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 15 of 31)
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town and quite Northern-like in its general appearance.
Many of the blocks would pass muster creditably in Chicago,
though the numerous fires it has furnished for the edification
of the "Vandal Yankees" have somewhat marred its streets. I
think the Fair grounds are not excelled even by those at St.
Louis, and we certainly have none in Illinois that will compare
with them for beauty, location, or in extent. There are some
most beautiful country seats on the M. & C. R. R. scattered
along within six miles of the city. I saw but one park. 'Tis
called Court Square and is very pretty. 'Tis just about the
size of our Canton square and filled with forest trees and
evergreens. I think as many as fifty squirrels live in the park.
They are very tame and playful. The city is full of butternut
refugees from North Mississippi and some from Arkansas,
but I could find none from the vicinity of Madison. The M. &
C. R. R. is almost classical. From Memphis to Decatur, Ala.
(that is as much as I've seen of it) you are rarely out of sight
of fortifications, and on almost every mile, lay the remains of
a burned train of cars. Hardly a bridge, culbert or cattle
guard but has been burned from three to ten times and rebuilt
as often. Night before last I had just retired (12 o'clock)
when an order came to have the regiment in line and ready
for action at a moment's notice. We got up, stacked arms
on the color line, and went to bed again. Heard in the morn-
ing that 2,500 Rebel cavalry caused the scare. We still con-
tinue to guard against daybreak surprises by rising at 4 a. m.,
and standing at "guard against secesh" until daylight. All of
the vigilance I like. I would hate to be surprised and gob-
bled without having half a chance. Am still on Board of


Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, Lagrange, Tenn.,

April 14, 1863.

I am brigadier officer of the day again, and of course it is a
rainy, muddy, disagreeable day. Visiting the pickets occupied
my whole forenoon and I rode through a constant rain. You
may consider it an evidence of perverted taste, or maybe de-
moralization, or possibly of untruthfulness in me, if I say that
I enjoy being on duty in the rain, but it is a fact. I don't like
to lie in bed, or sit by the fire, and think of floundering about
in the mud and being soaked to the skin, but once out of doors,
let it rain and wind ever so hard I enjoy it. At my request
the general relieved me from that "Board of Survey," and I
am again with my company. If I could but get 15 days' ex-
emption from duty, I could finish up the drilling I wish to
give them. Since we left Peoria we have been driven so much
with duty that drilling has been next to impossible. The
health and spirits of the regiment are now excellent. Such a
body of soldiers as this now is cannot be considered otherwise
than as a credit to even immaculate Fulton County and New
Jersey, two Edens without even one snake. That is one point in
which the ninteenth century beats Adam's time. Rumors
of another move down the Mississippi Central R. R. are flying
now. I credit them. Within 20 days we will again be al-
lowed to strike our tents. I'm getting well over my Vicks-
burg fever and wishing considerably in regard to this land
movement. Before I write again the cavalry, some six to ten
regiments, will have started on a raid of considerable magni-
tude. You can see from the way I write that I know nothing
of what is in prospect, but from hints dropped feel certain
that a move with force will be made from here at once. Any-
thing to end this horrible inactivity. Every newspaper I read
raises my disgust ten per cent. I'm sure I'll become a chronic
swearer if it lasts this summer through. I suppose that you
know by this time whether the Charleston attack is a failure
or not. I'm not much interested in that. It will cause no loss
of sleep on my part if we fail there, only I'd like to hear of
the town being burned. I believe there are more chances for


a general to immortalize himself, working southward from this
line of road as a base, than in any other part of the field. But
where is the general?

Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, Lagrange, Tenn.,

April 24, '63.

We have just returned from the hardest and yet by far the
most pleasant scout in which I have up to this time partici-
pated. We started from here one week ago to-day, Friday,
and my birthday (how old I am getting) on the cars. We
were four and a half regiments of infantry, one six-gun bat-
tery and no cavalry. At 3 o'clock p. m. we were within seven
miles of Holly Springs and found two bridges destroyed. We
worked that p. m. and night and finished rebuilding the bridges
by daylight the i8th. We had only moved two miles further
when we reached another bridge which we found lying around
loose in the bed of the stream. The general concluded to
abandon the railroad at this point, so we took up the line of
march. We passed through Holly Springs at 12 m. I don't
believe that I saw a human face in the town. A more com-
plete scene of desolation cannot be imagined. We bivouacked
at dark, at Lumpkin's mill, only one mile from Waterford. At
9 p. m. a dreadful wind and rain storm commenced and con-
tinued until i. We were on cleared ground, without tents, and
well fixed to take a good large share of both the wind and
water. I'm positive that I got my full portion. 'Twas dark
as dark could be, but by the lightning flashes, we could see
the sticks and brush with which we fed our fire, and then we
would feel through the mud in the right direction. Nearly
half the time we had to hold our rubber blankets over the fire
to keep the rain from pelting it out. After the storm had sub-
sided I laid down on a log with my face to the stars, bracing
myself with one foot on each side of my bed. I awoke within
an hour to find that a little extra rain on which I had not
counted, had wet me to the skin. That ended my sleeping for
that night.


Nineteenth. We went down to Waterford and then turned
westward, which course we held until nearly to Chulahoma.
When we again turned southward and reached the Tallahatchie
river at "Wyatt," where we camped for the night. Our regi-
ment was on picket that night and an awful cold night it was.
We marched through deep, yellow mud the iQth nearly all day,
but I don't know that I marched any harder for it. Up at
3 o'clock and started at 4, the 2Oth, and marched 25 miles
southwest, along the right bank of the Tallahatchie. Our ra-
tions were out by this time and we were living off the "citi-
zens." The quartermaster with a squad of men he had mounted
on contraband horses and mules would visit the chivalric plant-
ers, take their wagons, load them with their hams, meal and
flour, and when we would halt for dinner or supper, issue the
chivalries' eatables to us poor miserable Yankees. While the
quartermaster attended to these principal items the "boys"
would levy on the chickens, etc., including milk and cornbread.
Gen. W. S. Smith commanded and the butternuts failed to get
much satisfaction from him. The first night out a "citizen"
came to him and complained that the soldiers had killed nine
of his hogs, and asked what he should do to get his pay. "My
dear sir," said the general, "you'll have to go to the boys about
this matter, they will arrange it satisfactorily to you, I have no
doubt." "Citizen didn't go to the boys though. Another one
came to ask pay for his hams. "Your hams, why everything
in this Mississippi belongs to these boys, a great mistake, that
of your's, sir." The men soon found out what kind of a gen-
eral they had and whenever a butternut would appear among
us they would greet him with a perfect storm of shouts of,
"here's your ham, here's your chicken," etc., and often a
shower of bones of hams or beef would accompany the salute.
On the 2Oth the general decided to make some cavalry, and
on the 2 1st at night we had nearly 400 men on "pressed"
horses and mules. These soldiers would just mount anything
that had four legs, from a ram to an elephant, and the falls
that some of the wild mules gave the boys would have made
any man laugh that had life enough in him to breathe. How


the women would beg for a favorite horse ! I saw as many as
five women wringing their hands and crying around a little
cream-colored mare on whose head a soldier was arranging a
rope bridle as coolly as though he was only going to lead her
to water. You could have heard those women a quarter of a
mile begging that cuss of an icicle to leave the pony, and he
paid no more attention to them than he would have done to
so many little chickens. An officer made the man leave the
animal and I think the women took her in the house. I saw
two girls, one of them perfectly lovely, begging for a pair of
mules and a wagon a quartermaster was taking from their
place. They pushed themselves in the way so much that the
men could hardly hitch the animals to the wagon. But we had
to take that team to haul our provisions. The night of the
2oth at 8 o'clock, the general called all the officers up to his
quarters and told us that we would have a fight with General
Chalmers before breakfast the next morning. He ordered all
the fires put out immediately and gave us our instructions for
defense in case we should be attacked during the night. After
he was through I, with eight other officers, was notified that
we should sit at once as a court martial to try the adjutant of
the 99th Indiana, for straggling and conduct unbecoming an
officer and a gentleman in taking from a house sundry silver
spoons, forks, etc. I'll tell you our sentence after it is ap-
proved. That kept us until 1 1 o'clock. At i o'clock a. m. we
were wakened without bugles or drums, stood under arms,
without fires until 3, and then marched northwest. At this
point we were only eight or nine miles from Panola, Miss.
We marched along through Sardis on the Grenada and Mem-
phis R. R. and northwest about 15 miles to some cross roads,
which we reached just 20 minutes after the Rebels had left.
'Twas useless for our infantry to follow their mounted men,
so we turned homeward with 75 miles before us. Just look
over and see how much sleep I got in the last four nights.
We marched through the most delightful country from the
time we left Wyatt. I think it will almost compare favorably
with Illinois. We saw thousands of acres of wheat headed


out which will be ready to harvest by the I5th or 2oth of
May. Some of the rye was as tall as I am. Peaches as large
as filberts and other vegetation in proportion. There seemed
to be a plenty of the necessaries of life, but I can assure you
that eatables are not so plentiful now as they were before we
visited the dear brethren. We reached the railroad at Colliers-
ville last night. That is 26 miles west, making in all some 175
miles in eight days. The guerrillas fired on one column a num-
ber of times but hurt no one until yesterday, when they killed
two of the 6th Iowa, which regiment was on another road from
ours, the latter part of the trip. We took only some 20 priso-
ners but about 400 horses and mules. They captured about a
dozen of stragglers from us and I am sorry to say two from
my company, Wilson Gray and Stephen Hudson. The last
three days we marched, every time that we would halt ten min-
utes one-fourth of the men would go to sleep. You should
have seen the boys make bread after their crackers gave out;
some lived on mush and meal, others baked cornbread in corn-
shucks, some would mix the dough and roll it on a knotty
stick and bake it over the fire. It was altogether lots of fun
and I wouldn't have missed the trip for anything.

Camp iO3d Illinois Infantry, Lagrange, Tenn.,

May 7, 1863.

Isn't the Grierson "raid" glorious? Two other expedi-
tions started from this point and were gone respectively
five and ten days each. Although they made good long
marches and took about 40 prisoners and 500 animals,
still we forget them in looking after Grierson. We have
the Rebels well scared in this country. Five thousand men
could sweep everything north of Jackson, if they could
only hold it. Papers to-day give us the news on the Rap-
pahannock up to the 4th of May, which includes the route
of Siegel's Dutchmen and leaves Hooker in what seems to
me a close place. Well, he can at worst but fail. What a
consolation. General Oglesby wrote to Hurlbut to detail


me on his staff General Hurlbut referred the letter
through division and brigade headquarters for the letter of
my company and on its return to Hurlbut, General Smith
objected to my being detailed out of his command. He
thought Oglesby might find his staff in his own command.
All right! I would like to have been with Old Dick
though. I'm on a General Court Martial now. Confound
the Court Martials.

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

May 13, 1863.

I have been on a General Court Martial for the last
ten days, and we will not, in all probability, adjourn for
some weeks yet. We tried Governor Yates' brother. He
is Adjutant of the 6th Illinois Cavalry. Another little re-
verse on the Rappahannock. All right! My faith is still
large in the army, but the commanders and citizens can
be improved. We think that Grant is going to beat them
all yet. But his army is more responsible for his good
fortune than himself. Do you notice that one of our
"raids" missed fire? Straight into Georgia, I mean. Grier-
son's and Stoneman's make up for all the rest though. We
are constantly active here, in fact our troops move so
much that I am unable to keep the run of even our brigade.

Camp I03d Illinois Infantry, Lagrange, Tenn.,

May 21, 1863.

I am still sitting on this Court Martial. We may finish
up this week. Everything is quiet here. To-day three or
four regiments have gone out with seven days' rations. All
mounted. Rumors reach us daily that Grant is in a criti-
cal situation; but I can't so see it. He has enough men
to annihilate in a field fight all the Rebels south of this line.
We know that he has captured Jackson, Miss., and has
now turned his attention to Vicksburg.


Camp 103*1 Illinois Infantry, Lagrange, Tenn.,

May 29, 1863.

'Tis becoming fiendishly warm in this latitude again;
but the delightfully cool nights of which I wrote you so
much last summer, are also here again, and amply repay
one for the feverish days. We have moved our camp
from the town to a grove on a hill about midway between
Grand Junction and Lagrange It is one of the best defen-
sive positions that I know of. It seems to me much better
than Corinth, or Columbus, Ky., or New Madrid. Our
negro troops are fortifying it. I suppose that no one antici-
pates danger from the Confederates, on this line, any more;
but I can understand that the stronger we make our line,
the less object the secesh will have in visiting us. We
are raising a regiment of blacks here. Captain Boynton,
who has an Illinois Battery, is to be the colonel. He
looks like a good man, but I think that a better could have
been selected. I am afraid they are not commissioning the
right material for line officers. Two are to be taken from
our regiment, and if we have two men who are good for
nothing under the sun, I believe them to be the ones. I
know that first rate men have applied for these places, and why
they give them to such worthless fellows, I can't see. I
think poor Sambo should be allowed a fair chance, and
that he certainly will never get under worthless officers.
I suppose that the regiment organization here numbers
some 800 now, and will soon be full. I don't know whether
I wrote it to you or not, but a year ago I sincerely thought
that if the negro was called into this war as a fighting charac-
ter, I would get out of it as quickly as I could, honor-
ably. I am by no means an enthusiast over the negro
soldiers yet. I would rather fight the war out without
arming them. Would rather be a private in a regiment of
whites than an officer of negroes ; but I don't pretend to
set up my voice against what our President says or does ;
and will cheerfully go down the Mississippi and forage for


mules, horses and negroes and put muskets in the hand's
of the latter. I have no trouble in believing that all these
Rebels should lose every slave they possess ; and I experi-
ence some pleasure in taking them when ordered to. Captain
Bishop with some 25 men of Companies A and G did a
splendid thing last Thursday night. He surprised Saul-
street and 20 of his gang, about 1 1 130 p. m., killed three,
wounded and captured five and six sound prisoners, with-
out losing one of our men or getting one scratched. Three
of the wounded guerrillas have since died. Saulstreet him-
self escaped. Over at Henderson Station on the M. & O.
R. R. lives a Miss Sally Jones who once, when some Rebels
set fire to a bridge near there, watched them from the brush
until they left and then extinguished the fire. She is a
case. Lieutenant Mattison saw her there a few days since.
The day before he saw her she had been out scouring over
the country horseback, dressed in boys' clothes, with her
brother. She often goes out with the soldiers scouting,
and the boys think the world of her. Any of them would
kill a man who would dare insult her. She is, withal, a
good girl. Not educated, but of fine feelings and very
pleasing manners. Memphis paper has just arrived. Not
a word from Vicksburg but a two column list of wounded.
I expect that you have celebrated the capture of that town,
long before this. All right, you ought to enjoy yourselves
a little once in a while. There are now to my certain
knowledge, 20,000 troops on the railroad between Memphis
and Corinth, and there are not 1,000 armed Rebels within
loo miles of any point on the road. Our presence at Vicks-
burg could not help deciding the day in our favor. It
makes a man who knows nothing about the matter, sick
to think of the way we manage our army. Hold 100,000 in
reserve and fight with 10,000.

Middleton, Tenn., June 4, 1863.

We made another little change yesterday. The regiment is
now guarding the M. C. & R. R. from Grand Junction to


Pocahontas. We are in detachments of two companies each.
H Company is with mine. We marched 23 miles to make this
point yesterday, and arrived at 10 o'clock p. m. We only made
four miles after dark, and the road was so horrible and the
woods so thick we had much difficulty in finding it at all. We
occupy the depot and have strengthened it by a revetment of
fascines, so that we consider ourselves perfectly safe if at-
tacked by even ten times our number of infantry. Artillery
would scoop us. This little town had when the war com-
menced some 40 houses; now it boasts of not more than 12
or 15, though a number of extra chimneys add so much to the
picturesqueness of the scene, that I can excuse the houses for
"going out." This country has literally been scraped, swept
and scoured. The guerrillas first ran the Union men off, and
then when we came here the Unionists returned, took up arms
and drove out all the secesh families. You can hear of mur-
ders being committed in every neighborhood by either one
party or the other. It will take at least 8,000 years for this
people alone to make this country what Illinois is now, on the
average, and at least 1,000 to bring it up to the standard of
poor, God-forsaken Lewistown township. I have never been
so comfortably situated in the army, except when with Colonel
Mizner, as I am now. The boys have rigged up nice bunks
in the depot wareroom, which are dry and comfortable, have
good water, light guard duty, and the citizens bring in to us
their extra vegetables, etc., and trade them for our surplus ra-
tions. The boys give one pound of coffee for two dozen eggs,
or two pounds of butter; sell them bacon for 15 cents per
pound, etc. Two very fine elderly ladies pleading for a horse
to-day, told stories of tremendous length about how "Union"
their husbands were prior to their deaths. I'd almost rather
give up my head than have two women of their age begging
of me for anything that way. I have the telegraph room for
myself and have fixed it up nicely. I know well enough that
it is too good to last long and shall resign it without a sigh,
and if ordered to Vicksburg, with a cheer. I fixed up our last


camp as well as I could in hopes that my pains would bring us
marching orders, and we got them, but the direction was
wrong. This is so much better that it must surely win. May-
be you don't know that there is a superstition (almost) among
soldiers that arranging a camp particularly nice and comfort-
able brings marching orders.



June 7, 1863 to April 28, 1864. On General Oglesby's staff. Almost
reconciled to negro soldiers. Bringing the raiding business home.
Back to his regiment at his own request. Sees Vicksburg at last.
Story of a rich Rebel planter and his wife. Leading the advance
to Chattanooga. Foraging and bee hunting on the way. Quadroon
family of a white planter. Mounting infantry on "borrowed"
horses. Criticising the war strategy. Sheep stealer as well as
horse thief, under orders. Regiment dismounted and back in
permanent camp. Discountenancing army deviltry. Veterans
unanimously re-enlisting. Roll call of his distinguished command-
ing officers. Regimental marching races. Ill feeling between the
respective army corps. Monotony of inactive camp life.

Headquarters, Left Wing i6th Army Corps,
Lagrange, Term.,

June 7, 1863.

We had occupied our very pleasant quarters but two
days when an order came for us to pack up for Vicksburg.
Received the order at dark and by daylight the next morn-
ing we were in Lagrange. General Oglesby had moved
his headquarters here and he gobbled me without a mo-
ment's warning. The regiment moved on for the doomed
city yesterday and left me. Now don't write me any of
your "glads," for I'm almost demoralized over the matter.
Am uneasy as the d . The idea of leaving just when I
know that the regiment is moving on to a fight doesn't
look at all right ; but then I'm where I'd rather be than at


any other place in the army, and suppose that other
chances will be offered for fighting. If the general had en-
tirely recovered from his wound, I am sure that we would
leave this railroad guarding business to some one of less
importance in the field, but he is hardly able to stand an
active campaign yet. Sam Caldwell, Major Waite and my-
self compose the staff now and it is so pleasant. It's
"Sam" "Waite" "Charley" and "general." I have been
east on the railroad to-day looking at the defenses of the
road. 'Twill be completed to Corinth by Wednesday next,
when the road to Jackson and from here to Corinth will
be abandoned. We've had another scare here to-day.
Some 800 Rebels within a few miles of us. One of the cars
on which our regiment was loaded flew the track yester-
day, and one man was killed and several hurt. None of
my company, or that you knew.

Lagrange, Tenn., June 19, 1863.

The general and Sam went to Memphis yesterday to
visit General Hurlbut, and the major and I have charge
of the machine. The cavalry under command of Colonel
Mizner went south last Tuesday. They have a good
sized object in view, and if they succeed will be gone
some ten days, though they may possibly be back by
Wednesday next. They will operate between Panola and
Grenada. Another mounted expedition has gone from Cor-
inth to Okolona, a third from Corinth to Pikeville, Ala.,
and a fourth also from Corinth to Jackson, Tenn., which
place has, since we evacuated it, been occupied by some
Rebel cavalry (infantry also reported) from the east of
the Tennessee river. All of this cavalry (of course ex-
cepting the Rebel) belongs to General Oglesby's com-
mand. You see he has it in motion. Deserters are
constantly coming in from Johnston's army; and if we
can believe their stories, and the information gained from
the corps of spies employed along this line, Grant's rear
is not in as much danger as our southern brethren


would fain have us think. Johnston's army is not in
the best condition imaginable; and it is far from being

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 15 of 31)