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 23 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 23 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

my company Corporals Whittaker, Myers, and Private Sam
Mclntyre, Art. Myers, and Jacob Maxwell, were killed
Sergeant Breed, Privates Bishop, Frank Breed and James
Williamson were wounded. We held all the ground we
took (under our fire), but had to leave a few of our dead
until dark.

On the p. m. of the 26th Colonel Wright told me that
General McPherson arid Colonel Walcutt (our brigade
commander) had been out through the day examining the
ground in front, and that it was in contemplation to carry
the southwest spur of the mountain by a charge, and
further, that it was not impossible that our brigade would
be in as usual. This was kept quiet in the command.
About 8 p. m. I was at Colonel Wright's headquarters
with several of the officers and we were talking the matter
over, when an order came for the colonel to report at
brigade headquarters. I believe every one present in-
stantly concluded that we were to fight, and knowing the
country before us to be about on a par with Lookout


Mountain you can imagine we did not particularly enjoy
the prospect. The colonel returned in about an hour. We
had all, I believe, fallen asleep. He woke us and said:
"Have your men get their breakfasts by daylight; at 6
a. m. the fight will begin on the right, and at 8 a. m. our
brigade will, with one from the ist and 2d divisions,
charge a spur of the mountain." I turned away and after
notifying my orderly sergeant to have the men up on
time, I turned in. Thought the matter over a little while
and after pretty fully concluding "good-bye, vain world,"
went to sleep. Before daylight in the morning we were in
line, and moving a few hundred yards to the rear of our
works, and stacked arms in a grove, which would hide us
from the observation of the Rebels on the mountain. You
know from where we have been for a few days, we could
see them plainly. Cannonading commenced on the right
at 6 a. m. and at 7:30 we moved a half or three quarters
of a mile along our lines to the right, after piling our knap-
sacks and haversacks. A canteen of water was the only
extra baggage any one carried. The Rebels caught sight of
us as we commenced moving, and opened a battery on us It
had the effect to accelerate our movements considerably.
Right in front of a Division of the 4th Corps we halted,
and rapidly formed our line. While forming the line Cor-
poral Myers of my company was killed by a bullet within
six feet of me, and one of Company K's men wounded.
I don't know how many more. The ground to be gone
over was covered with a dense undergrowth of oak and
vines of all kinds binding the dead and live timber and
bush together, and making an almost impenetrable abatis.
To keep a line in such a place was out of the question.
Our skirmishers were sharply engaged from the start, and
men commenced falling in the main line; at the same time
some 50 of the Rebel skirmish line were captured, and
many of them killed. A Rebel lieutenant and five men lay
dead, all nearly touching each other.


I understand that they had been summoned to surrender,
and were shot either for refusing or before negotiations
were completed. Not a man in our regiment knew where
the Rebel works were when we started, and I think the
most of them found them as I did. I had with my com-
pany got within, I think, 60 yards of the Rebel works,
and was moving parallel with them. The balls were
whistling thick around us, but I could see no enemy ahead.

I did not even think of them being on our flank, until
one of the boys said: "Look there, Captain, may I shoot?"
I looked to the right, and just across a narrow and deep
ravine were the Rebel works, while a confused mass of
greybacks were crowding up the ravine. These latter, I
suppose, were from their skirmish line, which was very
heavy, and trying to escape us. The Rebels in the works
were firing vigorously and have no excuse for not anni-
hilating our three left companies K, G and B. The right of
the regiment had seen them before and already started for
them. I shouted "forward" to my men and we ran down
across the ravine, and about one-third the way up the hill
on which their works were and then lay down. There was
little protection from their fire, though, and if they had
done their duty, not a man of us would have got out alive.
Our men fired rapidly and kept them well down in their
works. It would have been madness to have attempted
carrying their works then, for our regiment had not a
particle of support, and we were so scattered that we only
presented the appearance of a very thin skirmish line. If
we had been supported by only one line, I have no doubt
but that we would have taken their line of works. Colonel
Wright was wounded a few minutes after we got into the
hollow, and Frank Lermond came to me and told me I
would have to take command of the regiment. I went
down to the center and the order was heard to retire. I
communicated it to the left and saw nearly all the men out,
and then fell back.


I could not find the regiment when I came out, but col-
lected about 30 of our men on the left of the 6th Iowa, and
after a while Colonel Wright and Captain Post brought
the regiment to where we were, when we formed a brigade
line and threw up works within 200 yards of the enemy's,
where we remained until 9 p. m., when we returned to the
position we occupied in the morning. About 12 of our
dead were left in the ravine under the fire of the enemy's
guns. But we have as many of their dead as they have of
ours. Lieutenant Colonel Barnhill of the 4Oth Illinois, and
Captain Augustine of the 55th Illinois were killed and left
on the field. My loss is five killed and four wounded. Two
of my dead, Corporal Whittaker and Artemus Myers, were
left on the field. Loss in the regiment is 17 killed, 40
wounded. In the brigade 245 killed and wounded. It was
a rough affair, but we were not whipped. The prettiest
artillery fight I ever saw was over our heads in the even-
ing, about 10 guns on each side.

June 29, 1864.

There was a night charge made by the Rebels on our right
last night. They got beautifully "scooped." We have been
laying quiet all day. Lots of artillery, though but few shots
come near us.

June 30, 1864, 8 a. m.

There was a terrific fight on our right, commencing at 2
this morning and lasting until 3. I have not yet heard what it

Some deserters passed us this morning. I have lost just
half the men I left Scottsboro with just two months ago,
but what I have left, are every man ready to help. We have
a good deal more than "cleared" ourselves. I had my canteen
strap cut off by a bullet and a spent glancing ball struck my


July i, 1864.

This campaign is coming down to a question of muscle
and nerve. It is the 62d day for us, over 50 of which we
have passed under fire. I don't know anything more exhaust-
ing. One consolation is that the Rebels are a good deal worse
off than we are. They have lost more men in battle, their
deserters count by thousands, and their sick far exceed ours.
We'll wear them out yet. Our army has been reinforced by
fully as many as we have lost in action, so that our loss will
not exceed our sick. You notice in the papers acounts of
Hooker's charging "Lost Mountain," taking a large number
of prisoners, and the names of officers. You see they are all
from the 3ist and 4Oth Alabama. It is also credited to Blair's
I7th Corps. Our brigade took all those officers on the I5th of
June. I wrote you an account of it then. It hurts us some
to see it credited to other troops, but such is the fortune of
war, and soldiers who do not keep a reporter must expect it.
Colonel Wright starts for home to-day.

July 2, 1864.

We have been taking it easy since the charge. Our shells
keep the Rebels stirred up all the time. Sham attacks are also
got up twice or three times a day, which must annoy them very

July 3, 1864.

Rebels all gone this morning. Our boys were on the moun-
tains at daylight. Hundreds of deserters have come in. Os-
terhaus moved around the left of the mountain to Marietta,
all the rest of the army went to the right of it. We are about
one-half a mile from town; have not been in. All who have,
say it is the prettiest place we have seen South. Some artil-
lery firing has been heard this p. m. five or six miles south,
and there are rumors that an advance has captured a large
number of prisoners, but nothing reliable.


July 4, 1864.

I count it the hardest Fourth I have seen in the service.
About 8 a. m. we moved out, passed through Marietta, which
is by far the prettiest town I have seen South (about the size
of Canton), and continued south nearly all the way along
our line of works. Marched about n miles. Not more than
one-third of the men stacked arms when we halted for the
night; fell out along the roads. I have seen more than 1,000
prisoners and deserters.

July 5, 1864.

Can hear no firing this p. m. It seems the Rebels have got
across the Chattahoochie. We are about 12 miles from At-
lanta. The river will probably trouble us some, but we all
think "Pap" will make it before August 1st. Johnston don't
dare give us anything like a fair fight. We are all in splendid
spirits and the boys have made the woods ring with their
Fourth of July cheers, tired as they are. We have lost no
men since the charge of the 2/th. I have an Atlanta paper,
giving an acount of that fight. They say we were all drunk
with whisky and fought more like devils than men.

p. m.

We have continued our march about four or five miles to-
day. Osterhaus and M. L. Smith are ahead of us ,and I
think we are on the right of the army again. The 4th Divi-
sion, i /th Army Corps is engaged one-half mile ahead of us
or rather are shooting a little with their big guns. I climbed
a tree a half hour ago, and what do you think? saw
Atlanta, and saw it plainly, too. I suppose it is ten miles dis-
tant, not more than 12. The country looks about as level as
a floor, excepting one-half mountain, to the left of the city,
some miles. We seem to be on the last ridge that amounts to
anything. We are, I suppose, two and one-half miles from the
river at this point, though we hold it farther to the right.
Very large columns of smoke were rolling up from different
parts of the city. I suppose they were the explosions of foun-


dries, machine shops, etc. Dense clouds of dust can be seen
at several points across the river; suppose it means trains or
troops moving.

Have seen but few wounded going back to-day. We are
laying along some very good rifle pits, occasionally embra-
sured for artillery, which the I7th Army Corps took this
morning. They were not very stoutly defended, though, and
the artillery had been moved back. With some pretty lively
skirmishing the line has been advanced this evening. Not
much loss on our side; saw some one-half dozen ambulance
loads only.

July 6, 1864.

I went down to our front this evening. Our advanced ar-
tillery is yet some 1,200 yards from the Rebels, but there is
nothing but an open field between, and it looks quite close.
The Johnnies have thrown up a nice fort, embrasured for nine
guns. They have not fired a shot to-day. The captain of our
advanced artillery told me the Rebels have 20 Parrott guns in
the fort, and excellent gunners.

We moved this evening one mile to the left and relieved a
portion of the 2Oth Corps, which went on further to the left.

We started on this campaign with 10 field officers in our
brigade and now have but two left. Three killed, three
wounded and two left back sick. I hear the Rebel works here
are the last this side of the river, and but few hundred yards
from it.

July 7, 1864.

The shooting still continues in our front, but hear no Rebel
artillery. The water here is excellent, and everybody seems
to get a few blackberries. We also stew grapes and green
apples, and everything that ever was eaten by anti-cannibals.
There is so much confounded fighting to be attended to that
we can't forage any, and though fresh beef is furnished to
the men regularly there is some scurvy. I have seen several
black-mouthed, loose-toothed fellows, hankering after pickles.


Teamsters and hangers-on who stay in the rear get potatoes,
etc., quite regularly. I do not believe the Johnnies intend
fighting again very strongly this side of the river. Our scouts
say that between the river and Atlanta the works run line
after line as thickly as they can be put in. Per contra, two
women who came from Atlanta on the 6th say that after we
get across the river we will have no fighting, that Johnston
is sending his troops to Savannah, Charleston, Mobile and
Richmond, except enough to fight us at different river
crossings. Our scouts also say that the Rebels are de-
serting almost by thousands, and going around our flanks to
their homes in Tennessee, Kentucky, etc. I have not been in
a house in Georgia, but several citizens I have met in camp
said they had heard many soldiers say they would never cross
the river with Johnston since the charge of the 2/th.

Harrow has kept our brigade in reserve, and I think he will
continue to do so unless a general battle is fought. We have
suffered more heavily than any other two brigades in the army,
and when we started we were one of the smallest. I am will-
ing to see some of the others go in a while, though I want to
help if Johnston will stand a fair fight in open ground. The
chigres are becoming terrific. They are as large as the blunt
end of a No. 12 and as red as blood. They will crawl through
any cloth and bite worse than a flea, and poison the flesh
very badly. They affect some more than others. I get along
with them comparatively well, that is, I don't scratch more
than half the time. Many of the boys anoint their bodies with
bacon rinds, which the chigres can't go. Salt-water bathing
also bars chigres, but salt is too scarce to use on human meat.
Some of the boys bathing now in a little creek in front of me ;
look like what I expect "Sut Lovegood's" father did after
plowing through that hornet's nest. All done by chigres. I
believe I pick off my neck and clothes 30 varieties of measur-
ing worm every day. Our brigade quartermaster yesterday
found, under his saddle in his tent, a rattlesnake, with six
rattles and a button.


This is the 68th day of the campaign. We hope to end it
by August 1st, though if we can end the war by continuing
this until January ist, '65, I am in. Reinforcements are com-
ing in every day, and I don't suppose we are any weaker than
when we left Chattanooga. The Rebels undoubtedly are, be-
sides the natural demoralization due to falling back so much
must be awful. My health is excellent. Remember me to all
the wounded boys of the iO3d you see.

Nine miles from Atlanta, two and one-half miles south-
west of railroad crossing,

July 9, 1864.

On the evening of the 7th, just dark, a Rebel battery in a
fort which our guns had been bursting shells over all day,
suddenly opened with eight 2O-pound Parrotts, and for one-
half an hour did some of the most rapid work I ever heard.
They first paid their attention to our batteries, then demol-
ished some half-dozen wagons and 20 mules for the 4th Di-
vision of the i /th Army Corps half a mile to our right, and
then began scattering their compliments along our line,
wherever I suppose they had detected our presence by smoke
or noise. They kept getting closer and closer to us, and finally,
a shell burst in front of our regiment. The next one went 50
yards past us and dropped into the 4Oth Illinois. Neither of
them did any damage, and no more came so close. An hour
afterward we fell in, and moving a mile to the left and one-
half a mile to the front, occupied a ridge which we fortified by
daylight, so they might shell and be hanged.

The Rebel skirmishers heard us moving as we came over,
and threw more than a thousand bullets at us, but it was so
pitchy dark that fortunately they did us no damage. From
our colors we can see the fort that fired so the night of the
7th. They are about three-fourths of a mile distant. There
have not been any bullets or shells passed over us since we got
our works up, though the skirmish line at the foot of the hill,
has a lively time. We have it very easy. I was on the 8th in


charge of a line of skirmishers on the left of our brigade.
The Rebels were seemingly quite peaceable, so much so, that
I thought I'd walk over to some blackberry bushes 50 yards in
front of our right.

I got about half way out when they sent about a dozen bul-
lets at me. I retired in good order, considering. In the p. m.
of the 7th, the skirmishers in front of a brigade of the 2oth
Corps, and the Rebel line, left their guns, and went out and
were together nearly all the afternoon; 13 of the Rebels agreed
to come into our line after dark. At the time appointed, heavy
firing commenced on the Rebel side, and our boys, fearing
foul play, poured in a few volleys. Through the heaviest of
the fire two of the Rebels came running in. They said that
the 13 started, and that the Rebels opened on them. The rest
were probably killed. One of my men has just returned from
visiting his brother in the 2Oth Corps. It is reported there that
the 23d Corps crossed the river this p. m. without losing a
man. The heavy firing this evening was our folks knocking
down some block houses at the railroad bridge. The 4th
Corps to-night lays right along the river bank.

July 10, 1864, a. m.

The Rebels evacuated last night, and our flags are on their
works and our skirmishers at the river. A number of John-
nies were left on this side. I believe they have every time left
on Saturday night or Sunday. Their works here are the best
I have seen. Three lines and block houses ad libitum. P. m.
Every Rebel is across the river, and our 23d and i6th Corps
are also over, away up to the left. It is intimated though that
they will only hold their position a few days. We are expect-
ing orders to join them.

July 12, 1864.

We lay quietly in the shade all day the nth, save those who
had ambition enough to go fishing, berrying or swimming.
The other bank of the Chattahoochie opposite us is yet lined
with Rebel sharp-shooters, but there is a fine creek from which


the boys get some fine fish. I saw an eel two feet long which
came from it. Our boys never have made any bargain with
the Johnnies to quit picket firing, even for an hour, but other
corps and divisions often do. It would almost break the
heart of one of our boys to see a Rebel without getting a shot
at him. On the I2th, at 5 p. m., the "General" and "Assem-
bly" sounded almost together, and we were under way in a
twinkling. We understand we are going back to Marietta,
and then over the river where the 23d Corps crossed it. We
stopped here (about seven miles from Marietta), at n p. m.,
and had reveille at 3 this morning. Stoneman, with at least
10,000 cavalry, recrossed the river on the night of the loth on
a grand raid between Atlanta and Montgomery. We had a
real amusing scene last night. About 12 o'clock we were
nearly all asleep, when a mule came charging at full speed
right through our regiment. In an instant every man was on
his feet, and all who knew what was up, were swinging blank-
ets and shouting whoa ! The most of us did not know whether
a cavalry charge was on us or the devil. Many of the men
caught up their guns, and "treed," and altogether it was most
ludicrous. Our regiment now marches 190 guns and 7 offi-
cers. I have 20 guns, all I started with, except what I have
lost in battle. Just half.

July 13, 1864.

We passed through Marietta this morning at 9; rested in
a cool, nice, woody place from n to 2, and made this place
in the cool of the evening. We marched about 14 miles to-
day. I would rather be in a fight than endure such a day's
march, and I think fighting lacks very much as deserving to
rank as amusement.

I saw a number of cases of congestion of the brain, and a
few had real sun stroke. Saw one poor fellow in a grave-
yard between two little picketed graves, who I made sure was
gasping his last. Some heartless fellow made a remark as we
passed about his luck in getting sun struck so near good bury-


ing facilities. After one heat of only three miles the regiment
had all fallen out but about 50 men, and we had more than any
other in the brigade. If we had been given one hour more in
rests, we would not have lost a man.

July 14, 1864.

Another hot day. We marched down to the river at Roswell
and crossed it, and have gone into camp on the bank a mile
above town.

This Roswell is a beautiful little town, such splendid trees
all through it. Our cavalry four or five days ago destroyed
some very large factories here. Judging from the ruins, they
were more extensive than anything of the kind I ever before
saw. About 1,000 women were employed in them; 700 of
them were taken by our folks and sent to Marietta; I * don't
know what for. Can't hear of any enemy here.

July 15, 1864.

This is a glorious place. The current in the river is very
swift, and it is the nicest stream to bathe in imaginable. I've
a mind to stay here and have my meals brought to me. Ex-
pect we will catch some nice fish after they get over being
scared at having so many Yanks bobbing around with them.
It is too hot to write, and altogether too hot to enjoy good
health, except in swimming. We are all glad to hear of those
raids into Pennsylvania and Maryland. Go in Imboden and

July 16, 1864, 76th of the Campaign.

I can hear no firing to-day, but we are so far from the
right or center that we could hear nothing less than a
13-inch mortar. I will tell you all I know of the situation
just to let you know how little a soldier knows of what is going
on. In papers of this date you will see twice as much. The
1 7th Army Corps lies on the right bank of the river, and to
the right of the army, six miles below the railroad crossing,
skirmishing with the enemy on the opposite side. Next


comes the 2Oth, I4th and 4th on the same side, the 4th
lying across the railroad four miles, further up the 23d
crossed the river, but probably only holds a position, as we
do. Then the i6th Corps joins the left of the 23d, and the
1 5th last, both on the left bank. Not being perfect in
heavy strategy, I can't exactly see the point, but no doubt
Sherman does. I suppose the 4th, I4th and 2Oth Corps
will cross near the railroad bridge, and be the first to
occupy Atlanta. If we can't get to give Johnston a sound
thrashing, I don't care about marching another step until
fall. Health of the regiment still good, but we are expect-
ing sickness soon. We have had a terrific thunderstorm,
killed five men and wounded eight in the i8th Missouri, and
killed a teamster and some mules. I never saw but one
or two more severe ones.

June 17, 1864.

After erecting some good works at Roswell (the best
we have yet built), capable of holding at least 25,000 men,
we were provided with three days' rations and cartridges
"ad libitum," for another of what an Augusta paper calls
"Sherman leap-frog-like advance." Our corps is the ex-
treme left of the army. We moved out this morning, our
brigade in advance of our division, and Osterhaus and
Smith's Divisions following on the Decatur road. Did
I tell you in my last among the "locals," that these Roswell
factories have been turning out 35,000 yards per day of
jeans, etc., for the Confederate Army, that there is the
greatest abundance of blackberries and whortleberries
here, that one of the 48th Illinois was drowned in the
Chattahoochie while bathing, and that of several hundred
factory girls I have seen, hardly one who is passably
handsome? Some fine fat ones, and a few neat feet, but
they are not "clipper built," and lack "get up" and "figure

We moved six miles without meeting a Rebel, and then
only a squadron of cavalry that lacked a devilish sight of
being "chivalry," for they more than ran without just


cause. We only went two miles farther and then bivou-
acked. Our brigade was thrown half a mile in front and
across the road. We put up a rail barricade across the

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 23 of 31)