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 30 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 30 of 31)
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a very large amount of commissary and ordnance stores.


Five miles northeast of Cheraw, S. C.,

March 6, 1865.

Crossed the Peedee this morning. Just after we passed
through the town a I2th Indiana boy seeing some powder
scattered on the ground threw a coal on it. It communicated
with a concealed ammunition magazine and made a fine ex-
plosion, killed and wounded 20 or 30 men in our division,
stampeded a lot of horses and burned some citizens. There have
been half a dozen of such explosions. Good country here, for-
agers get plenty, and also pick up many Rebel deserters and
stragglers. Our foragers yesterday found two of Kilpatrick's
men and five Rebel lieutenants all drunk and put them under

Goodwin's Mills, 16 miles northwest of Cheraw,

March 7, 1865.

About ii miles to-day and in camp at noon. The I4th and
2Oth had come down and cross at Cheraw. "We are waiting
on them. That expedition to Florence was a failure. Our
men got the town but were driven out before they destroyed
a thing. I am inclined to think the officers did not do their
whole duty. They should have succeeded or lost more blood.
Our loss amounted to nothing. One of the best foraging days
of the whole trip. Our foragers to-day captured some negroes
and horses. The negroes say they were running them over
here to get away from General "Schofield's company." We are
about on the State line now, and will leave S. C. to-morrow.
I think she has her "rights" now. I don't hate her any more.

Five miles north of Laurenburg, N. C., Laurel Hill,

March 8, 1865.

One hundred and twelve miles of steady rain,
and the best country since we left Central Georgia.
Looks real Northern like. Small farms and nice
white, tidy dwellings. Wheat fields look very well. In


the cornfields rows are five feet apart, and one stalk the size
of a candle, in a hill. But at every house there were from 200
to 1,000 bushels of corn and an abundance of fodder. Sherman
said yesterday that our campaign is over, and to-day Howard
issued an order that all foraging for provisions shall cease,
there being enough rations in the wagons to last us through.
I dreamed last night of being at home on leave and seeing you
all, and starting back to the army again. Only 90 miles yet
to mail.

Four miles south of Montpelier, N. C,

March 9, 1865.

Rained nearly all last night and poured down all day. Our
regiment had the advance of the division, but we followed
J. E. Smith. He is the poorest traveler in the army. We
had to corduroy all the road after him. Only made four miles.
I never saw such a country. There seems to be a thin crust
over a vast bed of quicksand. I saw wagons yesterday and
to-day moving along not cutting more than two inches, all
at once go down to the hub, and some to the wagon boxes.
I was riding to-night on apparently high ground in the woods
and three times the ground gave way just like rotten ice, and
let my horse in belly deep. We have worked hard to-day.


Randallsville, N. C., March 10, 1865, 12 p. m.
Ten miles to-day, most of which we had to corduroy. Our
regiment in rear of the division and corps. Crossed the Lum-
ber river about 4 p. m. Fine country. We had reveille at 3
this morning, and the rear of train with our 1st brigade did
not get in until an hour later. They had a hard time. Hope
we'll get the advance to-morrow. This Lumber river is a
spoon river, with a third of a mile of swamp on each side
thereof. Hear to-night that Grant has taken Petersburg, and
believe it to be bosh. Blair, with the i/th A. C., is close to
Fayetteville, but it is said he has orders to lie still and let the
left wing enter the town.


Davis Bridge, Rockfish Creek, March n, 1865.
Ten miles to-day, full seven of which had to be corduroyed.
The worst road I ever saw. The i/th corps occupied Fayette-
ville to-day. The foragers took the place. It is as large as
Columbia and has a large arsenal. Heard of two or three
men being captured by the Rebels yesterday and a couple to-
day. They also made a little dash on our rear to-day on
the 3d division without accomplishing anything. I do wish
you could see the crowd of negroes following us. Some say
2,000 with our division. I think fully 1,000.

Fayetteville, N. C, March 12, 1865.

We are camped a couple of miles from town. Marched
about 13 miles to-day. Had to put down pontoons at
both branches of Rockfish creek. At the town of Rock-
fish, the I7th A. C. burned a factory, throwing about 150
women out of employment. One of our gunboats came up
to this place to-day with dispatches for Sherman. It went
back before our division got in and took a lot of mail.

The I4th A. C. is garrisoning this place, but the i/th
got in first. The 97th Indiana boys, who were captured
back at Lynch's Creek, all got away from the enemy and
back to us to-day, five of them. Sherman said yesterday
that the campaign ends only with the war. Hear that
Hampton whipped Kilpatrick splendidly. Don't think
that is any credit to him. Also hear that Bragg whipped
Schofield at Kingston, that Thomas has Lynchburg, and
30,000 other rumors. In the last 23 days the commissary
has issued only two and one half days' of bread. I lost
my sword to-day. Left it where we stopped for dinner.
We have lost so much sleep of late that at every halt half
the command is asleep in a minute. I lay down and
told them not to wake me for dinner nor until the regi-
ment moved. The regiment had started when Frank woke
me, and I got on my horse too stupid to think of anything.
Did not miss my sword for five miles, when I went back
for it, but no use. Foragers for the last week have been


counting on rich spoils in the town, and many of them
have not reported to their regiments within six or eight
days, camping every night with the extreme advance. The
day before the place was taken, five men who were 15 miles
ahead of the column ventured into town. They were gob-
bled and one of them killed. Next morning 100 foragers
hovered around town until the column was within about
six miles, when the foragers deployed as skirmishers, and
went for the town.

There were about 1,000 Rebel cavalry herein who fell
back before our boys skirmishing lively, clear through the
town, when they suddenly charged our fellows and scooped
them. Our loss in killed, wounded and captured is 25 or
30. They killed several after they captured them, and one
they hung up by the heels and cut his throat. Our boys
retreated about a mile from town, and went in again in
more solid order. They were too scattered the first time.
They were successful and routed Johnny, who left six dead
in the streets.

March 14, 1865.

It is supposed we will be here two or three days, to get
some shoes up the river.

Left bank, Cape Fear River, Opposite Fayetteville,

March 15, 1865.

Everything valuable to the Rebels has been destroyed,
and we are about ready to push on to Goldsboro. Fayette-
ville is about a 3,000 town, nearly all on one street. There
was a very fine United States Arsenal burned here, some 20
good buildings, all of which are "gone up." The rest of the
town is old as the hills. We lay on the river bank expect-
ing to cross all last night, and finally reached the bivouac
three quarters of a mile from the river just as the troops
on this side were sounding the reveille. This is the 2ist
river we have pontooned since leaving Scottsboro, May


ist, '64. It is more like the Tennessee than any other
stream we have crossed. We send from here all the negroes
and white refugees who have been following us, also a large
train to Wilmington for supplies. The number of negroes
is estimated at 15,000. Nearly all the population of this
town will go inside our lines. It has rained all day and
seems abominably gloomy. Makes me wish for letters
from home. Last night while we were standing around
fires by the river, some scoundrel went up to a negro not
75 yards from us, and with one whack of a bowie knife,
cut the contraband's head one third off, killing him.

At Goldsboro, we are promised a short rest. If it were
not that the wagons are so nearly worn out that they must
be thoroughly repaired, I don't believe we would get it.
Well, time passes more swiftly in campaigning than in
camp. Most of the army are moved out.

Two miles from left bank of Black River, N. C.,

March 16, 1865.

About 14 miles to-day. About a dozen swamps, as many
showers, three hard rains, and an awfully rough march.
The men waded, I should think altogether, one-half mile
of water from ankle to waist deep. They went through
every swamp yelling like Indians. Rained all yesterday
and last night. I saw peach and thorn blossoms, some
wintergreen and arbor vitae growing wild. Two days like
this would demoralize a citizen much. We drew three
days' hard bread to-day to last five. In the 26 preceding
our division drew besides sugar and coffee, only two and
one-half days' of hard bread. Very poor country to-day.
The boats brought us some late papers.

The latest account of Sheridan capturing Early. Don't
believe it. Saw Herald's account of the inauguration. The
writer should be shot. Of half a dozen boats that come to
Fayetteville, only two brought cargoes, and both of them oats.
Ridiculous, 40,000 pair of shoes would have been sensible.
Many of the men are barefoot. Sherman and Hampton are


having a spicy correspondence on murdering foragers. Think
Hampton is a little ahead at this date. Have only seen the
first letter on each side. There is talk of a fight at Golds-
boro. I do hope this army will get two weeks in camp before
it battles. It is a little too loose now for heavy, steady work.
General Wood says that Sheridan with four divisions of cav-
alry is coming through to join us.

Beaman's Cross Roads, March 17, 1865.
About 12 miles, more than half of which had to be cordu-
royed. Roads awful. If a wagon pulls off the corduroy, it
drops to the hub. There are two or three inches of black
sand on the surface covering quicksand unfathomable. No
one need tell me that bad roads will stop an army. The 2Oth
corps had sharp little affair yesterday. Hear their loss i?
over 400. Everyone is expecting a fight before we read
Goldsboro. The whole corps is camped together to-night
Our division has been in rear of the corps two days and has
not had a fight in the advance since we left Columbia. I
believe I have not heard a hostile shot for 27 days. Howard
is here to-night. Whole corps is on this road.

Four miles north from Smithfield's, N. C.,

March 18, 1865.

Fifteen miles, good roads, men only waded in swamps.
Whole corps in camp before dark. Well settled country and
oceans of forage. Our foragers and the 7th Illinois "mounted
thieves" had a nice little fight to-day. Came near scaring
Wade Hampton's chivalry out of their boots ; four dead
Yanks, and n Rebels is said to be the result. Our fellows
run them off to the left of our road into the I4th and 20.
who hurried their march a little. We are 27 miles from
Goldsboro and 18 from Faisons on the railroad, which
point we will probably make to-morrow and possibly get our
mail. If I don't get at least six letters from you I will be
much disappointed. We are much amused over the Rebel


papers we get. All seem to take "gobs" of comfort from
Lee's declaration that "Tecumseh" can and must be whipped.
Several of them assert that our treatment of citizens is good.
Don't believe a word of it, though I wish it were so.
Twelve miles from Goldsboro, and six from railroad,

March 19, 1865.

Made 15 miles. Only two bad swamps. Very heavy artil-
lery and musketry on our left (i4th and 2Oth Corps) all day.
Hear this evening that our men suffered heavily. General Lee
is said to be here. Opinion is divided as to our having a battle
to-morrow. First rate country to-day and a good abundance
of forage. The farmers here have not many negroes. Rebel
cavalry demonstrated on our left to-day, quite lively and cap-
tured several foragers. Five foragers from our regiment who
had been out five days and whom we had about given up, re-
turned to-night. They have been with the ijth A. C. All
quiet on our right.

One and one-half miles from Neuse River,

March 20, 1865.

We moved about a mile north and then west for five miles.
Pushed some Rebel cavalry before us all the time. Our
brigade was in advance and lost about 25 men. We are
about two miles east of where the battle was fought yester-
day by the I4th and 2Oth corps, and right where the Rebel
hospital was. The Rebels are now due west of us, our
line running north and south, and I think there can be no
difficulty in communicating with Schofield. Goldsboro is
undoubtedly evacuated. In the fight yesterday one divi-
sion of the I4th was worsted at first and driven some
distance, but rallied, repulsed the enemy, and the corps
getting into line, charged four to six times, and slaughtered
the Rebels awfully. Their loss was far greater than ours.

Ten p. m. A Pennsylvania man, who was wounded in the
fight yesterday, and carried in by the Rebels who took off


his leg above the ankle, came in to us a few minutes ago.
He crawled nearly half a mile, part of the way through
a swamp. It seems that the Rebels had a hospital there
they evacuated and left him and a half dozen other
wounded, two of whom the man saw killed by the skirmish
firing. We are on the skirmish line to-night. I suppose
it is 400 yards to the Rebel skirmishers, and not a very
dangerous line.

March 21, 1865.

We moved out this morning just before daylight and
got within 50 yards of the Rebel skirmish line, but nothing
going forward on our right or left, we returned to our
original position. Had one man in Company H slightly
wounded. We could have held our advanced line just as
well as not. I think our right must rest on the river.
Some 35,000 or 40,000 Rebels are reported here under John-
ston.. Some prisoners report Lee. I would like to see
them whaled, but would like to wait until we refit. You
see that too much of a good thing gets old, and one don't
enjoy even campaigning after 50 or 60 days of it together.
I believe I am surfeited with oven bread ("death balls"
our .cook calls them), biscuit, and pork. I feel finely; wet
from head to foot, has rained since noon hard most of the
time. About I p. m. the main line moved out on our
skirmish line, and as quick as they get their works up
(about one-half hour), our regiment deployed as skirm-
ishers on our brigade front, and our whole corps skirmish
line moved forward. I think the I7th drove the enemy
on our right at the same time. We took their skirmish
pits along the whole front of our division, but they were
very close to their main line and we did have a very in-
teresting time holding them, I assure you. I don't think
it was more than 75 yards to the main line of the Rebel
works, and they in plain sight, only a straggling scrub oak
undergrowth and a few large pines intervening. The Rebels
came out of their works twice to retake their pits.


The first time the left of our regiment had to fall back,
the brigade on our left giving way and exposing our flank,
but we all rallied in a minute and made the Johnnies fairly
fly back. The next time our brigade again broke, but our
men held their pits, and the 26th Illinois, which was just
coming out to relieve our regiment, faced its left wing
for the pits occupied by the enemy, and went for them with
a first-class yell. You should have seen the Rebels run.
It did me a power of good. The other brigade then came
back to their position, the 26th relieved me, and we are
now ready for bed. We have been wonderfully fortunate
to-day, only 10 wounded and none killed. The pride of the
regiment, Frank Lermond, had his arm broken by a ball,
but a resection operation will leave him a tolerably good
arm. I think this has been as exciting and lively a p. m.
as ever I saw. Terry's 24th Army Corps has come up,
and lays about six miles back of us to-night.

Bentonville, N. C, March 22, 1865.

The enemy left about 2 a. m. Our brigade was ordered
to follow them to Mill creek, about three miles, which we
did almost on the double quick, the 26th Illinois in ad-
vance pushing their rear guard. The brigade went to
"Mill creek, but our skirmishers went a mile further, to
Hannah's creek. The 26th had seven wounded. I saw
in one place a dead Rebel and one of our men burned
horribly. The woods have all been burned over here. In
another place a dead Rebel and one of our men with his
foot cut half off, one of his toes cut off, several more cuts
on his body, and a bullet hole in his temple. Some of the
boys saw one of our men with leg cut off in five places.
Some surgeon had probably been practicing on the last
two men.

They were I4th Corps men. Sherman again says the
campaign is over, that he only came out here to show
Johnston that he is ready to fight all the time. We start
back for Goldsboro (24 miles), to-morrow. Hurrah for


mail and clean clothes. Colonel and I occupy the outside
of a house to-night, in the inside of which is a Chinese-eyed
girl with a Creole mouth. She is as intelligent as a door
post. You don't know how anxious I am to hear from you.
I have had a reply to but one letter that I have written
since last November (i5th). Our little supper is now
ready. Don't see how we will get along without Frank.

Goldsboro, N. C, March 25, 1865.

We were two days coming back from Bentonville. Have a
nice camp ground and will enjoy ourselves, I think. Town
don't amount to anything.

On picket, Raleigh road, three miles from Nahanta Station, on
Weldon and Goldsboro Railroad,

April 10, 1865.

Our division moved north to-day along the Weldon rail-
road to Nahanta, where we crossed and took a main Raleigh
road. Our ist brigade had the advance and had light skirm-
ishing all day. Wheeler's cavalry is opposing us. Our regi-
ment is on picket to-night, and the enemy shot a little at us
before dark, but all is quiet just now. Passed through a very
fine country to-day. It has rained all day. Some cannonad-
ing on our left. I think the whole army moved to-day. The
2Oth corps passed us near town this morning in exactly op-
posite direction to ours. The whole army, mules, wagons, bum-
mers and generals have come out new from Goldsboro. The
whole machine looks as nicely as an army can look. Our ist
brigade took a swamp crossing from the enemy to-day, that
our brigade could hold against a corps. A bullet passed mis-
erably near to me as I was arranging our picket line this

Beulah, N. C., April n, 1865, 12 m.

Our division is alone on this road I find, and the extreme
right of the army. Our brigade ahead to-day. DibbrelFs di
vision of Wheeler's men is ahead of us. We pushed them so


closely that we saved all the bridges to this place. They de-
stroyed the bridge here some way without burning it. Country
to-day nearly all under cultivation, but no large farms. I
reckon that the larger a farm a man has of this kind of land
or sand the poorer he is. Our eyes were rested by seeing a
little clay hill and a stony field, signs that we are again getting
out of the coast flats. There was a house on our picket line
last night with six women in it who were sights. They were
the regular "clay-eaters." This Rebel cavalry ahead don't
amount to a cent. They have not yet hurt a man on our road,
and we don't know that more than two of them have been
hit. They keep shooting all the time, but are afraid to
wait until we get within range of them. They have not hind-
ered our march a minute. Got me a new servant (a free boy)
to-day. Both his grandmas were white women. He says the
Rebel cavalry have been impressing all the able-bodied ne-
groes for the army until within a few days. He understands
they quit it because they found out in Richmond that they
couldn't make "Cuffie" come up to the work.

Eight miles North of Smithfield, 4:30 p. m.
Crossed the river as quick as the bridge could be built and
moved out three miles. The rest of our corps crossed two
and one-half miles below. Country is quite rolling here. I
hear that Johnston has left Smithfield, going towards Raleigh.
Miserable set of citizens through here.

April 12, 1865, 10 a. m.

We hear this a. m. that Lee has surrendered to Grant the
army of northern Virginia. It created a great deal of enthu-
siasm among us. It is hard to make our men believe any-
thing, but Logan told us half an hour ago as he passed it is
true as gospel. We have passed a large infantry camp that the
Rebels left yesterday. Johnston is moving towards Raleigh.
Our division has the advance to-day. We consolidated the
regiment for the campaign into five companies.


Left bank of Neuse River, 20 miles East of Raleigh,

April 12, 1865, 4 p. m.

Twelve miles to-day. Our cavalry pushed ahead and drove
the Rebels past here at 8 a. m. Saw a barn and cotton press
in flames to-day. There has been no burning this trip worth
mentioning. This to-day was all I have seen and it was to
destroy the cotton. Poor country to-day, but one very nice
country place ; the house 4th rate, but the grounds and shrub-
bery finer than any in our part of Illinois.

This is an army of skeptics, they won't believe in Lee's sur-
render. I do, and I tell you it makes this one of my brightest
days. His surrender makes sure beyond any chance that what
we have been fighting for for four years is sure. Look for
me July 4th, 1865. [This promise was kept. Ed.]

Four miles from Raleigh, April 13, 1865, 4 p. m.
The fourth anniversary of the fall of Fort Sumter. How
are you, chivalry? Made a nice little march of 16 miles and
could go on to town as well as not before dark if it was ne-
cessary. Our left wing occupied Raleigh this morning with
Kilpatrick and the I4th A. C. No fighting worth mentioning.
We crossed the Neuse six miles from Raleigh on the paper
mill bridge. This is the prettiest campaign we ever made. No
night marching, 60 miles in four days, and just what rations
we started with from Goldsboro in haversacks. Beautiful
country to-day, high and rolling. The bummers found whisky
to-day and I saw a number dead drunk by the roadside. They
found an ice house and to-night we have ice water. Picked
up a number of Rebel deserters .to-day. The woods are full
of them.

Raleigh, N. C., April 14, 1865, I p. m.
We passed through town and were reviewed by Sherman,
who stood at the south gate of the State Capitol grounds.
Just as Colonel Wright saluted, his horse turned his heels to-
wards Sherman and did some of the finest kicking that ever


was seen. It was most amusing. Raleigh is a fine old town.
Many beautiful residences, and the gardens filled with the
choicest shrubbery.

The 1 4th A. C. guards the place. Wheeler's men sacked it.
Division hearquarters received orders to save their rations.
What we have is to last 30 days and maybe 40 days. That
means a long march, though it is hinted that we do not follow
Johnston. Some think we are going into East Tennessee.
The citizens of Raleigh generally come to their gates to look
at us, but make no demonstrations that I have heard of. The
1 4th A. C. is protecting them in all their rights. Not a thing

High rolling country and large farms. The town is fortified
all around, but works were old. I never saw so few negroes
in a Southern city. Our headquarter's foragers brought in
five Rebel deserters to-night, and five dozen eggs which I
think were the most valuable.

Raleigh, April 15, 1865.

To-day makes four years soldiering for me. It is a terrible
waste of time for me who have to make a start in life yet, and
I expect unfits me for civil life. I have almost a dread of
being a citizen, of trying to be sharp, and trying to make
money. I don't think I dread the work. I don't remember
of shirking any work I ever attempted, but I am sure that
civil life will go sorely against the grain for a time. Citizens
are not like soldiers, and I like soldier ways much the best.
We were to have moved out this morning but did not. Logan
went out with our 4th division, report says, to confer with
Johnston. Big rumors going that our campaign is over, and

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 30 of 31)