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 16 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 16 of 31)
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as strong as he would like it. Have no idea that he can
march thirty-five thousand men. Grant must have an
enormous army. How awful it would be if the yellow
fever would visit his camps. I suppose you know that my
regiment is at Snyder's Bluff. I think that is on the Yazoo,
near Haines. Don't you see some more of my extraor-
dinary fortune in being detached just as the regiment is
ordered to where there is a prospect of hard knocks. We
were all loaded on the cars ready to move, when Sam came
down to the train and took me. The regiment then left im-
mediately. There is a possible chance now of the general's
being ordered to Vicksburg; but I've given up all hope of
my getting there. We are having a great deal of trouble
with the citizens here. A great many secesh citizens ask to be
exempted from taking the oath, because they have rendered
service to our army. This one gave a quart of buttermilk to a
sick soldier, another donated an onion to the hospital,
another allowed a sick officer to stay in his house for only
$2. per day, etc. A number of the claims really have some
point to them, and although 'tis against my theory, I really
can't help pitying some of them. We had a sad accident
last week near this post. General Hurlbut ordered a small train
with a guard of some 60 men to be sent north on the rail-
road to repair the telegraph line. Twelve miles only from
here the train broke through a little bridge over a deep but
narrow "swash" and killed five and wounded ten of the
party. An examination showed that the bridge had been
burned the night before, and afterward the rails had been
propped up only strongly enough to keep their places
when no weight was upon them. 'Twas a fiendish, cow-
ardly act, but of course committed by men whose business
is robbery and murder, and who have no connection with
the army.


Jackson, Tenn., June 26, 1863.

Such splendid weather nice, fresh breezes ruffling the leaves
on the trees all the day long and plenty of rain to keep the
dust in order. I was up early this morning and the mocking
birds were playing a reveille, from whose sweetness bees might
make honey. There are hundreds of these birds living in a
grove near our headquarters, and I can't find time and ease
enough to enjoy their concerts as I want to.

A flag of truce came to our lines yesterday on the Holly
Springs road. The general sent me out to receive it. A lieu-
tenant and eight men, all rough, dirty fellows, made the party.
They were not very communicative. They brought a small
mail and a trifling communication about prisoners. They be-
longed to Colonel Morton's 2d Tennessee (Rebel) Cavalry,
and were sent by General Ruggles. The general has promised
to let me take a flag to Okolona. Don't know when I shall go.
I do think that General Oglesby is the very ideal of a chivalric,
honorable, gallant, modest, high-spirited, dignified, practical,
common-sense, gentleman. Nobody can help loving him. He
hates a particle of meanness as much as he does a bushel. If
we were only doing something more active I should be per-
fectly happy. As it is, I think seriously of asking to be sent
back to my regiment. The general will not be able for any
more field work, and I hardly think it right manly in me to
stay back here with a railroad guard, when there is so much
to be done in front, and I am so strong and able to bear the
field duty. You should hear the general talk. There is such
a big rolling river of fun and humor in his conversation.
Such a hearty honest laugh ; I know his heart is big enough to
hold a regiment. I believe he thinks as much of the old 8th
as of his family. When he has been speaking of the gallant
conduct of the 8th at Donaldson and Shiloh, I have seen his
face flush up and it seemed as though his heart jumped up to
his throat. I was over to the negro camps yesterday and have
seen a good deal of them since I last wrote you. An honest
confession is good for the soul. I never thought I would, but
I am getting strongly in favor of arming them, and am be-


coming so blind that I can't see why they will not make sol-
diers. How queer. A year ago last January I didn't like to
hear anything of emancipation. Last fall accepted confiscation
of Rebel's negroes quietly. In January took to emancipation
readily, and now believe in arming the negroes. The only ob-
jection I have to it is a matter of pride. I almost begin to
think of applying for a position in a regiment myself. What
would you think of it? We had quite an alarm two or three
nights since. Nobody hurt, but some Tennesseans badly scared.
I guess I will go to Memphis to-morrow to look for a spy who
has been along our line, and whom we think is now in Mem-
phis. Well, I must go and see the provost marshal about dis-
posing of some prisoners. First, I'll tell you what three sol-
diers did the night we had the alarm here. Colonel Mizner,
with 1,000 of our cavalry, had been on a scout nine days, and
that night we heard that he was within 15 miles of here on
his return. We heard of the enemy about I a. m. and imme-
diately sent these three men (volunteers for the purpose) to no-
tify Colonel Mizner and have him march all night. They reached
the little town, Mt. Pleasant, without incident on the way.
There was a lot of guerrillas camped in town that night, and
their guard hailed the boys and fired. Our men, only three,
charged with a yell and scared the whole party out of town.
They couldn't find the colonel and started to return. When
two miles on the way back, at a turn in the road, they met
Mitchell's Rebel company (60 men). Our boys yelled, "here
they are, come on boys," and charged, firing their revolvers.
They brought one man down, and made the next fall back
some 200 yards where they commenced forming line. Our
fellows then took to the woods, got around them and back to
camp at 6:30 a. m.

Lagrange, Tenn., July I, 1863.

Everything moves quietly here. No more alarms or any-
thing else to "bust" the confounded monotony of garrison life.
A guerrilla was brought in yesterday who has murdered at
least one of our soldiers, and an unarmed one at that. He rests


comfortably now with a nice lot of jewelry on his arms and
legs, and a good heavy chain connecting his precious body to
his bed, a not very soft plank. He is a worse fellow than we
have in Illinois to my knowledge. We have two regiments
of negroes here now, great big, stout, hardy fellows, and they
really look right well in their uniforms. I heard from old
Company "E" of the 8th this morning. They have had two
men killed and five wounded before Vicksburg. There are
only 15 left now. Wonder where my bones would have been if
I had stayed with the boys.

A woman from Holly Springs is up to-day with the state-
ment that Johnston is marching on Memphis, and proposes to
have possession thereof within ten days. Good for Joseph!
We had a confirmation of the report of the taking of Port
Hudson yesterday, but nothing further to-day. It don't go
down here without a good deal of forcing.

Isn't it music to hear those Pennsylvania fellers howl? I
almost wish that Lee would cut the levee of Lake Ontario,
and let the water over that country. Don't tell father and
mother. If Lee don't wake them up to a sense of their misery,
he isn't the man that Price is. If ever Price reaches Illinois,
and he swears he's going to do it some day, you can reckon
on seeing a smoke, sure ! Don't you folks feel a little blue
over Lee's move? Kind o' as though you wish you hadn't
gone and done it! Never mind, you'll get used to it. The
first raid isn't a sample. Wait until general Rebel somebody,
establishes his headquarters in Canton, and you've all taken
the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. Imagine yourself
going up to the headquarters with your oath in your hand
and tears in your eyes to ask the general to please keep the
soldiers from tearing the boards off your house (for bunks),
or asking for something to eat out of his commissary depart-
ment, and then blubber right out and tell him that the soldiers
broke open your trunks and took your clothes and what little
money you had, and you don't know what in the world you'll
do. Many of these people are in this condition, and I hear


a hundred of them tell the story every week. Every man in
Illinois ought to die on the border rather than allow an in-
vading force to march into our State.

Decatur, Ills., August 26, 1863.

I write for the purpose of informing you that I am re-
covering from that miserable attack of the jaundice. You can
imagine nothing more disagreeable than a visitation thereof.
Am enjoying myself first rate. Am sure I will find a letter
from you in the office. Haven't been there for five days. Am
nearly white once more.

Decatur, 111., August 31, 1863.

The general stopped me here and insists on keeping
me for a time. Major Wait's resignation, which was for-
warded the same time the general sent his, has been ac-
cepted, and I now being the only member of the staff in
the north, he wants me to stay with him, for should he
be ordered away for any purpose, he would want some at-
tendance. I would enjoy myself very much but for my
biliousness. Appetite poor, miserable, sickish demoralized
stomach, and am becoming yellow as saffron. My
duties are not very heavy. The general has some very
fine riding horses, and I devote some little time to exer-
cising them. Mrs. Miner has very kindly undertaken to
introduce me into society here, which, from what I have
seen I judge to be very excellent. I went with the general
to a union meeting at Charleston, about 100 miles from
here, near the crossing of the Terre Haute and Alton and
Chicago Branch of the Central. The general made a big
speech, and I made a good many small ones. We stopped
with Col. Tom Marshall while there. Had a big dance at
night in which I participated heavily, staying with them
until the very last moment. Train left at 2 a. m. Never
will forget that dance in the world.


Decatur, 111., September 6, 1863.

Girls, fun, etc., have lost their charm, and I've made up
my mind to go back to my regiment. Reasons, as follows :
Firstly, the general's health as affected by his wound is
no better, and I think it doubtful whether he goes back.
Second, if he does go to the army again he will be fit for
nothing but "Post Duty." Will not be able for the field.
Third, I don't like garrison work, and would rather be
with my regiment in the field than with him in garrison.
Fourth, my expenses are three times as heavy with him as
with my regiment ; and fifth and lastly, I wouldn't, on any
account, miss this fall campaign, and by staying with him
I will be apt to. I presented the matter to the general in
about that shape and urged him to let me slide immedi-
ately. He agreed to do so, telling me that he will not go
back unless they force him to.

Vicksburg, September 18, 1863.

Left Cairo last Sabbath and arrived here this (Friday)
morning. Am feeling splendidly. Better than for three
months. Intended visiting you before going to my regiment,
but know you'll excuse me. Address me 4th Division I5th
Army Corps.

Camp at Messenger's Ferry, Big Black River, Miss.,

September 22, 1863.

I wrote you a few lines from Vicksburg on the i8th inst. to
notify you that I had escaped the perils of navigation (sand-
bar and guerillas) and of my safe arrival. I had a delightful
trip down the river. A splendid boat, gentlemanly officers,
not too many passengers, and beautiful weather. Major Gen-
eral Tuttle and wife and Mrs. General Grant were of our num-
ber. I think Mrs. Grant a model lady. She has seen not over
thirty years, medium size, healthy blonde complexion, brown
hair, blue eyes (cross-eyed) and has a pretty hand. She
dresses very plainly, and busied herself knitting during nearly
the whole trip. Believe her worthy of the general. Vicks-


burg is a miserable hole and was never anything better. A
number of houses have been burned by our artillery firing,
but altogether the town has suffered less than any secesh vil-
lage I have seen at the hands of our forces. But very few
buildings escaped being marked by our shot or shell, but such
damage is easily repaired in most cases. No business whatever
doing in the town, except issuing orders by generals, obeying
them by soldiers and the chawing of commissary stores with-
out price by the ragged citizen population. I was of the im-
pression that I saw some rough country in Tishomingo County,
Miss., and in the mountains in north Alabama, but after a day's
ride in the vicinity of Vicksburg and to our present camp, I
find I was mistaken. They call it level here when the surface
presents no greater angles than 45 degrees. I found only one
officer to a company present here, and the colonel is also on
leave. There is a great deal of sickness but the health of the
regiment now is improving. We have lost a large number by
disease since I left the regiment. Anyone who saw us in
Peoria would open wide his eyes at the length of our line now,
and think we'd surely passed a dozen battles. The greater
part of the material this regiment is made of should never
have been sent into the field. The consolation is that these
folks would all have to die sometime, and they ought to be
glad to get rid of their sickly lives, and get credit as patriots
for the sacrifice. We are now in the 2d Brigade 4th Division
1 5th Army Corps, having been transferred from the i6th
Army Corps. We are camped on the bluffs of Black river,
which we picket. Our camp is the finest one I ever was in.
There are two large magnolias, three white beeches, and a half
dozen holly trees around my tent. I think the magnolia the
finest looking tree I ever saw. Many of the trees are orna-
mented with Spanish moss, which, hanging from the branches
in long and graceful rolls, adds very much to the beauty of the
forest. Another little item I cannot help mentioning is the
"chigger," a little red insect much smaller than a pin-head,
that buries itself in the skin and stings worse than a mosquito
bite. Squirrels skip around in the trees in camp, and coons,


owls, etc., make music for us nights. Capt. Gus Smith when
on picket several nights, saw a bear (so he swears) and shot
at it several times. The enemy's cavalry are maneuvering
around on the other side of the river, constantly making it un-
safe for our boys to straggle much over there. Sabbath even-
ing we, our brigade, moved out across the river about four
miles to meet a party of Rebels, but as usual they were not
there. We ate our supper while waiting for them and returned
by moonlight, 8 o'oclock p. m. We've had a brigade review
and a short brigade drill, and I've eaten a very hearty supper
since finishing the last period. I feel perfectly well once more.
Much better than I did any day while North. Did I tell you
that I had the ague for a week or so before I started South?
My continued ill health more than anything else is what
started me off for the regiment so suddenly. The general
wanted me to stay until after the fair, but I wouldn't have done
it for a horse. Altogether, I feel very happy over getting back
to my company. The boys profess being very glad to have me
with them again, and I assure you that such compliments do
me good. I didn't know that I could take as much interest in
any strange humans as I feel in these men of my company.
While I was in Central Illinois I wished many times that this
war was over, and that I could settle in one of the many good
points I saw for trade. I know that I could do well selling
goods in any of a half dozen towns that I visited there, and
even in Decatur. But I know I could not be satisfied out of
the army while this war lasts. I am glad to be out of staff
duty for several reasons. One of the most important is that
it costs all my pay to keep me. I did not make a cent while
with the general, and have only two months' pay due me now.
It has been very cold here. Night before last I had six
blankets over me, last night five and will use four to-night.
'Twas quite warm this p. m., but the nights are very cold.
We will have hot weather yet. There is a great deal of
ague here.


Messengers Ferry, Big Black River, Miss.,

September 26, 1863.

Pass in your congratulations. We are under marching
orders for Chattanooga. Our whole corps is going. We
steam o'er sand-bars to Memphis, and then will probably
"foot it," though may go by cars as far as Corinth. From
Memphis the march will be some 450 miles. We will pass
through my favorite portion of Dixie, the Tennessee valley
in North Alabama. We are all much rejoiced at the idea
of leaving a country where there is no enemy save mos-
quitoes and chiggers and ague. We keep up the form of
picketing; but I find it decidedly uninteresting to do such
duty, knowing that coons and owls will cause all our
alarms. Aside from knowing there is no enemy near, the
picket duty is delightful here. I have seldom passed a
more pleasant night than the one before last. The moon
is about full, and our picket line (the post under my
charge), about one and a half miles long, runs along the
river bank through most beautiful little magnolia and
beech groves and open grass plots. But a knowledge that
there are guerrillas in the country is necessary to a thor-
ough appreciation of picket duty. We are camped on the
Messenger plantation. The owner thereof was very
wealthy. Worth $1,000,000.00. Had some 500 negroes, etc.
He armed and uniformed a secesh regiment at his own
expense, and was, and is yet probably, a Rebel to the core.
He fled at the approach of our troops, leaving his wife to
manage for him. General Osterhaus called on her and
asked her if she desired Federal protection. She said she
didn't ask anything of him or any of his crew. The general
told her she had just an hour to select and load two wagons
with kitchen furniture and start across the river. She
moved, was gone about a month, begged permission to
return and is now eating government rations, which she
is too poor to pay for.


Messengers Ferry, Big Black River, Miss.,

September 26, 1863.

When we assembled at regimental headquarters this p.
m., the colonel informed us that our corps was ordered to
report to Rosecrans, at Chattanooga, and that we should
prepare to move at a moment's notice.

September 27.

We sent our sick, nearly 100 in number, by wagon to
the Big Black railroad depot, six miles, where they took
the cars for Vicksburg. They will there await our arrival.
I have now but 31 men in my company in camp. Ten
months ago I marched 72 men from Bolivar, Tenn., to
Lagrange. Not one has been lost by the bullet, and to-
day a difference of 41 in the duty list. A rumor prevails
to-day that Rosecrans has had a severe battle and has been
defeated. It is impossible to learn or hear anything in
this place until the date alone would make it uninteresting.
Blair's division moved into Vicksburg from the depot
to-day to embark. Osterhaus' division is already on its
way up the river. In the evening, with Captains Bishop
and Smith and Lieutenant Johnson, had a rather dull
game of "California Seven Up." All kinds of rumors to-
day about the fight in northern Georgia. Have no hope
of ever hearing the truth of the matter in camp. We are
now 12 days behind in papers. The 3d brigade of our
division and some cavalry started, with three days rations,
on a scout across the river to-day. Suppose the object
is to cover our move to Vicksburg, though I don't believe
there are 100 armed Rebels this side of the Alabama line.
The soldiers of our division have been having some high
fun for the last two days. Orders are very strict against
firing in camp, but the men found out they could get up
some artificial firing by putting green can in the fire. The
steam from the sap generating between the joints will
make an explosion equal to a gun fired. And they got up


some artillery firing by putting canteens half full of water,
stopping them tightly and then putting them in the flames.
They did this just to bore the officers who are held responsible
by the general for all firing. To-night the general has
ordered all the officers of the 4Oth Illinois to patrol the
camp the whole night. This, of course, tickles the men
hugely, and from their beds in their tents they have been
talking over the duties of a sentry for the benefit of their
officer's ears. The devilment that soldiers cannot contrive
must be unearthly. To-day some of the 6th Iowa filled
an oyster can half full of powder, set a slow train to it
and planted it in the ground, they then set a cracker box
over it and got a negro to dancing on the box A coal was
then touched to the train and the "nigger" was blown full
20 feet. He landed, fortunately, without injury, but so
badly scared that he was crazy for an hour. In the even-
ing called on Captain Pinney of the 46th Ohio, and spent
a very pleasant evening. He says that Vallandigham will
poll about ten votes in their regiment; but that his disci-
ples dare not open their mouths to advocate his cause.
He says the loyal men would kill them sure if they dared
to boast of their allegiance to a traitor.

September 28, 1863.

By the exercise of a little strategy, this morning I
caught a chameleon who had ventured out of a hollow
tree to gobble some flies for his breakfast. I enveloped
him or rather lassoed him with a pocket handkerchief and
then slipped him into a bottle. He only showed two of
his colors, changing from a very pretty snuff color to a
beautiful light green.

Clear Creek, Miss., September 29, p. m.
As we were studying tactics together, preparatory
to a battalion drill, our brigade commander at pre-
cisely 2:15 p. m., came into the colonel's tent where
we were, asked the colonel if he was ready to move immedi-


ately. The colonel replied that he was, and he then told us
to be ready to start at 3 o'clock, and that the regiment first
on the brigade parade ground, ready to move, should have
the advance. In just twenty minutes we had struck tents,
packed knaps, loaded wagons and formed line, everybody in
the best of spirits at the thought of leaving and joining Rose-
crans. We beat the other regiments and therefore got the ad-
vance, which was quite an object as the dust lays, when it
don't fly, several inches deep. I let my little chameleon (I wish
I could have sent him home) back into the tree before we
started. Cogswell's battery attempted to pass us on the march,
but our two advanced companies fixed bayonets, and by a few
motions stopped the proceeding. Cogswell got very wrathy,
but when Colonel Wright proposed to shoot him if he didn't
cool down, he became calmer and moved to the rear "promptly."
The dust has been awful. Never saw it worse, except in a
march from Bolivar to Lagrange, Tenn., a year ago. We
bivouacked at 9 o'clock p. m., nine miles from camp. I stood
the march splendidly.

September 29th.

Had just got asleep last night when it commenced
raining. I dressed myself (that means put on my
boots) gathered up my oil-cloth and blanket and made for a
bushy-topped tree. I sat down to lean back against the tree and
I think one of the liveliest motions I ever made was getting up
immediately afterward. The tree was a chinquapin, and I had
sat down on a number of the burs, which are much like those
of the chestnut. After quite a search I secured two small
rails, and balancing myself on them I slept soundly until rev-
eille at 2 130 a. m. It has rained all night, but in a small way,
and just enough to make marching pleasant. We made Vicks-
burg by 7 a. m., the rain falling all the time. In fact, it has
rained steadily up to this hour, n p. m. After a deal of hard
work we are on the steamboat Diana, which belongs to the Ma-
rine brigade. The whole division is loaded on 15 steamboats
and we start for Memphis in the morning. I forgot to mention s.
queer tree that I noticed at last night's camp. They say it is


the cabbage tree or mock pineapple. The leaves were many
of them fully thirty inches long, giving the tree a tropical ap-
pearance. Saw some of the 8th Illinois boys. The regiment
is not as healthy as it should be.

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 16 of 31)