered at such
an intolerably stupid place as this, for there really have not
been two incidents ocurred worthy of notice, since we pitched
our tents on this ground. Never since I first entered the ser-
vice have I passed two months in which there seems so little



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 159

worth remembering Nothing but a dull round of picket,
fatigue, and camp guard ; no alarms and no enemy within a
hundred or more miles of us, save "citizen guerrillas," and
they in no force sufficient to scare even a foraging party. In
lieu of something real to talk of and speculate about, I give
you the following items : There seems this morning to be some
movement on foot, though I have not heard a word of the
object which has raised such a commotion in our usually quiet
military circles. I only know that all the mounted men sta-
tioned here have this morning started under command of Col-
onel Mizner, with an ammunition train and small provision
ditto. Also hear that Dodge at Corinth and the command out
at Trenton have set all their cavalry in motion. To make the
case a little stronger I will add that one of Sullivan's aids
galloped into camp half an hour since, and required at short
notice the number of rounds of ammunition on hand. Well,
I expect that Van Dorn or Morgan is on our side of the Ten-
nessee again. It can't be more than that. I'd give a month's
pay to get this regiment into a fight. Don't want it for myself
particularly, but think it would do the regiment a great deal
of good. The feeling is some better among the men, but there
is still much room for improvement. Desertions are not so
numerous, but one slips off occasionally. Colonels Kellogg
and Babcock were both here a few nights ago. Both in
good health, never saw them looking better Don't know that
anything of importance was connected with their visit. My
own health continues prime. I know that I don't fully appre-
ciate the Lord's goodness to me in granting me such continued
excellent health, but I assure you I do feel grateful to the
Power that rules that matter, although I am tolerably regular
in my habits and intemperate in none, yet I know I am very
careless of myself and health in regard to dress, sleeping any
and everywhere, etc. General Sullivan will visit our camp
at 3 o'clock to-day to look into its sanitary conditions, and in-
spect our policing. The health of the regiment is much im-
proved. Two months more and we will be veterans. Another of



l6o ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

my boys, the second, died in General Hospital at this place
yesterday. James Conyers, is his name. Formerly worked for
Stipp.

Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, Jackson, Tenn.,

March 7, 1863.

The rumors from Vicksburg in the Tribune of the 5th are
enough to make one's flesh creep, and more than sufficient to
account for my little touch of the blues I do feel to-night as
though some awful calamity had befallen our army somewhere.
God grant it may not be so ! We have another report in camp
this evening that is not calculated to enliven me much, viz. ;
"Lawler and some four companies of the i8th Illinois Infantry
have been captured some 30 miles east of town." In my last
I spoke of an expedition having started out to look for some
of Van Dorn's forces which were reported as being on the
Tennessee river, looking for a crossing place. We don't give
credence to the story of Lawler's being a prisoner. But if he
is, and the Vicksburg rumor be true and we have been re-
pulsed at Charleston, and were whipped at Tullahoma, I
wouldn't feel half as badly over it all if our people at home
would quit their wicked copperheadism and give us the sup-
port and encouragement they should, as I do now when we
are worsted in even a cavalry skirmish. For every little de-
feat we suffer only seems to make them so much bolder, as is
shown in every new set of resolutions which reaches us
through the Times and the Enquirer. So that miserable David-
son really published the lie that only one man in my com-
pany really voted for the resolutions. Every man in Com-
pany G voted for them and with a will, too. I don't have any
politics in my company, although there are some companies in
the regiment which indulge considerably in discussing ques-
tions of State. Above all things I dislike to hear it. I am
glad to hear that my men speak well of me in their letters. I
think I have had less trouble in my company than most of
the officers. Allen Roodcape, the man you sent your letter



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. l6l

of the 1st inst. by, got here to-night. Poor fellow, he will
never be fit for a soldier. Davidson has gone home again. The
5oth Indiana went out yesterday morning to reinforce Law-
ler, so we will again be on picket every other day. When it
is here, once in three days is the rule. I was out on the worst
post last night and it rained nearly all night. It thundered
and lightened most splendidly. I like to get pretty wet once
and a while for a change. It's raining hard now. I go on
picket again to-morrow. I'm sleepy, tired, and the rain is com-
ing through my tent so much that I believe I'll get into bed.

Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, Jackson, Tenn.,

March 9, 1863.

We leave here again in the morning for the Grange. Or-
dered to report there immediately to relieve a regiment, the
6th Iowa, which is going down the river. Am right glad to
be again on the way. Can't think that we will stay there long,
though I ought by this time to know that I have no business
thinking anything about the matter. The Fulton Democrat
came into our camp to-day, and that correspondence you men-
tioned in your last has raised quite a stir. The writer is of
course denounced as a contemptible liar. My boys this evening
got up a little paper which will appear in the Register shortly
(it goes in the morning by the same person who carries this)
and some fifty of them signed it, all there were in camp. My
company would riddle that office in a minute if they could
get at it. Worked all day yesterday, Sunday, covering and
chinking a picket post, and will not get another day's use of
it. Have so much to do that I see I will have to stop this
letter writing business.

Camp io3d Illinois Infantry, Lagrange, Tenn.,

March 15, 1863.

I have just returned from a walk to and inspection of the
cemetery belonging to this nice little town. There, as every-
where, the marks of the "Vandal Yankees" are visible. The



l62 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

fence which formerly enclosed the whole grounds has long
since vanished in thin air, after fulfilling its mission, boiling
Yankee coffee, and frying Yankee bacon. Many of the en-
closures of family grounds have also suffered the same fate,
and others are broken down and destroyed. The cemeteries
here are full of evergreens, hollies, cedars, and dwarf pines,
and rosebushes and flowers of all kinds are arranged in most
excellent taste. They pride themselves more on the homes of
their dead than on the habitations of the living. I can't help
thinking that their dead are the most deserving of our respect,
though our soldiers don't waste much respect on either the
living or dead chivalries. Many of the graves have ocean
shells scattered over them, and on a number were vases in
which the friends deposit boquets in the flower season. The
vases have suffered some at the hands of the Yankees, and
the names of Yanks anxious for notoriety are penciled thickly
on the backs of marble grave stones. Quite a variety of
flowers can now be found here in bloom. I have on my table
some peach blossoms and one apple blossom, the first of the
latter I have seen. Some of the early rosebushes are leaved
out, and the grass is up enough to make the hillsides look
quite springlike. For three or four days we have needed no
fire, and my coat now hangs on the forked stick which answers
for a hatrack in my tent. We left Jackson the morning of
the nth, all pleased beyond expression, to get away. We
were from 8 a. m. until n o'clock p. m. coming here, only 55
miles. The engine stalled as many as ten times on up grades,
and we would either have to run back to get a fresh start, or
wait until a train came along whose engine could help us out.
We lay loosely around the depot until daylight and then
moved out to our present camp, which is one of the best I have
ever seen, a nice, high ridge covered with fine old forest
trees. This town has been most shamefully abused since we
left here with the Grand Army last December. There are only
about three houses which have a vestige of a fence left around
them. All the once beautiful evergreens look as though three
or four tornadoes had visited them and many of the finest



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 163

houses have been compelled to pay as tribute to the camp fires,
piazzas and weatherboarding. Not a chicken is left to crow
or cackle, not a pig to squeal, and only such milch cows as
were composed entirely of bone and cuticle. The 7th Cavalry
is here, and also the 6th Illinois and 2d Iowa. There is only
one other regiment of Infantry, the 46th Ohio. It does the
picket duty and we are patroling and guarding the government
stores. The duty is rather lighter than it was in Jackson, and
more pleasant. We have no ground to complain now, and the
paymaster is all we want to make us perfectly happy. Two
nights before we left Jackson 23 of our regiment deserted, 17
of whom were out of Company A, one of the Lewistown com-
panies. One was from my company, the first deserter I have
had. He was detailed from Company A to my company and
was besides the most worthless trifling pup in the army. I am
accepting the disgrace of having one of my men desert, de-
cidedly glad to be rid of him. Johnny Wyckoff came down a
few days ago and after being in camp a few days came to
me and said he had his parents' permission, so I got the col-
onel to swear him in. We'll make a drummer of him.

I suppose you will have seen in the Register before this
reaches you the answer my company made to that Davidson's
lie in regard to our vote on the resolutions. I did not see
the paper until it was ready to send away. I think copper-
headism is not worth quite the premium it was a few months
since. These notes from the army should have some weight
with the gentlemen that run the copper machine. Do you see
how the Southern papers cut the scoundrels? That does me
much good, though 'tis mortifying to think we have such dirt-
catchers in our State.

Well, we are on the right track now, and a few more weeks
and we will be steaming down the Mississippi, I think. Our
next move will be Memphis, probably, and then, ho! for
Vicksburg! That is rare good news from the Yazoo. I hope
Ross has done something there. My health is excellent, 155
pounds of ham and crackers, for that is all I've eaten in four
months. One hundred and sixty secesh soldiers lie as closely



164 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

as they can be packed in this cemetery. Little boards with
initials cut on them are all the marks their graves have. Our
boys all cut on a large board with full name of regiment, and
residence, at the head of their graves. I send you some blos-
soms from the graveyard.

Camp 1 03d Illinois Infantry, Lagrange, Tenn.,

March 19, 1863.

Nine whole days of the most beautiful sunshiny weather
imaginable. Warm as our home June, almost. The boys bathe
in the river that runs near our camp. The little birds warble
in the trees, the beautiful young ladies walk out to enjoy the
gentle spring breezes. Seldom now do we hear those gloomy
omens of cold in the head, viz. : sneezes, and nature, grand old
mother nature, almost in human tongue proclaims this balmy
Southern spring atmosphere, a sure cure for the wheezes.
Poetry, my dear, is the soul of Sis, I'm getting under the
influence of this weather, as happy as a clam, and as lazy
as I can be, that is when I have nothing to do. I enjoy it
intensely. Lieutenant Nick's resignation has been accepted
and he will be at home within a few days. I send this by him,
probably. I came pretty near having a fight a few days since.
I had 40 men out guarding a forage train of some 125 wagons.
There was also about 50 cavalry. We stationed the cavalry as
pickets while the teams were loading, and 50 guerrillas at-
tacked and drove our cavalry in (only 20 of our boys). We
got ready for a muss, but the other thirty of our horsemen
charged secesh and scattered them, wounding several and
capturing two. 'Twas certainly censurable in our post com-
mander's sending so light a guard with so large a train, which
was over a mile long. My men showed the right spirit. That
is the nearest to a fight any of the iO3d have yet been.

10 p. m. I want you to be sure and get "Harpers
Weekly" of March I4th, and read that army story about the
officers captured by pretended guerrillas. It is all true and
happened near Waterford, Miss., while we were there. I



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 165

know the two women well. Don't fail to get the paper or
you'll miss one of the best things of the war. I have just
returned from a whist party. Colonel Wright, Dr. Morris
and Dr. Shaw, of the 6th Iowa, and no liquor. I don't drink
any, and intend to continue my habits in that respect. Very
few of our officers drink.

Camp at Lagrange, Tenn., March 29, 1863.
All perfectly quiet except the regular picket firing every
night which here exceeds anything I ever before met in my
experience. 'Tis singular, too, for we have a large force of
cavalry here and I should think the rascals would hardly dare
to venture so near them. A few days since three guerrillas
came up to one of our cavalry pickets, and while he was ex-
amining one of their passes the others watching their chance
gobbled him. They at once retreated. The sergeant of the
picket heard a little noise on the post and just got there in
time to see the secesh disappear. He raised the alarm, and a
party followed them on the run for 15 miles, rescued our man,
killed three and captured four of the rascals, Yesterday some
of Richardson's men displaced a rail on the track ten miles
west of this place, and captured a train. They got away
with their prisoners, but hadn't time to destroy the cars.
'Tisn't safe to go three miles from camp now, although
100 men can go 40 miles in any direction safely. Do you
hear of any deserters returning under the President's pro-
clamation? I hope to the Lord that my black sheep won't
come back. A letter came for him to-day, and I opened it.
'Twas from his father advising him to get out of this
"Abolishun" war as quickly as he could. His "Pa and Ma"
are welcome to him. Generals Sullivan, Denver and Ham-
ilton have all left this country within the last few days, for
Vicksburg. General Smith commands our division now.
We are now in the 2d Brigade, ist Division, i6th Army
Corps. The colonel of the 6th Iowa is the ranking officer
in the brigade but he is now sick, so Colonel Wolcott of
the 46th Ohio now runs. Two captains of the 46th Ohio,



l66 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

and myself have been constituted by Smith a "Board of
Survey," to appraise damages committed by our army in
the property of loyal citizens here. I think he has just
done it to get the citizens off his hands. Have no idea that
they will ever be allowed anything for their losses. There
were three bills, each over $2,500. sent in to us yesterday.
I hope the general will allow us to drop the business this
week; if he will not, however, we can be kept busy for
almost any length of time. By Smith's orders the reveille
is sounded now at 4 o'clock a. m. and the men appear with
arms and accoutrements, and form line of battle. This is
to avoid any bad consequnces which follow a Rebel cav-
alry dash at daylight, if we should be found in our tents.
I think 'tis an excellent policy to be always ready for the
enemy, but I declare I dislike this early rising very much.

Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, Lagrange, Tenn.,

March 31, 1863.

I have lost my negro, Bob. The cavalry have been in-
dulging in a pretty rough fight near here, and I am engaged on
a "Board of Survey" which will occupy me for some days to
come. There is also a good quality of Scotch ale in town, no
paper collars, and a great deal of robbing and scoundrelism
generally. There is some kind of a scare along the line, and the
authorities this morning shipped to Memphis some 600 negroes,
to get them out of the way of the trouble. I made my Bob
send his wife and children, and the scamp, when it came
to the parting, couldn't resist her pleading, and so he joined
the party. It is beautiful to see such an exhibition of love
and constancy in the brute species. All of these Africans
will undoubtedly be sent to Illinois or somewhere else.
I declare I don't like to see them introduced into our State,
for they increase like rabbits. I believe will eventually
outnumber the white race, in any country in which they
are planted. This matter of slavery is an awful sin and I'm
satisfied debases the governing race, but if we have to keep



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. l6/

these negroes in the country, I say keep them as slaves. Take
them from secesh and turn them over to Unionists, but don't
free them in America. They can't stand it. These negroes don't
average the ability of eight-year-old white children in taking
care of themselves. There are exceptions of course ; arm all the
latter and make them fight Rebels. They will probably be fit for
freedom after a few years as soldiers. I received the Register
with the letters from our regiment and Peterson's dressing of
the Democrat. 'Tis jolly to throw stones at that paper. You
see if they all don't get their fingers burned by that foul-
mouthed Davidson. A decent man has no business talking
against him, and will always come out behind. I am sure that
he would be hung if he would venture within our regimental
lines. One of my boys cut a great caper to-day. He is an old
Dutchman, and has been aching for a fight ever since we left
Peoria. He has told me several times that he had a mind to
run off and go down to Vicksburg until the fight is over and
then he would come back again. This morning I sent him to
Lafayette (near Memphis) as guard for these contrabands.
The old fellow went on to Memphis and I expect will be at
the Vicksburg battle. I know that he won't leave me for good,
though this act makes him liable to punishment as a deserter.
He is a funny old dog but an excellent soldier. For goodness
sake send me those shirts. All I have sewed together wouldn't
more than make one long enough to reach the top of my pants.
Any one of them would fly out over my coat collar if I'd
stoop down.

About 100 of the 6th Illinois Cavalry were surprised night
before last some 20 or 30 miles north of this place. The first
notice they had of the enemy was a volley of balls and shot
among them as they lay asleep by their bivouac fires, about 12
p. m. Eight were killed and about 25 or 30 wounded by the
first fire. The 6th got up and went into the Rebels in a most
gallant manner, killing and wounding a number and capturing
a major, two captains and some others. The enemy numbered
some 400, and had the advantage of a complete surprise and
were then badly whipped. The 6th boys deserve infinite credit



1 68 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

for their fighting, and their colonel, a rope for his carelessness.
He fought like a hero, though. 'Twas Lieutenant Loomis. I
don't believe that Napoleon had any better cavalry than this
brigade here for fighting. Second Iowa, 6th and 7th Illinois are
the regiments, and well handled they'd whip the devil. Just im-
agine the details of the above fight, and if you can't help think-
ing that every one of our men engaged was a hero, I'll disown
you. I'll tell you a couple of items to show you how the war
is being conducted here now. A train was captured a few
miles west of here a few days ago, and three prisoners taken,
carried off. A lieutenant among them was footsore and un-
able to keep up ; one of the Rebels, for that reason alone, shot
him through the head, killing him. The conductor of the train
surrendered, but a Rebel after that shot at him three times,
when the conductor concluding it was death anyway attempted
to escape and succeeded. This morning I saw a crowd across
the street and walked over. Some secesh prisoners had been
brought in, among them the conductor .had discovered the man
who tried to kill him. The conductor tried hard to get to kill
the scoundrel, but the guard prevented him. I tell you, if
any of that stripe of fellows fall into my hands, you'll have
a brother who has been concerned in a hanging scrape. I'm
as decided on that point as I know how to be. I don't see any
prospect of an immediate fight in this country. There is no
force except a few hundred guerrillas within 50 miles of us,
but General Smith uses every precaution. We are all under
arms an hour before daylight, and the picketing is very sys-
tematical and good. The pickets are, however, annoyed more
or less every night. These citizens are bringing immense bills
of damages before our board. Three came in to-day amount-
ing in the aggregate to $50,000, and more I think. To-morrow
General Smith closes the lines at this post. No more going
in or out by citizens. That is the best thing that has hap-
pened before my eyes during the war. The town has been
full of citizens every day since we have been here, and of
course they are all spies.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 169

Board of Survey Office, Lagrange, Term.,

April 6, 1863.

I was in Memphis a few days since. It is quite a lovely



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 14 of 31)