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 19 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 19 of 31)
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to be had in our division. I dislike detached service in
any shape, but prefer court martial duty to almost any
other. Would much rather be with my company, and if
it were not considered so nix military would ask to be



2l8 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

relieved from this. You can't imagine how proud I am
becoming of my company. I have never had an iota of
trouble with them. We certainly work as smoothly as any
company could. We are all in high feather over the pros-
pect of going to Richmond. Everybody wants to start
immediately. If the I5th and lyih corps reach the
Rapidan, we doubt your hearing anything more about
recrossing the Rapidan and taking positions inside the
Washington fortifications. Our corps don't get along well
with these Cumberland and Potomac soldiers. To hear
our men talk to them when passing them or their camps
marching, you'd think the feeling between us and the
Rebels could be no more bitter. We are well off by our-
selves, but still we don't feel at home. We're too far from
our old comrades, I3th, i6th and I7th Corps. This feeling
that grows up between regiments, brigades, divisions and
corps is very strong and as strange. The 4th and I4th
Corps Cumberland chaps our men can endure, although
much in the spirit a dog chewing a bone, allows another
to come within ten feet. The nth and I2th Corps Poto-
mac men, and ours never meet without some very hard
talk. I must do the Yankees the justice to say that our
men, I believe, always commence it, and are the most un-
gentlemanly by great odds. I do honestly think our corps
in one respect composed of the meanest set of men, that
was ever thrown together. That is, while on the march
they make it a point to abuse every man or thing they see.
They always feel "bully," will certainly march further with
less straggling, and make more noise whooping than any
other corps in service, but if a strange soldier or citizen
conies in sight, pity him, and if he's foolish enough to ask a
question, as "what regiment," or "where are you bound for?"
he'll wish himself a mile under ground before he hears all the
answers, and ten to one not a whit of the information he
asked for will be in any of them. We have no pay yet,
and no prospects now, but doing good business borrowing.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 2IQ

Scottsboro, Ala., March 12, 1864.

I have been tremendously demoralized for nearly a month
in consequence of a terrible cold I caught by some of my care-
lessness, I suppose, but am now coming out of it all right.
Weather is most beautiful. Not too much duty, excellent
camp, remarkably good health, and everything so near right,
that almost think a soldier who'd grumble here deserves shoot-
ing. Were I disposed to complain am sure I could only find
two little topics whereof to speak; one being the fact that
'tis impossible to get anything to eat here excepting regular
army rations, not even hams can be had, and the other the
long-continued absence of the paymaster. We are hoping
that both these matters will be remedied 'ere long, but have
been so hoping for months. We have a division purveyor
now, who pretends that he will furnish us in good eatables.
We have had but a few articles from him, and I'll tell you the
prices of those I remember. Can of strawberries, $1.75;
cheese, 80 cents a pound; bottle (about one and one-half
pints) pickled beets, $1.50. If I could draw the pay of a brig-
adier general, and then live on half rations, think I might come
out even with said purveyor for my caterer.

Everything perfectly stagnant. We did hear day before
yesterday some quite rapid artillery firing for an hour or two ;
it sounded as though it might have been some ten or twelve
miles southwest of us. 'Twas reported by scouts a few days
ago that the enemy was preparing flatboats at Guntersville
to cross the river on, with intent to make a raid up in this
direction or toward Huntsville. The I5th Michigan Mounted
Infantry was sent down to look after the matter, ran
into an ambuscade and lost a dozen or so killed and
wounded. That's all I heard of the matter. We were very
sorry that the loss was so light, for they are a miserable set.
We are going to have a dance here in a few days. Think
I'll go. Anything at all to get out of camp. I'm as restless
as a tree top after marching so much. You don't know how
tame this camp business is. Am afraid I will get the "blues"
yet. Hurry up the spring campaign, I say.



22O ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

Scottsboro, Ala., March 20, 1864.

What under the sun can I tell you that will interest you.
That it is intolerably dull, bah! Have just had a long visit
from Lieutenant Colonel Wright, now army assistant inspector
general of the division, and Lieutenant Van Dyke, A. D. C.,
to our new commander, General Harrow. The lieutenant is
a splendid looking fellow of about 23 years, and has served
up to the time of coming into our division with the 2d Corps,
Army Potomac. Van Dyke informed me that a despatch from
Logan was received by Harrow this a. m., informing him that
Forrest was prowling around on the other side of the river
with intention of crossing and making a little dash on some
part of our line. "Our" railroad from Nashville via Decatur
is about completed (will be finished to-morrow) and then
we hope to have something to eat once more. This rail-
road will be all for our corps, or at least we will get the
choice of what comes over it. We are at outs with the
general to-day. In the field we are not accustomed to
having camp guard, considering a strong picket and the
regular property alarm guards sufficient. But because two
or three men got drunk yesterday, and a gun or two was
fired, out comes Harrow in an order and requires a strong
camp guard. It may be one of the faults of our discipline,
but 'tis a fact that our men would much prefer two days
of any other duty, to one of camp guard. Our court gets
on slowly. Oh ! We had a dance a few nights since.
Northern ladies, officers' wives, and a few "Mountain
Ewes" (the poetical name given the Jackson county beau-
ties by some genius of a Yankee). We really had a
delightful time; and I understand they are to be continued,
one every two weeks Anything to keep a man from
getting blue. I see Abraham calls for 200,000 more.
Keep asking for them Lincoln, that's right, I'm sure
there are yet many who can be spared for their country's
good in more meanings than one. It's queer that our regi-
ment don't get more recruits. We need them very much,
and yet I dread getting them, they are so much trouble



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 221

for a year. The 26th and 48th Illinois have respectively
200 and 500 and the officers are bored terribly over them.
There is to my eye, as much difference between the aver-
age of recruits and the average of veterans, as there is between
the physique of a tailor and that of a blacksmith. Some
of the veterans who have returned to camp, are sick of
their last bargain with the United States, but the majority
are right glad to get back.

Scottsboro, Ala, March 24, 1864.

Two months and twenty-four days without changing
camp; which is the longest time our tents have covered
one piece of ground since we organized. We have
marched, though, some 35 days during this time, and some such
marching. Whew ! I think I never suffered on a march as

1 did on the Sand Mountain in DeKalb county. I wore
a thin blouse, and had no overcoat. I'd lie so close to the
fire nights that the clothes on my back would scorch and
my breath would freeze on my whiskers. We had nothing
to keep the freezing dews off us, and it seemed to me
that it went through my clothes and an inch of flesh
before the dew-point would be blunted. One night about

2 o'clock I had a huge pine knot fire and was trying to
warm some half frozen portions of my body, when Cap-
tain Smith came over from his bed, as blue as a conscript,
to thaw out. He turned one side and then t'other to the
blaze, time and again but without much progress ; finally
he shivered out, "By G d, Captain, I could wish a tribe
of cannibals no worse luck than to get me for breakfast.
I'm frozen hard enough to break out half their teeth, and
the frost would set the rest aching." Next morning a lot
of us were standing by a fire nearly all grumbling, when
the major asked me how I passed the night. "Capitally,
slept as sweetly as an infant, little chilly in fore part of
night, but forgot it when sleep came." They looked so
pitifully, doubtfully envious, that I got me laugh enough
to warm me clear through. Captain Smith, Soot and Lieu-



222 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

tenant Ansley have been in with me playing old sledge
all evening. A storm came up, blew half of my camp house
down, and broke up the party. Have just got fixed up
again. Those pine knot fires we had on the mountains,
made us all look like blacksmiths. Day before yesterday
a foot of snow fell. Last night only drifts on the north
side of things were left and to-night you have to hunt for
a flake. Two shots on the picket line back of our camp.
Guess it's some of the 26th or 48th recruits. Out of every
dozen or twenty recruits, there's sure to be one who will
see men skulking around his picket post, and who will shoot
a stump.

Six- thirty a. m. 25th. Bless me, how it rained and blew
last night. Do you remember the storm at Point Pleasant,
Mo., April i, 1862? Never a high wind that I do not think
of it. Believe we had two killed, about a dozen disabled
and 20 horses killed. No paymaster yet.

Goldsboro, N. C, March 25, 1864.

We were two days coming back here from Bennettsville ;
and have Sherman's receipt for another campaign and his
promise of a little rest. Have a nice camp ground and will
enjoy ourselves, I think.

Huntsville, Ala., April 3, 1864.

Thunder, lightning and rain are having a little time by
themselves outdoors to-night. No audience, but guards and
government mules, but that don't seem to affect the show.
We have a right good hotel here, a rather lively party, and
have spent a pleasant, highly gaseous evening, Colonel Oglesby,
Dr. Morris and Captain Wilkinson of our division.
We came down on two days' leave, principally to see the
place, but all having more or less business. Found Will
Trites this a. m. ; dined with him, and this afternoon four of
us have been riding. I enjoyed it very much. Had good
horses, and 'tis a beautiful town. I think the finest I have seen



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 223

South; but nothing near what Decatur, Bloomington, Quincy
and a dozen other Illinois towns promise to be when they
have half its age. In the cemetery there are as many really
fine monuments as there were in the Chicago cemetery in
1859, and should think it not more than half the size of the
new Canton graveyard. Our soldiers have been registering
their names on the finest of the monuments. It looks so sac-
rilegious, and fully as ridiculous. They have a beautiful cus-
tom here of placing wreaths of flowers and bouquets upon the
graves. This p. m. (Sabbath) nearly every grave had one
or more such offerings. I attended the Presbyterian church
this a. m., and certainly never heard the English language so
abused before. The minister was a citizen. Did not by a
word allude to the war in sermon or prayers. Most of the
ladies wore mourning. Very full attendance of them. All
who refused the "oath" here, have been sent across the river.
Saw General McPherson at breakfast this morning looking
as of old. We were paid four months last Thursday.

Scottsboro, Ala., April 9, 1864.

Don't be alarmed and imagine that I have "photos" on the
brain. This is in all probability the last remittance of the
article that I shall make you. General Corse, our old brigade
commander, we think a great deal of, and would like to have
you preserve his picture. The little soldier, Johnny Clem,
was a sergeant at the time of the Chickamauga battle, and
fought like a hero. His comrades say he killed a Rebel offi-
cer of high rank there. For his gallant conduct in that mas-
sacre, General Thomas gave him a lieutenancy and position
on his staff, where he now is. He is almost a perfect image
of one, Willie Blackburn, who was my orderly in the 7th.

The day of jubilee has come at this post; that is, we have,
once more, something fit to eat. This is the first day since
we've been here that our commissary has furnished us with
aught but regular rations. We can wish for nothing now,
except "marching orders." My men are in splendid condi-
tion. Everyone of them in Ai health and spirits. All the



224 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

veterans of the division are back, except the three regiments
of our brigade. The 55th Illinois has at last concluded to
veteran. Two hundred of them will be at home shortly.
They held a new election, left Malmsberg and Chandler out
in the cold, and I understand, a goodly number of their best
officers besides. Men who have not been under good discipli-
narians, will almost invariably, if an election is allowed,
choose good fellows for officers. That is, men who allow
everything to go at loose ends, who have no business what-
ever with commissions. Captain Milt. Hainey and Captain
Augustine, I understand, are to be colonel and lieutenant
colonel of the 55th. They are said to be good men and offi-
cers, and exceptions to the above, but my experience is such
exceptions are rare, and I'd rather time would prove them
than man's words. I believe my company would veteran, al-
most unanimously, to-day. I am still on court-martial duty,
and having a very easy time. We seldom sit over two hours,
and never more than four hours a day. The most of the
cases are for desertion, and absence without leave, with oc-
casionally a shooting or cutting affair among some drunken
men. The major and several of the other officers are ab-
sent at Nashville on a shopping excursion. Captain Wyskoff
is commanding. He has been trying for the last eight months
to resign, but papers come back every time disapproved. It's
hard work now to get out of the army. By a few items I
have seen in the papers, believe the i/th Army Corps is com-
ing up the river. Wish they would be sent here. We need
another corps to move with us on to Rome. Suppose that
Grant thinks he must have the i/th with him at Richmond.
Operations cannot possibly commence here for 25 days yet.
Wish we could move to-morrow. Colonel Wright and I were
out a few miles this p. m. to see a couple of maidens. While
we were enjoying our visit a party of excited citizens (all
liable to the Southern conscription) rush in, and kindly in-
vite us to go down to Fossets' in the bottom, and clean out a
half dozen "guerils" who were there after conscripts. Twas
only a half mile through the woods to Fossets' and that was



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 22$

closer than we wanted to be to such a party (we had no arms).
So we told the excited citizens that they and the guerillas

could all go to the d 1 and we'd go to camp. Within a

mile of camp we met a company on the way to look for the
Rebels, but I know they might as well look for a religious
chaplain in the army as for the Rebels in that swamp. There
is hardly a sign of spring here yet. Have certainly never seen
vegetation as far advanced North at this season as it is here
now. Need a fire every day. The last month has been colder
than January was. I met a woman to-day who prides herself on
belonging to one of the first families of Virginia and boasts
that her grandsire's plantation and George Washington's al-
most joined, and showed me a negro woman no years old,
that formerly waited upon George Washington. She claims
to be chivalry, par excellence. Her husband is in the Rebel
Army. She lives off of the United States Commissary De-
partment, and begs her chewing tobacco of United States
soldiers. She's a Rebel, and talks it with her mouth full of
Uncle Sam's bread and bacon.

Scottsboro, Ala., April 24, 1864.

Spring is here at last, and summer is almost in sight.
The last two days have been fully as warm as I care to
see weather in April. There has been a great deal of cold,
wet weather here this spring, and vegetable life is unusu-
ally backward ; but the last few days have effected a great
change in the forests. The north side of the mountains
still look bare and wintry, the soft maple being the only
tree I have noticed "in leaf" on those slopes ; but nearly
all of the trees and bushes on the southern mountain
slopes are in full leaf. In the valleys, the poplars, the
beeches, and the black gums are nearly in full spring
dress, being far in advance of their comrades the oaks,
chestnuts, hickories and white gum. Of the smaller trees
the dogwood leads in assuming a spring costume. Two
years ago this date, vegetation was further advanced at
the mouth of the Ohio than 'tis here now. Do you remem-



226 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

her, I arrived home just about two years ago this time;
stayed two and one half days, and then, for Corinth ? How
easily my three years in the army have made way with
themselves. That I have lived something over a thousand
days, in a blue uniform seems incredible. Six months
sounds much more reasonable. "Black Jack" reviewed our
division yesterday. Only eight of the 13 regiments could
be present; but 'twas the finest review I ever saw. Logan
rode through our camp, and expressed himself much
pleased at our way of keeping house. We have a beauti-
ful camp, every part of it cleanly swept every morning.
It is also decorated profusely with evergreens from the
mountains. I suppose it is unnecessary to tell you what
we killed in the deerhunt, I spoke of in my last, as in pros-
pect ; but we did have a power of fun. Colonel Young, the
citizen who proposed the party to me, is probably some
55 years old; and at heart a Rebel (he is now a member of
the Alabama Legislature) but has taken the oath. I
noticed a suspicious "auburn" tinge on his nose, and pro-
vided myself with a canteen of pure lightning commissary
whiskey. The colonel had tasted none of the ardent for a
long time, and his thirst was excessive. He became in-
tensely demoralized ; and proved the most amusing char-
acter of the party. He made us a speech, and committed
so many fooleries, that if he had been anything but a
Rebel, I would have been ashamed of myself for my part
in his fall. Captains Wyckoff and Brown received orders
yesterday accepting their tenders of resignation, and have
started home. Lieutenant Worley has been detached to
the Signal Corps. He is worthy of it. We (the whole
corps) received orders this morning to prepare for the field
immediately. The order is from McPherson and says :
"Not one tent will be taken into the field, only two wagons
will be allowed the regiment, one for the officers and one
for the cooking utensils of the men." That is coming
down pretty low. Three years ago we had 13 wagons to
each regiment. Two years ago eight, one year ago 'twas



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 227

reduced to six, and now to two. What will it be next?
Captain Sid. writes that two divisions of our corps will
be left on this line of railroad to guard it this summer. I
think ours and Morgan L. Smith's will probably be the
two ; but 'tis hard to tell. I would for my part much rather
march; if we do march, I have no doubt our course will
be what I have before told you, Larkin's Landing, Lebanon
and Rome, Ga. They have made a change in our artillery.
Two batteries now accompany each division, and the rest
goes into an artillery reserve, a corps organization. You
remember that I told you that the 1,500 horses we foraged
in this country would be dead loss to the government.
Our authorities fed them all winter, and this last week an order
came to give them back to the citizens. Remember they
have all been paid for. But they are of no account to the
army, and 'tis the best thing that can now be done with them.

Scottsboro, Ala., April 18, 1864.

No changes to note in the military situation of our por-
tion of Dixie, but the note of preparation is heard on every
side. All making ready for the Spring campaign, which
every one prophesies will be the bloodiest one of the war.
Johnston is undoubtedly collecting all the Rebel troops in
the West, on the Georgia Central R. R. and will have a
large force. But ours will be perfectly enormous. Not
one of our regiments but is stronger to-day than a year ago,
and many divisions number from one-third to three-
quarters more than then. Our division when we marched
through from Memphis last fall was hardly 4,500 (for
duty) strong. Now 'tis 7,000, and growing every day.
We have no doubt of our ability to whip Johnston most
completely, but if he can raise 70,000 men, and we think
he can, of course somebody will stand a remarkably good
chance for being hurt in the proceedings. He has crossed
a division of infantry, away off on our right, beyond Elk
river. 'Tis hard to tell what for. Maybe to cooperate
with Forrest. Certainly to forage some, and some think



228 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

possibly to attract our attention in that direction while he
makes a dash on our lines east of Huntsville. This latter
would, to my idea, be akin to the action of that youth
Harper represents in his "April," standing on his head on
the railroad track, six feet before the locomotive under
way: "Rash." Twenty- four years old yesterday, and
three years in the service. Celebrated the day by
calling on a good looking "mountain ewe," and dining there-
with. Made arrangements to have a deer and turkey hunt
with her papa and some of his friends, Colonel Cobb,
(formerly of United States Congress) among others. To
give you an idea of the Southern love for titles, I'll name
part of the citizens who help to form our party next Wed-
nesday. Colonel Cobb, Colonel Provinse, Colonel Young,
and Majors Hall and Hust. Every man who owns as many
as two negroes is at least a colonel. None of them rank as
low as captains. Spring is coming very slowly. At least
four weeks behind time. Trees are becoming quite ver-
dant, and many of the flowers are up. I would like to send
you a few haunches of nice venison after my hunt, but
expect, all things considered, 'twould hardly be worth while
to try. Heard to-day of the wedding of one of my most
particularest friends, a young lady of Decatur. Was sensi-
ble enough to marry a soldier ; but am not certain she got
the right one. Heaven help her.

Scottsboro, Ala., April 28, 1864.

We received marching orders last night, and will proba-
bly move to-morrow morning. Supposition is that we go
to Huntsville first, there store our baggage, and then cross
the Tennessee river and open the Spring campaign. I am
much pleased at the prospect of moving once more. Have
never been so well and comfortably situated in the army,
nor was I ever tired of lying still. Lieutenant Miller
R. Q. M. while hunting some mules a few miles from camp,
last Monday was captured by the enemy, and is now on his



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 22Q

way to the "Hotel de Libby" (not) rejoicing. 'Tis some-
thing of a joke on Miller. Weather is becoming most
uncomfortably warm. Altogether too hot for marching.
Boys of our regiment and troops of the whole corps, never
started on a march in better spirits. Will write as often as
have opportunities. Swarms of flies interfere with my after-
noon naps lately.



230 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.



V.

April 30, 1864 to August 24, 1864. Under marching orders at last.
"Mule Soup" and cabin smashing. Guying a Potomac general
Playing the "cousin" game on the "cits." Operations around Dalton
and Resaca. Sherman's advice and warning. Lively fighting fol-
lows. Kilpatrick wounded. Deploying in sight of the Rebel guns
with artillery duel going on overhead. Digging rifle pits fifty
yards from the enemy's lines. Resaca captured. Fight at Adairs-
ville. Planters running off their slaves. General Harrow and his
"Potomac horse." A dead Rebel colonel in a garden of flowers.
Heavy fighting near Dallas. Sustaining a Rebel charge, losing
ten men out of thirty-one. In rifle pits under storm of shot and
shell. Logan's inspiring presence. In charge of brigade skirmish
line. Moving out from under the enemy's guns. Midnight work
in the trenches. Nine days under continuous fire. Pestered by
"chigres" and ants. Storming the Rebel rifle pits and charging a
hill manned by three Rebel regiments, killing 100 and capturing
542. Fighting three little battles in three days, and repulsing two
charges. Battle of Kenesaw Mountain. Fighting around Atlanta



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 19 of 31)