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 28 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 28 of 31)
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this morning, and two of our brigade went over to tear up
railroad The i/th Corps came up and relieved them
about 2 p. m.

Colonel Catterson (our brigade commander) told me to-
day that a dispatch from Bragg to had been inter-
cepted yesterday, that stated that he was moving on us
from Savannah, with 10,000 infantry and Dick Taylor's
Cavalry. See if he don't "come to grief." Two of our divi-
sions are moving 12 miles to our right the 2d and 3d
the 4th is with us.

Kilpatrick has gone for the Millen and Augusta railroad.
If he hurts it much he'll do more than cavalry usually do.

December 4, 1864.

Got on the road before day-light and made 16 miles
easily by 3 130 p. m. Good road, many fine places, and
excellent forage, from 75 to 500 bushels of sweet potatoes
on a farm. Heard cannonading for two hours this morn-
ing. Think it must have been in the vicinity of the 2Oth
Corps. Quite a variety of forest trees to-day among the
pines, but all of a stunted growth. Saw a very curious
cactus by the roadside.

Almost all of the people from this section have sloped.
I think I have not seen more than 12 white male citizens
since we left Atlanta, at their homes. Am fully persuaded
that Grant's "cradle and grave" idea is correct.

Thirty-six miles from Savannah,

December 5, 1864.

Corse had the road to-day, but Wood side-tracked, took
"catch roads" and got into camp, making 16 miles as soon
as Corse. Rather poor country, farms small, and much


pine. Negroes swarmed to us to-day. I saw one squad of
30 or 40 turned back. Sherman's order is not to let any
more go with us than we can use and feed. A nice yellow
girl came to our regiment about an hour after dark. She
is the property of Milly Drake, who lives 30 miles back.
The girl showed our men where Milly hid her horses and
mules, in return for which, after the column passed, gentle
Milly took half a rail and like to wore the wench out.
Broke her arm and bruised her shamefully. That was all
the reason that the girl had for running away.

Eden Ferry, Ogeechee river,
December 6, 1864.

We lay in camp until I p. m. when we suddenly pulled
out and made this point, and had works up by daik.
There was a good wagon bridge over the river at this
point, which the Rebels partially destroyed. But a portion
of our 3d Brigade, which had the advance, got across on
the remains and stirred up a little skirmish. Killed four
Rebels without any loss to us.

Our 2d Division got across three miles below. The 3d,
I guess is with them. Hear nothing of the other corps.
In the swamps to-day I saw more of the "barren lemon
tree." We were talking over last night what this army
had cost the Confederacy since the 4th of October last,
when we started from Eastpoint after Hood. We all agree
that the following estimate is not too high in any particu-
lar: 100,000 hogs, 20,000 head of cattle, 15,000 horses and
mules, 500,000 bushels of corn, 100,000 of sweet potatoes.
We are driving with us many thousand of the cattle. The
destruction of railroad property has been complete when-
ever within our reach. I can learn nothing of the prospect
of a fight at Savannah, or whether we are going there. All
think, though, that we will see tide-water this week. Peo-
ple here say they often hear the firing both at Savannah
and Charleston.


Wright's Bridge, Ogeechee River,

December 7, 1864.

We have not moved to-day. Sergt. N. Breed, of my
company, who was shot through the right lung in the bat-
tle of November 22d, died to-day. He has been hauled in
an ambulance ever since and improved all the time until
the last two days. We were all sure that he would get
well. There was no better soldier in the army. Every
one liked him. Hear a little cannonading this p. m. a few
miles down the river. Lieutenant Dorrance's servant cap-
tured a beautiful coal black squirrel, with white nose and
white ear tips. He is larger than any fox squirrel I ever

Five miles from James' Point, Canoochie River,

December 8, 1864.

Another "Shermanism." Our 3d and 4th Divisions
crossed the Ogeechee river yesterday at Eden. We all
supposed that we would follow, this morning, but here we
are after 18 miles hard marching. The 2d Division is
ahead of us and part of it at the river. Heard a few cannon
shots there a few minutes ago. We are after the railroad
that runs from Savannah to Thomasville. Kilpatrick
crossed the Savannah river yesterday, into South Carolina.
Miserable country to-day. The last ten days have been
quite warm. One perspires freely lying in the shade
during some of the warmest hours.

Same place, December 9, 1864.

The division lay in camp all day. Our regiment
marched 12 miles on a reconnoisance, toward the Canoo-
chie river, southwest.. Found nothing, but some good
foraging. Cannonading at four or five different points, on
our left and front. Citizens say the most distant is at
Charleston, Savannah and Fort McAlister. It is said that
Corse's Division (4th), of our corps, had a fight east of the


Ogeechee to-day and were victorious, taking 50 prisoners
and one gun. Part of our 2d Division crossed at James'
Point to-day, and burned the Gulf railroad bridge and
four miles of trestle-work west of the Ogeechee. They
found very large rice plantations, which are flooded with
tide-water. I guess Fort McAlister cannot be reached by
infantry on account of the country around it overflowing.
The men say that Kilpatrick has gone around Savannah
and "cut the coast." Big raid!

Before Savannah, December 10, 1864.

Crossed the Ogeechee near the mouth of the Canoochie,
then a canal, and then up the tow path toward the city.
All the other divisions of our corps are ahead of us. An
awful country to get through, all lakes and swamps. We
are now five miles from Savannah. Have just got our
works up and got our suppers. Hear some skirmishing on
-our right, should think a mile from us. Commenced rain-
ing at dark and continued. Made 20 miles to-day.

Before Savannah, December n, 1864, 8 a. m.
Corse's Division is just on our right. He woke me up
this morning by firing a volley of eight 12-pounders, in real
old Atlanta fashion. He was answered by three Rebel
guns planted on the defenses of Savannah, across a field
and swamp from us. We are in good range of them. Nine
p. m. Found this morning that the Rebels have a big
swamp and lake between their position and ours. It is im-
possible to get at them there. Our corps was ordered to
swing to the right. The Rebel battery had fair view and
close range on any road we could take, so we had to wait
until night, when ours and the 3d Division passed them without
any trouble. We are now on a main road, straight and
wide enough for three wagons, which we think leads to Pu-
laski. This is a country of awful swamps, with level flats,
between which are rice fields, and most of them have three
feet of water on them. Many think we are not going to


make an effort for Savannah at present, but will open com-
munication with the coast. It is as much as we can do to
find dry land enough to camp on. We are not caring a cent
what "Pap" does. It is quite cold again ; to-night promises
to be the coldest night of the winter.

Before Savannah, December 15, 1864.

First mail goes in 15 minutes. Our 2d Division charged
and took Fort McAlister, at sunset, the I3th 19 guns and
300 prisoners ; lost 92 men killed and wounded. We will
have Savannah, sure.

Before Savannah, December 19, 1864.

We have only been here a couple of days, but to-night
we are to make and occupy a line within 700 yards of the

Green Square, Savannah, Camp iO3d Illinois
"Provost Guards."

December 22, 1864.

We have just by a hair's breadth missed what would
have been a most unpleasant fight. We lay on the west
side of the Ogeechee, with the enemy on the opposite
shore, strongly fortified. We had crawled through the
mud and established a line of rifle pits within 125 yards
of them; 150 portable bridges had been built in our divi-
sion and I believe everything was in readiness for hot
work the next day, the 2Oth. The morning of the 2ist
finds the enemy gone across the river into South Carolina.
The next day we moved into town and our regiment and
the 4Oth from our brigade are put on provost duty.

Green Square, Savannah, Ga.

January 9, 1865.

Thinking we for once in the service had a chance to
enjoy quiet life, two of our number were sent to Hilton
Head for a full supply of men's apparel for the outer man,
and of refreshments substantial and fancy for the inner.


They returned to-day just in time to receive marching
orders. The men's clothing was packed in valises, and all
the eatables sold to parties who remain here, save one bar-
rel of Irish potatoes. We leave to-morrow morning. Major
Willison's resignation was accepted to-day, and this evening
the officers unanimously agreed to recommend me to fill
the vacancy. There was not a hint towards any one else.
I take it as a high compliment. I am the youngest captain
in the regiment, and this recommendation made by men
whom I have campaigned with for two and a half years,
and not one of whom has been accused of failing to do his
duty in the service, makes me feel a little proud. I will
value the recommendation more than the commission, if
I get it.

Thunderbolt, Ga., January 10, '65.

We joined the brigade in the suburbs of the city, and
took the shell road to this place, only four miles by land,
but 18 by water. There are some fine works here, erected
by the Rebels to guard the water approach to the city.
I send you a little chip of a palmetto log in a Rebel work

On board the steamer Crescent, Atlantic Ocean,

January 12, 1865.

We are steaming on that rolling deep we've heard so
much of, and which I have already seen and felt enough of.
There is but little air stirring and the water is quite
smooth, but so near the shore there is always a ground
swell, which is to me somewhat demoralizing. We are out
of sight of land and just before dark we saw a school of
porpoise which looked just like a drove of hogs in the water.
Some of the men wanted to go foraging when they saw
them. This makes me quite dizzy, but I would not miss
it on any account. I saw the full moon rise from the water
about 6:30 p. m.


Beaufort, S. C., January 13, 1865.

Retired about n p. m. and woke up here this morning.
A very handsome, small town, about the size of Canton,
but more fine dwellings. All have been confiscated and
sold to the negroes and white Union men. Find the I7th
A. C. here, but about ready to move out to drive the
Rebels away from the ferry, where we will lay our pon-
toons to the main land. The I4th and 2Oth will move by
land and join us on the main land somewhere. I can
hardly imagine what our next move will be, but mostly
think we will tear up the railroads through the Carolinas
and take Charleston and Wilmington during the spring
campaign. The health of the command is perfect, and all
are in most soldierly spirits. Thinking nothing impossible
if Sherman goes with us, and go he will.

Near Beaufort, S. C., January 26, 1865.

We have had heavy rains and now very cold weather
without being in the least prepared for it. We move to-
morrow at 7 a. m. for the main land and forage.

All tents are to be left behind "until they can be for-
warded by water." That seems to point to a short and
sharp campaign, and we all think Charleston is the ob-
jective point.

Near Pocataligo, S. C., January 27, 1865.

Moved out at 7 a. m. this morning, crossed Broad river
on pontoons, and are about four miles on the main land
towards Charleston. Can't tell our position, but here the
Rebels hold all the crossings on the opposite side of the
river six miles ahead and so far as reconnoitered, with
fortifications and artillery.

The 1 7th Corps lay to our left extending across the C.
& S. R. R. We made about 13 miles to-day. Saw some
fine plantations on the road, nothing but chimneys in them,
though. It feels good and homelike once more to be out
loose. The boys all feel it and they act more like school-


boys, having a holiday, than the veterans they are.
Wouldn't it be a joke if we were to get badly whipped
over this river? I believe it would do us good. We are
too conceited. The river ahead is the Combahee, and we
are 43 miles from Charleston on the C. & Beaufort road.

Six miles south of Combahee River,

January 28, 1865, 6 p. m.

The campaign commences Monday. It is yet cold ;
about an inch of ice forms every night, and sleeping out
without tents is not a fair sample of paradise. I am in
excellent health and we are all anxious to be en route.

Combahee River, Charleston and Beaufort road,

January 29, 1865.

We have had some rich sport to-day. Our regiment and
the 40th are out here on a little reconnoisance, and making
a demonstration pretending to be building a bridge on the
river, etc. A party of Rebels saluted our skirmishers when
they got to the river bank with a volley, but the boys soon
drove them off, with no loss to us (or the Rebels either).
We lay around a couple of hours shooting at marks, etc.,
when a party of the Rebels attempted to reoccupy their pits.
We saw them coming for a full mile and they had hardly
got within the very longest range before the 4Oth sent
them back flying. Later in the p. m. half a dozen Johnnies
arose from the mud and weeds and though they were
across the river, surrendered to us. They are really de-
serters, though they say not. Had a great time getting
them over the river. Four board and log rafts were made,
launched, and put off after them. Two of them were
wrecked against the bridge benches, and the other two
succeeded in bringing over three Johnnies ; we left the
other three there. I certainly would not have risked my-
self on one of those rafts for 500 prisoners or 5,000 de-
serters. General Hazen of our corps has been made a


full major general. The other division commanders only by
brevet, and they feel a little sore over it. To-day one of
General Wood's aids saw a turkey buzzard, and pointed it
out to the general, saying, "there is a turkey." Old Woods
looked at it and answered, "I think that is a turkey by

McPhersonsville, S. C., January 30, 1865.
We returned from Combahee river last night and at 10
p. m. received orders to move at 6 a. m. Came through
Pocataligo and have made 14 miles to-day. Quite a place,
but there is not even a clearing. Say 50 ordinary dwell-
ings dropped down in the pine woods, and you have it.
Not a citizen, white or black, here.

January 31, 1865.

Lay still all day. This place was a country summer
resort. I was in a house to-day; the walls were rough
boards white-washed, the floors were very rough, and I
think had never been carpeted, yet the room was filled
with mahogany furniture of the best quality, had a fine
piano, splendid plate mirror, and a fine library. About 20
sets of buck horns were nailed to the walls in lines. Hear
that the I7th Corps has crossed the Combahee. We hear
that strict orders against burning and all foraging is to
be done even more regularly than before.

Hickory Hill, S. C., February i, 1865.
Fifteen miles to-day and had an excellent supper of
South Carolina ham, honey and sweet potatoes. Found a
good deal of road blockaded to-day, but the pioneers re-
moved the obstructions so rapidly that the train did not
have to halt once. The Rebels disputed our advance a
little, killed a cavalryman and wounded another for us,
but did not stop the column a moment. Sherman rode at
the rear of our regiment all day and was quite sociable with
some of the men. Don't think any of the officers noticed
him. Miserable pine land country, but some quite large



February 2, 1865.

The advance started at daylight, but we are the rear
guard of the corps and will not get off before 4 p. m. We
have no idea of our destination, but are now traveling the
Augusta road.

The country is very level, but every mile or so there is
a little swale or depression of but a few feet, and before a
hundred wagons pass over it thorough corduroying is
necessary. The foragers had sharp fighting for what they
got to-day. We had two captured, Billy Haller and a 4Oth
boy. Our boys captured several and killed three. Only made
six miles.

Baren's Mills, S. C, February 3, 1865.
Fifteen miles to-day. The I7th is having some pretty
lively firing on our right. At a house I stopped at to-day
a "cit" told me we were 95 miles from Charleston, 65
from Augusta, and 33 from Branchville. That is as near
as I can tell you where we are. We expect to reach Bu-
ford's bridge on the Salkehatchie, to-morrow. The Rebels
have fortified there, I hear. Our brigade has the advance,
and fun to-morrow, if there is any. It has rained since 12
last night.

Buford's Bridge, north side Salkehatchie River,

February 4, 1865.

Most unaccountably, to me, the Rebels evacuated an
impregnable position (if there is such a thing), and our
brigade was saved thereby from making some more his-
tory, for which I am grateful. A straight pike or cause-
way three quarters of a mile long and in which there are
24 bridges, was our only chance of crossing. They had
strong embrasured works, but left an hour before our ad-
ance reached their fortifications. We got a lot of good
horses and more good forage than I ever before saw brought
in. I am sure that we have either a nice ham or shoulder
for every two men in the regiment, and I think, more. A


Company B boy got a good strong horse which he let me
have. People here say that the Rebels have all gone to
Branchville. Colonel Catterson told Sherman (he was in
our camp some time to-night) that a negro reported that
the Rebels had all gone to Branchville. "Pap" replied,

"They can go to Branchville and be d d." We infer

from that, that we don't go there. He also said to Catter-
son, who was superintending the bridge building, "Build
them strong, Catterson, build them strong; the whole army
may have to pass over them, and the 'Army of the Cumberland'
is a very heavy army, sir." Besides the little slur on the
I4th and 2Oth, that gave us an idea of the whereabouts of
the left wing.

I just now heard what made the Rebels evacuate this.
Mowers' Division of the I7th formed line and marched
across this stream and swamp eight miles below at River
Bridge. They waded through three miles of water and then
took the Rebel works with a loss to us of only 12 killed
and 72 wounded. I think that beats anything I ever heard
of in the show line. There was a town of 20 or 25 houses
here, but we have used it up in building bridges.

Twelve miles south of Johnston's Summit, Augusta and
Branchville Railroad,

February 5, 1865.

They call the stations on this road "turnouts." Negroes
are swarming into our camps. I never heard a negro use
the word "buckra" until last night. One of the 9/th Indi-
ana was killed this morning while foraging close to
camp. Our men killed two and captured four Johnnies,
all dressed in our clothing. Only moved four miles to-day,
and will probably lay here a few days as Sherman told
Wood we were four days ahead of time, he having counted
it would take that long to effect a crossing at Buford's


Little Salkehatchie River,

February 6, 1865, 2 p. m.

Yesterday was quite warm, but my overcoat is useful
again to-day. General Kilpatrick caught up with us last
night, also General Williams with five brigades of the 2Oth
A. C. So instead of waiting several days Sherman said
he'd chance them for the railroad with what troops there
are up. We took the road this morning. Stopped here for
the 3d Division to clear the swamp of some Johnnies,
which I think they have about effected.

Five p. m. Miserable swamp, but the 3d Division only
lost two men in crossing. There must have been a division
of Wheeler's here by the signs.

Bamber's Station, A. & C. R. R.

February 7, 1865.

Our regiment led the corps to-day. The I7th Corps
strikes the railroad at Midway, three miles to our right,
and the 2Oth to the left five miles. We are 14 miles north-
west of Branchville. The enemy are on the opposite bank
of the Edisto, two miles from us. There is a great "peace"
excitement among the citizens here. This day's work cuts
off all railroad communication between Georgia and the
eastern part of the Confederacy. I saw another new thing
(to me) in the destruction of railroads. After the iron has
been heated by the burning ties, by a simple contrivance,
four men twist each rail twice around. They put a clamp
on each end of the rail, and put a lever in the clamp per-
pendicularly, and two men at each end of the lever, will
put the neatest twist imaginable in the heated part of the
rail. I never saw so much destruction of property before.
Orders are as strict as ever, but our men understand they
are in South Carolina and are making good their old
threats. Very few houses escape burning, as almost every-
body has run away from before us, you may imagine there
is not much left in our track. Where a family remains at


home they save their house, but lose their stock, and eata-
bles. Wheeler's Cavalry is about all we have yet found in
our front and they keep afar off. The citizens fear them
fully as much as they do us. A lady said to-day that she
would as lief have us come as Wheeler's men ; she could
see no difference. Wheeler's men say, "Go in, South Caro-
lina !" and the Yankees say the same thing. We got 50
bales of cotton here, which I suppose will be burned.
Struck the railroad at 9 130 a. m.

Bamberg, S. C., February 9, 1865.

We were to go to Cannon's bridge on the Edisto four
miles, but heard the bridge was burned, so we did not go.
I think we will go up the river towards Augusta. Late
Confederate papers say that Thomas has started south to-
wards Montgomery, leaving Hood behind him. Many of
the officers have strong hopes of something resulting from
the peace movement. Can't say that I have.

Near Grahams. C. & A. R. R.

February 9, 1865.

Rear guard on our road to-day. Made about a dozen
miles, very disagreeable march. Snowed a little in the
morning and terribly cold all day. Got into camp at 7:30
p. m. This is a pine, sand country, with some very good
plantations, but all look neglected. The people who re-
main at home seem an ignorant, forlorn set who don't care
for their "rights" or anything else. I think the militia
they have brought out to oppose us must suffer, this
weather, being unused to the business and unprovided with
rubbers, etc. Poor devils!

February 10, 1865.

Had no "general" this morning (our signal for getting
up), so when the "assembly" sounded we climbed from
our blankets to our saddles and went off on a railroad burn-


ing expedition. Our brigade by noon had completely de-
stroyed two and one-half miles. The i/th and our 3d
Division crossed the South Edisto to-day, four miles from
here. We will cross to-morrow, I hear. Also hear that
S. D. Lee's Corps of Hood's Army is at Augusta. We
whipped them July 28, '64, and can do it again. I think
the whole army is here now. We have 1 5-day half rations
yet. Wonder where it will take us.

Seven miles west of Orangeburg, S. C,

February n, 1865.

Made 18 miles to-day. Crossed South Edisto river in
rear of the corps. The river here is about 40 yards wide,
with a swift current, water very clear. First 10 miles
to-day was through pretty good country, the last eight
miles mostly pine forest with more rolling ground than I
have seen since we left the Oconee river in Georgia. Re-
ceived my commission as major to-day, also two letters
from you dated November 3d and January 4th. I ask
pardon for thinking that you did not write regularly. The
fault must be in the mails. All kinds of rumors afloat
to-night of peace, war, and I don't know what all. We
came near being burned up last night, the fire crept along
through the pine leaves and burned my vest, partly, and
ruined my jacket, and almost spoiled my overcoat, all of
which were under my head. Also burned the colonel's
pillow. The flames bursting up woke us, and I expect our

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 28 of 31)