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 31 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 31 of 31)
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that Johnston's men are going home. We have been having
heavy showers during the day, but the boys feel so good over
the prospect ahead that they raise the most tremendous cheers
right in the midst of the hardest rains. We think Johnston
is in as tight a place as Lee was, and if he don't surrender we
will go for him in a way that will astonish him. We con-
sider our cause gained and are searching each other's records


to see who was ever doubtful of success. I don't remember
at any time of being despondent over the war or being doubt-
ful of the issue. Was I? I did think the war might last for
years yet, but take that back. I have not been in town since
we came through, and think no one from the brigade has.
Curiosity over captured cities is "old."

Raleigh, April 16, 1865.

Flags of truce are still flying between Sherman and John-
ston. The latter is, I believe, some 30 miles west of Hillsboro.
Some of Sherman's staff went out last night to offer the same
terms that were offered to Lee, and are expected every hour
with Johnston's answer. Everybody thinks Johnston will ac-
cept and many are offering to bet their all that we will be
mustered out by July 4th, 1865.

I am trying to take the matter coolly and determined not to
be very much disappointed if the result is different from what
we all hope. We will be either ready to march to-morrow
morning or to hang our swords on the wall. Hundreds of
Johnston's men are coming into our lines. If he don't surren-
der his men will all desert. A lovely day. Disposes one to
peace wonderfully. It is most difficult to realize that our war
is over. I do from my heart thank God that I have lived to
see the rebellion put down. Anyone who has been with us
the last year and is alive should be thankful. The whole four
years seems to me more like a dream than reality. How
anxious I am to shake hands with you all once more. "How
are you peace?"

Raleigh, April 17, 1865.

We have a brief dispatch this morning informing us of the
assassination of President Lincoln, Secretary Seward and son.
I have not the heart to write a word about it. The army is
crazy for vengenance. If we make another campaign it will
be an awful one. Sherman meets Johnston to-day. The delay
in the negotiations was caused by some dispatches being
missed. We hope Johnston will not surrender. God pity
this country if he retreats or fights us.



Raleigh, April 18, 1865.

Sherman has gone out again to see Johnston. Johnston
asked for another day in order to see Davis and get his per-
mission to surrender the whole force in arms this side of the
Mississippi. I was through the town to-day. Some very fine
residences and asylums, but the town is no larger than Canton,
and not as pretty except in shrubbery and shade trees.

I visited the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Asylums and the
superintendent put a class in each through some exercises. It
was very interesting. A Herald of the loth gives us the par-
ticulars of Lee's surrender. Grant is the hero of the war.
The papers all talk about Grant, Sherman and Sheridan, noth-
ing said about Thomas. This whole army thinks that
Thomas is slighted by the North. We have as much con-
fidence in him as in Grant or Sherman, and then he never
writes any letters or accepts valuable presents, or figures
in any way for citizen approbation, or that of his army.
The only objection that I ever heard against him is the
size of his headquarters or "Thomasville" as it is called
by the army. That comes from his West-Pointism.

Raleigh, April 19, 1865.

Joe Johnston surrendered the whole thing yesterday to
Sherman. Our 4th division and a division of the I7th
Corps receive the arms, etc. We go into a regular camp to-
morrow to await developments. If any more Confederacy
crops out, we, I suppose, will go for it, otherwise in a
couple of months we'll muster out. That's all. Good bye,

Our last march. Near Rolesville, N. C,

April 29, 1865.

Left Raleigh at 7 this morning on my way home, via
Richmond and Washington. Made about n miles.
Rather too warm for such fast marching as we always do.
If we would just make 15 miles a day, say 10 of it between


sunrise and 10 a. m., and the remainder after 2 p. m., it
would not hurt a man or an animal, but we move when we
do move at three or three and a half miles an hour, and not
all even Sherman's men can stand it in as warm weather
as this. I saw a number laid out this morning by the road-
side looking as if they had been boiled. The 50 pounds of
equipments is what uses them up. Well settled country,
and it looks beautiful. The leaves are all out nearly full
size ; fine oak, elm and pine strips of woodland between
farms is such an addition of comfort to citizens and cattle,
and of beauty to scenery. The undergrowth is mostly dog-
wood and holly. We are on our good behavior this trip.
No foraging, no bumming rails, or houses, and nothing
naughty whatever. We have the best set of men in the

world. When it is in order to raise h they have no equals

in destructiveness and ability to hate and worry, or su-
periors as to fighting Rebels, but now they have none,
and they are perfect lambs. Not a hand laid on a rail this
evening with intent to burn, not a motion toward a
chicken or smoke-house, not a thing in their actions that
even a Havelock would object to. They don't pretend to
love our "erring brethren" yet, but no conquered foe could
ask kinder treatment than all our men seem disposed to
give these Rebels. We camped about 3 p. m. in a pretty
piece of woods. Artillery has been booming all day at

Sunday, April 30, 1865.

Howardism (and it is a very good kind of ism), allows
us to lay still to-day. It is a real Canton ist of June Sab-
bath. It rained all night, but the effect is to improve these
sandy roads. It will take a good deal more than a week
to realize fully that the war is over. No more preparation
for a coming campaign, dreaded at first, but soon looked
for with feverish eagerness (human nature). No more
finding the enemy driving in his skirmishers, developing
his line, getting into position, and retiring every night,


maybe for a month, after days spent in continuous skirm-
ishing, expecting to be ordered to charge at daybreak. It
is all over, thank God, but it seems impossible.

A Philadelphia paper of the 25th (first we have seen
since the 2ist) astonished us all. It gives us our first inti-
mation of the hue and cry against Sherman, for the terms
he offered Johnston, Breckenridge & Co. We did not
before know anything he had done, only he told us in
orders that he had, "subject to the approval of the powers
at Washington, made peace from the Rio Grande to the
Potomac, by an agreement with Johnston and other
high officials/' We have only known that much, talked
over the matter and were afraid that "Tecumseh" had
made an attempt to do too much, and had compromised
himself by having anything at all to do with other than
military Rebels. I am very sorry for him, but we have
thought for a year, and it has been common talk in the
army, that he was ambitious for political honors, etc.

I have often heard it said that he was figuring for popu-
larity in the South. He has written some very pretty let-
ters to our erring Southerners. Instance, the one to the
Mayor and citizens of Atlanta and one to Mrs. Bowen of
Baltimore, and several more while at Savannah.

He also promised Governor Vance some kind of pro-
tection if he would return to Raleigh. "Pap" must be care-
ful. We all think the world of him. I'd rather fight under
him than Grant, and in fact if Sherman was Mahomet we'd
be as devoted Musselmen as ever followed the former
prophet, and if he has blundered here, as they say he has,
we will feel it more at heart than we ever did the fall of
our leaders before. I won't believe he has made a mis-
take until I know all about it. It can't be.

Near Davis' Cross Roads, five miles north of Tar river.

May i, 1865, 4:30 p. m.

We are 35 miles from Raleigh to-night, which makes 24
miles to-day over Tar river, which is here about 50 yards
wide and runs through a fine rolling, high country. The


march was splendidly conducted, no straggling, and the peace
orders were faithfully lived up to. It seems like the early
days of my soldiering to see the citizens all at home, their
horses and mules in the stables, and gardens full of vegetables
passed untouched. When a man can pass an onion bed with-
out going for them, and they did a number of them to-day, no
one need talk to me of total depravity. The soldier goes
more on onions than any other luxury. The citizens have all
"war's over" news, and seem to feel good over it. At three
different places there were groups of very healthy looking
young ladies, well dressed, by the roadside, waving their hand-
kerchiefs at us, and one told the boys she wished them to come
back after they were mustered out, for "you have killed all our
young men off." The virtuous indignation welled up in my
bosom like a new strike of oil. I'll venture that these same
women coaxed their beaux off to the war, and now that
"Yank" is ahead, they shake their handkerchiefs at us and
cry, "bully Yanks." The devil take them and he'll be sure
to do it. You have heard of woodticks? The man who don't
catch his pint a day is in awful luck. They have a tick pick-
ing twice a day in this country, regularly as eating. Saw a
wild turnip in bloom to-day.

Two miles north of Shady Grove, N. C,

May 2, 1865.

Twenty-six miles to-day, and everything in camp at sun-
set. That is No. i work with 300 sets of wheels to the divi-
sion. We have reveille at 3 a. m. and start at 4 now.

We seem to have got pretty well out of the pine country.
Hardly saw one the last three miles this p. m. Have also
about left cotton behind us. Tobacco and wheat are the
staples here. I saw as many as five large tobacco houses on
one farm, built 25 logs high. Notice also some very fine wheat
growing, now 12 inches high. Very large peach and apple
orchards on almost every farm. The trees look thrifty, but
show neglect. All kinds of fruit promises to be abundant this


The last five miles to-day was through beautiful country,
fine houses, too. The people were all out to see us, but I am
glad that I have no demonstration a la white handkerchief to
chronicle. The men are full of the de'il to-day. Scaring
negroes almost out of their wits. Our division is the right of
the army. We have been side tracking so far, but to-morrow
we get the main road and Corse takes the cow paths. I think
that not more than one-fifth of the cleared land so far in this
State is under cultivation this year, and that fully one-fourth
of all has been turned over to nature for refertilization from
four to forty years. On some of this turned out land the new
growth is more than a foot in diameter. I saw a sassafras
tree to-day that was 15 inches in diameter.

Right Bank Roanoke river, Robbin's Ferry, N. C.

May 3, 1865.

About 20 miles to-day and the latter fourth quite dusty.
We did not get the main road, and have depended mainly on
hog paths. The Roanoke is the largest stream we have crossed
since leaving the Tennessee river, and is quite swift. The
water is also colder than any we have found this march. We
have not pontoons enough to reach across and will have to
press ferryboats and skiffs, etc., to use as pontoons. Presume
it will take all night to get up a bridge. We pontooned the
Neuse when we crossed it the last time in one and one-half
hours. As we crossed the Raleigh and Gorton Railroad to-
day, saw a train of cars coming kiting along. Expect com-
munication is open to Raleigh by this time. We are march-
ing too hard. It is using up lots of men. Good country to-
day. Many fine houses and every indication of wealth.

Thirteen miles south of Laurenceville, Va.,

May 4, 1865.

Our regiment in advance of the division crossed the Ro-
anoke at 3 :3O p. m. and went into camp here at sunset, mak-
ing 13 miles. We crossed the N. C. and Va. line about three
miles this side of the river. Good country, and people all out


Near Nottaway River, May 5, 1865.

Crossed the Meherrin river (a Copperas creek affair) this
morning and pass through Laurenceburg, a loo-year old town,
just as large as the top of a very small hill would hold. Such
oceans of negroes; never saw half as many before in the
same distance in Virginia. Sheridan was through this country
ten days ago, but hearing that Johnston had surrendered he
turned back. Kautz and Wilson were also raiding last sum-
mer, but there are no signs that war is known to the people by
experience. We see Lee's and Johnston's men all along the
road, taking a look at Sherman's army. All the soldiers and
citizens we see seem to submit to the Government, and the
war feeling is dead among them, but there is no love for us
or ours, and they regard us only as subjugators. That is as
warm a sentiment as I ask from them. I believe every family
has lost a member by the war. I saw a member of Pickett's
Rebel division this evening. He said that when his division
surrendered to Grant, they stacked but 45 muskets. It was
nearly 10,000 strong on the 24th of March, 1865.

This boy put in one of the 45 muskets. They all give
Sheridan's cavalry the credit for doing the best fighting they
ever knew "Yanks" to do.

They all speak highly of our 6th (Wright's) corps. The
good conduct of our men continues even to the astonishment
of the men themselves. I have heard of but one indiscretion,
and that was only the carrying off of the table cutlery after
dining with a citizen. We are traveling too fast, but our
corps commanders are racing to see who will make Petersburg
first. Heard of Booth being killed to-day. Also got a Herald
of the 24th with Sherman and Johnston's peace propositions.
We are very much shocked at Sherman's course. I have not
heard an officer or soldier who had read them, sustain our
general. It is hard on us and we regret his action as much as
any calamity of the war, excepting the Washington horror.
There isn't an element of man worship in this army, but we
all had such confidence in Sherman, and thought it almost im-


possible for him to make a mistake. The army is very sore
over the affair. We can't bear to have anybody say a word
against Sherman, but he did act very strangely in this

Left bank of Stony Creek, Va., 20 miles from

May 6, 1865.

About 20 good miles to-day. No sign of war yet. Have
not had a very good road to-day. Crossed the Nottaway
river this morning. Small affair. During Kautz and Wilson's
disastrous raid last summer they threw their last piece of
artillery into the Nottaway from the bridge on which we
crossed. One of the officers says he noticed bullet marks
on trees that indicated a pretty sharp skirmish having
taken place where we stopped for dinner. We are fairly
on classic ground. I hear that the I7th A. C. lost a number
of men yesterday by a bridge falling.

Petersburg, Va., May 7, 1865.

Twenty miles to-day, and the longest kind of miles. Had
some bad road in the morning. We struck the Weldon rail-
road two or three miles below Ream's Station, where the
6th Corps was whipped last June, and came right up to
the city. Saw hardly any signs of fighting the whole way.
Ours and the Rebel works where we came through are
fully two and one half miles apart, and the skirmish line
further from each other than we ever had ours when we
pretended to be near the enemy. I think the whole army
is up. Part of it got here last night. We lie here to-
morrow. The I7th A. C. goes on to Richmond.

Petersburg, Va., May 8, 1865.

I'll take back all I ever said against the Potomac Army.
I have been down to Fort Steadman to-day and troops who
will work up to an enemy as they did there, will do any-


thing if handled right. There were some sad sights along
that part of the line. Right in front of Steadman 40 or
50 of our men are lying with only a few shovelfuls of dirt
thrown over them, their heads and feet exposed. I passed
through the Rebel burying ground, quite a large and
thickly settled village. Poor fellows. I wish the leaders
who led or rather pushed them into these little clay hills
were all beside them. This is a nice town, not very pretty
though. Good deal of business done. Hundreds of Rebel
officers, Lieutenant General Gordon among them, walk the
streets in full uniform.

Drury's Bluff, Va., May 9, 1865.

We were reviewed by Howard, Logan and Hartsuff this
morning as we passed through Petersburg. We lie to-
night along the outer line of Drury's Bluff defenses which
Butler took a year ago this month. Signs of a good deal
of fighting; good many roads, etc. The James river is
about one mile to our right. I have been to some very
fine forts. Fort Wagner and Fort Stevens (or Stephens)
are the best, on the second and main line of Rebel works,
which Butler was working against when the Rebels came
out and whipped him. From one fort I saw the spires
of Richmond, James river and Shipping, Fort Darling and
Fort Harrison. Coming back toward camp we found one
of our soldiers unburied in the bushes. His skull was
brought in by our hospital steward.

Manchester, Va., May 10, 1865.

The rain yesterday made the road, which is a splendid
one fifty yards wide, just right for traveling. We passed
through three lines of Drury's Bluff and Fort Darling
defenses, and are now at the second and inside line of
works for the defense of Richmond. Hostile Yankees
never saw either of these two lines at this point, or any
other, I guess, this side of the James River. It is about


22 miles from Richmond to Petersburg. "Old Brains"
(Halleck) issued his proclamation that no soldier or officer
of this army should enter Richmond only when we pass
through. Howard and Logan say they will pass around if
they can. I hope they will.

We have a fine view of Richmond from here. It is situated
much like Peoria and Columbia, S. C. The burned district shows
very plainly from here and makes the resemblance to Columbia
very striking. Several thousand men and officers of the corps
made a raid on Logan last night and got a little talk from him.
He was very careful not to say too much, all small talk. This
got up a real elephant hunting mania, and I guess every regi-
ment commanded in the corps was called out. Colonel Wright
had to make a little talk. The I4th and 2Oth move out to-

May n, 1865.

The I4th and 2Oth crossed the river and went as far as Han-
over to-day.

May 12, 1865.

The i /th Corps has the road to-day. Heavy thunder storm
last night with a great deal of rain. Four men of our division
were killed by lightning about 200 yards from our tent. One
of them, William Hall, belonged to Company D of our regi-
ment. Two men were killed in a tent in which were 15, and
of the four lying side by side, two were killed.

Can't hear yet for certain when we will be mustered out.
We move towards Alexandria to-morrow.

North Bank of Chickahominy River,

May 13, 1865.

We crossed the James river this a. m. Our division, the
rear of the corps, paraded a little around Richmond, saw Libby
Prison, Castle Thunder, the bronze statue of Washington,


Lee's and Davis' residence, and a number of women. Some
handkerchiefs flying. Two women told us they were Yankees
and looked so sweet that I (in theory) lifted my hat to them.
It always puts me out of humor to see Southern women cheer
Yanks in public. We passed through the Rebel works where
Kilpatrick made his bold dash in March, '64. We are six or
seven miles above Mechanicsville, and McClellan's old battle

Near Hanover, C. H., Va., May 14, 1865.
Only made nine miles to-day on account of the Pamunky
river here being bad. We camp to-night in the Hanover
"slashes," one mile east of the birthplace of Henry Clay, and
about two miles from the residence of Patrick Henry. The
court house is where the latter delivered his famous speech
against the clergy. Henry's house is built of brick, imported,
and was built in 1776. We passed the place where McClellan's
famous seven days' fight commenced. The whole country is
waste. I hear a country legend here that Clay was the ille-
gitimate son of Patrick Henry. The court house was built in

South of Bowling Green, Va., May 15, 1865.

Crossed the Pamunky river this morning and the Mattapony
this p. m. Beautiful country, but most desolate looking.
Stopped at a house for the "cute and original" purpose of ask-
ing for a drink of water. While a servant went to the spring
had a very interesting chat with the ladies, the first of the sex
I have spoken to in Virginia. One of them was quite pleasant.
She inquired if we Yankees were really all going to Mexico.
Told her "such was the case," when she remarked, "Well, all
our men are killed off, and if all you Northerners go to Mex-
ico, we women will have our rights sure."

Heard of Davis' capture. Did not excite an emotion.


Five miles south of Fredericksburg, May 16, 1865.
Our division and brigade in advance of corps to-day. Made
24 miles by 2 p. m. Fences all gone on the road, but houses all
standing. From a bluff three miles back had a beautiful view
of about 15 miles of the Rappahannock valley and in all that
did not see a fence or a cultivated field, or a specimen of either
the kine, sheep, or swine families. This certainly does not
largely rank the Sahara. Passed through a melancholy look-
ing line of rifle pits, and mentally thanked Heaven for my poor
prospect of ever using the like again. Passed through Bowl-
ing Green this a. m., only u miles from where Booth was

Aquia Creek, Va., May 17, 1865.

We passed over the whole line of Burnside's battle ground
this morning. (It was no fight, only a Yankee slaughter.)
Through Fredericksburg, the most shelled town I ever saw;
crossed the Rappahannock on a miserable shaky pontoon, and
have been traveling ever since in the camps of the Potomac
Army. Desolation reigns equal to the Sodom and Gomorrah

Country much more broken than I supposed; very hot
part of the day. One man of the 48th Illinois fell dead while
inarching, and eight or ten in our regiment badly affected by

Occoquan Creek, May 18, 1865.

Another day's march. Heavy rain and thunder storm com-
menced ten minutes before our wagons got in, and then the
wind blew so hard that we could not get our tent up for an
hour, and everybody got thoroughly soaked.

Near Alexandria, Va., May 19, 1865.

Rained all night. Reveille at 2 p. m., and started off before
daylight. Men waded two or three creeks to their middles.
March miserably conducted. Passed the church that Wash-


ington attended, built in 1783. It has nearly all, except roof
and walls, been carried away by relic maniacs. Our division
marched through Mt. Vernon by the vault and residence.

Thus closes this diary of one of the most memorable year's
campaigns in the history of modern times.

We remained in camp between Alexandria and Arlington
until the 23d, when we crossed the Potomac river, of which
we had heard so much, and the next day (the 24th), parti-
cipated in the Grand Review of the Grandest Army that ever
was created.





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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 31 of 31)