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Charles Wright Wills.

Army life of an Illinois soldier, including a day by day record of Sherman's march to the sea; letters and diary of the late Charles W. Wills, private and sergeant 8th Illinois Infantry; lieutenant and battalion adjutant 7th Illinois Cavalry; captain, major and lieutenant colonel 103rd Illinois Infa online

. (page 18 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 18 of 31)
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you? Don't let's think of that at all. I start for Chatta-
nooga in the morning to get my team and things. It is
six weeks since I have had a change of clothes from my
valise. Borrowed a shirt from a woman once and got mine
washed.

Greasy Cove, Jackson Co., Ala., December 19, 1863.
On examination of my pockets this morning, I find a
letter I wrote you a week since. Will mail it this morning
and tell you the late news in another dispatch. You notice
we have again changed our camp, and you'll probably ad-
mire the classic names they have given these beautiful
valleys. I was at Stephenson and Bridgeport a few days
since for our camp and garrison equipage, and was just
starting back with it when I heard that our detachment
was ordered to report to the rest of the brigade at their
camp at Athens, Tenn., 40 miles beyond Chattanooga. So
I left my traps and came back to move. We will start as
soon as our parties get in from scouting. The last party
that went out and returned was some 200 strong. Dor-
ranee had 20 men from our detachment. They brought in
a splendid lot of horses, but had to go 75 miles for them.
The guerrillas killed one man of the party, (46th Ohio)
and captured a number, maybe 15. Picked them up one,
two or three at a time. Dorrance was captured and pa-
roled by some of Forrest's men. He was pretty well
treated, but the parole amounts to nothing. They took
nearly all of his money, his arms, spurs, horse, etc. He
was the only one of my men captured. It is confounded
cold lately and I haven't been real dry for three days. We
have to swim creeks to go anywhere, and there is so much
brush and drift in these streams that a horse will always
get tangled and souse a fellow. I swam a horse across



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 2O/

a creek yesterday, and he went over on his hind legs stand-
ing straight up. I never saw such a brute. Rumor says
we will be dismounted and go with the corps to Mobile.
But the most probable story is that we are going into camp
at Athens for the winter. Would much rather go to Mo-
bile but think that we can't be spared from here.

Near Larkinsville, Ala., December 29, 1863.
We have had some busy times since my last. Foraging
for horses, looking for something to eat, and trying to obey
a host of contradictory orders, has kept us in the saddle
almost constantly. I believe I wrote you about Dorrance's
going over to Elk river, Tenn. for horses and getting
captured. When the next scout was ordered out, I was at
Bridgeport on business, and Lieutenant Smith went in
charge. They were absent a week and when I heard from
them, and that they had but seven extras, I started after
them and found them 25 miles from camp. That night I
got permission from the officer in command to take 20
men and be absent two days. I went over the mountain
into Madison county near Huntsville, got 34 good horses
and was back on time. I also captured a guerrilla with
his horse and traps, and found a lot of clothing which had
been taken from Federal soldiers and officers captured by
Rebels and concealed in a hovel on the mountain. In the
round trip of the last six days, about 150 miles, the boys
have destroyed at least 50 shotguns and rifles. To-day,
an officer of Ewing's staff is here selecting our best horses,
for the use of Sherman, Logan, etc. We think it con-
foundedly mean, but guess we'll stand it. We have enough
horses to mount the brigade, but there is some doubt about
that little event taking place. They can't beat me out of
being satisfied whatever they do. Would rather remain
mounted, but Sherman's will be done. I have turned into
the corral fully my proportion of horses, haven't lost a
man, and none of my command have been guilty of rob-
bing, plundering, or stealing. That's what the officer of



2O8 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

no other detachment here can say, truthfully. I do think
I have the best lot of men that ever soldiered together, and
there are now 41 for duty. The rest of the brigade is at
Scottsboro, only six miles from here, and they will proba-
bly go into winter quarters there. Possibly, at Belle
Fountain. I am in splendid health and enjoying myself
excellently. My wrist is improving slowly, but there is
something broken about it. It will, however, answer my
purpose if it gets no worse. One ought occasionally to
have something- of that kind in order to a better apprecia-
tion of our many blessings. What wonderful luck I have
soldiering, don't I? Now, in our two month's foraging, I
haven't lost a man. Only one wounded a little, and one
man and Dorrance captured and let go again. In the same
time the I5th Michigan have lost about 20. The 46th
Ohio have had two killed, the 6th Iowa two killed, and the
4Oth Illinois two hung and two missing. We have been
over all the country they have, and done just as much
work, without losing a man. I am hopeful of obtaining
some recruits from the Fairview country, but can get
along without them.. Have as good as been out of the
world for two months. I haven't worn socks since I left
Memphis. Too much trouble. Has rained steadily for the
four last days. I have ridden from daylight until dark
each day. Got dried off to-day for the first time. Swam
our horses over three bad creeks. Lieutenant Smith and
three men came very near drowning. My mare swam
splendidly.

Scottsboro, Ala., January 5, 1864.

Your brother no longer represents the Festive Mama-
luke, but has returned from his paradise of fresh pork,
cornbread, honey, milk, and horse, to his original heavy
infantry exercise, his nix-Grahamite diet of army rations,
to that headquarters of red-tapeism, a "permanent camp,"
in short, to the elysium of the enlisted men, and purgatory
of company commanders winter quarters. In short, the



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 2OO,

powers that be concluded that dismounting us would not
render the salvation of the Union impossible, and as the
detachment was getting a very hard reputation, and
making much trouble for said powers to settle, 'twas de-
cided to unhorse us. It's all over now, the mounting part
has "played" and that string will not probably be harped
on again for this brigade to dance to. I think that to-day,
Sherman, Logan or Ewing would not trust a detachment
of this brigade on sorebacked mules if they had only three
legs. This little squad of 500 men in the two months they
have been mounted have committed more devilment than
two divisions of regular cavalry could in five years.
Everything you can think of, from shooting negroes, or
marrying these simple country women, down to stealing
babies' diapers. From taking $2,700.00 in gold, to snatch-
ing a brass ring off the finger of the woman who -handed
a drink of water. From taking the last "old mar" the
widow had to carry her grist to mill, to robbing the bed
of its cord, for halters, and taking the clothes line and bed-
clothing "to boot." I'll venture that before we were dis-
mounted, not a wellrope, tracechain, or piece of cord of any
kind strong enough to hold a horse could be found in the
districts through which we have foraged. I want you to
understand that my command is not responsible for the
heavy devilment. I have steadily discountenanced it, and
watched my men carefully. I am willing to be responsible
for all they did, and will probably have a chance, as I
understand a board of inquiry sits on the subject shortly.
Some of the officers will, I think, have cause to wish they
were never mounted; and to think that "Mission Ridge"
would have been preferable to the duty they have been on.
We had been looking for General Ewing out to our biv-
ouac to review us for several days, and I rather saw in the
distance that dismount was an order we'd get shortly, and
had sent in to our colonel, lieutenant colonel and staff some
of my best horses, knowing that if we got dismounted they
would be taken by Sherman, Logan or Ewing. Sure enough,



210 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

on the morning of the New Year's day came an order to
form to be review by some heavy staff. The review con-
sisted in their picking out what good horses there were, turn-
ing the rest into a corral, and sending us to our regiments
on foot. We got here the same day, found the regiment just
pitching camp, with the idea that winter quarters or a good
long rest, at least, was their portion. Our company already
has good comfortable quarters up, and is as well fixed for
winter as we care about being. But already we hear it ru-
mored that our division is to move down to Huntsville in
a short time, and we have had no orders to prepare winter
quarters. All right. It has been pretty cold here although
we have had no snow nor ice that could bear a man. A great
deal of rain. The regiment is very healthy. Not a dozen men
complaining. My wrist is improving slowly. Not worth very
much yet. Doctor says 'twill take it a year to get well. That
bone at the wrist joint protrudes considerably. All right.
The veteran feeling is "terrific" here. Three regiments in
our brigade the only ones eligible (that is that have been in
two years) have re-enlisted almost to a man. 4Oth Illinois,
46th Ohio and 6th Iowa. In our division there are seven
regiments eligible and all have re-enlisted, and are going home
in a few days. It is, I think, the grandest thing of the war.
These old soldiers so enthusiastically and unanimously "going-
inimously." I guess no one is more astonished at it than the
very men who are enlisting. One of the 4Oth boys told me that
"about 15 of us were talking about it and cussing it, until
every son of a gun of us concluded to, and did re-enlist." Our
regiment hasn't been in long enough to make veterans.
Wouldn't you rather have me stay in service until this war
ends? I get the blues, though, sometimes, and think of get-
ting out and denying that I ever was in the war. Haven't I
a brilliant record, Thirty-three months in service and not a
battle.

Clear and cold this morning. I'm very comfortable. Have
built me a brick fireplace and chimney, raised my tent two
and one-half feet on a broad frame. Made me a good bed
with broom sage for soft, and am living high.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 211

I received three recruits yesterday and have at least one
more coming. I have more men for duty than any other
company. Night before last two Confederate soldiers came
into our camp and stole three horses, two of them belonging
to our surgeons, and the other to the adjutant. The Rebels
crossed the Tennessee river, which is only four miles from
here and recrossed safely with their horses. I call that pretty
sharp. The horses were only about 30 yards from where I
sleep. They might just as well have got me. I feel highly
complimented by their prefering the horses to me. We had
one-fourth of an inch of snow last night. Gone now. Yes-
terday three teamsters, belonging to Logan's headquarters
while foraging went to pillaging a house. The woman of the
house tried to stop them, when one of the fellows struck her
on the head with a gun and killed her. This was about three
miles from here.

Scottsboro, Ala., January 9, 1864.

We have settled down into fully as monotonous a monot-
ony, as I ever experienced. The powers pretend that the army
is tired down and needs rest, so duty is very light, no drills
ordered; no scouting and no nothing, but a first-class prep-
aration to have a tremendous sick list in a very short time.
You know how we have been moving for the last three
months, and that we have hardly suffered a half dozen cases
of sickness. Now see, if we lie here four weeks longer, if I
don't report you 60 on the sick list. Do you think that I am
something of a grumbler? Either having too much travel, or
too much lie still. Too much to eat (I guess not) or not
enough, etc. I suppose that news here is about as scarce as
ice cream on the African desert, arid of nearly the same
quality. We are camped in the edge of dense woods, about
three quarters of a mile from the town, which consists of 20
or 40 rather neat houses, and presents, I think a better ap-
pearance than any other town of the size I have seen in the
Confederacy. It hasn't been squashmolished like most of its
sisters. General Logan's headquarters are here. Our corps



212 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

is camped along the road from here to Decatur, our whole
division being here. Our division commander, is, I expect,
the most unpopular officer with his corps that there is in the
West. I never knew his match for meanness. See if I can
think of all I have been ordered by: Prentiss, Grant, Logan,
McClernand, Wallace (W. H. L.), Oglesby, Paine, Pope,

Granger, Palmer ( ) formerly colonel nth Missouri.,

Rosecrans, Morgan, Buford, Sheridan, Hurlbut, Lanman,
Hamilton ist, Hamilton 2d; Sullivan, Lawler, Sooy Smith,
Ewing, Corse, Halleck, Sherman, Davis, and at least two
more whose names I can't now recall. One of them com-
manded this division last March, and the other the 4th Divi-
sion 1 6th Army Corps, last December, for a few days. I
have lots of work on hand writing up my accounts, but this
lying still begins to bore me awfully. I though a few weeks
ago that 'twould be very nice to have a tent again, and things
somewhat comfortable, but the beauties of the thing don't last
long. I'm ready to move now. We have had several pretty
cold days, but to-day I have been in my shirt sleeves, without
vest, all day, and felt very comfortable, though it didn't thaw
very much, and I believe there was ice in our water bucket all
day. Expect you are having a gay time this winter at home
sleighing, dancing, etc., but I would rather take mine out in the
army. If I didn't have any happy Christmas myself, I had
the pleasure of smashing the happiness out of a good many
secesh Christmases. That's not so. It was not pleasure, but
I had to.

Steamer "Cosmopolitan," bound to Beaufort from
Savannah, Ga.,

January 21, 1864.

I was at Beaufort some three days when I received a de-
tail on a "military commission" to sit at headquarters, 4th Di-
vision of our corps at Savannah. Reported at Savannah on
the I7th and found my commission had finished its business
and adjourned, all of which satisfied me. Have been ever



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 213

since trying to get back to the regiment, but all of the vessels
which run on this line have been in use as lighters, transfer-
ing the 1 9th Corps (which now occupies Savannah) from the
large steamers which have to stop at the bar up the river.
This 1 9th Corps is a portion of Sheridan's command and
helped him win those glorious victories in the valley. They
are a fine soldierly-looking body of men, but have already had
some difficulty with our troops. As I left the city I saw the
wind up of a snug little fight between a portion of the 2Oth
and 1 9th Corps. Noticed about 40 bloody faces. All this
kind of work grows out of corps pride. Fine thing, isn't it,
We left the wharf at 2 p. m. yesterday, grounded about 5
p. m., and had to wait for high tide, which came at midnight ;
then a heavy rain and fog set in and we have made little prog-
ress since. Are now, n a. m., at anchor, supposed to be near
the mouth of Scull Creek waiting for the fog to clear up. I
am terribly bored at being away from the regiment so long.
I feel lost, out of place and blue. What glorious news from
Fort Fisher, and what a horrid story that is about 13 out
of the 15 prisoners the Rebels had of our regiment, dying of
starvation. One of them, W. G. Dunblazier, was of my com-
pany, and a better boy or braver soldier never shouldered a
musket. He was captured on the skirmish line at Dallas.

May 27, '64. Dr. Buck is on board with me just from the
North. He is terribly disgusted with the service, and furn-
ishes me some amusement. I believe I take as much pleas-
ure in seeing other people miserable over small matters
as I do in a good thing for myself.

12 a. m. Have just been badly beaten at cribbage by Col-
onel Bloomfield, and the boat is under way again, the fog
having gone up.

Scottsboro, Ala., February 7, 1864.

This has indeed been a day of rest. More like a home Sab-
bath, than the Lord's day often seems, here in the "show
business." None of my company have been on duty, and as
the day has been bright and warm, the men have been nearly



214 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

all out in front of the quarters; all looking natty and clean
and healthy, sunning themselves real country-Sunday fashion.
Seems to me that I grow prouder every day of being captain
over these men. If I could only get 30 good, healthy recruits,
I expect I'd have to be "hooped." The boys brought a fiddle
in with them yesterday from our Lebanon march, and as
nearly all of them play, "more or less," it has seen but little
rest to-day. Every man I have present (42) is for duty, and
if there are any soldiers in the army who can outmarch them,
or do duty better, "I want them for Babcockses," as the boys
say. Frank Post was in my tent to-day, and informed me that
in her last letter, Laura told him that some horrible stories
of my cruelty to women and children while in command of
the mounted detachment, were in circulation at home. He
wanted me to trace the author of them, but I respectfully
begged to be excused. The person who told such stuff, falsi-
fies; for I never killed a fly, or stepped on a worm, or kicked
a dog, or threw a stone at a cat, and know I wouldn't treat
a woman or child worse, if they were Rebels. I do take a
little private satisfaction in knowing that I have never said
a word, except respectfully, to any woman in the Confeder-
acy, that I have ever touched a cent's worth of private prop-
erty for my own use. We, with 600 more of our brigade,
had to take horses and rations from a poor set of people, but
that was no more our fault than the war is. Those pretty
crystals I sent you by Lieutenant Dorrance, are "Iceland
Spar," which is, I believe, the only stone which possesses the
power of double refraction. If you put a thin piece of it over
a black mark on paper, and look closely, you will see two
marks ; try this piece which I enclose. I took a lesson in chess
last night, played a couple of games. Don't thing I would
ever make a player. Colonel Dickerman is at present com-
manding the brigade, and Major Willison the regiment, Lieu-
tenant Colonel Wright being on detached service as a divi-
sion inspector general. Mattison is in his quartermaster de-
partment almost constantly, and Dorrance's absence leaves



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 215

me quite alone. Dorrance was in a way, good company. Al-
ways in a good humor and talking. Real accommodating, too,
if carefully handled.

I went to the nearest house to camp to-day, to beg a little
piece of tallow to soften a pair of marching boots. I sat down
by a fire, in company with three young women, all cleanly
dressed and powdered to death. Their ages were from 18 to
24. Each of them had a quid of tobacco in her cheek about
the size of my stone inkstand, and if they didn't make the ex-
tract fly worse than I ever saw it in a country grocery, shoot
me. These women here have so disgusted me with the use
of tobacco that I have determined to abandon it. Well, we are
again under orders to march at a moment's notice. Received
them about noon to-day, and expect to start in the morning.
It is intimated that we go to Chattanooga, first, and then
either to Daltbn, Knoxville, or garrison Chattanooga, and let
its present occupants go. I was much pleased to get the or-
ders, for above all things, do hate a permanent camp. I en-
joy the tramping, the mud, the cold, and being tired, and
everything mean there is about soldiering, except being hun-
gry. That beats me to a fraction. If I could only go without
eating three or four days at a time I would pass as a soldier,
but bless me, missing a meal is worse than drawing a tooth.
I never tried it as long as I have been in the army, but it
seems to me that putting me on quarter rations would be
equivalent to putting me in a hospital bed.

Hurrah for the march. No such place for real fun else-
where. We have our regular races, and tough ones they are,
too, sometimes. Each regiment takes its turn in having the
advance, one day at a time. Say, to-day we have the lead,
then to-morrow we will march behind all the rest, and the next
day the regiment which succeeded us in the lead will fall
behind us, etc. It is a great deal easier to march in front
than in the rear, because in passing defile, or crossing streams
on single logs, all of the time that is lost falls, finally, on the
rearmost regiment, and after it crosses it sometimes has to
double-quick it a mile or more to catch up again. A com-



2l6 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

mon time step or 90 to the minute, in front with a brigade of
1,500 over the average of these roads, makes the rear in
order to keep up, take more than quick time, or over 112
steps to the minute, during their marching time. So you can
imagine our races, though fun to the advance, make the rear
work no laughing matter. The point of the race is for the
advance regiment to move so fast that the others will break
up, tired out, and straggle. Yesterday the 97th Indiana coming
in had the lead and undertook to run us. We had the rear,
but by not waiting to cross on logs, but wading through
creeks up to our knees or middles kept at their heels for 8
miles without a rest. 'Twas raining all the time and the
roads were awful slippery. Our brigade tried hard to run us
down at first, but now none of them doubt our ability to
march with any regiment. When the men are resting along
the road they have a great fashion of making remarks about
any strange soldier or citizen who passes. As we were rest-
ing on the 5th inst, a bare-footed, sick-looking soldier came
hobbling through. One man said, "He's sick, don't say any-
thing to him ;" another said, "No, he's shod a little too
rough;" another, "Yes, and he interferes;" another, "Keep
still he's slipping upon something;" another, "He's showing
us how Fanny Elssler went over a looking glass;" another,
"Come here and I'll take the pegs out of your shoes," etc.
Wouldn't that be interesting to the passerby?

Scottsboro, Ala., March 6, 1864.

By marching 21 miles on the railroad ties we reached
"home" yesterday, after an absence of 24 days, in which
we traveled 280 miles. Altogether it was a very pleasant
trip, although the first 10 nights were almost too cold for
outdoor sleeping. I kept a "sort" of a diary of this trip in a
memorandum book, and being too lazy to copy, tore out
the leaves and mailed to you. You should receive three
letters of that kind. One about the "Wills Valley" trip,
one of the march from here to Cleveland, and the third
of the trip from Cleveland to Dalton and back. The rain



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 217

was pouring down when we received orders to start home
from Chattanooga and it rained almost until night. We
marched 16 miles without a rest, and did it in five hours. Did
exactly the same thing next day, although it did not rain.
This was from Oltewah to Chattanooga. In addition to
this march I took a look over the part of Mission Ridge
where our regiment fought, and also climbed Lookout
mountain. The iO3d, the brigade they were with, un-
doubtedly got the hottest part of the whole Lookout, and
Mission Ridge fight. The nature of the ground was such
that not a shot was fired by either side until they were
within 200 yards of each other, when our men charged.
Some of our boys were killed a little to the right of, but
on a line with the Rebel guns. The trees and shrubs show
marks of extraordinary hot musketry work. I cut a
hickory walking stick right where our men commenced the
charge. This hickory stood by an oak that I should think
was hit by 400 musket and canister balls. It helped me
later in the day to climb Lookout Mountain. I think the
view from Lookout worth 1,000 miles travel. The high
mountains of Western North Carolina, and the Blue
Mountains of Virginia are very plainly seen from the sum-
mit. There is a summer retreat, some 40 or 50 nice houses
with public hall and school on top.

Scottsboro, Ala., March 15, 1864.

I am again on court martial duty, with a prospect of a
long siege ; but we have an experienced President and
a Judge Advocate who promises to be a fast worker; so
we may get through quicker than we anticipated. The Presi-
dent, Colonel Heath, looth Indiana, is a Bob Ingersoll for
the world, that is, full of anecdote and fond of malt. 'Tis
probably fortunate that at this time none of the latter is



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 18 of 31)