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 17 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 17 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Steamboat Diana, 70 miles from Vicksburg,

September 30, 1863.

We left Vicksburg in advance of the rest of the fleet at 8
o'clock this a. m. I am officer of the day and have found a
good deal to do. Our regiment and the 4Oth Illinois are both
on board and we are somewhat crowded. Gen. W. S. Smith
and our division commander reached Vicksburg just before we
left. The boat he came down on, the Robert CampKell, was
burned about 50 miles above Vicksburg, and from 30 to 60
persons lost. The general and Colonel Hicks, our brigade
commander, both escaped by swimming. General Smith says
that a number of boats have been burned within two weeks by
Rebel incendiaries and agents, the object being, by destroying
our transportation, to make it impossible to reinforce Rosecrans
from Grant's army. General Smith is not yet with us, and
we think he will not follow if we go to Chattanooga, for he
was once under Rosecrans, and they had some serious diffi-
culty. If he does retain command of the division we will prob-
ably stop at some point on the M. and C. railroad again. We
all think a great deal of Smith, but would ten times rather lose
him than have to, on his account, again go to guarding rail-
roads. It has rained steadily for the last 48 hours, not very
fast, but everything uncovered is thoroughly soaked. My com-
pany was first stationed on the berth deck, but when steam was
raised it because so hot that I took them up on the hurricane
deck where, though they have to stand the rain, it will cer-
tainly be better for them than breathing the hot steam.

Griffin's Landing, Miss., October I, 1863.
Clear as a bell this morning ; about 8 a. m. we reached Grif-
fin's landing 125 miles above Vicksburg. Said Griffin has



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 195

some 2,000 cords of wood ricked on his plantation, some 500
of which we propose to gobble for the use of our transportation.
We found here a part of Blair's division which left Vicksburg
over a week ago. Found the 55th Illinois, 8th Missouri and
13 regiments among other regiments. They finished wooding
and left about 3 p. m.

October 2, 1863.

Our foraging party brought in forty mules, fifty
cattle, beef, twenty-one hogs and thirty sheep. They
report a beautiful, rich country, and abundance of eat-
ables within five miles of the landing. Went with party of
bee hunters in the p. m. They had found the tree in the fore-
noon. They took two bucketsful of most beautiful white
comb. One of my sergeants in an hour to-day found three
trees, and by dark had taken the honey from all of them. We
are to stay here and haul wood for the whole division (damn).

Griffin's Landing, October 3, 1863.

To-day one of the pilots and engineers induced the colonel
and me go with them over to the Arkansas side. We went
over in the yawl, and after a walk of three miles came to a
most delightful place owned by Worthington. His son and
daughter, bright quadroons, did the honors of the house in his
absence. They are the best educated persons of color I ever
met. The young man was educated in France and the young
woman in Oberlin, Ohio. She played the piano quite well
and sings beautifully. A negro lady is something of a novelty,
and if I did not conduct myself exactly right in her presence,
I think I am somewhat excusable, for I could see the others
were equally puzzled. She is well informed, sensible and talks
with animation, using very pretty language. She furnished
us with peach brandy and honey, a gentle mixture of which
produced a very nice toddy. We then moved on some three
miles further to the Bass plantation, where we found two of
the regular snuff-dipping, swearing, Southern women, of the
low, white-trash family. Had lots of fun with them. Got a



196 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

couple of dozen chickens and a bushel of sweet potatoes of
them and started back. Our road lay along a lake and at any
minute we could get a shot at cranes, geese, ducks or turtles.
A drove of wild turkeys also furnished us with a half dozen
shots, but with all the expenditure of powder and lead, our
consciences are clear of hurting anything. Got back to Worth-
ington's for dinner at 3 p. m., and to the boat at dark. Al-
together one of the most pleasant days I have passed in the
army.

October 4, 1863.

Have been over to Worthington's again to-day. Sam
got out his hounds and started a deer for us. We
stationed ourselves in the runway, but although the deer
came near us two or three times in his circling, the dogs didn't
push him hard enough to make him break for distant cover.
The major killed a very large snake and some of the boys got
a shot at an alligator. We then left the bayou and went out
to old River Lake, where we got some splendid shooting. I
killed a water turkey at 500 yards, shooting into a flock. Our
guns, the Henry rifle, threw bullets full a mile and one-half.
I found that I could do tolerably close shooting, something I
never suspicioned before. A neighbor told me that old
Worthington sold the mother of his children, and with her
five other picaninnies.

Memphis, Tenn., October 10, 1863, 4 p. m.
Have just got here; bored to death. Had to march
around three sandbars between Helena and Memphis.
Never want to see a steamboat again. Never want to journalize
again. We started at 5 in the morning for Corinth and
then, maybe, for Rosecrans. I'll be furiously glad to get
ashore once more.

luka, Miss., October 21, 1863.

We reached here the evening of the i8th inst, and I have
been on extra heavy fatigue nearly ever since our arrival.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. IQ7

We worked all night first night loading wagon trains and
unloading cars. We were doing the work of another divi-
sion, but, such is war. The impression is that we will
leave here about the 23d. The other divisions have all
moved on, taking with them thirty days' rations. We
marched all the way from Memphis. Went about 20 miles
out of our way to burn a little secesh town of some forty
homes Mount Pleasant. We reached Collinsville the day
after Sherman, with about 800 men, had his fight with
Chalmers. I stood the march splendidly, and am good
for Chattanooga at 25 miles per day. It rained gently
three nights on this march, and one night like the devil.
We got in that night about 9 o'clock, and by a blunder
of our brigade commander bivouacked in a regular dismal
swamp. We had just stacked arms when the clouds
sprung a leak, and such a leak, the cataract of Niagara is
a side show, comparatively. Build a fire ! Why, that rain
would have quenched a Vesuvius in its palmiest days. I
never saw just such a night. The one we spent at Lump-
kin's Mill on the i8th of last April, of which I wrote you,
was more disagreeable, because colder; but in six hours
am sure I never saw so much water drop as in this last
rain.

luka, Miss., October 26, 1863.

Let your pocket 'kerchief float out on the breeze, halloo
a little and throw up your bonnet. It's only a "march at
12 o'clock to-night" but that's good enough. We've been
here a week now, drawing clothing and making all kinds
of preparations for a "forward," and the blessed word has
come at last. I don't believe anybody enjoys anything
better than I do marching. I feel as coltish all the time on
a move as I used to, when after a long week of those short
winter days at school, with just time enough between the
school hours and dark to cut the next day's wood (how I
did work), Job Walker and I would plunge into those
dear old Big Creek woods with our guns or skates, and



198 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

make such a day of it that I would almost wish all time
was cut up into Saturdays. I was on picket last night; full
moon, splendid post, right on the old luka battle ground,
where the fight was the hottest; the old clothes, straps,
cartridge boxes and litter always found in such places, the
scarred trees, and the mounds a little further up the road,
marking the pits where lay the glorious dead, then a half
dozen neatly marked single graves, showing the care of
some company commander, all tempted me to commit
some more poetry. You know I can. But I nobly resisted
the temptation. There were no coons or owls. I wished for
them. My picketing the last year has almost all been in
swamps, and I have learned to love the concerts those inno-
cent animals improvise. When I got in this morning
found orders to be ready to move at 12 this p. m. We
cross the Tennessee river, I suppose, near Eastport. This
beats me all hollow. Can't see the point, unless we're
moving to check some of Bragg's flanking motions. Any-
thing for a move. I put the profile of a fort here the other
day under the direction of Sherman's engineer, and the
chief told me if I would like it he would have me detailed
to assist him. Have had enough of staff duty and excused
myself. The men are rapidly becoming more healthy. I
have but one person sick now. Dorrance arrived here a
few days since, and brought a splendid long letter from
you. Have to go to work on some ordnance reports now.

Am half inclined to think that our big march is played out.
Rather think now that we will stop at Eastport on the Tennes-
see river. Isn't that heavy? Eight miles only and then go to
guarding navigation on a river that's a twin sister of Big
Creek. Can't tell though, one rumor says that we will go 128
miles beyond the river. These generals are positively getting
so sharp that a man can't tell one month ahead what they are
going to do.

One of my men who was captured down near Panola, Miss.,
last April returned to the company for duty yesterday. Some
Confederate soldiers captured him and some citizens offered



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 199

them $10 to each captor for the privilege of hanging the

d d Yanks. They couldn't make a bargain. Transferred

five men to the invalid corps yesterday. Jacob J. Nicholson
among them.

Florence, Ala., November i, 1863.

We struck tents on the 27th ult. at luka, Miss., and marched
to Eastport, eight miles, that night. We had in our division
some 200 wagons, all of which with 1,200 horses and mules
were to be crossed in a barge over the Tennessee river. I
received a complimentary detail to superintend the crossing of
the wagons belonging to one brigade. I think I never worked
harder than I did from 7 o'clock that night until 6 130 o'clock
the next day, a. m. It occupied two days and nights crossing
the whole train, but we marched at 3 p. m., the 28th, and
camped that night at Gravelly springs, 15 miles from East-
port. The road ran for some ten miles along the foot of the
river bluff, and the numerous springs sparkling their beauti-
fully clear and fresh jets of limestone water on the road, from
which they rippled in almost countless little streamlets to the
river, although adding much to the wild beauty of the coun-
try, made such a disagreable splashy walking for we footmen
that (I speak more particularly for myself) we failed to ap-
preciate it. We bivouacked for the night at about 9 p. m.
The morn of the 29th we started at 8 o'clock, and after ascend-
ing the bluff, marched through a magnificent country to this
place, 15 miles. Some three miles from here at the crossing
of Cypress creek, something like 50 or 60 girls, some of them
rather good looking, had congregated and they seemed much
pleased to see us. All avowed themselves Unionists.

There had been a large cotton mill at this crossing, Comyn
burned it last summer, which had furnished employment for
these women and some 200 more. This is a very pretty lit-
tle town. Has at present some very pretty women. Two of
the sirens came very near charming me this a. m. Bought
two dozen biscuits of them. Have been out of bread for two
days before, but had plenty of sweet potatoes and apples. Dur-



2OO ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

ing the march on the 29th we heard Blair pounding away
with his artillery nearly all day across the river, I should
think about a dozen miles west of Tuscumbia. I was down to
the bank the morning of the 3Oth ult. and the Rebels across
shot at our boys, watering mules, but without effecting any
damage. I saw a white flag come down to the bank and heard
that Ewing sent over to see what was wanted, nothing more.
There was some musketry fighting yesterday near Tuscumbia,
but don't know who it was. We are four and one-half miles
from there. Two companies of the 4th Regular Cavalry
reached here on the 3Oth from Chattanooga, bearing dispatches
to Sherman. He is at luka. All of these movements beat me
completely. Can't see the point and doubt if there is one. We
have commenced fortifying here. Have seen much better
places to fight. We are "fixed up" most too nicely to hope
to live here long. I have a stove, a good floor covered with
Brussels carpet, plenty of chairs and a china table set under
my tent. Eatables are plenty and would offer no objection if
ordered to stay here a couple of weeks. Understand that not
a farthing's worth of the above was "jayhawked." Got it all
on the square. I wish I could send you the mate to a biscuit
I just ate. 'Twould disgust the oldest man in the world with
the Sunny South. By hemp, but it is cold these nights. Last
night there was an inch of white frost. I was nearly frozen.
Dorrance swears that Mattison and I were within an ace of
killing him in our endeavors to "close up" and keep warm.

Winchester, Tenn., November n, 1863.
We arrived here at 9 this a. m., our brigade making the dis-
tance from Salem, n miles, in three hours. That, we call fast
walking. I wrote you last from Florence., Ala., on the ist inst.
From there we marched to Rodgersville and thence up the
right bank of Elk river to Fayetteville, where we crossed there
onto this place. Rumor says that we draw 20 days' rations
here. It is three-fourths official, too. It is certain that we
leave here in the morning, but nobody knows where for. We
could certainly march to Chattanooga in six days, but could



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 2OI

go much quicker by the railroad from Decherd station, which
is only two miles from here. The wagon road from here to
Chattanooga is awful. But one brigade has ever marched it.
The mountains commence right here and continue to, the Lord
knows where. Our brigade is to be mounted immediately. In
the last 60 miles marching we have mounted 800 or nearly
half. The citizens along the road very kindly furnished all of
stock and equipments. My company was mounted four days
ago. Company C is to be mounted next. As fast as the men
are mounted they are put out as foragers for more horses, etc.
The first day my company was mounted we got 30 horses, and
would have done better, but confound me if I could take
horses from crying women, although I am satisfied that half
of their howling is sham, got up for the occasion. My first
day's foraging almost used me up. We had fed our horses
and I went to unhitch a mule from the fence to give him in
charge of one of the men, and the brute scared and jerked the
rail from the fence and started like lightning. The end of
the rail struck me on the calves of my legs and elevated my
boots five feet. The attraction of gravitation brought me down
to the globe and I landed with a great deal of vim on a rock
about the size of our parlor floor, and as smooth as a peach
stone. The only severe injury either the rock or myself sus-
tained was a very badly sprained wrist. I got that. My left
hip and left shoulder were hurt some, but the wrist has pained
me so confoundedly that I don't count them. It has pained
me so for the last two days and is so tender that I could
stand neither the jolting of a horse or wagon. I tried to ride
my horse this morning; we were in column and had to strike
a trot and that beat me. Think I will be all right for the sad-
dle in a few days, though will have a tender wrist for a good
while. Well, our division came through in the advance and
our brigade has had the lead most of the time. We have had
plenty of forage, but light issues of regular rations probably
average. Half Morgan L. Smith's and John E. Smith's di-
visions are close up to us, will be here to-morrow. Osterhaus



2O2 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

and Dodge are behind them. We have five divisions all told,
probably 25,000 or 30,000 men. We met here the first troops
belonging to the Army of the Cumberland.

Mud Creek Cove, Jackson County, Ala.

December 8, 1863.

I was at Stevenson yesterday and put a letter in the office
for you, but with my accustomed shrewdness failed to either
stamp or frank it. It graphically described the gallant ex-
ploits of the detachment I have the honer to command dur-
ing the past three weeks, and its loss will be deplored in com-
mon with the other heavy losses of this "cruel war." I can
now but give you the topics it discussed or elaborated, and
leave to your imagination the finishing and stringing to-
gether the skeleton. First and foremost, stealing horses ; sec-
ond, defying bravely the tears and entreaties of helpless women,
and taking their last measure of meal and rasher of bacon ;
third, the splendid conduct of our regiment and brigade at
the late Mission Ridge fight; fourth, reflections. Do you re-
member, how, after the evacuation of Corinth one and
one-half years ago, Halleck thought the rebellion virtually
ended? And how many of the soldiers wrote home that they
expected to be mustered out within three months ? Then Hal-
leck sent Buell with half of the army toward Chattanooga,
Sherman and Hurlburt to Memphis, McClernand and Logan
to Jackson, Tennessee ; kept some four divisions at Corinth,
and with three others opened and guarded 95 miles of railroad
east to Decatur. That was what he called letting the army
enjoy the rest they had earned by their glorious victory.
The whole of the splendid army that had forced the Rebels
to leave Corinth, was divided, subdivided and the sub-
divisions divided until, except Buell's, there was hardly a
detachment left strong enough to hold its own against any
overgrown band of guerrillas. The result you know.
Buell's retreat with his heavy losses of detachments at
Munfordsville, etc., our evacuation of the M. & C. R. R.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 203

between Memphis and Corinth, the driving in of our
guards from Decatur to Corinth, and the fight there in
October which we gained only because our side weighed
only one ounce the most; and finally they shut us up in
Memphis, Bolivar, Corinth and Nashville so closely that
foraging parties hardly dared venture ten miles from the
siege guns, and there our army stayed until relieved by
"500,000 more." I don't like to slander so great and noble
a man as Grant, by insinuating that he has any notion
similar to Halleck's, but what I have seen with my naked
eye, and heard from good authority with my uncovered
ears, makes me think he has in his opinion at the Look-
out, Mission Ridge, Ringgold fight, bursted the rebellion
to flinders. I know that Sherman with six divisions has
gone to Knoxville. John E. Smith's and Osterhaus' divisions
are at Bridgeport on their way to Huntsville or Decatur.
Some 12 companies of artillery, (nearly enough for a
corps) went to Nashville yesterday, and Hooker with the
nth and I2th Corps, are going back to the Potomac. Does
that sound anything like active forward movements? And
don't it sound exactly like Halleck's disposition of the army
after he got Corinth? I predict that no good will come
from scattering the army in this way, and much harm.
Bragg has fallen back to Dalton, only 25 or 30 miles from
Chattanooga, and 15 less than Beauregard ran from Cor-
inth. The Rebel cavalry are already driving in our fora-
gers at Chattanooga. That's all I have to say about the
matter. Our regiment, brigade and division have gone
with Sherman to Burnside's relief. They are probably at
Knoxville now. All accounts agree that the regiment
behaved splendidly ; and Fulton county ought to either
disown her soldiers or quit disgracing them by her d sh
copperheadism. You didn't have any fears for my safety
when you heard of the fight, did you ? Of course you knew
I wouldn't be there. I heard three days before the fight
that it would probably open Sunday or Monday. Tues-
day I was out in the Cumberland mountains, near Paint



204 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

Rock, some 50 miles from Chattanooga, when suddenly
we heard the sound of cannonading. I thought of our
regiment being in the fight and my company away, and
cursed my luck to the best of my ability. I never expect
to be in a battle. Being shot by a guerrilla is as good as
I will probably get. It is strange that there was only the
one vicinity in which we could hear the firing that day,
and 25 miles nearer the scene of action they were unable
to hear it. We are meetjng with good success hunting
horses. We only lack about 200 of having enough to
mount the brigade and will have them by the time they
get back from Knoxville. My men were never as healthy
as now. My old convalescent "stand-bys" now walk into
their double rations of fresh meat and corn pone tremen-
dously, and do their share of duty splendidly. For four
weeks we have had nothing to eat but corn bread and
fresh pork. I am beginning to like it. It positively does
taste better every day, and I destroy immense quantities.
When reading about the elephant browsing upon the tree
tops, did you ever imagine what an awful crashing he
would make? That's about like the smash I make among
the spareribs and hoecake. I thought that when they set
me up as horse thief, that my measure was filled, that earth
had nothing left too bitter for me to quaff or "chaw." But
last night a draught was put to my lips of which I drank,
and lo, I am undone. Can't look an honest man in the
face. Fortunately there are no honest men in this com-
mand, so I am spared the mortification of turning my eyes.
I was sent out to steal sheep. Can't call taking aught from
these poor miserable citizen devils here anything but steal-
ing. I made a pretty good haul. They go to the front
to-day; I expect for hospital use. Of course we have to
take them, but these citizens are on the verge of bank-
ruptcy as far as eating is concerned. Saw Bill and Davis
Trites at Bridgeport two days since. All right. Had just
got back with their division from Chattanooga. Were
both well. Captain Walsh, who was killed, was one of the



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 205

finest officers in our regiment. I had formed a strong at-
tachment for him, and mourn his loss as a dear friend and
splendid fellow. His company, in camp, joins mine on the
left and we were more intimate than I was with any other
officer in this command.

Bivouac in Mud Creek Cove, near Belle Fonte, Ala.,

December n, 1863.

Without any earthly cause I am troubled with a small
fit of the blues this evening. I can't imagine what brought
it on. I am cross, restless and tired. Don't want any com-
pany wouldn't go to see a girl if there were a thousand
within a hundred rods. Interesting state for an interesting
youth, isn't it. Guess the trouble must be in the fact that
I have no trouble. Everything moves too smoothly. No
pushing in my family to knock down a looking-glass bal-
anced on a knitting needle. Nothing in my precious life
to keep me awake one minute of my sleeping time, and
nothing in the future that I now care a scrap for. All of
that is certainly enough to make one miserable. I'm con-
vinced that my constitution requires some real misery, or
a prospect for the same, in order to keep me properly
balanced. If you can furnish me any hints on the subject,
that will induce distress, trouble, or care, in a reasonable
quantity to settle on my brain, I will be obliged. I have
written you so much about soldiering, sister, that I'm
thinking the subject must be pretty well exhausted. You
must have received as many as 150 letters from me since
I entered the army. I have had a host of interesting experi-
ences since I enlisted, but when I am alone, and naturally
turn to my little past for company, I always skip the army
part and go back to the old home memories. One finds
a plenty of opportunities for such self-communing in the
service, and if I haven't profited by mine, it is my own fault.
Did I ever tell you how I love picket duty? I have always
preferred it over all other of our routine duties, yet it



206 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

would take a sheet of foolscap to tell you why; and then
nobody could understand me the way I'd write it. So
we'll pass. It seems a long time since I was at home.
What do you think of my eating Christmas dinner with



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 17 of 31)