Copyright
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 4 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 4 of 31)
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at night without seeing a horse. The march was through the
"Black Swamp." The ground was covered with this black
moss four inches deep and so thick that 'tis like a carpet.
That was an awful gloomy road and I was glad enough to



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 4!

land at a nice clear stream and have orders to pitch tents.
That night not a thing was pressed. The next day we got into
Bloomfield about 9 a. m. and found Jeff gone. For the third
time we pitched tents on one of his deserted camps. I have
just now heard that we started with orders to push on down
to New Madrid, but here the orders were countermanded and
we were started to Cape Girardeau. This Bloomfield is a rank
Rebel hole. The first Rebel company in Missouri was raised
here. It is the county seat of Stoddard or Scott, and a very
fine place. Here the boys got the understanding that we were
to be allowed some liberties and take them they did. They
broke open four or five stores whose owners had left, and helped
themselves. Colonel Dick (Oglesby) thought this was going too
far, so he stopped it and sent a police force around to collect the
stolen (pressed rather) property. I walked around and took
a look at the pile they collected. There were lots of women's
bonnets, girl's hats, mallets, jars of medicine, looking glasses
three feet long, boys' boots, flat irons, a nice side table and
I don't know what wasn't there. It beat anything I ever saw.
The men had no way to carry these things but on their backs,
and what the devil they stole them for is more than I know.
Well, the colonel divided the stuff out again among the men,
but stopped stealing entirely for the future. We have been a
respectable regiment since then. On the march back to the
Cape, the loth Iowa was ahead of us and they fired several
houses. We (our regiment) saved one of the houses but the
rest burned down. The march back to the Cape was a fast
one but quiet. We arrested some 20 or 30 of Jeff's men but
released them all again. At Bloomfield my tent was pitched
under a tree on which we saw the marks of three ropes to the
ends of which Colonel Lowe attached three men not very long
since. The ropes had cut through the moss on the tree and
the marks will be visible a long time. We also arrested a
number of men that had been concerned in hanging Union
men through the country, At Round Pond an intelligent man
told us that 17 men (Union) had been hung and shot inside
of three days and he saw their bodies in one pile lying in the



42 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

woods. We have marched over 100 miles this trip, and we
have not seen a mile of prairie. I haven't been 20 feet from
a tree for three months. The I7th are going into winter
quarters here. Our regiment will certainly be in the next fight
at Columbus. We start back to the Point at 3 to-morrow
morning.

Bird's Point, November 13, 1861.

Home once more. We all call this home now. Just
as we landed last night the Iowa 7th was forming for
dress parade. One company had but n and another but
15 men; all that came out of the Belmont fight safely.
Other companies had half and some three-fourths of their
men they started with. General Grant tries to make out
that there were about 150 or 175 men lost on our side, but
I'll stake my life that we lost not less than 500. I am
sure that the 22d Illinois lost not less than 175, the 7th
Iowa at least 200, and the other three regiments 150 more.
Grant says that he achieved a victory and accomplished
the object of his expedition. It may be so (the latter part
of it) but almost every one here doubts the story. He says
his object was to threaten Columbus, to keep them from
sending reinforcements to Price. Well he has threatened
them, had a fight, and why they can't send reinforcements
now as well as before, is more than I know. I never will
believe that it was necessary to sacrifice two as good
regiments as there were in the West, to accomplish all
that I can see has been done this time. Altogether there
were some 6,000 men from here, Cape Girardeau and
Ironton, on the expedition that our regiment was on
marching by different roads. Grant says now that we
were all after Jeff Thompson. I don't believe it. I think
the Paducah forces were to take Columbus, Grant was
going to swallow Belmont, we were to drive all the guer-
rillas before us to New Madrid, and then with Paducah
forces and Grant's we were to take Madrid and probably
go on to Memphis or maybe join Fremont with our Army



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 43

of say 15,000 men. Well, Grant got whipped at Belmont,
and that scared him so that he countermanded all our
orders and took all the troops back to their old stations
by forced marches. There was some very good fighting
done at Belmont by both sides. The 226. Illinois and 7th
Iowa did about all the fighting, and sustained much the
heaviest loss. The boys are not the least discouraged and
they all want to go back and try it again. The whole camp
has the Columbus fever, and I don't believe there are
20 men that would take a furlough if they thought an
advance would be made on Columbus while they were
absent. The enemy there are very well fed, clothed and
armed. Arkansas and Tennessee troops with some Mis-
sissippians. The retreat was a route, for our men were
scattered everywhere. I don't care what the papers say,
the men that were in it say that every man took care of
himself, and hardly two men of a regiment were together.
The men ran because they were scattered and saw that the
force against them was overwhelming, but the universal
testimony is that there was no panic, nine out of ten of the
men came on the boats laughing and joking. They had
been fighting six or seven hours, and cannon and musketry
couldn't scare them any more. There are hundreds of
stories, and good ones, out but I always spoil them by
trying to put them on paper.

Bird's Point, November 20, 1861

Part of Pitt's (Col. W. Pitt Kellogg's) cavalry are here.
We are glad to see them as it will relieve us of considerable
picket duty. But otherwise cavalry are of not much
service in this brushy, swampy country. That fox of a
Jeff Thompson that we chased down to New Madrid last
week, had the impudence to follow us right back and we
had hardly got our tents pitched here at the Point before
he passed within 12 miles of us to the river above, and
captured a steamboat. Report says that there were nearly
a dozen officers on the boat, and a paymaster, with money



44 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

to pay off the Cape Girardeau troops. Jeff is a shrewd one,
and the man that captures him will do a big thing. Back
in the country where we were, he made the natives believe
that he whipped Ross and company at Fredericktown, and
killed 400 federals with a loss of only ten of his men.
Don't it almost make you sick the way that i/th brag
and blow about themselves ? That affair at Fredericktown
didn't amount to a thing. From the best information I
can get, there was not to exceed 50 Rebels killed, and I'm
sure not that many. Thompson is stronger to-day than
ever. This thing of sending infantry after him is all bosh,
although we tried it again yesterday. It failed of course.
The boys came back through the rain last night about 10,
tired and mad as the deuce. A thousand cavalry may
possibly get him some day, but they will be sharp ones,
sure. In this fight at Belmont 1,200 of our men at first
completely whipped 2,400 of theirs, four regiments, then
the whole of ours, 2,600 ran like the devil before and
through 5,600 of theirs. These are the true figures.

Bird's Point, Mo., November 24, 1861.

Sabbath morning, 10 o'clock.

I'm in clover. I've got a great big "comfort," weighs a ton,
that has been sent to my partner and myself from a young
lady in Bloomington. We've tramped so much since I re-
ceived that pair of blankets from you, and we never know
when we start whether we're coming back here again or no,
that being unable to carry them I sold them. We have had
considerable cold weather. Lots of frost, and for the last
two days it has been freezing all the time. We have always
slept perfectly warm and getting used to it by degrees.

I never hear anyone complain. Yesterday we made a furn-
ace in our tent that works admirably and now I wouldn't give
a snap for any other winter quarters. This furnace is a grand
thing. It keeps our tent dry and healthy and is as comfortable
to me now as ever our house was. Don't trouble yourself in
the least about our underclothing. We all have more than



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 45

we want and can get any quantity at any time. Other cloth-
ing the same. We commenced building log houses for win-
ter quarters this morning. Theo Thornton and Clem Wallace
of our mess are up the river now cutting logs for them. We
never drill Sundays, but for anything else we have no Sunday.
We have no chaplain in our regiment. Our captain is reli-
gious but he is out now doing as much work as any of the
men. We can enjoy ourselves very well here this winter, but
of course we are very much disappointed in not getting into
active service. I think that when our gunboats get here we
will at least be allowed a trial on Columbus, but you know,
and I know, that I don't know anything about it. We have
had two awful rains within a week as the ponds covered with
ice on our parade ground will testify. The first one caught
six of our boys fifteen miles up the river cutting logs for our
huts. It wet them beautifully. In camp for some reason they had
doubled the pickets, strengthened the camp guard and ordered
us to sleep on our arms. I think they were troubled with the
old scare again. About 10:30 while the storm was at its
height heavy firing commenced all at once right in the mid-
dle of the camp. What a time there was. Colonel Oglesby got
his signals ready, regiments formed in the rain and the devil
was to pay generally. It turned out that it was a green Iowa
regiment that had just returned from another unsuccessful
chase after Jeff. 'Twas an awful trick and only the greenest
troops would have done it.

Bird's Point, Mo., December I, 1861.

This, the beginning of winter, is the warmest and altogether
the most pleasant day we have had for several weeks. During
our whole trip to Bloomfield and back we had splendid
weather, but ever since our return it has been at least very
unsplendid. The climax was reached day before yesterday
and capped with several inches of snow. I was up the river
15 miles at the time with a party loading a flatboat with logs
for our huts. We had a sweet time of it and lots of fun. The
mud was from six inches to a foot deep, and by the time we
got the logs to the boat they were coated with mud two in-



46 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

ches thick, and before we got a dozen logs on the boat we
had a second coat on us, from top to toe of mud. It snowed
and rained all the time we worked but I heard no complaint
from the men, and in fact I have never seen so much fun any-
where as we had that day. There is any amount of game
where we were, the boys said that were out, and they brought
to camp several skinned "deer." I tried some of the "veni-
son" but it tasted strangely like hog.

Of course drill is discontinued for the present, and as work-
ing on the quarters is almost impossible we sit and lie in the
tent and gas and joke and eat and plan devilment. We have
a barrel of apples now, lots of pecans and tobacco and not a
thing to trouble us. The enemy have quit coming around
here and we can stroll six or seven miles without danger if
we get past our pickets safely. There was a great deal of
firing down at Columbus yesterday and I heard some more
this morning. I don't know whether the gunboats are down
or not. It may be the Rebels are practicing with their big
guns ; or maybe they are firing a salute over the fall of Fort
Pickens. It will be a great joke if they take that, won't it?
I believe myself that they will take it. Two of our new gunboats
came down day before yesterday. We will have in all 12 gun-
boats, 40 flatboats carrying one mortar each and 15 propel-
lers for towing purposes, besides the steamboats for trans-
porting troops. Makes quite a fleet and will fill the river be-
tween here and Columbus nearly full. There are not very
many troops here now. Only five regiments of cavalry and
four or five batteries of artillery. Not over 12,000 in all. We
have nearly 1,000 sailors and marines here now and they are
such cusses that they have to keep them on a steamboat an-
chored out in the river. We see by the papers this morning
that the fleet has captured another sand bar. A good one on
the bar. We are greatly puzzled to know if we really are
going down the river this winter. We are preparing winter
quarters here for only 12,000 men. Now all these troops they
are running into St. Louis cannot be intended for up the
Missouri river, for the troops are also returning from there.
I don't believe either that they intend to keep them in St.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 47

Louis this winter for they have only quarters provided there
for a garrison force, so I guess it must mean down the river,
but am sure they won't be ready before six weeks or two
months. We have a report here that Governor Yates is rais-
ing 60 day men to garrison these points while we "regulars"
will be pushed forward. Jem Smith is down here trying to
get information of his brother Frank who is a prisoner. There
are a good many Rebels deserting now. Our pickets bring
them into camp. They are mostly Northern men who pre-
tend they were pressed in and are glad to escape. Frank
Smith is in Company A, Captain Smith's company, at Pa-
ducah. It was Company B, Captain Taylor's, that was in
the Belmont fight. You could see just as well as not why I
can't come home if you'll take the trouble to read General
Halleck's General Order No. 5 or 6, that says, "Hereafter
no furloughs will be granted to enlisted men/' etc.

We had a first rate lot of good things from Peoria yester-
day. They were sent us for Thanksgiving but were a day late.
Chickens, cranberries, cake, etc. The boys say that a Rebel
gunboat has just showed his nose around the point and Fort
Holt is firing away pretty heavily, but I guess the boat is all
in some chap's eye. Hollins is down at Columbus with about
a dozen vessels of war. I have just been out to see what the
boys said was the pickets coming in on the run, but some say
its only a gunboat coming up through woods, so I guess I'll
not report a prospect of a fight.

Monday, December 2, 1861.

While I was writing last night there really was a Rebel
gunboat came up the river and fired into Fort Holt. Impu-
dent, wasn't it? The Fort replied, and Fort Cairo also shot
a couple of shells over our heads toward the rascals, but they
fell short. We could see the troops at Fort Holt out under
arms for an hour. Taylor's battery went off down the Nor-
folk road at a slashing pace to try and get a shot at the boat
but was too late.

It is very cold this morning and snowing again. We are
perfectly comfortable, though.



48 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

Bird's Point, Mo., December u, 1861.

Our cavalry brought in 16 prisoners to-night, about 10 last
night; a band of Thompson's men took a couple of boys from
our regiment prisoners, out 10 miles from here at the water
tank on the railroad. The owner of the house happened to
be outside when they surrounded the house and he scooted
down here with the news, and by 2 o'clock we had a lot of
cavalry and infantry en route for the scene of action. The
cavalry started them out of the brush and captured this 16.
The Rebels killed one of Colonel Oglesby's men. They did not
recover our men but started up and lost another gang that
probably has them.

We will be in our quarters next week although we don't
need them. It is rather pleasant here now. I took a swim
yesterday. 'Twas confounded cold, but I wanted to bathe so
I took the river for it. We haven't had a man complaining in
the company for a week. We buried one poor fellow last
week, but he would have died at home. When I was home
last I weighed 142, now I weigh 160. Can you imagine me.

Bird's Point, Mo., December 22, 1861.

This is a dark, dismal, snowy and confoundedly disagree-
able Sunday. Cold, sloppy and nasty! We moved into our
cabin last night but it is not finished yet, as a crack along the
comb of the roof and sundry other airholes abundantly testify.
The half snow half rain comes in when and where it pleases,
and renders our mud floor comfortable in about the 4Oth
degree. Don't this sound like grumbling, Well, I don't mean
it as such, for I am sure the boys are as cheery as I ever saw
them, and I wouldn't think of these little things except when
writing home, and then the contrast between its cozy comforts
and soldiering in cold, wet weather makes itself so disagree-
ably conspicuous to my spiritual eyes that I can't pass it un-
noticed. Love Hamblin came over here last night and is now
standing by the fireplace indulging in an ague shake, which
if not pleasant is not to my eyes ungraceful.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 49

No more troops have arrived here, and save the whole gun-
boat fleet being here there are no new signs of the down-river
trip we are all waiting so impatiently for.

Bird's Point, December 29, 1861.

Your letter giving us notice of your sending a box came to
hand yesterday with express charges inclosed. I shall go
over to Cairo to-morrow to get them if they are there. I
haven't been to Cairo for a month. All of the 7th cavalry are
on this side now and there are about a dozen of them here all the
time. Colonel Kellogg will be here next week. One company in
that regiment did the first scouting for the /th this morning.
They rode out southwest about 15 miles and brought in 22
prisoners. 'Tis said there are two or three officers among them,
but I rather think they are only a lot of swamp farmers. The
boys got only three or four guns it is said, and that is not more
than the complement of one woodsman in this country. The
boys think they have almost taken Columbus. It was not our
Canton company. We are at last established in our quarters
and thoroughly "fixed up" with all the modern improvements
in the housekeeping line, coupled with the luxuries of the an-
cients and the gorgeous splendor and voluptuousness of the
middle ages. We have a chimney whose base is rock, the age
of which man cannot tell, whose towering top is constructed
of costly pecan wood boughs embalmed in soft Missouri mud
cement. We have a roof and floor, beds and door, of material
carved or sawed from the lofty pines of Superior's rock-bound
shores. Our door latch is artfully contrived from the classic
cypress, and curiously works by aid of a string pendant on the
outside, and when our string is drawn inside who can enter?
We have tables and chairs and shelves without number and
a mantle piece, and, crowning glories, we have good big straw
sacks, a bootjack and a dutch oven. Government has also
furnished a stove for each mess of 15 in our regiment, so we
have nothing more to ask for; not a thing. This is just no
soldiering at all. Its hard, but its true that we can't find a
thing to pick trouble out of. We are to-day more comfortable



50 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

than 45 out of 50 people in old Canton. Our building is
warmer than our house at home, our food is brought to us
every third day in such abundance that we can trade off
enough surplus to keep us in potatoes, and often other com-
forts and luxuries. Within 500 yards of us there is wood
enough for 10,000 for 20 years, and I can't half do it jus-
tice, so I'll quit. I borrowed a horse of the cavalry, Christmas,
slipped past our picket through to the brush and had a long
ride all over the country around Charleston. No adventures
though. General Paine took command here to-day. He is an
old grannie. We are glad he is here though, for we will get
our colonel back by it. You can't imagine what a change the
last month of cool weather has produced in our troops. From
a sick list six weeks ago of nearly 300 in our regiment, with
65 in the hospital, we have come down or up rather, to eight
in hospital, and not over 25 or 30 on the "sick in quarters"
list. It is astonishing! And here these "damphool" "For-
ward to Richmond" papers are talking about the fearful deci-
mation that winter will make in our ranks. They "don't know
nothing" about soldiering.

January 2, 1862.

We've waited patiently until after New Year for the box
of provisions, and nary box yet. Have given it up for a goner.
We're just as much obliged to you as though we had received
it. We haven't yet eaten all the tomatoes, etc., that came with
the quilts. Partly because we are too lazy to cook them, but
mostly because we don't hanker arter them. Beans, bacon
and potatoes are our special hobbies or favorites rather, and
we are never dissatisfied on our inner man's account when we
have them in abundance and of good quality. Company H
of the 1 7th, Captain Boyd, was down here on the 3Oth. All
the boys save Chancy Black and Billy Stockdale were along.
We had a grand time, Nelson's, Boyd's and our boys being
together for the first time in the war. Yesterday, New Year,
the camp enjoyed a general frolic. A hundred or two cav-
alry boys dressed themselves to represent Thompson's men



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 5!

and went galloping around camp scattering the footmen and
making noise enough to be heard in Columbus. The officers
of the nth Infantry were out making New Year calls in an
army wagon with 30 horses to it, preceded by a splendid band.
The "boys" got a burlesque on the "ossifers." They hitched
20 mules to a wagon and filled it with a tin pan and stovepipe
band, and then followed it in 6o-mule wagon around the camp
and serenaded all the headquarters.

General Paine said to-day that our regiment and the nth
would move in a week, but I don't believe it.

Bird's Point, January 5, 1862.

We received the box of provisions to-day in very good
order considering the length of time they have been knocked
about on the route. It came by freight by some mistake or
other. The doughnuts were the only articles spoiled. They
had moulded. I sent the box over from Cairo but was not
here when it was opened, so that aside from one cake labeled
from Aunt Nancy, I don't know where a thing conies from.
I did recognize your home snaps, too, and thought there was
something very familiar in the taste of a mince pie that I ate,
but I am too badly used up to-night to be sure of anything,
and tell you as I want to how much we are obliged to our
good mothers for their thoughtful care for us. I believe every
boy in our mess has received socks and mittens from home.
One received them by mail from his mother in New York
City. At 7 this morning I went over to Cairo with 50 men
after forage for our teams. We stood around in the cold,
mud and rain for five hours before we got to work, and then
the men had all run off but 15 or 18 and we had to roll
bales of hay over a way almost impracticable and all told,
it was a mean job and used me up very near totally.

Ame Babcock, Ike McBean, English and Leary have been
to see us nearly every day for a week. Colonel Kellogg took
supper with us last night. The gunboats were hammering
away all day yesterday down the river, and after dinner the
general sent our company with four others from our regiment

4



52 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

and nearly all of the ith, with one day's rations, down the
river. We waded about six miles through the mud down the
creek and then came back without knowing what we went for.
There are none of us that are sick, but we don't feel as well
as we did in tents. I wish we hadn't built these cabins.

Holly Springs, Miss., January 7, 1862.
The colonel and I were ordered to report here to give evi-
dence before the "Court of Inquiry," convened to inquire into
the case of the ioo,th Illinois Infantry reported for disloyalty.
I started from Jackson yesterday but had to lay over at Grand
Junction last night waiting for a train. We got here this
p. m., immediately gave our evidence, and will return to-mor-
row. Don't know that they will do anything with the lopth,
but am satisfied that to prevent its dishonoring our state it
should be broken up. I heard General Grant say that if the
charges were sustained he would transfer the loyal men to
some of the old regiments, cashier the officers and make the
disloyal men work their time out at Alton. Am staying to-



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 4 of 31)