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 24 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 24 of 31)
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road and a temporary rail-work along our front, and then
abandoned ourselves to the longings of our breadbaskets,
and desisted not until every man was in himself a miniature
blackberry patch. The boys brought me pint after pint
of great black fellows they had picked in the shade of dense
woods or on a steep bank, and I assure you they dis-
appeared without an exception. This road, the last 10
days, has been filled with refugee citizens running from
the Yankees. An old gentleman in whose yard the reserve
pickets have stacked their arms, told me that all the men
of his acquaintance over 45 years old are, and always have
been, Unionists, and are to-day ready and willing to give
up slavery for our cause. I have been a deluded believer
in the hoax of fine "Georgia plantations," but I assure you
I am now thoroughly convalescent. I haven't seen five
farm houses equal to Mrs. James , and only one that
showed evidences of taste. That was where I saw the
Rebel General Iverson dead among the flowers. The coun-
try is all hilly, and the soil, where there is any, is only fit
for turnips. The timber is all scrub oak and pine, and
some more viney bushes peculiar to the climate.

I notice some of the white moss hanging from the trees,
like that there was so much of at Black river. The i6th
Corps is on our right moving on a parallel road, and the
23d joins them. I don't know whether our other corps
have crossed yet or not.

Near Stone Mountain, July 18, 1864.

Osterhaus (or his division, for I hear that he resigned
and yesterday started for the North, en route for Mexico,
where he formerly resided, and that he intends entering
the Mexican Army to fight "]ohnny Crapeau") was ahead
to-day, and only lost a dozen or 50 men. Our brigade has
been train guard, and we did not get into camp until n


p. m. This night marching hurts us more than the hottest
day marching. We camp to-night near Stone Mountain,
and the depot of the same name 16 miles from Atlanta.
It is evident to me that the Army of the Tennessee is doing
the "flanking them out" this time. The ist Division cut
the railroad effectually. A train came from the East while
they were at it, but discovering the smoke, reversed the
engine and escaped. The i/th Corps I hear is close behind
us protecting the commissary trains and forming our rear

Decatur, Ga., July 19, 1864.

To-night we are in Decatur, six miles from Atlanta.
The Rebels were yet in Atlanta this morning, for they ran
a train to this burg this morning, but they may now be
gone. Our line of battle crosses the railroad nearly at
right angles, facing Atlanta. I think the 23d Corps has
swung around in front of us, and the i6th Corps is now on
our left. Our cavalry had some fighting after i p. m.
today. A citizen says there was nearly 4,500 Rebel cavalry
here. A small portion of our mounted forces made a half-
charge on the Johnnies just this side of town, and the
Rebels stampeded. They knew we had a large force, and,
of course, could not tell just what number was coming on
them. They broke down every fence in town and ran
over everything but the houses in their mad panic to get
away. Our men, as usual, all stopped in town to flank the
onions, potatoes, chickens and sundries, in which they
were busily engaged when the Rebels, who had rallied
and got a battery in position, opened right lively. Our
men drove them away, and then all hands went to foraging
again. To-morrow night, I think, will give us Atlanta,
or there will be a fair start for a new graveyard near the
town. I hear no fighting on the right. We have passed
over the same miserable looking country to-day. I caught
a small scorpion to-day, also a reddish brown bug not
quite as large as a thrush, and as savage as a mad rat.
Wish I could preserve some of these bugs and things ; I
know you'd like 'em


July 20, 1864.

Assembly has just sounded. In a few hours we will
know if it is to be a fight. Frank says we are detailed for
train guard. If the army marches right into Atlanta, I'll
think it d d mean, but if there is a fight will not feel so
badly, unless we can get a big battle out of Johnston. I
want to help in that. We have moved up near the town
the army has gone on. Can hear heavy guns occasionally,
sounds about three miles away, half the distance to the

This little town is quite an old place. About half the citi-
zens are still here. I saw a couple of right pretty girls. Some
Confederate prisoners tell me that Johnston is gone to Rich-
mond, and that Hood is commanding and intends to fight us
at Atlanta.

The wheat and oats raised this year in this part of Georgia,
if it had all been saved, would not more than have fed the
-citizens. Full one-half the cornfields will not turn out any-

July 23, 1864.

The fight came off the 22d, and a glorious one it was for
us. Lieutenant Blair of our regiment was killed, also Charles
Buck, of Company F, and John Smith of my company. There
were seven wounded only. Our brigade gets credit for 400
prisoners. They took us in rear and every other way, but the
repulse was awful. Everybody is wishing that they may re-
peat the attack. Generals McPherson and Force are killed.
(Force, was not killed.) Our regiment gets credit for its part,
though we were very fortunate in losing so few. Our skirmish
line is within one mile of the town.

July 25, 1864.

We moved up to the rear of the corps on the 21, and had
just got comfortably fixed for the night when orders came
that we should report back to the brigade on the front line.
Just as we started a heavy rain set in, and continued while we


marched one and one-half miles to the left, where we stacked
arms in rear of a line of work occupied by the 6th Iowa. The
Rebel line lay in plain sight, just across an open field, and the
bullets made us keep pretty close.

At sunset we were ordered to extend, or rather build a line
of works to hold our regiment, between the 6th Iowa and 4Oth
Illinois. We had fairly commenced, and the boys were scat-
tered everywhere, bringing rails, logs, etc., when the Johnnie's
bugle sounded "forward," and the Rebels raised a yell and
fired a couple of volleys into us. There was a lively rush for
our guns, but we saw through it in a minute, and in three
minutes were at work again. Only two men were hurt in the
regiment, one from Company C, and Wm. Nicholson of my
company had the small bone of his leg broken just above the
ankle. We got our works in shape about daylight, and about
8 a. m. I heard a cheer from our skirmishers, and saw the
Rebel skirmishers run right over their works like deer. Our
line followed them and took possession of their works, and no
Rebel or works being in sight, and our boys knowing they
were only two miles from Atlanta, thought sure they had
the town, and all started on the "double quick" for it, yelling,
"potatoes" or "tobacco," or what he particularly hankered for.
They got along swimmingly until within about three-quarters
of a mile from town, when they ran against a strong line of
works and were brought up standing, by a volley therefrom.
They deployed immediately, and by the time their officers got
up had a good line established, and were whacking away at the
fort apparently as well satisfied as if they had got their to-

McPherson had an idea that all was not right, for our line
was allowed to advance no further than the one the Rebels had
left, and we were set to work changing its front. At dinner
when we were about leaving "the table," Captain Smith men-
tioned hearing some heavy skirmishing in our rear as we came
to our meal. That was the first any of us knew of the battle.
In a few minutes we all heard it plainly, and from our works
could see exactly in our rear a body of grey coats, advance


from a wood and the battle opened, although we did not know
what troops of ours were engaged. Have since heard it was
a portion of the i6th Corps who were moving out to extend
the line. Their being just in that position was a piece of luck,
as it saved the trains of the Army of the Tennessee, and, per-
haps, the whole army. I should think they fought an hour
before the battle swung around toward us. During the battle,
our regiment changed position three times, facing east, west
and south. We helped repulse four charges, took 115
prisoners, and helped take 400 more. Also ran the enemy out
of a line of works they had taken from our 3d brigade, and
the best of it is, we lost only ten men. I cannot for my life
see how we escaped so well. General Blair is reported to have
said that the Army of the Tennessee is eternally disgraced
for going outside of all precedent, in refusing to be whipped
when attacked in flank and rear, as well as in front. Hood
confines his strategy to maneuvering troops for battle, and
pretends to be emphatically a "fighting cock." He attacked
Thomas on the 2Oth and 2ist, away on the right, and on the
22d walked into us. He got his comb badly cut, and if I
am any prophet at all, will not attempt another fight soon.
Sherman estimates the enemy's loss in the three days' fight-
ing at 12,000. Our loss in the same time is less than 3,500. I
am surprised that we have not attacked them in return before
this, but am far from anxious to charge their works. Although
I do know that if we charge with two lines as good as our
brigade, and don't go too fast, we can take any ordinary works.
The prisoners we got the other day were run down. When
our regiment drove the Rebels out of the works of the
3d brigade, a man shot through the thigh, asked me for water
as I passed him. I asked him if the Rebels robbed him, he
said, no, but they killed a man in the ditch with a spade right
in front of him. I looked where he pointed and found a 9/th
Indiana boy with his thigh broken by a pistol shot, and three
cuts in his face by a spade. He was not dead, he knew me,
and reached out his hand smiling. He said an officer rode up
with some footmen and told him to surrender, when he shot


the officer and ran his bayonet through one of the men. An-
other shot him, and the man he bayoneted used the spade on
him. McPherson was killed early in the fight. The Rebels
had his body a few minutes, but the i6th Corps charged and
retook it. Altogether, it was the prettiest fight I ever saw.

The Rebel plan of attack was excellent, and if their assault-
ing columns had charged simultaneously, there is no telling
what might have been the upshot. As it was, part of i/th
Corps changed position in their breastworks three times, that
is, repulsed an assault from one side, and being attacked from
the rear, jumped over and fought them the other way. I was
up to where the 2Oth and 3ist Illinois fought. The dead Reb-
els lay about as thick on one side of the works as the other, and
right up to them. Two more fights like this, and there will
be no more Rebel army here. We lost about 600 prisoners,
and took 2,000.

Garrard's cavalry division went out to Covington on the
Augusta road. Am just going on picket.

One and three-quarter miles southwest of Atlanta,

July 29, 1864.

On the evening of the 26th, Adj. Frank Lermond sent me
word that the Army of the Tennessee was going to evacuate
its position, the movement to commence at 12 p. m. When the
lines are so close together the skirmish line is a ticklish place.

The parties can tell by hearing artillery move, etc., nearly
what is going on, and in evacuation generally make a dash
for the skirmish line or rear guard. At nearly every position
Johnston has fortified we caught his skirmish line when he
evacuated. Luckily our line got off about 4 a. m. on the 2/th
though they shelled us right lively.

That day our three corps moved along in the rear of the
23d, 4th, I4th and 2Oth, the intention being, I think, to ex-
tend the line to the right, if possible, to the Montgomery
and Atlanta railroad and thus destroy another line of com-
munication. We have thoroughly destroyed 50 miles of the
Augusta and Atlanta railroad. The i6th Corps formed its


line on the right of the I4th, and the I7th joined on the i6th,
and on the morning of the 28th, we moved out to extend the
line still further. At 12 m. we had just got into position
and thrown a few rails along our line, when Hood's Rebel
corps came down on Morgan L's and our divisions like an
avalanche. Our two divisions did about all the fighting, and it
lasted until 5 p. m.

We whipped them awfully. Their dead they left almost in
line of battle along our entire front of two divisions.

It was the toughest fight of the campaign, but not a foot
of our line gave way, and our loss is not one-twentieth of
theirs. The rails saved us. I am tired of seeing such butchery
but if they will charge us that way once a day for a week,
this corps will end the war in this section.

Our loss in the regiment was 17 out of 150 we had in the
fight, and the brigade loss will not exceed 100. I never saw
so many Rebels dead. We are in excellent spirits, and pro-
pose to take Atlanta whenever Sherman wants it.

August i, 1864.

Since the glorious battle of the 28th, everything has been
quiet in our immediate front, though the heavy artillery firing
continues to the left. I think it is between the I4th and 2Oth
Corps and some Rebel forts. Prisoners say that our shells
have hurt the city very much. We all think that the last
battle is by far the most brilliant of the campaign. Our offi-
cials' reports show that we buried 1,000 Rebels in front of
our and M. L. Smith's divisions.

In fact, our two divisions and two regiments of Osterhaus'
did all the fighting. Our total loss was less than 550, the
Rebels 8,000. In the last 12 days they must have lost 25,000
men. Our loss in the same time will not reach 4,500. There
is no shadow of gas in this, as you would know if you could
see an unsuccessful charge on works.

The enemy is reported as moving to our right in heavy


August 5, 1864.

After the fight of the 28th July, we advanced on the 3Oth,
3 ist and April ist, when we came to a strong line of Rebel
rifle pits, densely populated, and their main works about 400
yards behind the pits.

On the 2d details from each brigade in the corps were
ordered to drive the Rebels out of said pits. It was done, our
division capturing 78 prisoners. The Rebels tried to retake
them, but failed, of course, leaving with our boys, among other
dead, a colonel and a major. Only one company (K), of our
regiment was in the fight ; it had two men wounded. I was on
picket there the next day; 'twas a lively place, but I lost no
men. Some of the men fired over 100 rounds. The 23d and
1 4th Corps have swung around on our right, the object being
to throw our line across the Macon railroad. We have heard
that Stoneman was captured with 400 men at Macon. Kil-
patrick started on a raid yesterday. Stoneman burned a Rebel
wagon train of 600 wagons, and sabered the mules. Cruel, but
right. The I4th Corps yesterday gobbled 700 prisoners.
There are a few Rebel riflemen who keep the bullets whistling
around us here ; they killed a Company E man 20 yards to the
right on the 4th. Health of the regiment never better, and
that is the best index of the morale.

August 8, 1864.

Never was army better cared for than this. No part of
it has been on short rations during the campaign. Extra
issues of dessicated potatoes, mixed vegetables, etc., have
bundled the advance guard of General Scurvy neck and
heels outside the pickets. Extraordinary dreams of green
corn, blackberries, new potatoes, etc., have done very much
towards keeping up the health and morale of the army,
and as much towards reconciling us to this summer sun,
that ripens said goodies.

We draw supplies of clothing monthly as regularly as
when in garrison, and a ragged soldier is a scarcity. At
least 30 days' rations are safely stored in our rear, making


us entirely unmindful of railroad raids, for, if necessary,
we could build the whole road in that time. The heat has
not troubled us much, save during a few days' marching.

We have had hardly three days without a rain for a month.
We have done a great amount of work since our last battle,
have constructed nine lines of works, and it will take at
least two more before we get the position that I think
Howard wants. We keep those poor Johnnies in a stew
all the time. Our artillery is any amount better than
theirs, and it plays on them from morning until night.
Nothing worries troops so much, though compared with
musketry it is almost harmless. I guess their ammunition
is short, for they don't fire one shot to our 40. I think we'll
like Howard first rate. If he is as good as McPherson, he'll

Four divisions are on their way to reenforce us. I don't
think we need them, but the more, the merrier.

August 10, 1864.

Our "color" that has floated over the iO3d for nearly two
years has become much worn and torn. One shell and
bullets innumerable have passed through it. It is entitled
to be inscribed with the following battles: Vicksburg,
Black River, Jackson,* Miss., Mission Ridge, Dalton, Resaca,
Dallas, New Hope, Big Shanty, Kenesaw Mountain, At-
lanta. It has been under the enemy's fire 72 days on this
campaign. Nearly 300 of the regiment have fallen under it.

August n, 1864.

We have lost 35 men since Colonel Wright left us.
There has been a tall artillery fight this p. m. right here,
but as usual no one hurt.

August 20, 1864.

During the last few days cavalry has been operating on
the right against the enemy's communications. We have
been making demonstrations, as they call it, or diversions


in favor of the cavalries ; that is, one, two or three times a
day we raise a yell along our corps line, and open on the
enemy with cannon and muskets. This, aside from scaring
them a little (and it is getting most too old to do even
that), does but trifling damage, for at the opening yell they
all "hunt their holes," in army slang, take position in their
works. Everybody is satisfied the Johnnies here are only
waiting for dark nights to evacuate.

August 24, 1864.

The Johnnies in our front are either tired out or short
of ammunition or inclination, or else, like the quiet swine,
"studying devilment." Certain it is, that chey shoot but
little lately.

Five Rebel batteries which have thrown shell into our
division line did not on the 2Oth or 2ist fire a shot, on the
22d but two shots, and in response to a more than usually
vigorous cannonading on our part yesterday returned not
more than a dozen shots. These Rebels just opposite are
a very glum set. Won't say a single word, though the lines
are at one point at least, not more than 20 yards apart.
Whenever I have seen the line so close, our men invariably
get the advantage, and keep the Rebels down. We go on the
skirmish line every fourth day, but with ordinary care
there is little danger.

The 4th, 2Oth and i6th Corps are preparing to start for
the right. The raids in our rear on the railroad amount
to nothing. We have at least 60 days' rations accumulated,
and could rebuild the entire road in that time.



August 29, 1864 to February 13, 1865. Wondering what the Chicago Con-
vention will do. Covering an evacuation. Marching with muffled
guns under Silent "Pap" Sherman. Tearing up railraod tracks by
hand. Fighting near Jonesboro. Charging a South Carolina
brigade, capturing and holding the rifle pits they were digging.
Captain Post wounded. Repulsing sorties. Bringing off the
pickets. Sherman announces occupation of Atlanta. Congratula-
tory orders by Howard, Logan and Harrow. Destruction of At-
lanta. Guarding the neutral ground. On the march again. Sam-
ple "grapevine" dispatches. Camp humor. Osterhaus loses
his temper. Tragic fate of ten stragglers ; swift revenge.
Rubber pancakes. "Grabbing" for foraged meat. Three witches.
Marching through Georgia. Destroying our own "cracker line"
and preparing to live on the country. Successful and abundant
foraging. Battle of Griswoldville. Old men and little boys among
the Rebel dead. Howard's congratulatory order. Marching
through lonely pine forests with cheers. Hampered by contra-
bands. Gentle Milly Drake and her slave. Unanimously chosen
major, vice Willison, resigned. By sea to Beaufort, S. C. Why
Buford's bridge was found abandoned. Using up a small town
to build bridges. Burning and destroying railroads and twisting
red hot rails. Wading a swamp to flank the Rebels. Rear guard
of the corps.

August 29, 1864.

I would much like to know what the Chicago Convention
is doing to-day. We hear there is a possibility they may
nominate Sherman. How we wish they would. He would
hardly accept the nomination from such a party, but I would


cheerfully live under Copperhead rule if they would give us
such as Sherman. Sherman believes with Logan, "that if
we can't subdue these Rebels and the rebellion, the next best
thing we can do is to all go to hell together."

We have already thrown our army so far to the right that
our communications are not safe, but yet we can't quite reach
the Montgomery or Macon railroads. It is determined to leave
the 2Oth Corps at Vinings to guard the railroad bridge, and I
think to move all the rest to the right. The army has just
moved its length by the right flank. Looks easy and simple
enough, but it took three days and nights of the hardest work
of the campaign. The whole line lay in sight, and musket
range of the enemy, not only our skirmishers, but our main
line, and half a dozen men could, at any point, by showing
themselves above the works, have drawn the enemy's fire. A
gun, a caisson, or a wagon could hardly move without being
shelled. On the night of the 25th, the 2oth Corps moved
back to the river to guard the railroad bridge seven miles from
Atlanta ; and the 4th moved toward the right.

Night of the 26th the I5th, i6th and i/th moved back on
different roads toward the right. The wheels of the artillery
were muffled and most of them moved off very quietly. One
gun in our division was not muffled, and its rattling brought on
a sharp fire, but I only heard of two men being hurt. Our
regiment was deployed on the line our brigade occupied, and
remained four hours after everything else had left. At 2:30
a. m. we were ordered to withdraw very quietly. We had fired
very little for two hours, and moved out so quietly that, though
our lines were only 25 yards apart in one place, the Rebels did
not suspect our exit. We moved back three-quarters of a mile
and waited an hour, I think, for some i/th Corps skirmishers.
We could hear the Johnnies popping away at our old position,
and occasionally they would open quite sharply as though an-
gry at not receiving their regular replies. When we were fully
two miles away they threw two shells into our deserted works.
We did not lose a man, but I give you my word, this covering
an evacuation is a delicate, dangerous, and far-from-pleasant


duty. There was a Johnnie in the "pit" nearest us that got
off a good thing the other day. A newsboy came along in
the ditch, crying, "Heer's your Cincinnati, Louisville and Nash-
ville papers." Crack ! Crack ! ! went two Rebel guns, and
a Johnnie holloed "There is your Atlanta "Appeal!" We
caught up with the brigade just at daylight, it was raining, but
our watch, the hard march, the wear and tear of such duty,
made some sleep a necessity, so we tumbled down in the rank
smelling weeds, and I was sleeping equal to Rip Van Winkle
in half a minute. In half an hour we were awakened, took
breakfast and marched a couple of miles to where the train
was. Here somebody got Rebel on the brain, and we were run
out a mile to investigate. We stopped in a nice, fine grove,
and I didn't want to hear any more about the Rebels, but went
to sleep instanter. That sleep did me a world of good. I woke
about 4 p. m., and found the whole regiment with scarce a
half-dozen exceptions, sound asleep. Finally the rear of the
train started and we followed. At just midnight we came up
to the train corral and laid down for the remnant of the night.
At 6 a. m., we left the train and rejoined the division. At dark
we camped on the Montgomery and Atlanta railroad, where

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 24 of 31)