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 3 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 3 of 31)
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confiscated, and genius is taxed its utmost to make the
sleeping as comfortable as possible. Milo Farewell, Hy.
Johnson and myself sleep on an armful of cornstalks
thrown on a floor of rails. With nothing between us and
the clouds. Sid., (Sidney Stockdale) and Theo. each had
three sticks of four foot cord wood for a couch, with their
feet resting in a mudpuddle. We are further out than any
other regiment now. I tell you I like this, and feel like
knocking down any man that I hear grumble. None of our
boys do that I hear of. We will have our tents here this
p. m. though I would rather be without them ; they are so
much trouble. I know we will have no dirtier time than
we have had the last two days, and until it gets cold I
would rather not have tents if it is the same all the time.
I fell in love with Paducah while I was there, and I think
I will settle there when the war is over. I never saw so
many pretty women in my life. All fat, smooth-skinned
small boned, highbred looking women. They hollered
"Hurrah for Jeff" at us, some of them, but that's all right.
I could write until to-morrow morning about Paducah,
but I must go and confiscate some corn for dinner.


Norfolk, September 16, 1861.

We are still here at Norfolk and now in camp for we don't
know how long. We got tents the day after the date of my last,
and splendid ones they are. They are full 10 feet high and 15
feet across. They each accommodate about 15 men. Since
we have been here we have been out scouting three times. The
first time we were down the river about five miles. That was
the time our gunboats had the fight with the "Yankee" and the
land batteries. Two days afterward a body of the enemy's
cavalry came up almost to our camp, and after dinner we were
sent out to look them up. We were scooting along through a
thick wood when one of our cavalry men came back half scared
out of his wits (we had about 20 of the cavalry ahead acting
as scouts) and reported a whole mess of men just over a rise
of ground ahead of us. Our company was in the van, and the
column came into line on us and our cavalry tried to draw the
enemy back on our position, but Mr. Enemy "drawed" the
other way and again we missed our little fight. Last Saturday
we started out again at noon and went down the river 10 miles
where we thought sure we'd find secesh, but he had again left.
We had 2,000 men this time and 6 pieces of artillery. We had
stopped to rest when a cloud of dust was observed rising on
our side of the river about four miles from us. Some of the
boys had glasses with them and made out the cause to be a body
of cavalry. Our right was marched a few hundred yards to the
front and placed in line of battle with the left at the river bank
and our right extending along an edge of woods and fronting
a cornfield and open pass between it and the river. A splendid
place (for our side) for a fight. Our gunboat then started
down the river, fired at and dispersed one body they saw and
then slipped a few shells into Columbus and returned. We
were within four or five miles of Columbus where there are
(our colonel says) 26,000 troops, and on ground where the
secesh were encamped but lately with 16 pieces of artillery.
We started back at dusk and got home about 10 o'clock; some
of the boys pretty tired. I stand these little trips like a horse
and would rather go every day than lay around camp. Yester-


day (Sunday) the "Yankee" came up and shelled the woods
where we were the day before. She tried to throw some shells
into our camp but they didn't reach us by a mile and a half.
One of our gunboats has to lay here all the time or the "Yan-
kee" would make us skedaddle out of this on double quick.
Don't talk about furloughs. They are played out. A dispatch
came this last week to Colonel Oglesby that his wife was
dying. He went up to Cairo but General McClernand showed
him an order from McClellan, vetoing furloughs, no matter
for what. So the colonel had to return here. I'd like very
much to go home but I'll enjoy it all the more when this busi-
ness is finished. The I7th is encamped just opposite us on
Island No. I, but we can't get to see them. Our boys are in
good spirits. Sid. and Sam and Theo. are now all right. Milo
Farewell thinks he has the dumb ague. Fred Norcott is sick
in Cairo. Charley Cooper is also sick I have heard. I am all
right. My office is sergeant, two grades below private. Our
company goes out on picket to-night.

September 17, 1861.

Well, I've slept half of this day and feel sleepy yet. I had a
tough time on picket last night. We were divided into four
squads and owing to the small number of men we had out
(only 50) the corporals had to stand guard as privates; so I
had all the stationing of reliefs to do myself and did not get a
minute's sleep all night. We were not troubled any by the
enemy but the mosquitoes and fleas gave us the devil.

A coon came sliding down the tree Sam Nutt was stationed
under, and he thought he was taken sure. The people here say
that there are lots of bears and tiger cats killed here every
winter. Sam has been to Cairo to-day and says that Keef,
Fred Norcott and Cooper are all much better. There is a ru-
mor now that our right is going to Virginia, but I don't believe
it. It is too good to be true. Our cook has been sick for sev-
eral days and we have been just about half living on account of
our being too lazy to cook. I don't mean to be disrespectful
when I say I was about as glad to see him cooking again this


morning, as I would be to see you. He is a splendid nigger,
seems to think the world of us boys. He buys a great many lit-
tle things for us with his own money, which as we are all out,
is a good institution. We are to get our pay next week the offi-
cers say. My pay is some $18 or $20 a month now. I am en-
titled to a straight sword now, but as I have to carry a musket
also, I'll trade it off for gingerbread if they'll let me, and if
they won't I'll lose it sure for I have enough to carry without
it. I can hear the tattoo now before the colonel's quarters at
the other end of the camp and our boys are singing, "Home
Again" as they lie around me in our tent. I thank goodness
that none of them get homesick like some do that I know in our
right. I do despise these whiners. I expect (I have just this
instant heard that they have been fighting in Washington for
the last 24 hours. Now I'll finish the sentence I had com-
menced) to be with those I love in eight months if the ex-
pected battle in Washington results favorably for our country,
if not, do not look for me for three years. If they whip us
again there I want to fight the rest of my life if necessary,
and die before we recognize them as anything but Rebels and
traitors who must be humbled. I don't believe yet awhile the
news but I kind o' feel it all through me that there is a battle
more to be recorded and that we are the victors. All that we
have heard is that they are fighting. Colonel Turchin's I9th
left Cairo last night for the east somewhere. We are rapidly
learning to appropriate and confiscate. On our last scout one
of our boys rode a stray horse back and another came in with
a female jackass and her child. Chickens are very scarce here
now and the natives complain that sweet potato hills have
turned into holes since we have been here. Our mess have
this p. m. confiscated the roof of a man's barn to cover our
cook house with.

Norfolk (date torn off.)

The colonel talks some to-night about a forward movement,
and two regiments have come across the river from the Ken-
tucky side this evening, the Iowa 2d and 7th. The I7th are


still opposite us and I have seen none of them yet. Our cav-
alry scouts are fighting now more or less every day. Yesterday
a party of the Iowa 7th were out hunting bushwhackers when
they were attacked by a company of horsemen of whom they
killed four. One of our men was shot while returning from
a scout. They routed the enemy but came back and reported
four of their men missing, but the lost four have all come in
to-day. Our men think they finished a couple at least but 'tis
questionable. We are all again bored to death with lying still,
but patience and we'll get what we want in time. We have the
report here to-day that Colonel Mulligan has capitulated to
Price, Jackson & Co. at Lexington. This, if true, will certainly
retard our movement down the Mississippi. I'm getting per-
fectly indifferent about Fremont's being superseded or as to
who has the command. It seems to me that none of our com-
manders are doing anything. With at least 75,000 troops at
Paducah, Cairo and in Missouri to allow the gallant Mulligan
to be forced to surrender is perfectly shameful. It's disheart-
ening to a soldier, I tell you. Let them go on, if this war
goes against us 'twill be the fault of our commanders and not
of the men, sure. Yesterday information was brought our col-
onel that a battery was in course of erection on the Kentucky
shore six miles below us. We were put on steamboats 2,000
or 2,500 strong and preceded by two gunboats scooted down,
when within a mile of the place our regiment was landed and
we marched down but of course found no battery.

Norfolk, September 30, 1861.

You think I'm doing pretty well in the number of my letters,
don't you ? I can afford to for you are the only correspondent
I have. You musn't be surprised if you don't get letters from
me so regularly after this, for if we start back in the country,
as I expect we will, to intercept Price's retreat if Fremont
whips him, we may be away from mails and such like for some
time. If anything happens to me you will hear it just as quick
as the news can be taken to you.


Since my last we have had some more fun here. Our com-
pany was out a few miles the other day to capture an old cuss
we thought was peddling news from our camp down to Colum-
bus. He had skedaddled though before we got to his house.
We gobbled up all the loose plunder we could find lying around,
it wasn't much, and marched back. We had a mighty good
time on picket a few nights ago. It was confounded cold,
bushwhackers or no bushwackers we concluded to have a fire.
A couple of the boys volunteered to go back to camp for kettles
and coffee, and we found lots of nice roasting ears in the field
we were camped in, and a kind of pumpkin that ate very wll
after a little roast before the fire. Then there were splendid
pawpaws, lots of nuts of all kinds which a little fire made ripe,
and we sat and cooked and ate all night. I can eat, if neces-
sary, 36 hours without intermission except for an occasional
drink, and I drink nearly a half gallon of coffee per day.

Last night the Pekin company in our regiment were on
picket and at 3 this morning they were attacked. Ten of them
held their ground against 150 half-mounted and half- foot and
finally made them scoot. It .was a devilish brave thing. The
Rebels left one dead and one so badly wounded that he'll die
to-night, and carried off two others dead and four badly
wounded. A lot more were scratched. But one of our men was
wounded, and that a flesh wound in the arm, that will hardly
take him off duty. The firing roused us here in the camp and
we thought from the noise that the longed fight had come at
last for certain. I tell you it was funny when the long roll
(we would not get out of bed without the long roll for a
thousand cannons these cold nights) to see the boys scramble
for shoes and accoutrements. There was some profanity. I
have just been to see a poor devil that has blown half of his
head off this afternoon to get rid of his troubles. A soldier.
Don't know what he suicided for. We are messed off now,
15 in a tent, each tent's inmates cooking and eating by them-


Bird's Point, October 2, '61.

Just at noon yesterday orders came to strike tents and in
an hour we were under way and have come to a halt in this
forsaken hole. It seems that the 8th can't get out of hearing
of the Cairo morning and evening gun anyway. Our major
says they are talking of chucking us into Cairo and making
us garrison it this winter. I'll be tempted to desert if 'tis so.
The 22d call us the featherbed regiment now, and if they keep
us this way much longer we will be tender as women. It was
late and we were tired when we pitched our tents last night
and we didn't "ditch round" as usual, trusting to providence
for a dry night. But 'twas confidence misplaced and some of
the boys found the ground slightly damp under them this morn-
ing. It has been raining like the devil all a. m. and the mud is
quite salubrious. I find my old Havana schoolmate, Jem
Walker, here in the 28th, Ritter's company. Haven't seen
Smith yet. The Rebels came right up to Norfolk after we
left last night, and about 3 I heard the cavalry called out, and
this morning I see the 2d Iowa and nth Illinois are gone.
Suppose they all went down that way. I have disposed of
all my surplus baggage and now have two shirts, two pair
socks, one blanket, one pair pants, one coat, one pair shoes,
one hat, toothbrush and one pocket comb. That's all I'm
worth. I can get all the clothing I want of the quartermaster
any time. You scout the idea of one's liking such a life as
this. I tell you that I never was so well satisfied in my life
as I have been since I joined the army. I do really enjoy
it all the time, and if our boys here write the truth home they
will say the same. Nobody ever heard me grumble a word
about soldiering and never will if they don't station us in

Bird's Point, October 10, 1861.

I have just finished a dinner of cider, cake, bread, butter,
etc. We have just been paid off and of course have to indulge
in a few delicacies for awhile. Last Tuesday we were ordered
to strike tents and pack for a march. It wasn't much of a



march though for we were put on the cars and rolled out to
Charleston, 12 miles from here, where we camped on a beau-
tiful little prairie adjoining town. The nth Illinois, Taylor's
artillery and two companies of cavalry and our regiment
formed the party. I think we were out looking after that
damned Jeff Thompson, who is reported everywhere from
Ironton down to New Madrid. I don't believe he has a thous-
and men, for there seems to be nothing reliable about any
of the reports we have of him. The natives up at Charleston
told us that Jeff was at Sykestown, 12 miles from there, with
5,000 or 6,000 troops, and our pickets had several little fights
with his, or what we supposed to be his, but well, the gen-
erals may know better but we that stay in the ranks think
that there is no enemy nearer than Columbus save a few small
bands of bushwhackers, who, under the impression that they
are upholding principles eternal and doing their country ser-
vice, gobble up everything sweet or sour, that weighs less than
a ton. We came down from Charleston Thursday. We
marched about 10 miles of the way through an immense (it
seemed so to me) cypress swamp. I think Mrs. Stowes'
"Dred" would have enjoyed that swamp hugely. It was rather
an interesting piece of scenery for a first view, but I don't
think I should enjoy living in sight of it. The i8th, Colonel
Lawler, worked six or eight weeks in this swamp repairing
bridges the secesh had burnt, and it put half their men on
the sick list. We got our pay in treasury notes but they are
as good as the gold. Lots of the boys have traded them off
for gold "even up." I get $21 this time for two months and
five days, our other boys got $14 or $15. I am third sergeant
now, our second having been appointed sergeant major. I
think I should rather be sergeant, for the field officers make
a kind of servant of the sergeant major. I send you a couple
of daguerreotypes to let you see what a "skeleton" I have be-
come. Our boys are all very well. The I7th is in a pretty hard
condition, nearly half of them sick and as a regiment pretty
badly used up. We have been paid twice and they only $10


Bird's Point, October 18, 1861

We yesterday drew our overcoats, and splendid ones
they are. The cloth is light blue and they reach nearly to
our feet. They have capes on them that come over a fel-
low's head nicely nights. The weather is about like you
have I expect, but I know we will be very comfortable
with the clothing we have in any weather. I wouldn't
have the war end before next spring for anything, for I
want to try a winter out doors. Every one of the Canton
boys is in excellent health and all very well satisfied. The
boys are receiving letters almost every day that read "we
have heard that so and so is sick," and this morning John
Wallace got one that said that Sam Nutt and three others
were shot while on guard. You may know that such reports
are always lies unless you see it with the names in the
papers long before a letter would reach you from here. John
Wallace is just one of the best boys in the camp. It would
do you good to see how contentedly the boys all take
things. There is more life and fun in our tent every night
than we ever had at home. Sam and Fred Norcott make
more noise and sport in an evening than all Canton can
furnish in a week. We love and respect all our officers
but one, and he is the best officer we have, but a little too
much regular army about him. Our captain is what the
girls would call a "dear old fellow," though he does have his
own way every time. It seems to be the right way always
so we think the world of him. They are just burying some
poor fellow. We have had several deaths in the regiment
lately. They do not play the prettiest dead marches here.
I have been detached from the company for a week acting
as sheriff of a court martial. Colonel Marsh, Colonel
Logan, Colonel Tuttle of the Iowa 2d, and a couple of
captains form the court. I have four men a day to guard
the prisoners and two orderlies to send errands for me, so
I play big injun strongly. The prisoner murdered a com-
rade while we were down at Norfolk. Smote him on the
head with a club. He is from Company B of our regiment.



That company, besides this case, had a man shot dead the
other day by one of their own company. An accident.
This morning they had a man stabbed, and day before
yesterday they confined one of their men for trying to kill
two others. For all this they are really a good company
of men. We had a review Tuesday this week of 6 regi-
ments, 2 batteries and 400 or 500 cavalry. Very fine. I
suppose you saw an account of the Pekin company of our
regiment killing four or five Rebels that made an attack
on them while they were guarding a bridge. Ten of them
stood their ground against a large party, and held the
ground too. We buried two secesh and they carried off
four. We lost none. The best fight yet was ten miles
below here the other day between 26 of our men and 160
Rebels. You've seen it in the papers. Sam Nutt and John
Wallace stood guard two nights before at the place where
the first fight was. Oh heavens, I hope I can date my
next from somewhere else.

Bird's Point, October 27, 1861.

I haven't written for a full week because I really had noth-
ing to write and in fact I have not now. Although soldiering
is a hugely lazy life, yet these short days we seem to have but
little spare time. We are up nearly an hour before sun up, have
breakfast about sunrise, drill (company) from about 8 to 10.
Cards until dinner time, 12 ; lounge or read until 2 ; battalion
drill untill 4:30 or 5, supper, and then dress parade at 4:45;
from candle lighting untill bedtime (taps), 10, we have cards
mixed with singing or some awful noises from Sam Nutt and
Fred Norcott. Those two boys can make more noise than
three threshing machines. Our boys are all in excellent
health and prime spirits. Fred and Sam and Sid are fatter
than the Canton folk ever saw them. There are but four
regiments at the Point now, so we have to work on the en-
trenchments every fourth day two hours or cut down trees
the same length of time. We are clearing away the timber
within 500 yards of the earthworks. It is mostly cottonwood


and very heavy. They stand so thick that if we notch a dozen
or so pretty deep and then fell one it will knock three or four
down. Lin Coldwell and I are going to get a set of chess
to-morrow. That gunboat, "New Era," that the papers blow
so much about is of no account as a gunboat. She is laid up
at Mound City for a battery. The men on her have told me
that she wouldn't half stand before a land battery that
amounted to anything. We are beginning to have some frost
here, but I don't believe we'd suffer a bit lying in these tents
all winter. The sickly season is over now and the health is
improving very much. We had 18 on the sick list in our
company three weeks ago and now we have but three, and
they are only diarrhoea or the like. I tell you I feel as strong
as two mules and am improving. I haven't been the least
unwell yet. Our boys are perfectly sick for a fight so they
can be even with the i/th. We are sure that the I7th doesn't
deserve to be named the same day with us for drill or dis-
cipline, with all their bragging. They are an awful set of
blowhards. Sid., Theo., Ben Rockhold and John Wallace are
on picket out of our mess to-night. The picket was fired on
last night where they are posted to-night.

Cape Girardeau, November n, 1861.

We have just arrived here after a week's absence from any
sign of civilized life. Saturday the 2d we (our company)
went out six or seven miles from the Point to guard a bridge
on the Cairo and Fulton Railroad. Sunday we came back to
the Point, and found the tents of our regiment all struck and
everything prepared for a march. By dark we were all. safely
stowed on the "Aleck Scott," and also five companies of the
nth Illinois. At 10 p. m. the boat shoved out, but had to tie
to all night about 10 miles up the river on account of the
fog. Monday at 10 a. m. we landed at Commerce between
Cape Girardeau and Cairo and stayed there all night. Up to
this time we had not the most distant idea of where we were
going, but here we began to guess that we were after Jeff
Thompson and company. Tuesday morning we started back
into the country and camped for the night on Colonel Hun-
ter's farm, a distance of 18 miles. (I forgot to mention that


the 1 8th and 22d Illinois with three companies, cavalry and
two pieces artillery joined us before we started from Com-
merce, making a total of some 2,200 men.) This Colonel
Hunter is in the Rebel Army When we stopped at his farm
there was a large flock of sheep, at least 40 goats and pigs,
turkey, geese, chickens and ducks without number. After we
had been there a half hour I don't believe there was a living
thing on the farm that did not come with our train. I never
saw a slaughterhouse on as large a scale before. The
next day the boys made an awful uproar on the road, playing
that the sheep, hogs, geese, etc., inside of them were calling
for their comrades. Wednesday night we stopped at Little
Water River and the slaughtering commenced immediately.
All along the road up to this place every horse or mule that
showed himself was gobbled instanter, a bridle cramped, and
some footman made happy. It was hard to tell whether our
force was infantry or cavalry that night. This was too much
for the colonel, so next morning he drew the brigade up in
column of company and gave us fits. He made the men turn
every horse loose; told us that the next man that cramped
anything without permission would be dealt with as severely
as the regulations would allow. That suited me. I never
have been disgusted with soldiering save in those two days, and
I tell you that I did then feel like deserting. When we are
marching through a country as thoroughly secesh as this is,
I think that the men should be allowed fresh meat at the ex-
pense of the natives ; but there is a proper and soldier-like way
to get it. We can send our foraging party ahead and have
all we want at camp when we halt, but to allow men to
butcher everything they see is moblike. Wednesday night
Jeff's men tried to burn a bridge a short distance from us
and this led to a little brush, but the cavalry only were en-
gaged. Thursday we marched all day and went into camp

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 3 of 31)