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 21 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 21 of 31)
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in the rear and hearing, but not knowing what's going on, than
to be in the field. I saw several hundred Rebel prisoners yes-
terday, among then one colonel. The country is much more
level this side of the Coosa, but the pine woods spoil it.
Our advance, from the faint sound of the artillery firing,
must be seven or eight miles ahead. We will make it
very warm for Johnston.

Ten p. m. Have just got into camp, madei2 miles to-day.
Heavy firing on our left, which I hear is a division of How-
ard's Corps.

May 18, 1864.

Our division has had the advance to-day, but no infantry
fighting. At noon we get into Adairsville and meet the 4th
Army Corps. Saw Generals Howard, Thomas, Sickles and a
hundred others. We are camped five miles southwest of town
and by the prettiest place I ever saw. The house is excellent,
the grounds excel in beauty anything I ever imagined. The oc-
cupants have run away. Our cavalry had a sharp fight here this
p. m., and on one of the gravel walks in the beautiful garden
lies a Rebel colonel, shot in five places. He must have been a
noble looking man ; looks 50 years old, and has a fine form and
features. Think his name is Irwin. I think there must be a
hundred varieties of the rose in bloom here and the most splen-
did specimens of cactus. I do wish you could see it. At
Adairsville, night before last, we lost 400 killed and wounded
in a skirmish.



Nine a. m. Rapid artillery firing on our left front. We are
waiting for Osterhaus and Morgan L. Smith to get out of the
way. Our division has the rear to-day. Our cars got into
Adairsville yesterday evening and the last Rebel train left in
the morning. Firing on the left very heavy.

Kingston, Cass County, Ga., May 19, 1864, 5 p. m.
The artillery has been working all day, but have not heard
how much of a fight. That dead Rebel colonel was Iverson,
of the Second Georgia Cavalry; we think he was formerly a
M. C. of this State, and a secessionist. The citizens here have
most all left the towns, but are nearly all at home in the coun-
try. The cavalry had sharp fighting in the road we have come
over to-day. Many dead horses and a number of fresh graves
by the roadside. I wish I was in the cavalry. This plodding
along afoot is dry business, compared with horse-back travel-
ing. I hear this morning that Wilder's mounted infantry cap-
tured two cannons and 600 Rebels this afternoon. Also that
6,000 prisoners were yesterday started from Dalton for the

Kingston, May 20, 1864.

Our cars got here this morning; the whistle woke me. One
of the most improbable rumors afloat is that letters will be
allowed to go North to-day. I know you are anxious, so will
not lose the rumor of a chance. Billy Fox returned to-day.
My things are all right at Chattanooga. I'm in excellent health
and all right every way. The news from Grant encourages us
very much, but if he gets whipped it won't keep us from whal-
ing Johnston. We're now about 50 miles from Atlanta. Will
probably take a day or two here to replenish the supply trains,
and let the men recruit a little after their twenty-day march ;
don't know anything about Johnston ; it is not thought he will
give us a fight near here.


May 21, 1864.

The 23d Army Corps moved South yesterday. I hear that
they found the enemy on the south bank of the Etowah river,
and that he disputes the crossing. Grant seems to be checked
in his "on to Richmond." It seems that Rebel Iverson, whom
I saw dead near Adairsville, was a brigadier general and a son
of the ex-Congressman. This Kingston has been a gem of a
little town, but the Rebels burned most of it when they left.
Our railroad men are very enterprising. The cars got here
the same night we did, and a dozen or 20 trains are coming
per day, all loaded inside with commissary stores and outside
with soldiers.

May 22, 1864.

Two regiments of three-year's men who did not "veteran"
started home to-day. The loss of the army in this way will not
be much. Not more than one or two regiments in any corps
refused to veteran. We are drawing 20 days' rations, sending
sick back to convalescent camp at Chattanooga, and making all
preparations for a hard campaign.

Four miles northwest of Van Wirt, Ga.,

May 23, 1864.

Weather is getting very hot. We have made 21 miles to-
day, and the distance, heat and dust have made it by far the
hardest march we have had for a year. Excepting about six
miles of dense pine woods the country we have passed through
has been beautiful, quite rolling, but fertile and well improved.
In the midst of the pine woods we stopped to rest at Hollis'
Mill, a sweet looking little 1 7-year old lady here told me she
was and always had been Union, and that nearly all the poor
folks here are Union. In answer to some questions about
the roads and country, she said, "Well, now, I was born and
raised right here, and never was anywhere, and never see any-
body, and I just don't know anything at all."


I never saw so many stragglers as to-day. For 12
miles no water was to be had; then we came to a spring, a
very large one, say 4 or 5 hogsheads a minute. All the offi-
cers in the army could not have kept the men in ranks. Saw
no cases of sunstroke, but two of my men from heat turned
blue with rush of blood to the head, and had to leave the ranks.
Some think we are moving on Montgomery, Ala. Our orders
say we need not hope for railroad communications for 20 days ;
I think that Atlanta is our point, although we were 50 miles
from there this morning and 60 to-night. The planters in this
country own thousands of negroes, and they've run them all off
down this road. They are about two days ahead of us, and the
poor people say as thick on the road as we are. Have passed
several to-day who escaped from their masters.

Four miles southeast of Van Wirt, Ga.,

May 24, 1864.

Short march to-day because it is a full day's march from
here to water. At Van Wirt we turned east on the Atlanta
road. Will pass through Dallas to-morrow. My company was
rear guard to-day for the brigade. One of my men spilled a
kettle of boiling coffee last night, filling his shoe. All the skin
on the top of his foot that did not come off with the socks is
in horrible blisters. The surgeon said he would have to march,
and he has, all day, don't that seem rather hard ? You remem-
ber how I used to detest fat meat? If I didn't eat a pound of
raw pickled pork to-day for dinner, shoot me. Things don't
go nearly as well as on the march from Memphis. 'Tis much
harder, though we don't make as many miles per day. One
reason is the weather is much warmer, and another thing, each
division then marched independently, and now all three of them
camp together every night. Dorrance is nearly sick to-night
I thought I heard some artillery firing this morning, but guess
I was mistaken. The cavalry report they have not found any
force of Rebels yesterday or to-day. Small-pox has broken out
in the 6th Iowa some 20 cases.


Pumpkin Vine Creek, near Dallas, Ga,,

May 26, 1864, 8 a. m.

We did not make more than seven or eight miles yesterday,
on account of some bad road that troubled the trains very much.
We got into camp at dark, just as a thunderstorm broke. We
hurried up our arrangements for the night kicking out a level
place on the hillside to sleep gathering pine boughs to keep
the water from washing us away, and spreading our rubbers
over rail frames. Everything just finished, was just pulling
our stock of bed clothes over me (one rubber coat), when the
brigade bugle sounded the "assembly." It was dark as pitch
and raining far from gently no use grumbling so everybody
commenced yelping, singing, or laughing. In ten minutes we
were under way, and though we didn't move a mile, every man
who didn't tumble half a dozen times would command good
wages in a circus. We finally formed line of battle on a bushy
hillside, and I dropped down on the wet leaves and slept
soundly until i o'clock, and woke up wet and half frozen, took
up my bed and made for a fire and dried out. Do you remem-
ber the case when the Saviour commanded a convalescent to
take up his bed and walk? I always pitied that man, carrying
a four-post bedstead, feathers, straw and covering and failed to
see it, but if he had no more bedding than I had. I can better
understand it. Heavy cannonading all the p. m. yesterday. It
seemed some five or six miles east; don't understand the way
matters are shaping at all. Sherman has such a way of keeping
everything to himself. The country between Van Wirt and
Dallas is very rough, but little of it under cultivation ; along
this creek are some nice looking farms. The Rebels were go-
ing to make a stand, but didn't.

Two p. m. We started at 8 this morning, and have not made
more than one and one-half miles. Soldiers from the front
say that Hardee's Corps fronts us two miles ahead, and that he
proposes to fight. I have heard no firing that near this morn-
ing, but have heard artillery eight or ten miles east. A number
of prisoners have been sent back, who all report Hardee at


Dallas. I think Thomas now joins our left. McPherson last
night rode up to some Rebel pickets, who saluted him with a
shower of hot lead, fortunately missing him. Osterhaus' com-
missary drives along a lot of cattle for the division. Last night
he got off the road and drove them into a party of secesh, who
took commissary, beef and all. Back at Kingston, a big box
came to General Harrow with heavy express charges. An
ambulance hauled it 20 miles before it caught up with him,
and on opening it he found a lot of stones, a horse's tail, and a
block of wood with a horses' face pinned on it labeled, "head
and tail of your Potomac horse." At Van Wirt before we got
there the Rebels had a celebration over Lee's capturing Grant
and half of his army. There's a great deal of ague in the
regiment. We will have a great deal of sickness after the cam-
paign closes. I have only seen one man at home in Georgia
who looked capable of doing duty as a soldier. My health is
excellent. This creek runs into the Talladega river.

One mile south of Dallas, 2 p. m.

After a lively skirmishing Jeff C. Davis' division of the I4th
Army Corps occupied Dallas at 2 p. m. The Rebels retired
stubbornly. We passed Dallas about dark, and are now the
front and extreme right of the whole army. I guess fighting is
over for the night. Two very lively little fights have occurred
before dark. The heavy fighting yesterday was Hooker. He
whipped and drove them four miles, taking their wounded.

Near Dallas, Ga., May 27, 1864, 8 a. m.
There has been some very heavy fighting on our left this
morning, and everywhere along the line. We have been mov-
ing in line since 6 o'clock, supporting skirmishers and the 3d
Brigade. Have driven the Rebels about three-quarters of a
mile. The I4th Corps must have had a severe fight about 6 130.
The bullets have whistled pretty thick this a. m.

Skirmish line, n a. m. Osterhaus and Smith (I think),
have just had a big fight on our left. At 8:30 I was ordered


to take Companies E, K, B and G, deploy them and relieve the
3d Brigade skirmishers. Deployed and moved forward over
one-half mile through the very densest brush couldn't see
six feet, expecting every minute to find the 3d Brigade skirm-
ishers, but they had been drawn in, and we were right into the
Rebels before we saw them. Three of my company were
wounded in an instant and three of K's taken prisoner, but
our boys made the Rebels skedaddle, and all of them got away.
Twenty-one Rebels came up in rear of Captain Smith and
two of his men. Private Benson shot one of them, and Smith
roared out for the rest to surrender, which they did. They
(Rebels) said they would not have been taken if the Georgia
brigade had not fallen back. I think that is doing pretty well
for four companies of our regiment, running a whole brigade.
Firing is very heavy all around us.

Twelve thirty m. - A chunk of Rebel shell lit 15 feet from
me. Lively artillery firing right over head.

Four p. m. At 2:15, after firing a few shells, the Rebels
set up a yell along our whole front. I knew a charge was
coming. At 2:30 another yell was much nearer. My men
then commenced firing on them, but they came on yelling
pretty well, but not as heartily as I have heard. They came
jumping along through the brush more then, making the
bullets rain among us. I think they could not fly much thicker.
My men did nobly ,but they were too many for us, and we had
to fall back. I heard their officers halloo to them, "to yell and
stand steady," and they were right amongst us before we left.
Our line of battle checked them and made them run. I lost
A. Huffard killed ; Seth Williams died in two hours ; Wm.
Gustine severely wounded; E. Suydam ditto; S. Hudson
ditto; H. Stearns slight wound; J. H. Craig ditto; F. Cary
ditto; W. Roberts ditto; W. G. Dunblazier captured.

Seven p. m. I tell you this was exciting. My men all stood
like heroes (save one), and some of them did not fall back
when I wanted them to. The bush was so thick that we could
hardly get through in any kind of line. Gustine and Suydam


were about 20 feet on my left when they were shot, but I
couldn't see them. The Rebels were not 15 feet from them.
I had 31 men on the line, and nine killed and wounded, and
one prisoner, is considerable of a loss. They took six more
of Company K prisoners, but three of them got off. I don't
think anyone can imagine how exciting such a fracas as that
is in thick brush. As quick as our line started the Rebels
running, I went back on the ground, and found a lot of dead
and wounded Rebels. Every prisoner of the 2Oth Georgia had
whiskey in his canteen, and all said they had all issued to them
that they wanted. I never say such a dirty, greasy, set of
mortals. They have had no rest since they left Dalton. On
account of my skirmishers losing so heavily, we have been
relieved from the line, and are now in rifle pits, and are sup-
porting those who relieved us.

May 28, 1864, 9 a. m.

Still in rifle pits. We have been treated to a terrific
storm of shells, spherical case, and solid shot. The bat-
teries are in plain sight of each other, and the gunners
call it a thousand yards between them. I don't think
either battery does very fine work, but they make it more
than interesting for us. A conical shell from a 12 pound
gun passed through a log and struck a Company C man
on the leg, only bruising him. Two solid shot fell in my
company works, but hurt no one. Seven p. m. Talk about
fighting, etc., we've seen it this p. m. sure, of all the interesting
and exciting times on record this must take the palm. At
about 3 :45 p. m., a heavy column of Rebels rose from a
brush with a yell the devil ought to copyright, broke for
and took three guns of the ist Iowa Battery which were
in front of the works (they never should have been placed
there) ; the 6th Iowa boys, without orders, charged the
Rebels, retook the battery and drove them back. They
came down on our whole line, both ours and the i6th A. C,
and for two hours attempted to drive us out. We repulsed
them at every point without serious loss to us, but I


believe they are at least 3,000 men short. In our brigade
Colonel Dickerman, Lieutenant Colonel 6th Iowa com-
manding, and Major Gilsey, commanding 46th Ohio, are
wounded. Besides these I don't think our brigade lost over
So. It was a grand thing. I did not lose a man and only
three companies of our regiment lost any. When the mus-
ketry was playing the hottest, Logan came dashing up
along our line, waved his hat and told the boys to "give
them hell, boys." You should have heard them cheer him.
It is Hardee's Corps fighting us, and he promised his men
a "Chickamauga," but it turned out a "Bull Run" on
their part. It is the same corps our regiment fought at
Mission Ridge. Our line is very thin along here, but
guess we can save it now. I heard a 4Oth boy get off an
oddity this evening, he said: "If they come again, I am
going to yell if there's any danger of their taking us,
"Worlds by Nation Right into line Wheel!' and if that
don't scare them, I propose going."

May 29, 1864, 4 p. m.

Have been in the rifle pits all day. We're now expecting
a charge from the Rebels, that is, our division commander is.
I think they will lose an immense sight of men if they attempt
it. News to-day of Davis moving his capital to Columbia,
S. C., and of Grant driving Lee across the Savannah River.

Monday, May 30, 1864.

At dark last night I was put in charge of our brigade
skirmish line of four companies; by 9:30 I had everything
arranged to our notion. About that time the musketry
commenced fire on our left and continued for a half hour;
it was very heavy. Some three or four pieces of artillery
also opened on our side. That thing was repeated eight
times during the night, the last fight being just before
daylight. When I was down on the right of the line I
could hear the Rebels talking about the fight and saying
it was a mighty hard one, and "I wonder whether our


men or the Yanks are getting the best of it." These night
fights are very grand. I understand this fighting occurred
between Hooker and the "Johnnies." Attacks were made
by each side, repulses easy. I guess from what little I hear
there was a good deal more shooting than hitting on both
sides. I think it was the intention for us to move to the
left last night, but so much fighting prevented it. I don't
know when I have been so used up as this morning, and
the whole command is not far from the same condition,
but a few hours' sleep made me all right again this morn-
ing. The Rebels are much more tired than we ; they have
had no rest since leaving Dalton. One of their wounded,
a captain, told me that one of their surgeons told him their
loss since leaving Dalton in killed and wounded would
amount to 25,000. That's pretty strong, the third of it or
10,000 I could believe. I was relieved at dark to-day from
skirmishing duty.

May 31, 1864.

Generals Sherman, McPherson, Logan and Barry visited
our position yesterday. Sherman looks very well. Logan
smiled and bowed in return to my salute as though he
recognized me. During the fight of the 28th I was stand-
ing, when he was riding along our lines on the inside of the
rifle pits (with a hatful of ammunition), just over my men.
He stopped by me and said: "It's all right, damn it, isn't
it?" I returned: "It's all right, General." The Rebels
were quite busy last night running troops and artillery
along our front both ways. Some think they planted a
number of guns opposite us. I hear some of the officers
talking as though a fight was expected to-day. Their
sharpshooters are making it quite warm here this morning ;
several men have been struck, but none hurt seriously.

Seven p. m. The Rebels have just finished throwing 126
shells at us, only 19 of which bursted. We expected they
would follow it with a charge, but they hardly will attempt


it this late. I think we have lost none to-day in the regi-
ment. Their shell hurt no one. Logan was slightly
wounded in the arm yesterday. Colonel Dickerman died
this morning.

Five miles west of Acworth,

June i, 1864.

At daylight this morning we left our position on the right
and moved over here, six or seven miles, and relieved Hook-
er's 2Oth Corps, which moved around to the left. It was
ticklish business moving out from under at least 30 of the
enemy's guns, and we did it very quietly. They did not sus-
pect it. We are now within 90 yards of the Rebel works,
and the shooting is very lively. Only one of our regiment
wounded to-day. I would much rather be here than where
we were, for there they shot at us square from three sides,
and here they can but from one front. This is dense woods
and the ground between our works nearly level. There are
two lines of works here, 30 yards apart; we occupy the rear
works to-day, but will relieve the 6th Iowa to-morrow and
take the front. This is the ground that Hooker had his big
fight on on the 25th of May. He lost some 2,000 men killed
and wounded. The woods are all torn up with canister, shell
and shot, and bloody shoes, clothing and accoutrements are

June 2, 1864.

The 4Oth Illinois returned to-day, and I was right glad to
see them back. We have lost no men to-day. The I7th
Army Corps is beginning to come in. We advanced our
works last night, commencing a new line in front of our regi-
ment. The Rebels didn't fire at us once, though they might
as well killed some one as not. Colonel Wright and ten men
picked out the ground and then I took a detail and went to
work. By daylight we had enough of rifle pit to cover
50 men and had the men in it. I tell you it waked them


up when our boys opened upon them. This is getting on
the Vicksburg order. The troops are in splendid spirits
and everything is going on as well as could be wished.
I think this thing will be brought to a focus in a few days.

June 3, 1864.

Relieved the 6th Iowa at 6:30 this a. m. The Rebels
shoot pretty close. Killed Orderly Sergeant of Company I,
(VanSycle), and wounded three men in our regiment
to-day. This makes 50 in killed, wounded and prisoners,
or one in every six.

June 4, 1864.

We have had a good deal of fun to-day. The firing has
been brisker than usual on account of our advancing our
works. We got up a mock charge this afternoon, which
came pretty near scaring the Rebel skirmishers out of their
boots and made a good deal of fun for us. Our regiment
is on fatigue duty. We are working within 80 yards of the
Rebel works. They cut a Company C man's finger off
when he raised his pick to-day. Another of our men was
shot in the face. I, with my company, work from 12
to-night until three in the morning.

June 5, 1864.

The Rebels run last night. Everything gone this morn-
ing slick and clean. Our regiment was the first in their
works. I was over their works to-day and find three lines,
two of them very strong. A number of dead men lay
beween their lines and ours, which neither side could bury.
They were killed during Hooker's fight of May 25th.

Well, I expect another heat like this at the Chattahochie
river and when we get them out of there, as we are bound
to do, ho ! for easy times !

My health continues excellent, and I hope it will until
this campaign is over. I am making up for some of my
easy times soldiering. The Rebels were awful dirty and
the smell in their camps dreadful.


We got some 25 prisoners in front of our division. I
think one more big stand will wind the thing up. They
made no noise whatever in getting away. I was from 12
to 3 o'clock in the night working within 75 yards of them
and did not hear them at all. At one place their works ran
through a graveyard, and they had torn down all the
palings inclosing graves, to make beds for themselves, and
unnecessarily destroyed everything of beauty around. I
am sure we would not have done so in our own country,
and / would not anywhere. I don't give these Rebels half
the credit for humanity or any of the qualities civilized
beings should possess, that I used to. I estimate loss of
our army here at 7,000 killed, wounded and missing. It
may be more. Heavy reinforcements are arriving though,
and the strength of the army is much greater than at any
time heretofore. Spirits excellent. I could tell some awful
stories of dead men, but forbear. We moved at 9 a. m.
about four and one-half miles toward the railroad and
have gone into camp for the night.

This is the first day since May 26th that I have been
out of the range of Rebel guns, and hardly an hour of that
time that the bullets have not been whistling and thump-
ing around. I tell you it is a strain on a man's nerves,
but like everything else that hurts, one feels better when
he gets over it.

June 6, 1864.

I will try and send you this to-day. Our postmaster never
calls for letters, though we could send them if he would. I
will try hereafter to send oftener, though you must not feel
anxious about me. I will take the best care I can of myself
(and do my whole duty). I yet think that to be connected
with such a campaign as this is well worth risking one's life

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 21 of 31)