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 20 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 20 of 31)
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and on the banks of the Chattahoochie. Desperate charge on
Rebel works across a ravine. A repulse and Colonel Wright
wounded. Great suffering from heat. Battle of Atlanta and death
of McPherson. Gruesome incident in the trenches. Summary of
the regiment's record: Battles of Vicksburg, Black River, Jack-
son, Mission Ridge, Dalton, Resaca, Dallas, New Hope, Big Shanty
Kennesaw Mountain and Atlanta. Seventy-two days under fire;
300 have fallen in defense of the regimental colors.

Scottsboro, Ala., April 3oth, '64.

You know we have been under marching orders for several
days. At dress parade this evening orders were read notify-
ing us that the division would move out on the road to Chat-
tanooga at 6 a. m., May ist.


This is the first intimation of the direction we would take.

It surprises me very much, and I think many others. I
was certain we would either cross the Tennessee river at Lar-
kins Ferry or near Decatur and take Dalton in flank or rear,
but Sherman didn't see it. I would rather do anything else
save one, than march over the road to Chattanooga. That
one is to lie still in camp.

When the boys broke ranks after the parade, cries of "mule
soup" filled the camp for an hour. That is the name that has
been unanimously voted to the conglomeration of dead mules
and mud that fills the ditches on the roadside between Steven-
son and Chattanooga.

The whole division has been alive all evening; burning
cabins has been the fashion. Captains Post, Smith and my-
self got into a little discussion which ended in our grabbing
axes and demolishing each other's cabins.

May ist, 1864.

Bivouac at Mud Creek. Up at daylight, and off on time,
6 a. m. The camp was full of citizens early, all after our
leavings. The way they did snatch for old clothes was far
from slow. They actually stole lots of trash right under the
noses of the soldier owners. Out "jayhawking" old jayhawk
himself. Started off in best of spirits men cheering right
from their hearts. About two miles out on the road, General
Harrow and staff passed us. The men not having the fear of
"guard house" in their minds, yelled at him, "Bring out your
Potomac horse," "Fall back on your straw and fresh butter,"
"Advance on Washington," etc., all of which counts as quite
a serious offense, but he paid no attention to it. You recollect
he is from the Potomac Army. The first expression conies
from a punishment he inaugurated in our division. He put
up a wooden horse in front of his quarters, and mounted on it
all the offenders against discipline that he could "gobble."
Some waggish fellows wrote out some highly displayed ad-
vertisements of the "Potomac horse" and posted them through-
out the camp, and finally one night the men took it down and


sent it on the cars to Huntsville, directed to McPherson, with
a note tacked on it, telling him to furnish him plenty of straw
and use him carefully, as he was Potomac stock and unused
to hardships.

We only marched some ten miles to-day and have a splendid
camping ground. Have had a wash in a mill race near by.

West bank of Crow Creek, near Stevenson,

May 2d, 1864.

Only about seven miles from last night's camp, but will have
to wait until to-morrow to build a bridge. The creek is some
150 feet wide. Our Pioneer Corps will from the rough put a
bridge over it in ten hours, that is to be passed over within
the next three days by 800 wagons and 100 cannon of our
corps. We reached here about 9 this a. m., and were led into
a very large field of prairie grass, standing three feet high
and as dry as tinder. A stiff breeze was blowing and the first
fire started in our regiment set the grass in our front on a per-
fect rampage. It run down on the 46th Ohio, and such a grab-
bing of "traps" and scattering was never before seen, but
was equaled about half an hour afterwards when a fire set
in our rear came sweeping down on us. We threw our things
out on the bare space in our front and escaped with little loss.
My drummer had his coat, cap, drum and a pet squirrel
burned, and a number of ponchos and small articles were also
sent up in smoke. The days are almost like summer, but the
nights are rather cool. The trees are about in full leaf and
vermin are becoming altogether too numerous. Every man is
a vigilance committee on the wood-tick question. They are
worse than guerrillas or gray-backs. On an ordinary good
"tick day" we capture about ten per capita. They demoralize
one tremendously. The boys did some good work fishing in
the p. m., catching a number of fine bass, etc.

A surgeon, who I think belongs on some brigade staff, has
been stopping at nearly every house visiting, etc., and then
rides past us to his place in front. This morning, after a visit


he was passing our regiment; as we commenced crossing a
little stream his horse got into a hole some four feet deep,
stumbled, fell, rolled over, and liked to have finished the doctor.
He was under both water and horse. The boys consoled him
with a clear 1,000 cheers, groans, and sharp speeches. Any-
thing short of death is a capital joke. I have seen them make
sport of a man lying by the roadside in a fit.

Twelve miles east of Bridgeport, May 3, 1864.

Have made about 15 miles to-day. This is the fourth time
I have been over the same ground, have ridden over it five
times. This is the first time I ever started on a march where
real judgment was used in breaking the men in. We always
before made from 15 to 25 miles the first day and broke down
about one-fourth of our men. This time you see, our first two
day's marches were short and the 15 miles to-day seemed to
affect no one. I hear from good authority here that Thomas is
in Dalton, after some heavy skirmishing. Everything is mov-
ing to the front here. A portion of the I2th, or 2Oth Corps
now, is just ahead of us. Morgan L. Smith and Osterhaus
are just behind us, but Logan will not be along until relieved
by some other troops.

I expect Dodge, with some 6,000 of the i6th Army Corps,
is behind us. The I7th Army Corps was coming into Hunts-
ville as we left.

Camp is in an orchard, and apples are as large as hazel nuts
and we make sauce of them.

Whiteside, May 4, 1864.

The day's march has been much more pleasant than any of
us expected. Most of the dead mules have been buried, and
the road much improved, especially through the narrows. We
smelled a number of mules, though, after all the improve-
ments. This, Whiteside, is like Bridgeport, a portable town,
with canvas covers and clapboard sides.

The boys have been catching some nice fish in a little stream
by our camp this evening. Made about 15 miles to-day.


Between Chattanooga and Rossville, May 5, 1864.

It has been a very warm day, and the 16 miles between 8
a. m. and 4 p. m. counts a hard march. The dust in many
places has been ankle deep.

We again crossed the point of old Lookout. I think since
yesterday morning at least 20 trains loaded with troops have
passed us while in sight of the railroad, with from 15 to 20
cars in each train.

We hear to-day that Dalton is not yet ours, but Sherman
only waits for his old corps before attacking.

Have sent everything back to Chattanooga to store. It
is estimated that we will have over 100,000 men at Dalton day
after to-morrow.

Will keep a diary and send every opportunity.

Camp at "Gordon's Mills," Ga., May 6, 1864.

We lay in camp on Chattanooga creek, two and one-fourth
miles this side of Chattanooga, until II this morning, waiting
for the division train to be loaded and turning the bulk of our
camp and garrison equipage over to the corps quartermaster
to store for us until we return from this campaign.

We have cut our baggage for the regiment to what can be
put in three wagons. Of course, we do not expect to find any
of our things again that we leave. The 6th Iowa Veterans re-
joined us last night. I notice that all these veterans come
back dressed in officer's clothing. They have, I expect, been
putting on a great many airs up North, but I don't know who
has any better right. The last four miles of our march to-
day has been through the west edge of the Chickamauga bat-
tlefield. I believe the battle commenced near these mills on
our right.

It is supposed that we are moving to get in rear of Dalton.
No more drumming allowed, so I suppose we are getting in
the vicinity of Rebels, and that skirmishing will commence in
about two days. The Big Crawfish springs near the mill is
only second to the one that supplies Huntsville with water,
neither one as large as the Tuscambia spring, but much more


Beautiful. General Harrow had a fuss with our Company A
last night. He struck one or two of the men with a club and
put the lieutenant (Willison) under arrest. * * * It is im-
possible to get along with him. We heard last night that Grant
had crossed the Rapidan in four places, but don't know where.
We know nothing about what is going on here, but feel cer-
tain that the Rebels will get a tremendous thrashing if they
don't move promptly. Marched n miles to-day.

Two miles south of the Gordon's Mills crossing of
the Chickamauga,

May 7, 1864, 12 m.

We started at 8 this morning and made this by n. We are
now waiting for two or more divisions of the i6th Corps to
file into the road ahead of us. I think they are coming from
Ringold. A circular of McPherson's was read to us this
morning before starting, telling us we were about to engage
the enemy and giving us some advice about charging, meeting
charges, shooting low, and telling us not to quit out lines to
carry back wounded, etc., and intimating that he expected our
corps to occupy a very warm place in the fight, and to sustain
the fighting reputation of the troops of the department of the

The men talk about hoping that the divisions now going
ahead will finish the fighting before we get up, but I honestly
believe they'd all rather get into a battle than not. It is fun
to hear these veterans talk. I guess that about two-thirds of
them got married when they were home. Believe it will do
much toward steadying them down when they return to their
homes. They almost all say that they had furlough enough
and were ready to start back when their 30 days were up.

It is hot as the deuce; two of our men were sun struck at
Lookout Mountain on the 3rd.

Dust is becoming very troublesome. I am marching in a
badly-fitting pair of boots, and one of my feet is badly strained
across the instep, pains me a good deal when resting. That


and my sprained wrist make me almost a subject for the
Invalid Corps, but I intend to carry them both as far as At-
lanta, after our "Erring Brethren," if I have no further bad
luck. One of my men, when he rolled up his blanket this
morning, found he had laid on a snake, and killed him poor
snake !

Near LaFayette, Ga., 12 m., May 7, 1864.
Have just got into camp and washed my face. Four divisions
filing into the road ahead of us, delayed us five whole hours,
and their trains have made us seven hours marching 8 miles.
Somebody says we are 19 miles from Rome. The boys have
started a new dodge on the citizens. One of my men told me
of playing it last night. When we camped for the night he
went to a house and inquiring about the neighbors found out
one who had relatives North; and something of the family
history. Then he called on this party and represented himself
as belonging to the northern branch of the family, got to kiss
the young lady cousins, had a pleasant time generally, and re-
turned with his haversack full of knicknacks, and the pictures
of his cousins, with whom he had promised to correspond. At
one house on the road to-day 10 or 12 women had congregated
to see the troops pass. An officer stopped at the house just
as our regiment came up, and the boys commenced yelling at
him, "Come out of that, Yank;" you could have heard them
two miles. Never saw a man so mortified. Colonel Wright
tells me we are about seven miles from the Rebels at some
ridge. We will get into position to-morrow and fight next
day that is, they would, if I were not present. We camped
in a "whale" of a sweet potato patch, and the boys have about
dug up the seed and gobbled it.

May 8, 1864, 1 130 a. m.

Have about given up the train before daylight, so will curl
down and take a cool snooze, minus blankets. Made 1 1 miles


Fifteen miles southwest of Dalton, May 8, 1864.
We traveled to-day over a better country than I have seen
for five months ; the Yanks were never seen here before. All
the negroes and stock have been run off. A little shooting
commenced in the front to-day, and we passed a deserted sig-
nal station and picket post. Saw some Rebels on a mountain
south of us just before we went into camp. Dispatch came to
Sherman this p. m. that Grant had whipped Lee three succes-
sive days. Our fight will come off to-morrow. I entertain no
doubt as to the result. They have cut us down to three-quarter
rations of bread and one-fourth rations of meat.

Seven miles west of Resaca, 15 miles from Dalton,

May 9, 1864.

Yesterday we traveled southeast, crossing six or seven
ridges, one or two of which were quite high. Taylor's was the
highest. To-day we have made only about eight miles all the
way through a pass in Rocky Face ridge, which is a high moun-
tain. There are four divisions ahead of us. A regiment of
Kentucky cavalry (Rebel) slipped in between ours and the di-
vision ahead of us, trying to capture a train. The Qth Illinois
Infantry had the advance of our division and killed 30 Rebels
and took four prisoners, losing only one man killed and their
lieutenant colonel slightly wounded. Pretty good. Dodge has
got the railroad and broken it, so we hear. The fight seems to
be a stand-off until to-morrow. We are in line of battle for
the first time on the trip, and the ordnance train is ahead of the
baggage. Just saw an officer from the front (your letter of
the 3d of April received this minute) ; he says Dodge is within
a mile of Resaca, and driving the enemy, and will have the
town by dark. Has not cut the railroad yet. This officer saw
a train arrive from Dalton, with some 2,500 Rebel troops
aboard. McPherson and Logan are both on the field. Some
Rebel prisoners taken to-day say they intend making this a
Chickamauga to us. Have a nice camp. There is some little
forage here, but it is nothing for the number of troops we have.


Same camp, May 10, 1864.

The 9th Illinois Infantry lost about 30 men, killed, wounded
and missing, yesterday. We find the enemy too strong on the
railroad to take, but have succeeded in breaking it so no trains
can pass. Gerry's division, of the 2oth Corps, came up at
dark, and the rest of the corps is within supporting distance.
Rations were issued to us this evening one-ninth rations of
meat for three days just made a breakfast for the men. More
rumors are flying than would fill a ream of foolscap. We had
orders this p .m. to march to the front at 2 p. m., but did not

Six miles from Resaca, May n, 1864.

We had a real hurricane last night, and a tremendous
rain-storm. We lay right in the woods, and of course
thought of the Point Pleasant storm and falling trees, but
were too lazy to move, and thanks to a bed of pine boughs,
slept good and sound. There is a scare up this morning.
We have moved a mile toward the front, and building
breast-works is going on with the greatest life. A full
1,000 axes are ringing within hearing. Our division is
drawn up in column by brigade and at least another divi-
sion is in rear of us. The latest rumor is that "the railroad
has surrendered with 40,000 depots,"

May I2th. We are in just such a camp as I was in once
near Jacinto, Miss. Hills, hollows and splendid pines.
Pine knots can be picked up by the bushel, and the pitch
smoke will soon enable us to pass for members of the
"Corps d'Afrique." I am perfectly disgusted with this
whole business. Everything I have written down I have
had from the Division Staff, and that without pumping.
I am beginning to believe that there is no enemy anywhere
in the vicinity, and that we are nowhere ourselves, and
am sure that the generals do not let the staff of our divi-
sion know anything. The railroad was not cut at daylight
this morning, for I heard a train whistle and rattle along


it. I do know for certain that we are putting up some huge
works here, and that they run from mountain to mountain
across this gorge.

Still in Snake Creek Gap, May 13, 1864.
Moved forward a half mile and our regiment built a
strong line of log works. We have had a perfect rush of
generals along the line to-day: Hooker, Sickles, McPher-
son, Thomas, Palmer, Sherman and a dozen of smaller fry.
The boys crowded around Sherman and he could not help
hearing such expressions as "Where's Pap?" "Let's see
old Pap," etc., nor could he help laughing, either. The
men think more of Sherman than of any general who ever
commanded them, but they did not cheer him. I never
heard a general cheered in my life, as he rode the lines.
Sherman said in hearing of 50 men of our regiment, "Take
it easy to-day, for you will have work enough to-morrow.
It will be quick done though." Now see what that means.

May 14, 1864.

Reveille at 3 a. m. and an order has just come to leave all
our knapsacks and move at 7 a. m. Great hospital prepara-
tions are going on in our rear. I think we are going to take
the railroad and Resaca. Large reinforcements came last
night. Could hear the Rebels running trains all night. Ten-
thirty a. m. Have moved forward about four miles. Saw
General Kilpatrick laying in an ambulance by the roadside.
He was wounded in the leg this morning in a skirmish. Met
a number of men wounded moving to the rear, and a dozen
or so dead horses, all shot this morning. Quite lively skirm-
ishing is going on now about 200 yards in front of us.

One forty-five p. m. Moved about 200 yards to the front
and brought on brisk firing.

Two thirty-five. While moving by the flank shell com-
menced raining down on us very rapidly; half a dozen burst
within 25 yards of us. The major's horse was shot and I think


he was wounded. In the regiment one gun and one hat was
struck in my company. Don't think the major is wounded
very badly.

Three thirty p. m. Corporal Slater of my company just
caught a piece of shell the size of a walnut in his haversack.

Four p. m. Colonel Dickerman has just rejoined the regi-
ment. We would have given him three cheers if it had not
been ordered otherwise.

Five p. m. Have moved forward about a mile and a real
battle is now going on in our front. Most of the artillery is
farther to the right, and it fairly makes the ground tremble.
Every breath smells very powderish. A battery has just opened
close to the right of our regiment. I tell you this is inter-
esting. Our regiment is not engaged yet, but we are in
sight of the Rebels and their bullets whistle over our heads.
The men are all in good spirits.

Eight p. m. A few minutes after six I was ordered to
deploy my company as skirmishers and relieve the ist Brigade
who were in our front. We shot with the Rebels until dark,
and have just been relieved. One company of the I2th Indiana
who occupied the ground we have just left, lost their captain
and 30 men killed and wounded in sight of us. The Rebels are
making the axes fly in our front. The skirmish lines are
about 200 yards apart. I have had no men wounded
to-day. Dorrance returned to the company this evening.

May 14, 1864, Daylight.

We have just been in line and the intention was to
charge the Rebel position, but two batteries were dis-
covered in front of us. The skirmishers advanced a little
and brought down a heavy fire. A battery is now getting
into position in our front, right in front of our company,
and when it opens I expect we will have another rain of
shell from the Rebels.


Nine thirty-five a. m. Our battery has opened, but the
Rebels cannot reply. Four of their guns are in plain sight of
us, but our brigade skirmishers have crawled up so close that
not a Rebel dare load one of them. Joke on them ! One of my
men was struck on the foot while talking to me a few minutes
ago. Made a blue spot, but did not break the skin.

Eleven forty-five a. m. I think our regiment has not had
more than six or eight wounded this morning. Very heavy
musketry firing is going on on our left. It is the I4th Corps.

Two p. m. Since I p. m. terrific artillery and musketry
firing has been going on on our left. The enemy was mass-
ing against the I4th A. C. when Thomas attacked them. I
think he drove them some distance.

Two thirty p. m. My company is ordered to be deployed
and sent down the hill to support skirmishers. We are in
position, very lively firing is going on.

Five p. m. A splendid artillery duel is going on right over
my head. The Rebel battery is just across an open field, not
600 yards, and one of ours is a short 100 yards in my rear.
Osterhaus a half mile on our right is playing on the same
battery. Thomas is still fighting heavily. He seems to
be turning their right or forcing it back. Every time the
Rebels fire our skirmishers just more than let them have
the bullets. I tell you this is the most exciting show I
ever saw. Their battery is right in the edge of the woods,
but so masked that we can't see it, or wouldn't let them
load. I write under cover of a stump which a dead man of
the 26th Indiana shares with me.

Eight p. m. Just relieved ; I lost no men. The fighting on
the left was Hooker and Howard, and was very heavy.

May 15, 1864, i :30 a. m.

At II p. m. went again on the skirmish line with Captain
Post and superintended the construction of rifle pits for our
skirmishers. A good deal of fun between our boys and the
Rebels talking only 50 yards apart.


Five thirty a. m. At 3 a. m. moved and are now supporting
Osterhaus, who is going to charge the railroad. Will see
fighting this morning.

Nine a. m. The skirmishers are fighting briskly. Oster-
haus' artillery is on both sides and behind us. Sherman has
just passed us to the front. When we first came here about
daylight the Rebels charged our folks on the hill ahead, but
were repulsed without our assistance. McPherson is now
passing. Osterhaus gained that hill last night by a charge,
losing about 200 men in the operation. From a hill 50 yards
from our position I can see the Rebel fort at Resaca and
Rebels in abundance. It is not a mile distant.

One thirty p. m. Our artillery is beginning to open on
them. One man was killed and two wounded within 40 yards
of the regiment by Rebel sharpshooters.

Seven p. m. No charge yet to-day, but has been heavy
fighting on the left. I have seen, this evening, Rebel trains
moving in all directions. We have a good view of all their

May 1 6, 1864, 6 p. m.

The old story the Rebels evacuated last night. They made
two or three big feints of attacking during the night, but are
all gone this morning. It is said they have taken up a position
some five miles ahead. Prisoners and deserters are coming in.
At Resaca we captured eight cannon, not more than 100 pris-
oners, and some provisions ; don't know what we got at Dalton.
Some estimate our whole loss up to this time at 2,500
killed and wounded. Everything is getting the road for pur-
suit. The prisoners say Johnston will make a stand 40 miles

Six p. m. The i6th Corps moved out on the Rome road,
and while we are waiting for the I4th Corps to get out of
our way word came that the i6th had run against a snag.
We were moved out at once at nearly double quick time


to help them. Trotted four miles and passed a good many
wounded, but we were not needed. We bivouac to-night on
the southeast bank of Coosa river. I hear to-night that our
loss in the corps is 600 and that no corps has suffered less than
ours. Some think the whole will foot over 5,000.

May 17, 1864, 10 a. m.

Our regiment moves in rear of the division to-day and we
are still waiting for the trains to pass. We can hear firing in
front occasionally, and although we have seen fighting enough
to satisfy us for a time, still it's more disagreeable to be away

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 20 of 31)