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 22 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 22 of 31)
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for. It occasionally gets a little old, but so does everything
in this life, and altogether I don't know but that it wears as
well as any of life's pleasures. Do you remember when I



256 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

was at home how little I knew about good eatables? Here
it is a great advantage to me. For five weeks we have been
living on "hard tack," pickled pork and coffee, varied by not
half a dozen meals of beef, not even beans or rice. Nearly
every one grumbles, but I have as yet felt no loss of appetite,
and hardly the desire for a change.

Nearly all the prisoners we capture say they are done fight-
ing and shamefully say, many of them, that if exchanged and
put back in the ranks they will shirk rather than fight. It
would mortify me very much if I thought any of our men
that they captured would talk so. It seems to me that the
Confederacy is only held together by its officers exercising at
least the power of a Czar, and that should we leave it to itself
it would crumble. Well, I am calculating that this campaign
will end about the I5th of July, in Atlanta. I cannot hope
for a leave of absence again until my time is out, unless I
resign, and if active campaigning continues, as some think it
will, until the war is over, of course I will have no chance to
do the latter. Cousin James is near me here, and I expect
to see him soon.

Passed Charlie Maple on the road yesterday ; also saw Cleg-
get Birney. He is a splendid looking boy. They say the 7th
Cavalry will soon be here; also the 8th Illinois. I will try to
write you every week hereafter.

One mile South of Ackworth, June 16, 1864.

We moved through town and arrived here this p. m. Ack-
worth is a nice little town. All the "ton" have moved south.

We will lay here two days, and then for Atlanta again. I
was out of provisions all day yesterday, and when I got a.
supply last night filled up to suffocation, but feel splendidly
to-day. They credit a prisoner with saying that Sherman will
never go to hell, for he'll flank the devil and make heaven in
spite of all the guards. The army is in glorious spirits. I
hope the next time to date from Atlanta, but can hardly hope
that for three weeks yet.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 257

Same place, June 7, 1864.

Our brigade has to-day been on a reconnoisance, supporting
Girard's (formerly Kilpatrick's) Cavalry Division.

We started the Johnnies not more than a mile from here,
and skirmished with them, driving them to the Kenesaw
range of mountains, about five miles. Our brigade lost noth-
ing. Wilder's mounted infantry did the skirmishing and had
some eight to ten wounded. Four dead Rebels fell into our
hands. Cousin James called on me yesterday. I am much
pleased with him. He is a No. I soldier, I know. He has run
some pretty close risks this campaign, but who would not for
the sake of taking part in it? I shall always think it abund-
antly worth risking one's life for. To-morrow night we can
tell whether the enemy intends fighting us at this place or not.
They left on the field to-day a dozen or twenty real lances.
They are the first I ever saw in the service. The staff is eight
or nine feet long with a pointed head of ten inches in length.
They were a right plucky set of Johnnies.

Our battery burst a shell over the edge of a piece of woods
and I saw some 20 Rebels scatter like a lot of scared rats.

Near Big Shanty, Ga., June 10, 1864.

Army moved this a. m. Found the enemy again at this
place, and have been in line of battle a dozen times, more or
less. Our brigade is in reserve for the rest of the division.
This is the Kenesaw Mountain; from the top of one peak
the Rebels could see probably 25,000 Yanks. Some ladies
were there in sight observing us. We are to-night in a dense
wood some three-quarters of a mile southwest of the main
road. The enemy does not seem to be close in our immediate
front, but there is considerable firing about a brigade to our
right. General Sherman's staff say that a general fight is not
expected here. A. J. Smith is starting for Mobile from Vicks-
burg. That's glorious. We to-day heard of the nomination
at Baltimore of Lincoln and Johnson. Very glad that Lin-
coln is renominated, but it don't make any excitement in the
army. The unanimity of the convention does us more good



258 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

than anything else. I received a letter from Gen. "Dick"
(Oglesby) last night. He is much pleased with his nomina-
tion and has no doubt of his success. Neither have I. If we
had the privilege the whole Illinois army would vote for him.
We are having a good deal of rain, say about 6 hard showers
a day. The roads are badly cut up. The hour or two hours
sun between showers makes the men all right. The Rebels
have no oilcloths and must be troubled with so much rain.

June n, 1864.

Colonel Wright and I rode out to the front to-day. The
Johnnies are about one and one-half miles from us, and oc-
cupying what looks like a very strong position. Rumor says
that Sherman has said that he can force them to leave here any
moment, but will wait for supplies and the roads to dry up.
The cars got to Big Shanty about noon to-day, and indulged
in a long and hilarious shriek. The Rebel locomotive about
two miles further down the road answered with a yell of
defiance.

I hear to-day that the 23d Corps took 2,000 prisoners and
two cannon. I guess its yes. Rosencrans is actually coming,
they say. I don't think we need him. Sherman moves very
cautiously, and everybody feels the utmost confidence in him.
I saw him yesterday seems to me he is getting fleshy. He
don't look as though he had anything more important than a
40-acre farm to attend to.

It has rained almost all day. You musn't expect me
to write anything but military now, for it is about all we
think of.

June 12, 1864.

It commenced raining before daylight, and has not
ceased an instant all day. We are lucky in the roads
where it can't get very muddy, but so much rain is con-
foundedly disagreeable. The only source of consolation
is the knowledge that the Rebels fare much worse than we
do. They have neither tents nor oilcloths. For once our



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 259

corps is in reserve. The i6th and I7th united their lines
in front of us this morning. The I7th A. C. especially is
using ammunition with a looseness. They are just getting
their hands in. The rain is real cold. If it were not for
hearing the musketry and artillery firing we wouldn't
know there was an enemy within 50 miles. This is said
to be the Georgia gold country. I could just pick up some
beautiful specimens of quartz and a flinty stone (maybe
quartz also) in which the isinglass shines, and in some
places I have picked off sheets two inches square. No
forage here. Four deserters came in to-day.

They say that Johnston had an order read to his troops
that Wheeler had cut the railroad in our rear, and de-
stroyed our supply trains. The troops all cheered it heart-
ily, but hardly had they got their mouths shut when our
locomotives came whistling into Big Shanty, one mile from
their lines. The deserters say it disgusted them so much
they concluded they'd quit and go home. I wish Sherman
would attack them now, for we would be sure to get what
trains and artillery they have here.

June 13, 1864.

The rain continued until 5 p. m. Everything and every-
body thoroughly soaked. Our division moved about one-
half mile to the left this p. m. Strategy ! We moved out
into an open ploughed field. You can imagine the amount
of comfort one could enjoy so situated, after two days'
constant rain, and the water still coming down in sheets.

The field is trodden into a bed of mortar. No one
has ventured a guess of the depth of the mud. It is cold
enough for fires and overcoats. My finger nails are as blue
as if I had the ague. There is one consolation to be drawn
from the cold, it stops the "chigres" from biting us. I
would rather have a bushel of fleas and a million of mos-
quitoes on me than a pint of "chigres," don't know the
orthography They are a little bit of a red thing, just an
atom bigger than nothing; they burrow into the skin and



260 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

cause an itching that beats the regular "camp" all hollow.
Some of the men have scars from "chigre" bites that they
received at Big Black last summer, and will carry them
across the Styx. The ants here also have an affinity for
human flesh and are continually reconnoitering us. I kill
about 200,000 per day. Also knock some 600 worms off
of me. Great country this for small vermin. I pick
enough entomological specimens off me every day to start
a museum. I do manage to keep clear of greybacks,
though.

Every time I commence talking about chigres I feel short
of language. I am satisfied of one thing, if my finger nails
don't wear out, there'll be no flesh left on my bones by
autumn. The case stands finger nails vs. chigres, and skin
is the sufferer. Notwithstanding rain, cold or chigres, we
are in excellent spirits. Sherman don't tell us anything
(in orders) good or bad, but every man feels that we have
"a goodly thing" and is content to work and wait. I never
heard less complaining, or saw troops in better spirits.
If we get to Atlanta in a week all right ; if it takes us two
months you won't hear this army grumble. We know
that "Pap" is running the machine and our confidence in him
is unbounded.

We have so far had abundance of rations, but if it comes
down to half, we will again say "all right." Our army is
stronger to-day than it ever was in numbers and efficiency. I
am sure that there is not a demoralized company in the com-
mand. There has been considerable shooting along the front
to-day, and the lines have been advanced some, but we are
nearly a mile back, and being constantly ready to move. I
have not been out, and don't know much about the exact sit-
uation. Its something new for our division to be in reserve.
Time passes much more quickly in the front. The general
opinion is that we are gradually working to the left, and will
cross the Chattahoochie about east or northeast of Marietta.
We are now 26 miles from Atlanta by railroad and some-
thing nearer by pike.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 26 1

June 14, 1864.

Four officers and 28 men deserted from the Rebels last
night. The Rebel captain told one of my corporals that in
their brigade there is an organization the members of which
avow it their purpose to desert the first opportunity. These
men are satisfied the game is up with them, and give it as their
reason for deserting. They say the whole brigade will come
as opportunity offers. Lively artillery firing in front of us
this morning. We hear that Grant has pushed Lee to his for-
tifications at Richmond. Suppose the report will be, Grant
will cut his communications south and west and Lee will
evacuate. I see the papers have us across the Chattahoochie,
away south of the railroad. Of course that is a poor article of
gas from our sensational correspondent in the far rear.

It looks to me as if the Rebels have a very strong position
in front of us now, but I may be mistaken. We have been
quietly laying in camp all day. I must credit Georgia with
one pleasant June day, that is not too warm. There has been
the usual amount of firing to-day, though few hurt.

June 15, 1864.

This has been a star day, and a better feeling lot of men
that compose our brigade will be hard to find, for to-night any
way. The morning was occupied in cleaning guns, etc. At
ii o'clock the assembly was sounded, and we moved one and
one-half miles, which brought us on the left of the whole
army. By I p. m. we had our line formed running from right
to left, I03d Illinois, 6th Iowa, 46th Ohio, 4Oth Illinois, with
the 97th Indiana deployed as skirmishers. We were in about
the center of an open lot of plantations, facing a densely-
wooded hill of maybe 300 acres. It was a plumb one-third of
a mile to it and already the enemy's sharpshooters were reach-
ing our men from it.

One of Company K's men was shot here, and one of H's.
At precisely I p. m. we started, the men having been notified
that they would have to get to that woods as quickly as pos-
sible. The Rebels opened pretty lively. Right in front of



262 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

where I am now writing is a house. On the porch I see n
children, not over nine years old. All belong to one woman.
Haven't seen her, but from what I have seen in this country,
wouldn't dispute the man who would tell me she was only 20
years old. This is a great stock country. As we started,
the boys raised a cheer that was a cheer, and we went down on
them regular storm fashion. A hundred yards before we got
to the hill we ran into a strong line of rifle pits swarming
with Johnnies. They caved and commenced begging. The
pit I came to had about 20 in it. They were scared until some
of them were blue, and if you ever heard begging for life it
was then. Somebody yelled out "Let's take the hill," and we
left the prisoners and broke. At the foot of the hill we came
to a muddy rapid stream, from 10 to 15 feet wide and no cross-
ing, so we plunged in. I got wet to my middle, and many did
to their breasts.

The banks were steep and slippery and muddy. Though we
all expected a serious fight on the hill, up we went every man
for himself, and through to an open field, over which some 200
straggling sandy looking Johnnies were trying to get away,
which most of them accomplished, as we were too tired to
continue the pursuit fast enough to overtake them. How-
ever, the boys shot a lot of them. Well, they call it a gallant
thing. We took 542 prisoners, and killed and wounded I
suppose loo.

The whole loss in our brigade is not 10 killed and 50
wounded. I only had one man wounded in my company,
Corp. E. D. Slater. There were three killed and nine wounded
in the regiment.

There were three regiments of Rebels the 3ist, 4Oth and
54th Alabama. They ought to have killed and wounded at
least 500 of us, but we scared them out of it. They shot too
high all the time. Osterhaus also had a hard fight to-day,
was successful in taking a line of rifle pits. Thomas drove
them a mile.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 263

June 1 6, 1864.

We moved back a mile last night, being relieved by the
1 7th Corps. Taking it easy again to-day. There has been
a lively artillery fight right in front of us to-day. Tell * * *
if any of the 3ist or 4Oth Alabama officers report at Johnston's
Island, to give them my compliments. One captain offered
me his sword, but I hadn't time to stop. We wanted that
hill, then.

Near Big Shanty, Ga., June 17, 1864.

Has rained steadily all day, wetting everybody, but "drying
up" all shooting. A very disagreeable day. I saw 83 Rebels
come in to-day, about one-half of whom were deserters and
the rest figured to get captured.

June 1 8, 1864.

It rained steadily until 4 p. m. and had hardly ceased a
minute when our guns opened and the skirmish lines joined
issue. General Harrow and Colonel Wright rode out to the
left some 200 yards from the regiment and narrowly escaped
a trip over the river, a shell bursting right under the nose of
the general's horse.

June 19, 1864.

This is the 5Oth day of the campaign. Our brigade has
been under musketry fire 12 days, artillery about 30. We have
as a brigade fought three nice little battles, in as many days,
repulsing two charges, and making one which was a perfect
success. We have captured all told about 650 prisoners, and
I think 1,000 a very low estimate of the number we have
killed and wounded. I think Cheatham's and Bates' Rebel di-
visions will say the same. We have thus cleared ourselves
with a loss to us of nearly 300, or fully one-fifth of the com-
mand. The other nine days we were on the skirmish line, in
the rifle pits or front line.



264 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

This morning an order was read to pursue the enemy im-
mediately and in ten minutes the "assembly" was sounded.
The enemy had fallen back on his flanks, and maybe was in-
tending to evacuate, for our right had swung around him fur-
ther than I, if in his place, would consider healthy. But he
had not yet left the Twin Mountains. The line now runs from
right to left by Corps 23d, 2Oth, 4th, I4th, I5th, i6th, I7th.
The I4th Corps lost heavily to-day, but drove the Rebels four
miles. The 23d Corps was still going at last accounts. The
artillery firing to-day was beautiful. Our division advanced
about one-half mile only. The Twin Mountains are right in
front of us, and I have seen the Rebels shooting from six
batteries on the crest and sides. Our batteries on a line 600
yards in front answer them promptly.

Only one shell has burst near us, and that 100 yards to our
right.

The 55th had one killed and two wounded just in front of
us, by shells. All parts of the line advanced from one to five
miles to-day, the right swinging forward farthest, a-la-gate.
Osterhaus' headquarters are 30 yards to our right. A solid
shot from the mountain went through one of his tents yester-
day. It has rained hard all day, but nobody minds it a par-
ticle. The general feeling is that the Rebels have fallen back
to their main position, although they have abandoned ground
that we would have held one against five. I can't hear that
any line of battle has been engaged to-day, but the force on
the advance skirmish lines was probably doubled at least. You
would not smile at the idea of sleeping on the ground allotted
to us to-night. Mud from six to eight inches deep.

Same place, front of Twin Mountains,

June 20, 1864, ii a. m.

Rebels still on the mountain, a good deal of our artillery, a
little of theirs, and not much musketry this morning. Wheeler
is in our rear, but we don't care for that. I do hope, though,
that Forrest will not be allowed to come over here. We are



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 265

all well and feeling fine, but wishing very much to see the level
country beyond these mountains. In a "Commercial" of the
1 5th I see the Rebel loss in the charge of Bates' (Rebel) divi-
sion on the 27th of May was 72 killed and 350 wounded, and
56 missing. That charge was made almost altogether on our
brigade, and my skirmish line did three-fourths of the damage.
The 4Oth Alabama we captured the other day inquired for the
8th Illinois. They fought each other at Vicksburg and got
well acquainted in the rifle pits. McPherson and Logan have
just gone down to the front and there is talk of a fight to-day,
but it is hard telling when one will have to go in. Can't tell
until the order to "commence" firing is heard. Wagstaff will
be home in a few days. I would like to date my next from a
new place, but Sherman and Johnston will decide that
matter.

This is becoming tedious. Johnston has no regard for one's
feelings. We are all exceedingly anxious to see what is the
other side of these mountains, but this abominable Johnston has
no idea of letting us take a look until he is forced to. He is a
good-natured fellow in some respects, too, for here we have
our "flies" stretched, and our camp fires and our wagons
around us in good range of his guns and not a shot does he
give us. You understand that we are in reserve. Our front
line is along the foot of the mountain, and we lay back about
a mile. But it is all open between us and the front, and we
sit in the shade, and (as we have this p. m.) see 20 Rebel guns
firing on our men. Why they don't make us get out of this
is beyond me to tell. Hundreds of wagons and ambulances
are parked around us, and right by us is parked the reserve
artillery of our corps, all in plain view of the Rebels on the
mountains, but not a gun is fired at us. Yesterday they
dropped one shell a hundred yards to our right and quit, as
much as to say: "We could stir you Yanks if we wanted to,
but it is all right."

I don't know how this looks to outsiders, but it seems to me
as the coolest thing of the campaign, pitching tents right under
the enemy's guns, without a particle of cover. Being under



266 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

artillery fire in a fight or while supporting a battery is all right,
and if we were in rifle pits or behind the crest of a hill
'twould be ditto, but moving right out and pitching tents un-
der the noses of Rebel 32-pounders beats me and I guess it
beats them. We all feel a pride in the thing and I'd see the
the Johnnies to the devil before I'd dodge the biggest cannon
ball they've got there. The artillery this p. m. has been the
heaviest I have heard this campaign.

June 21, 1864.

No variation to report to-day. Heavy rain yesterday
and to-day. Some 350 prisoners were sent in from the
right yesterday, and about 80 more that I know of to-day.
Figure that we have taken about 3,000 prisoners at this
place. Since the army went into position here the right
has advanced about six miles, the center two miles, and the
left three and one-half to four miles. The musketry from
dark last night until n p. m. was very busy in front of the
4th Corps, though it may have been only a heavy skirmish
line. I hear to-day that the 4th Corps took a strong Rebel
position last night while that firing was going on and held
it.

June 22, 1864.

Our Adjutant Wagstaff is out of the service and the
recommendation for Frank Lermond to receive the ap-
pointment has gone on to Governor Yates. Frank is well
worthy of the place and has earned it. We flatter our-
selves that no regiment has less skulkers than ours in
battle, and we have through the corps, a name that Fulton
need not fear will disgrace her. We have all day been
ready at a moment's notice to support the 4th Corps. Saw
Chandler yesterday. He is on M. L. Smith's staff. I wish
a little party of Cantonians could be here to-night to see
the artillery firing. Our view -of the Rebel guns is excel-
lent. With glasses we can see them load. The artillerists



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 267

say our field glasses are not so good. Many are prophesy-
ing that the Johnnies will vamoose during the "stilly
night." Much as I want to, can't see it. Looks like too
good a thing.

June 23, 1864, 9 a. m.

The Rebels opened furiously from the mountain last
night about 12. Here they are firing at a division of
the I4th who had advanced and were fortifying. No harm
done. I failed to wake up. It is reported this morning
that Ewell's Corps has arrived to reinforce Johnston.
Don't think it. will make him strong enough to assume the
offensive, if true, and don't believe it any way. Artillery
commenced again half an hour since, and goes on slowly.
Rebels haven't gone, surely.

Front of Kenesaw Mountain, June 26, 1864.
Nothing worth mentioning has occurred since my last.
The usual amount of artillery and musketry have kept
us sure of the enemy's still holding his position. I have
sent you, piecemeal, a journal of every day since May 1st,
excepting the last four days, which were stupid. It prom-
ises to be interesting enough now. We received orders
yesterday p. m. to be ready to move at dark, and were all
glad enough. When we are in the face of the enemy I
believe one is better contented in the front line than any-
where else, though, like every other good thing, it becomes
old. At 7 p. m. we moved out and it took us until 2 a. m.
to march three miles. We relieved Jeff C. Davis' division,
which moved farther to the right. It is right at the foot
of the west one of the twin mountains. The Johnnies
shot into our ranks with impunity. They have to-day
killed one and wounded three of our brigade that I know
of, and more in the ist Brigade. Dr. Morris' brother is the
only man struck in our regiment; he is not hurt much.



268 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

June 27, 1864, daylight.

The battle comes off to-day. It will be opened on the
flanks at 6 a. m. We do not commence until 8 a. m. Our
brigade and one from each of the other two divisions of
the corps are selected to charge the mountain. The i/th
A. C. will try the left hand mountain. If we are successful
with a loss of only half our number in this mountain
charging, I will think our loss more than repaid. I believe
we are going to thoroughly whip Johnston to-day, and if
we fail I do not care to live to see it.

June 28, 1864.

The attack was not general ; it was made by our brigade
and M. L. Smith's Division. We lost nearly one-third of
the brigade. Our regiment's loss is 17 killed and 40
wounded. My company had five killed and four wounded.
Colonel Wright was shot quite badly in the leg, and Lieu-
tenants Montgomery, Branson and Bailey were killed. In



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 22 of 31)