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 2 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 2 of 31)
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saw, dressed in dirty white cotton. Awful nasty ! The soldiers
at the point have plenty of shade. We have but one tree on
our grounds. The boys took a lot of ammunition from Bird
the other day, and also another lot from a nest five miles back
in Missouri. It was all given back, however, as private prop-
erty. Our whole brigade of six regiments had a parade yes-
terday. We are all uniformed now and I think we made a
respectable appearance. The general gave us a special notice.
Are the Canton boys going or not? Do they drill? We have
been sleeping on hay up to this week, but have thrown it away,
and now have but the bare boards. The change has been so
gradual from featherbed at home to plank here that I can't
think where it troubled me the least. I had a mattress in
Peoria, straw in Springfield, and hay here. Our living is now
very good. Fresh beef every day, potatoes, rice and beans.

Cairo, June 13, 1861.

I am converted to the belief that Cairo is not such a bad
place after all. The record shows that less deaths have oc-
curred here in seven weeks among 3,000 men, than in Villa
Ridge (a higher, and much dryer place with abundant shade
and spring water), in five weeks among 1,000. There has
been but one death here by disease in that time, and that with
miserable hospital accommodations. The soldiers lie like the



1 8 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

d : 1 about Cairo. The days are hot of course, but we do
nothing now between 8 a. m. and 9 p. m. but cook and eat,
so that amounts to not near as much as working all day at
home. The mosquitoes and bugs are furious from 6 p. m. to
n, but we are drilling from 7 p. m. to nearly 9, and from that
to ii we save ourselves by smoking, which we all do pretty
steadily. The nights after n are splendidly cool, so much so
that we can cover ourselves entirely in our blankets, which
is a block game on the mosquitoes, and sleep like logs. I be-
lieve those Camp Mather boys are hard sticks from the ac-
counts we get of their fingers sticking to chickens, vegetables,
etc. The citizens here say that the boys have not taken a thing
without permission, or insulted a citizen. "Bully for us."

We had a little fun yesterday. At 8 p. m. we (the Peoria
and Pekin companies) were ordered to get ready for march-
ing in ten minutes. So ready we got (but had to leave knap-
sacks, canteens and blankets) and were marched down to the
"City of Alton," which had on board a six pounder and one
12 pound howitzer. We cast off, fired a salute of two guns
and steamed down the Mississippi. After five miles the
colonel (Oglesby) called us together, told us that he was out
on a reconoitering expedition, and his information led him to
think we should be forced into a little fight before we got
back. We were then ordered to load and keep in our places
by our guns. At Columbus we saw a secesh flag waving but
passed on a couple of miles farther where he expected to find
a secesh force. Failed and turned back. At Columbus the
flag was still waving and the stores all closed, and quite a
crowd collected on the levee, but one gun though, that we
could see. The colonel ordered the flag down. They said
they wouldn't do it. He said he would do it himself then.
They answered, "We'd like to see you try it." We were drawn
up then round the cabin deck guards next the shore in two
ranks, with guns at "ready," and the captain jumped ashore
and hauled down the serpent. We were all sure of a skirmish
but missed it. Flag was about 15x7, with eight stars and



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 19

three stripes. I send you some scraps of it. They raised
another flag one hour after we left and sent us word to "Come
and take it." The ride on the river was the best treat I've had
for two years.

Cairo, June 23, 1861.

Camp is very dull now, and we are more closely confined
in it than ever. Not a soldier goes out now except in
company with a commissioned officer or on a pass from the
general. The latter not one in a thousand can get and the
former maybe one in five hundred.

We have no drilling now between 8 a. m. and 7 p. m.
on account of the heat; so we have plenty of spare time.
If I only had some good books ! But I can't send for
them now for our colonel keeps us about half excited all
the time with a prospect of a move. He says we have two
chances: First, if General McClellan suffers anything like
a serious repulse in Western Virginia, our whole brigade
will move out on two hours' notice. Second, if any reliable
reports come of Arkansas troops moving into Missouri,
we will double quick over the river and leave the Point to
some other troops. The last is the most likely chance.
A thousand of our boys went off on the "City of Alton" at
dark last night. We don't know where to, but 'tis rumored
that they went up the Mississippi 25 miles and then marched
back into Missouri 30 miles to intercept a train of wagons
loaded with provisions going south. The colonel made
them a speech ; told them they were sure to have a brush
and asked them if they would sustain the credit of the 8th.
You should have heard them shout ! Only two companies
went from our regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Rhoads.
The Battallion was under Colonel Morgan. The three
year question causes more excitement than every thing
else now. Nearly our whole company will go. The most
worthless fellows are the ones that will go home. I feel
as if my place is here. I know I could not content myself
at home, and if I could, every young man with no one



2O ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

depending upon him is needed in the army more than
anywhere else. I know I have your approval in this re-
solve, but I would like to have you tell me so. The Ameri-
cans in our company think some of seceding, filling up
from home with American boys and letting the Dutch now
in the company paddle their own canoe. I wonder if we
could not get a dozen good strong fellows from Canton.
We don't want any poorer men than I am, for we are going
to make a crack company.

Cairo, July i, 1861.

Writing letters is getting to be harder work than drilling,
and is more dreaded by the boys. Lots of people are
visiting the camp now, many of them ladies, but I tell you
that they use their fans more than their spy-glasses after a
very few looks.

I was up to Mound City yesterday with nine others of
our company on a United States boat that has three can-
nons on her. Mound City is a beautiful little place, and
takes it name from a mound about 30 feet in diameter and
10 feet high, on which grow a dozen spindling locusts. I
have been about 12 miles up each river from the point here.
At that distance the river banks are, say 25 feet high, and
slope down to the point, and run into a broad wide sandbar
that ends Illinois.

Fishing is a principal amusement or time-killer now. I
have fished about four days and caught nary a "minner."

There is no outside influence used to induce a man to
re-enlist. Officers tell every man to use his own judgment,
and each fellow does his own thinking and another long
dash or words to that effect.

Cairo, July 27, 1861

We number now about 60 and have 25 days in which to
fill up to 100. Two hundred and fifty of our regiment of
three-months' men have re-enlisted. Two hundred and
fifty out of 680, which is considerably better than any



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 21

eastern regiment that I have seen mentioned. There was
not a sick man in our company when we returned, and
there is not now. One of the boys just tells me that
day before yesterday morning there were but eight in
the regiment hospital. Three men from our regiment
have died in three and a half months. One of these I
know killed himself with imprudence. I have telegraphed
to the boys to be in Peoria Wednesday. I have not the
least idea that any of them will back out. It does seem
real good to be back here again where a fellow can swing
himself and lay around loose with sleeves up, collar open,
(or shirt off if it suits him better) hair unkempt, face
unwashed and everything un-anything. It beats clerking
ever so much ! We were paid off yesterday. The privates
received $56.72 each in gold, silver and copper, which is
$24.00 more than we expected.

We are having some more excitement in camp to-day.
A rumored attack in prospect on Bird's Point is the sub-
ject. We are putting the recruits through in two-forty-
style to get them ready. Twenty rounds of cartridges were
served to us at noon to-day, and Prentiss' aids are gal-
loping round as if tight. About one quarter of the recruits
have their accoutrements on, and some of them scoot up
on the levee every ten minutes to look at the Point. We
have all kinds of rumors of from 2,000 to 15,000 Rebels
within from 6 to 15 miles of us, but if 20 preachers would
swear to the truth, there's not one man that has been here
three months would believe it. Been fooled too often !
Our officers are careful though, and treat every thing from
head-quarters as reliable till the contrary is proven.

It is a horrid trip from Peoria to Cairo as the trains run
now. We laid over three hours in El Paso, and eleven
hours in Centralia; from n p. m. till 10 a. m. Awful! and
rode down from Centralia in an accommodation freight.
The bed was excellent at home, but I think that sleeping
on boards rests me better and I know I sleep sounder.



22 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

Have worked two hours hard at cleaning up quarters and
eating supper since my last period. Supper consisted of
coffee, bread and butter, and cold steak pickled in vinegar.
Vinegar is a great improvement on cold beef, I wonder you
never adopted it. We have a prime lot of boys this time.
There are not ten out of the whole company that I would
not like to have for associates at home. I don't believe
that one of them will ever take quarters in the guard-house.

I think our company will be full in ten days. We have re-
fused lots of roughs here in camp also in Peoria, but three or
four little ones have crept in through acquaintances' influence.
Those men we have will learn to drill in half less time than
any other lot of recruits on the ground, because they have a
pride in their appearance and dress, and that has given
them a better carriage and command of themselves than
rougher customers have.

We will have in a few days nothing but new recruits here ex-
cept the fractions of regiments that have re-enlisted ; the loth,
which calls itself the crack regiment of the post, will all leave
for home day after to-morrow. If it does not come back full
in 30 days it will be disbanded. This is Prentiss' old regiment.

Tattoo 9 p. m. They are really expecting an attack on
Bird's Point, and we will all be kept close in quarters evenings
after sunset till the scare dies away. One of our boys that
stood guard at the hospital this morning says the surgeon
told him that the sick would be brought from the Point to
Cairo to-day. Don't know whether they did it or not.

We were coming on the cars when we heard of the Manas-
sas rout. The boys gave three cheers, for they imagined it
would bring us marching orders. I would like very much to
hear such orders, but would a devilish sight rather march
with men that have had three months' drill than with these
new recruits. You can't imagine what a difference there is
in one's confidence in a drilled and undrilled company of
men. Don't say anything about our expectations of an
attack here for there has been a great deal too much said
already on going-to-be attacks on this Point



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 23

We pay five cents a pint here for milk, and I found a
wiggler in a pint this morning. Don't you think they ought
to mix clean water with the cow juice?

Sunday, I p. m. I have just woke up from a two hours'
sleep that had more dreams than all the sleeping I ever did
before. I dreamed everything from being a partner of Adam
and Eve in their orchard down to seeing Stephens' iron
battery.

Cairo, August 2, 1861.

Hot ! You don't know what that word means. I feel that
I have always been ignorant of its true meaning till this week,
but am posted now, sure. The (supposed-to-be) "never fail-
ing cool, delicious breeze" that I have talked about so much,
seems to be at "parade rest" now and I can't do justice to
the subject. The health of the camp is much better now than
at any time before, since we have been here. There is not a
sick man in our company. My health remains gorgeous. We
drill now five hour's a day, under a sun that cooks eggs in 13
minutes, but we think we feel the heat no more walking than
lying around the quarters.

The seceshers this morning took the packet that has been
plying between here and Columbus, and have run her off down
to Memphis. I thought that Prentiss stopped her sometime
since, but this at last closes all communication between the
North and South at this point. Our "ossifers" we think are
really scared about an attack here, but you could not make
the soldiers believe in the like till they see the fight begin.
About a thousand of our men were rushed off to Bird's Point
to-day to work on intrenchments, and won't they sweat?

My chum heard Colonel Oglesby tell an officer two hours ago
that there were 17,000 Rebels within 15 miles of the Point.
The scouts reported this body at New Madrid, 40 mfles down
the Mississippi, two days since. Yesterday 12 men from the
Pekin company and 12 from our's with some artillerymen
went 30 miles up the Mississippi to collect all the boats we



24 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

could find on the Missouri shore. We found three large flats
tied up to trees along the shore which we confiscated. One of
them wasn't very good so we sunk it. The object was to
prevent marauders from visiting Illinois. I had charge of
the men from our company.

Cairo, August 11, '61.

Our Canton boys came down on time, and right glad I am
to have them here. Colonel Ross's i/th Regiment got here
the same day by the river. The boys were sworn into our
company the day after they arrived, and the day following a
lieutenant in the Fulton Blues came over to get them to join
his company. I am glad he was too late. We have all been
over to the Point to visit the Canton boys of the i/th, and
found them looking very well. Will Trites, alone, looks unwell.
A few weeks at home is what he really needs, for he will not
give up work and go on the sick list as he ought to, as long
as he can stand. Billy Stockdale, Chancey Black, George
Shine, Billy Resor and Jesse Beeson are in No. I condition.
Their tents are pitched in old Bird's cornfield from which the
corn has just been cut and you can imagine that the stubble is
not equal to feathers to lie upon. They call us boys that live
in barracks in Cairo, Sunday soldiers and Fourth of July
braves ; the same names we applied to them when they were
in Camp Mather. The Canton boys in our company get along
finely. They are in the best of spirits and already appear quite
soldierly. They are well satisfied with the company which
now numbers 90 men and will be full this week. We all room
together except John Wallace and Milo Farewell. We are
now drilling about six hours a day, but the greenhorns act as
though they think it fun. We don't suffer from the heat as
much as one would think, and can you believe it the health of
the camp is better now than ever before. We have not in our
company a man on the sick list. Major Smith (our old friend
Marion), says that the I7th have been healthier at Bird's Point
than they ever were before; and so every regiment says that



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 25

comes here. If there are any very old people in Canton that
want to live 50 or 60 years longer, advise them to come to
Cairo. Mosquitoes and fleas are around these times. The
whole family are here.

Cairo, August 19, 1861.

The boys are writing to-day for some butter and things
from home. The expense by express from Peoria is not worth
speaking of and the other boys have things sent them often.
We have made up our minds to lying here six weeks longer at
least, and conclude that time will pass better with a few home
extras to grace our table.

Cairo, September i, 1861.

We had blankets given us this last week and new accoutre-
ments throughout. If they would only change our guns now
we would have nothing but a move to ask for. A uniform was
also furnished us last week. It is of excellent all-wool goods,
and not so heavy as to be uncomfortable. The color is very
fine grey, the pants are fashionably cut and equal to such as
would cost six dollars in Peoria. The coats have short skirts
and are rather fancifully trimmed with blue. It is much the
best uniform I have seen yet, although it costs but $13. We
will have a fatigue suit shortly. Yesterday we were mustered
for pay. We will get our first month's wages this week "they
say." There are wagons and mules here now by the hundreds,
and when our tents are ready (they are here now) we will be
ready to move. I think there must be near 10,000 men here
now. Logan's, Pugh's, Buford's, and another's regiment;
Hick's and Raritan's came in last week. The first three be-
long to McCormick's Brigade. General McClernand is here
now. Every one thinks we will move in a very few days. I
kind o' feel it in my bones, too, but it is too good to be true,
so I'm taking all the bets I can from 10 cents worth of peanuts
to a half bushel of apples, I betting that we are here two
weeks from now. I've got them any way, for if we move, I
hope to be able to borrow apples, etc., from the seceshers to



26 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

pay my little bills, and if I stay here I'll have some eatables free
for consolation. W Canton boys have hired a cook for our-
selves and are living much better than I ever did before in
camp.

Our cook is a jewel, and by trading off rations keeps us in
clover all the time. He sets a better table for us than the
Peoria house boarders eat from, honestly. An old schoolmate
of mine in our mess furnishes us with milk. He and John
Wallace go out every night about 2 or 3 o'clock and some-
body's cow don't milk well next morning. We'll never have
such times sojering again> but you can't imagine how we do
want to get over into Missouri or Arkansas. We don't have
half as easy times as these at home and but for the discipline
it wouldn't seem like soldiering. I've been bored like sin the
last two weeks drilling new recruits, but I'm glad of it, for
it is rather pleasant to me to have something disagreeable when
I'm bored feeling good. John Keefer and John Wallace, so far,
make as good soldiers as any men in camp, Keef's game leg
working against him, too. All our boys are just the men for
soldiers. It comes perfectly naturally to Sid. and Sam. Theo.
has been- in bad health for a week, but I think he is improving
now. Fred Norcott is a splendid boy. He and Sam match
well. Charley Cooper is acting as post orderly, that is, stays
at headquarders of the Post Commandant, preserves order
there and carries messages, dispatches, etc., to the different
colonels. A good place but very confusing.

I have been visiting Colonel Raritan's and Hick's Camp this
p. m. They have no guns yet and their sentinels stand guard
with sticks. Looks funny.

We have about 50 prisoners here now. They think they are
treated splendidly and say that if any of our boys fall into their
hands they will remember it. Several of them are very intel-
ligent-appearing men. One of them is about as big as a house
with a foot like a cooking stove. Charley Maple wrote down
to us that he wants to join our company ; Keefer wrote him to
come. I have to remark once more that the "health of camp
is better than ever before," your sarcastic remark not having



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 2/

affected our sanitary condition in the least. You will please
make no more impertinent remarks or comments on my letters !

A. H. White was down here last Sabbath, and he and I found
Frank Smith in Smith's Artillery. I have been here right by
him four months without knowing it and lived. He is a cor-
poral. He, A. H., and I drank some beer, discussed the af-
fairs of the nation and adjourned. Do you remember Enos
Lincoln? He is here in the I2th.

We have had some fighting in camp lately. An artillery man
stabbed one of the gth and got knocked, kicked and bayoneted
for it. The artillery have sworn to have revenge and every
hickory man (the 9th have a fatigue suit of hickory) they see
they pounce onto. They have a skirmish every day. One of
our company got drunk to-day, got to fighting, was sent to
the guardhouse, tried to break out, guard knocked him down
with a gun, cut his cheek open, etc. He then got into a fight
with four other men in the guard house and of all the bunged
eyes and bloody faces they beat the record.

Cairo, September 9, 1861

The refreshments and drygoods from home arrived
Saturday. We were at Paducah then and they were taken
care of by two or three of the lame and halt, that were not
in traveling order and were left behind. We returned this
morning and after acknowledging the excellence; profusion,
variety, gorgeousness, and confiscarity of your benevolent
appropriation to our temporal wants, I will particularize
by saying that you needn't worry about your picture, as
it is in my possession; that the cakes are both numerous
and excellent, that the pickles are prodigious in quantity,
beautiful in quality and remarkably acceptable. That the
butter and cheese are non ad com valorum. The tobacco
and Hostetter, the boys say, are very fine. To Mrs. Dewey
and Mrs. Heald w all return thanks and send our kind
respects and love. We have sent a share of the eatables to
the Canton boys of the I7th, which is again encamped
near us ; this time on the Kentucky shore. They are hard



28 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

at work to-day cutting down trees, clearing away for a
camp ground. I have seen none of them yet. We had the
nicest little trip to Paducah, that ever soldiers had. We
have just received orders to get ready to start in five
minutes.

Time extended a little. We had 1,500 troops in Paducah,
Ky., and received information that they would be attacked
Saturday, so Friday night 350 of us were sent up as an
advance. Now we go.

Camp Norfolk, September 12, 1861.
Agreeable to our very short notice we packed our knap-
sacks, put three days rations in our haversacks, were
carried across the river to Bird's Point in two boats (our
whole regiment), and just at dark started out through the
woods. 'Twas a confounded, dark, dirty, narrow road, and
I was right glad when the word "halt" was given and
preparations made for bunking in for the night. The next
morning we started again along down the river, the gun-
boats, two of them, keeping a couple of miles ahead of us.
We started with a couple of pieces of field artillery, but the
road got so bad that we had to leave it after about three
miles. We advanced about five miles when the gunboats,
which were about a mile and one-half ahead of us, opened
mouth, and thunder ! what a rumpus they did keep up. We
could not see them for the thick brush between us and the
river, but we thought sure our little fight had come at last.
We were drawn up in the front yard of some secesher's
deserted house (a fine one), and the colonel with a small
party went ahead to reconnoiter. While they were gone we
ate our dinners, and made ready for the expected march and
fight. But the colonel on his return, scooted us back to our
morning's starting place. Whew, but that was a sweating
old march. About an hour after we started back, 15 of our
cavalry scouts were run in, through the place where we
took dinner, by 60 or 70 secesh cavalry. Three or four



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 29

were wounded and our boys say that they killed several of
the Rebels. The gunboats came up in the p. m. reported
fighting the "Yankee" and two land batteries, one of which
was but three and one half miles below us (and some say
but one and one half miles) and had 16 guns. They crip-
pled the dam'd "Yankee" although the latter carries 84/5,
while ours hadn't but 64's. Our boats were not touched. A
deserter came up from Columbus yesterday afternoon and
says that our boats killed 200 in the fight. (I believe he is a
liar and a spy). We have had it sweet the last day and two
nights. Rained like sixty and we have no tents. There is
no shelter but a few trees and you know they amount to
nothing in heavy rains. It is amusing to see the boys
figure at night for dry beds. Every thing, gates, cordwood,
rails, cornstalks, weeds and panels of fence and boards are



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 2 of 31)