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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 27 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 27 of 31)
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Novembebr 3, 1864, 6 p. m.

Forty-eight hours' rain without a stop and a good prospect
for as much more. We left Van Wirt and Dallas to the left,
and by 1 6 miles hard marching have got near enough over
this barren ridge, I think, to find a few marks of civilization.
Rumor says we are going to Atlanta to relieve the 2Oth Corps,
and will then be paid. Passed to-day a one-horse wagon, a
large ox in the shafts and four women in the wagon dressed
for a party.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.



.<* .

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Powder Springs, November 4, 1864, 6 p. m.
Cold rain to-day. Made 15 miles. Country only fit for (?)
Come through a long line of fine works the Rebels put up
.after they took up our railroad at Acworth. This about the
last day of pork and potatoes; to-morrow will bring us to a
country we have worn out.

Vinings Station, November 5, 1864.

Our brigade rear guard all day. Foragers could not find a
thing. Traveled through a perfect labyrinth of breastworks.
Rebel or Yankee grave every 100 yards. One month ago
we passed here confident of overtaking Hood, but he was too
swift for us, and after 300 miles travel we are back at the
starting point. Altogether it has been the most pleasant cam-
paign of my soldiering. The officers of the regiment have all
messed together, and we have had all the good living and fun
we wanted. I was under the civilizing influence of a white
woman's society to-day for five minutes, and in consequence
feel duly amiable.

November 6, 1864.

Rain all day. We are preparing for a Ivuge campaign, and
are all right glad of it; 50 days' rations is the word. Don't
know when we start. Montgomery or Augusta are probably
the points. We are going to shake up the bones of the re-
bellion. I would not miss this campaign for anything.

November 12, 1864.

The Rubicon is passed, the die is cast, and all that sort of
thing. We to-day severed our own cracker line. At n a. m.
ours and the i/th Corps were let loose on the railroad, the
men worked with a will and before dark the 12 miles of track
between here and Marietta were destroyed. The ties were
piled and burned and the rails, after being heated red hot in
the middle were looped around trees or telegraph poles. Old
destruction himself could not have done the work better. The



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 319

way the Rebels destroyed our road on their raid was nrt even
a fair parody on our style. The 2Oth Corps is at it between
Atlanta and the river, and the I4th and 23d north of Marietta.
We have orders to-night to move at 7 a. m.

White Hall, two miles west of Atlanta,

November 13, 1864.

We made 15 miles to-day very easily. Coming through
Atlanta the smoke almost blinded us. I believe everything of
any importance there is on fire. Understand that all the large
buildings are to be burned. Tremendous smoke also rising
over the site of Marietta. It is said that we will lie here two
or three days. We are only one-half mile from where we did
our hard fighting "before Atlanta."

November 14, 1864.

Troops are coming in to-day on all the roads. 'Tis said
that we will be ready to move to-morrow. So be it. The
cracker line is cut now and we don't want to lie still eating
up our precious rations. I was again over the old position we
occupied before Atlanta. I would like to be your guide over
that ground some day. Tremendous fires in Atlanta to-day.

Near Jonesboro, November 15, 1864.

The grand expeditionary force has commenced moving. Our
regiment has the honor of leading our corps in the first day's
march. Made about 18 miles to-day, the first ten of which
the two or three companies of cavalry who led us had quite
lively skirmishing.

At one point the Rebels took advantage of an old line of
works and made quite a stubborn resistance, but our regiment,
though we were deployed and advanced as skirmishers, did not
get a shot the whole day. Just as we turned off the road to
bivouac the Rebels opened a piece of artillery on us, but fired
only a few shots and hurt no one. Item : Saw a lovely girl to-



3 20



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.



day. Item: Had on the Union to-day. Item: Had my first
drink of milk since the 26th of December, '63. Item: Have
an oppossum which "Rueben" is to cook for my breakfast.
Heavy cannonading west of us.

McDonough, November 16, 1864, n p. m.
Made 14 miles to-day through a really fine country. Only
saw one house though, that looked like living. Forage is no
name for the good things our foragers find here. I notify you
that I had eggs for supper. There was some lively cannonad-
ing toward Love joy this morning, but it has been quiet ever
since. Think the "Militia" has discovered that this party
"sizes their pile," and have "fled to the mountain." Our whole
corps are on the road to-day. The advance got into camp
five miles ahead, at noon. We got here one hour ago, and our
division camps six miles back. The roads are excellent and we
travel right along. We all voted this morning that opossum
meat was good enough for white folks. I liked it very much.






Near Jackson, Ga., November 17, 1864, 12 a. m.
Have just had our coffee. Marched some 17 miles to-day.
Begin to see where the "rich planters" come in. This is prob-
ably the most gigantic pleasure excursion ever planned. It
already beats everything I ever saw soldiering, and promises
to prove much richer yet. I wish Sherman would burn the
commissary trains, we have no use for what they carry, and
the train only bothers us. It is most ludicrous to see the ac-
tions of the negro women as we pass. They seem to be half
crazy with joy, and when a band strikes up they go stark
mad. Our men are clear discouraged with foraging, they
can't carry half the hogs and potatoes they find right along
the road. The men detailed for that purpose are finding lots
of horses and mules. The 6th Iowa are plumb crazy on the
horse question.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 32!

Springs, 40 miles from Macon,

November 18, 1864.

We got here at noon but will wait until to-morrow, I under-
stand, for the 3d and 4th Divisions to lay a pontoon bridge
across the Ocmulgee river. This has been a summer resort of
some note. From 800 to 1,000 people congregate here. The
spring is a little stream of water not larger than your finger,
which runs from the rock at the rate of a gallon a minute. It
is sulphur water with some other ingredient that gives it a
very disagreeable ordor. This is quite a romantic place. For-
aged some peach brandy, which was destroyed.

Near Hillsboro, November 19, 1864.

Have been foraging to-day. Crossed the Ocmulgee at Oc-
mulgee Mills, on pontoons. This river is much like the Chat-
tahoochie, but not so broad. I am lost from the division to-
night and camped near the 2d Division. By the kindness of
Mrs. Elizabeth Celia Pye, I occupy a feather bed to-night. It
is the first house I have been in for the last three months.
She understood from the Rebels that we burned all houses and
she took all her things out and hid them in the woods. The
foragers found them and brought them in to her. Had an
excellent supper with the boys. This is a level, fine country,
and has been well cultivated.

Near Clinton, November 20, 1864.

Struck out foraging before daylight this morning. Al-
most any house on the road to-day would furnish pork and
potatoes enough for a brigade. I got to the regiment
about 8 p. m. last night. They say our brigade marched
until 3 a. m., and the reveille sounded before the men got
through supper. We passed over the scene of Stoneman's
fighting and surrender last August. Some of our men
found two of our dead soldiers unburied, which don't speak
well for the Rebels, and is charged against them. I think
there is less pillaging this trip than I ever saw before.



322 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

Near Macon, Ga., November 21, 1864.

This makes seven days from Atlanta, 114 miles by the
roads we have marched. I think that time for an army like
ours, over bad roads, too, for at least four days, is unprece-
dented.

Our cavalry had a little skirmish at Macon last evening
and were driven back. I heard some cannonading, but
don't think it amounted to much. There was a little skir-
mish about the rear of our division at 4 this p. m., but beside
racing and maybe capturing some half-dozen of our fora-
gers, it amounted to nothing. Our left occupied Milledge-
ville. Governor Brown is here at Macon, also Beaure-
gard, and they have scraped together some ten or a dozen
things to defend the town with. I don't think from looks
at present, that "Pap" is going to try the town, but can't
tell. We have thrown up a little rail barricade this even-
ing, which looks as if we were intending to destroy the
Macon and Savannah railroad, on which rests the right of
our brigade. We are afraid at this writing that Sheaff
Herr was captured to-day. He was foraging where that
little skirmish took place this p. m., and Rebels were seen
after, and within 75 yards of him. It has rained steadily
all day and for the last 60 hours, but has turned cold and
is now clear.

Near Griswoldville, November 22, 1864.
Has been a gay day for our brigade. The other two
brigades of our division went to work on the railroad this
morning, and we on a reconnoisance toward Macon.
Found Rebel cavalry at once. My Companies A and B,
were thrown out as skirmishers. Forty of us drove at least
400 Rebel cavalry at least four miles, and kept them a mile
ahead of the brigade. I think we killed and wounded at
least 20 of them. We finally charged them out of a rail
barricade and thoroughly stampeded them. It was the
richest thing I ever saw. We got highly complimented
on the way we drove them. Griswoldville was the point



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 323

we started for, and having reached it we lay there an hour
or so, and were then ordered back to the brigade. We
found it in line along an open field, building a rail barricade
along the front. We had a nice open field without even a
fence on it, full 600 yards wide in our front. We were get-
ting dinner, not dreaming of a fight, when lively musketry
opened on the picket line, and in a minute more our pickets
came in flying. A fine line of Johnnies pushed out of the
woods after them, and then started for us. We com-
menced throwing up logs in our front and did not fire a
shot until they were within 250 yards of us, by which time
our works would protect us from musketry. We all felt
that we had a sure thing, and had there been but one line
of Rebels, we would have let them come up close to us.
But, by the time the first line had got within 250 yards of
us, three other lines had emerged from the woods, and they
had run two batteries out on the field further to our right
which opened on us. Our artillery returned the fire, but was
silenced almost immediately. We then let loose on them
with our muskets, and if we did not interest them, it is
queer. One after another their lines crumbled to pieces,
and they .took the run to save themselves. There was a
ravine 50 yards in front of us, and as the Rebels did not
dare to run back over that field, they broke for the ravine.
It was awful the way we slaughtered those men. Once
in the ravine most of them escaped by following it up, the
willows and canes screening them. We let a skirmish line
into the ravine, which gobbled some 50 prisoners, a num-
ber of Africans among them. It was a most complete
repulse, and when the numbers alone are considered, a
glorious thing for us. Only our little brigade of say 1,100
muskets were engaged on our side and no support was
nearer than four miles (and then but one brigade), while
the Rebels had four brigades and two regiments, about
6,000 men. But the four brigades were "Militia." We
estimate their loss at 1,000, and I do not think it an over-
estimate. Ours is 14 killed and 42 wounded in the whole



324 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

brigade; four killed and seven wounded in the regiment;
two in my company; 25 out of 30 Rebel bullets went 20
feet over our heads. Not one of ours went higher than
their heads. Gen. C. C. Wolcutt was wounded much as
Colonel Wright was, but more severely. No officers in our
regiment were wounded. Two Rebel generals were either
killed or wounded General George, who formerly com-
manded in north Mississippi, and General Hall or Call. I
was never so affected at the sight of wounded and dead
before.

Old grey-haired and weakly-looking men and little boys,
not over 15 years old, lay dead or writhing in pain. I did pity
those boys, they almost all who could talk, said the Rebel
cavalry gathered them up and forced them in.

We took all inside our skirmish line that could bear mov-
ing, to our hospital, and covered the rest with the blankets
of the dead. I hope we will never have to shoot at such men
again. They knew nothing at all about fighting, and I think
their officers knew as little, or else, certainly knew nothing
about our being there. About dark we moved back to this
place, two miles from the battle field. The Johnnies drew off
before we did, I think.

Near Gordon, November 23, 1864.

Came here to-day, about eight miles, find the Army of the
Tennessee all here. Have heard nothing of the Rebels to-day ;
saw ice one and one-half inches thick that formed last night.
Wore my overcoat all day. The left wing is either at Milledge-
ville or gone on east. A branch road runs up to the Capitol
from the Macon and Savannah railroad, leaving it at Gordon.
It is now all destroyed. This road is very easily destroyed.
The iron is laid on stringers, which are only fastened to the
ties with wooden pins. We have yet done nothing at it, but
boys who have, say they pry up one stringer with the iron on
it, roll it over to the other half of the track, lay some rails
on, and fire it. The iron being firmly .fastened to the strin-
ger, expanding under the heat destroys it completely. The



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 325

country here is quite rolling, not quite as rich as the
Indian Spring country, but there is yet plenty of forage.
The woods are mostly pine, and we are all most anxious
to get where we will have some other fuel. The smoke of
pine wood is so disagreeable.

Irwinton, November 24, 1864.

Made 12 miles to-day over a rolling but well settled
country. This is a nice little 700 county town. I hear that
the troops that were at Macon are passing us on our right.
Suppose they want to get in our front to annoy us again.
They had better keep out of our way. Had another roman-
tic meeting to-day with a Miss Howell. Spent the evening
at her house. A charming girl, very accomplished. Ad-
mire her very much. Understand to-day that "Pap's"
headquarters are at Howell Cobb's house in Milledgville.
Some of the men saw a Macon paper of the 2ist inst. It
gave the proceedings of a citizen's meeting. In resolu-
tions they declared that Sherman's army must be stopped
in its mad career and pledged themselves to turn out en
masse and harrass us all day and night. In fact, to give us
no rest at all. The operations of the next day show how
they commenced their good work. Have not heard any-
thing of them since.

Near Ball's Ferry, Oconee River,

November 25, 1864.

Got off at daylight ; made some eight miles, formed in a
line in a field. "Halt !" "Cover !" "Front !" "Stack arms !"
Now men get rails and fix for the night. So we think we
have plenty of time and make our motions accordingly. We
had just got our things fairly unpacked when the "Gen-
eral" sounded. Fifteen minutes afterward the assembly,
and we were again on the march. All right. This miser-
able pine smoke again to-night. Saw the I7th Corps
to-day for the first time on the trip. They tried to cross



326 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

the river at the railroad bridge, but the Johnnies would
not let them, and they had to come down to our road. I
think we are to-night half way on our journey. The boys
had a great time last night in Irwinton. The citizens had
buried a great many things to keep them from the "van-
dals" and the boys soon found it out. Hundreds of them
were armed with sharpened sticks probing the earth,
"prospecting." They found a little of everything, and I
guess they took it all to the owners, eatables and drinka-
bles. We fell in at retreat, and had general order No 26
read to us for I guess the 2Oth time. It declares that "any
soldier or army follower who shall be convicted of the
crime of arson or robbery, or who shall be caught pillag-
ing, shall be shot, and gives officers and non-commissioned
ditto the right to shoot pillagers in the act." There have
been 20 to 30 booms of artillery at the ferry this evening.
Think it was the 2d Division. They'll be smart Rebels
who keep that division from laying their pontoons.

Eight miles east of Oconee River, three miles south
of M. & S. R. R.

November 26, 1864, 12 p. m.

Howard wrote Osterhaus a letter congratulating him
on the success in the Griswoldville fight, and had it published
to us to-day.

HEADQUARTERS DEPT. AND ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE.,
GORDON, GA., November 23d, 1864.

Mayor General Osterhaus, Com'dg. i$th Corps:
General :

I take sincere pleasure in congratulating the Brigade of
General Walcutt, of General Wood's Division of the I5th
Corps, on its complete sucess in the action of yesterday.

Officers from other commands who were looking on say
that there never was a better brigade of soldiers.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 327

I am exceedingly sorry that any of our brave men should
fall, and for the suffering of the wounded, the thanks of the
army are doubly due to them.

I tender my sympathy through you to the brave and excel-
lent commander of the brigade, Brigadier General Walcutt.

It is hoped that his wound will not disable him.

Very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,
(Signed) O. O. HOWARD,

Major General.

P. S. The loss of the enemy is estimated from 1,500 to
2,000 killed, wounded, and prisoners. O. O. H., M. G.

We lay in camp until 4 p. m., when we started, and after
three miles of miserable pine swamp we crossed the Oco-
nee on pontoons. It was dark, but I noticed that the
current was rapid and the water looked deep.

I counted 80 steps on the bridge and ten boats under it.
I am sure that I to-day saw palm-leaf fan material growing.
It is a most singular looking plant. The country this side
of the river to our camp is quite level and four-fifths culti-
vated. All the woods pine, and soil all sand.

Riddlesville, November 27, 1864.

Was foraging this morning and supplied the regiment
with staples within a mile of camp. Took the road as
train guard at i a. m. Have had a tedious march over
sandy roads and through pine woods for u miles. It is
too dark to see the town. Have heard no "music" to-day.
We crossed the head waters of the Ohoopee river to-day.
Saw a magnolia tree by the road. The first I have seen in
Georgia.

Old Indian Battle Ground, near Drummond,

November 28, 1864.

Made a dozen miles to-day through the thickest pine
woods I ever saw. There is no white or yellow pine here ;



328 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

it is all pitch. I think the division has been lost nearly all
day. We have followed old Indian trails four-fifths of the
time.

The foragers have found a large number of horses and
mules in the swamps to-day. Plenty of forage. Sergeant
Penney, of my company, died in the ambulance to-day.
He was taken sick in the ranks at 8 p. m., 26th, of lung
fever. He has never been right healthy, but when well was
always an excellent soldier. Lieutenant Dorrance swal-
lowed his false teeth a few nights ago, and complains that
they don't agree with him.

I hear that Wheeler jumped the 2Oth Corps yesterday
and that they salivated him considerably. We caught a
couple of his men to-day, on our road, stragglers. We pick
up a good many stray Rebels along the road, but they are
not half guarded and I think get away nearly as fast as
captured.

Ten miles south of Sevastopol,

November 29, 1864.

All day in an awful pine forest, hardly broken by fence
or clearing. I never saw such a lonesome place. Not a
bird, not a sign of animal life, but the shrill notes of the
tree frog. Not a twig of undergrowth, and no vegetable
life but just grass and pitch pine. The country is very
level and a sand bed. The pine trees are so thick on the
ground that in some places we passed to-day the sight was
walled in by pine trunks within 600 yards for nearly the
whole circle. Jnst at dusk we passed a small farm, where
I saw growing, for the first time, the West India sugar
cane. One of the boys killed the prettiest snake I ever
saw. It was red, yellow and black. Our hospital steward
put it in liquor. We made about n miles to-day.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 329

Eight miles east of Summerville,

November 30, 1864.

Passed through the above named town this morning.
All pine woods again to-day. Stopped at the first house I
came to .this morning and asked the resident, an ash-
colored negress, something about the country. She said
she'd had the chills and fever so long she didn't know any-
thing, but "over dar was a house whar de folks had some
sense." Captain Smith and I walked over to the house
she pointed to and found a fine old German, very anxious
to know if we intended to burn his house. After he cooled
down a little he grew much Union. He said he had been
ordered to join the army one, two, three, twenty times,
but had told them he would rather be shot than take up
arms against the United States. The I2th Indiana band
struck up as we passed his house, and the music touched
the old fellow's heart. The tears rolled down his face
and he blubbered out, "That is the first music I have heard
for four years; it makes me think of home. D n this
Georgia pine wood." He said that sugar is the staple here
in peace times. The foragers brought in loads of it this
evening.

Cushingville Station, east bank of Ogeechee river,

December I, 1864.

Ten miles to-day. Had just finished the last line when
(the officers are talking over the rumors of the day) I
heard Captain Smith say, "Our folks captured one Rebel
ram." I asked him where, and he pointed out an old he
sheep, one of the men had just brought in. Our regiment
is the only part of our corps this side of the river. We are
guarding the prisoners who are repairing the bridge. The
Rebels had destroyed one section of it. The I7th Corps
crossed near the railroad bridge, but are ten miles behind us
to-night. This river is about 60 yards wide here, and we



330 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

have sounded it in several places and found it from 12 to
15 feet deep. It has no abrupt banKs here, but runs river,
lake, swamp, to dry land. I find here again what I thought
was palm-leaf fan material, on the Oconee river. It turns
out to be swamp palmetto. The palmetto tree also grows
near here: Twelve p. m. Have been out with 25 men burn-
ing railroad. I did not do much of it, for it is the i/th Corps'
work. Two of Howard's scouts came to us while we were
at work. Said they had just left Millen, and left 150 Rebels
there. Millen is four miles from here and is the junction
of the Savannah and Augusta railroad. One of our men cap-
tured eight mules and two horses to-day. The trees along
the river are covered with Spanish moss, like we saw so
much of at Black River, Miss. The men shake their heads
when they see it and say, "Here's your ager." We are only
guarding this bridge until the I7th Corps gets here. Our
corps are going down the other side of the river. An im-
mense number of "contrabands" now follow us, most of
them able-bodied men, who intend going into the army.
We have not heard a Rebel gun since the 22d of last month.
They don't trouble our march a particle.

West bank of Ogeechee River, eight miles
south of Millen,

December 2, 1864.

Recrossed the river this morning and, joining the bri-
gade, made some eight miles to-day. We are ahead of the
rest of the army or could have made more. Pine country,
almost uninhabited. Saw to-day my favorite tree the
magnolia. Have seen but few of them in Georgia. In a
swamp we passed through to-day a darkey pointed out to
us some lemon trees. Saw in the same swamp some yel-
low pine. Nearly all the pine this side of the Oconee has
been the "pitch" variety.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 331

South bank of Scull Creek,
December 3, 1864.

We have laid here all day, being our first rest since leav^
ing Atlanta. Had to wait for the I7th Corps and "left
wing" to catch up. We laid a pontoon across the river



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 27 of 31)