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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

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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 5 of 31)
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night at Mr. Barney's. He is a Northern man and thank
God, a loyal one. He built a portion of the M. & C. R. R.
and most of the M. C. R. R.. His wife is also Northern and
loyal. Have been very wealthy, but the war has reduced them.
They both, after seven years in the South, bear me out in the
opinion I expressed in my last, of these Southern people.
They have lost $50,000 worth of negroes by our army, but are
willing to lose the rest for our cause. The army has all
moved back to the M. & C .R. R. line except one division,
Lanman's, which occupies this place. General Grant's
headquarters are yet here. There is the d st state of af-
fairs in this country now that 'tis possible to think of. Every
house within ten miles of the army is visited about five times
A day by our soldiers, and the guerrillas (both work on the
same principles) and each time visitors divide with the family
the provisions and household goods. There is rnore stealing
in one day here than the whole United States suffered in a
year before the war. The correspondent of the St. Louis



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 53

Democrat is writing on the same table with me for his paper,
ever and anon ripping out some tall oaths because he was not
at the Vicksburg battle. We heard last night, direct, that
the place was taken, but we are not sure of it yet. We have
lost immensely at that place but the gain is worth it. Trains
are coming through from Memphis now and the army will
be on full rations again shortly. The M. & O. R. R. will
not be running for ten days yet. There are some eight miles
of the latter road almost totally destroyed above Trenton,
much of it trestle work. The sick will all leave here to-night
and within five days this secesh hole (what there is left of it)
will be left to its secesh inhabitants.

Bird's Point, January 10, 1862.

Since daylight yesterday morning we have been all ready
with five days' rations and expecting every moment the orders
to fall in and commence a march. We were delayed untill II
a. m. to-day by a fog so dense that boats could not run even
from Cairo to this point. All that time we were in the great-
est suspense and after everybody had conjectured all their
conjectures, we were yet perfectly in the dark in regard to our
destination. All the troops here, save enough for guard duty,
are going. I believe I'm within bounds when I say that
75,000 different lies have been circulated here in the last 36
hours, and all in regard to the present expedition. Well the
suspense is over and we (think we) know that Columbus is
our goal.

At n a. m. to-day the fog was dispersed by a cold north
wind, and immediately two gunboats steamed down the river,
giving us the first intimation of our route. They were shortly
followed by other gunboats and then by steamers loaded to
their utmost capacity with soldiers. All afternoon they have
been going down. The last boat that I saw was towing a
couple of flats loaded with ambulances, or "soldier-buggies." I
think all the troops have gone from Cairo and the boats that
carried them will be back and take us at daylight to-morrow



54 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

noon. I think they are landing them about six miles this side
of Columbus, maybe not so far from there. General McClern-
and is taking his whole stock in the soldier business with him.
It's a permanent thing certain. If this really means Columbus,
and I don't see how it can be anything else, it has been man-
aged with more secrecy than any expedition, besides, up to
this time in war. I never guessed it within the possibilities
of a month. These generals, we have three of them here
(Grant, Paine and McClernand) may know their business,
but we of the ranks don't understand what kind of truck
20,000 men want with the army at Columbus. And 10,000 is,
I'm sure, considerably outside of the number that will move
from here. There are probably 10,000 more at Paducah, that
I think are also going. Well, maybe we'll get the place, hope
we will. If we don't it won't be the men's fault, for we do
hate that hole. It's funny what an effect this soldiering has
on men. I suppose there is no mistake about our being within
two days, at farthest, of a great battle, and yet these men
don't to any eye show a sign of even a shadow of care or con-
cern. Since I commenced this I don't believe that one of them
has given it a thought. To save my neck I can't get up
enough excitement to kill a flea or even to warn him. The
boys are almost all playing cards. Sam Nutt and my chum
Hy thought they didn't get enough supper to-night, so they
put about a peck of beans in to boil and have just got them
in eating order. I suppose Sam can plant more beans than any
other living man of his weight. They have also a lot of pig's
feet between them. Little Ame Babcock and Ike McBean are
going with us to-morrow. Colonel Kellogg goes with five
companies of his regiment. The Canton company does not
go. I am not real well now but I wouldn't miss this trip to
Columbus to save my life. I've had my heart set on being at
that fight a long time and I'm gong if I can walk two miles.

January 13, '62. I wrote this letter and thought I wouldn't
send it untill we'd start and save myself a chance of being
fooled, but now I'll send it to show how badly I was misled.



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 55

Bird's Point, Mo., January 13, 1862.

After all the excitement and promise we have had of a trip
into Dixie, we are still here in our cabins, with the prospect
of a move further off than ever. The 25,000 troops that are
"on their way from St. Louis to Cairo" must have went up in
a fog. General Grant must have credit for fooling everybody
from the reporters up. He did it beautifully. We all here
at this point kept our wagons loaded for two days with five
days' rations, expecting to start every hour. The troops have
all left Cairo and gone down opposite Norfolk (where we
were a month) and camped. It is cold as the devil, and they
must suffer a good deal as none of them have ever been out of
Cairo before, and hardly know what rough soldiering is.
Charley Cooper's company is with them. I believe that the
whole object of the expedish is to keep the Columbians from
sending reinforcements to the Bowling Green folks._ The dis-
patches about the 25,000 forward movement, etc., all work to
the same end. Some "damb'd" hounds shot four of our 7th
cavalry boys dead a couple of mornings since. It was regu-
lar murder. They were on picket and in the evening they
went out some seven miles from camp and got their supper
and engaged breakfast in the morning. Just before daylight
they started out for breakfast and when within two miles of
the place three men that were concealed behind a log by the
roadside shot them all dead. Their horses wheeled and
trotted back to the infantry picket. The infantry sent word to
camp and some cavalry went out and found them all dead.
They could find tracks of but three men, and it is supposed that
they ran as quick as they fired, for our boys' bodies were not
touched. They were only armed with sabers and the 7th re-
fuse to go on any more picket duty untill they are better
armed. One of the murdered was Dan Lare, a boy that was
in Canton a good while, though I believe he did not belong
to Nelson's company. The others lived near Bushnell, their
names I do not know. We have the chap they took supper
with. The boys all think him guilty and have tried to get him
away from the guard to kill him, but unsuccessfully so far.



56 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

Last night Nelson's company went up to old Bird's and
brought him, his three sons and five other men and all Bird's
buck niggers down to camp as prisoners. They also got 10
good guns. His (Bird's) house is four miles from camp.
Some of the boys noticed a long ladder leaning against the
house and one of them climbed it and got on the housetop.
There he found a splendid ship spy glass with which he could
count the tents and see every move in both our camp and
Cairo and Fort Holt. Old Bird is a perfect old pirate and a
greater does not live.

Bird's Point, Mo., January 20, 1862.

It goes confounded good once more to stand on boards,
and be able to sit down without wet coming through a
fellow's pants. If I write and tell you where we've been,
you won't read it, and if I don't write all about it you'll
scold, so of the two I'll choose the first and tell you all I
know. We got on the steamer "Aleck Scott" last Tues-
day morning with five days' rations and started down
the river through very heavy floating ice. 'Twas a very
cold day and full three inches of snow lay on the ground.
We landed at Fort Jefferson and camped for the night. By
some mismanagement our tents and equipage failed to
come and we had to cook the bacon we had in our haver-
sacks on sticks over the fire, for supper, and sleep out on
the snow, without tents to protect us from the wind. That
was a sweet old night! Next day we shouldered our
knapsacks, blankets all wet by a rain from 2 to 5 in the
morning, and awful heavy, and tramped about ten miles
in a southeast direction, through Blanville, Ballard
County ; and camped on Mayville Creek. Again we lay
on the snow and frozen ground with feather beds of brush,
and at 9 next morning started on the road to Columbus.
We went out to Little Meadows which is about eight or nine
miles from Columbus, and halted. Taylor's battery was
with us and they now unlimbered and planted their guns
to cover all of the four or five roads which lead from here
to the river. McClernand's brigade of six or seven regi-



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 57

ments, and Cook's of two regiments, were in advance of
us with 1,000 cavalry, and I think that we acted here as a
reserve, for them to fall back on if repulsed in a fight.
We waited here two hours and then formed again and
returned to our camp of the previous night. It had turned
warm by this time and the slush was six inches deep on
our backward march. Slept in the mud that night and
remained in camp all next day, during which it rained
every hour. Friday night it rained in a small way all the
time, and in the morning, (if you remember when you have
too many clothes in a tub of water how the water will
"slosh" when you press the clothes) you'll understand
my "condish." I had my blanket spread on some stiff
brush, and Mr. Aqua surrounded brush, and every time
Wills turned, brush would bend and water would slosh
and blanket would leak and upshot was, Wills was damb'd
wet, but too spunky to get up until he'd had his nap.
Saturday we got out of "provish," and at I p. m. we struck
tents, and thought we were off for home sure. But
we only marched back a few miles and camped at Elliott's
Mills. Here, by orders from the colonel, we killed two
hogs for the company, and he took what cornmeal we
wanted from the mill, and we supped sumptuously. Here
although the mud was deep we slept finely. There was a
cypress swamp near and the bark can be torn into the
finest shavings. That was just as good as we wanted.
Sunday we started for the river and of all the marches,
that beats ! We waded through at least eight streams
from one to two feet deep and five to ten yards wide.
I had shoes, and after wading the first stream, I cut all
the front upper off to let the water out handier. I made
it gay and festive after that. Object of expedish, don't
know, don't care, only know that it did me good. I feel
TOO per cent better than I did when I started. Col. Eitt
Kellogg has brought me my commission as ist lieutenant
in his regiment, and I am adjutant in the 3d batallion,
Major Rawalts. I go to Cape Girardeau the last of this
week.



58 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.



II.

February 3, 1862 to June 29, 1862. Brisk cavalry service. Collecting
the bones of murdered Union men. Some of the horrors of war.
Hankering after his old regiment. Fighting Jeff Thompson and
the Rebel gunboats. State jealousies among the troops. Capture
of New Madrid. Hunting bushwhackers in the swamps. Rebuilding
destroyed bridges. Bullies and plunderers. Good and bad luck.
Spectacular artillery and gunboat duel. Embarking down the river.
Sent back. Skirmishing in front of Pope's command. Beaure-
gard's return reconnaisance. Halleck's unfathomable waiting policy.
Rear-guarding Pope's division. Intruding on a Rebel dinner party.
Sufferings of the sick. Encounter with secesh ladies. Lizards,
snakes and scorpions for company. Appointed assistant adjutant
general of brigade. Evacuation of Corinth. A masterly retreat.
Skirmish fights with the retreating Rebels. Dress parade of brigadier
generals. Forcible opinions from Rosecrans. Makes acquaintance
with snuff-dipping. General Beauregard's "toddy mixer."

Headquarters, 3d Battalion, 7th Illinois Cavalry,

February 3, 1862.

I am pretty sure that we will start on a scout to-morrow
that will give us a ride of 150 miles. From the knowledge I
have of it believe that we are going to raise the devil before we
get back or get raised ourselves. There are only about 300 of us
going, but we are all cavalry and are going fast, will make
our mark and then return probably at the same gait. We are
going pretty close to New Madrid, into a hot place, where a
long stay would not be pleasant. I believe there are 300 or
400 men about 70 miles from here guarding commissary



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 59

stores. We are going to try and surprise them and destroy
the goods, kill what we can of the secesh "and get out o' that."
It will be my first scout horseback but I'm going if it busts me.
This is one of Colonel Kellogg's ideas and looks more like work
than anything I have tried yet. It's awful rough weather to
start out in but that makes it more favorable for us. Well, I
have got over the hardest part of soldiering, though I doubt if I
enjoy myself as well as I did in the ranks. I never in my
life spent nine months more pleasantly than those I passed in
the "8th." We had some rough times, but good health and good
company made them as pleasant as and often happier than
life in quarters. I disliked very much to leave the boys I had
been with so long and knew so well, but cupidity and ambition
got the better of the just resolves I made never to leave them
untill the war was over. John Wallace, Fred Norcott and my
chum, Hy Johnson, I did hate to leave. They'll get along just
as well though after they have forgotten us. My chances for
a lieutenancy in that company were first rate but I have got
a better thing, and without so much walking. You never saw
a gladder boy than Sam was when he found himself safe out
of the infantry. He couldn't begin to hold his body. I sup-
pose he and Keefer are having very gay times all by them-
selves. Sidney and I concluded that our best policy was to
stay here and I'm glad I did so, although I would have liked
a visit home more than I can tell. If we can manage it so as
to get off together some time this spring we will do so, but I
have little hopes now of seeing you untill the war is over. The
major (Rawalt), Seavy, Billy Resor and myself mess together.
We have the wife of one of the men cooking for us and are
living as well as I want to, in regular home style. White table-
cloth, white ware and a fork and spoon for every man. Warm
biscuits and excellent coffee every meal. My duties are light
and not many of them. All writing. We live in a house, too.
My health is booming again. That trip brought me out ail
right. This is a splendid place to camp in high, healthy and
beautiful. There are lots of pretty girls here too, that smile
very sweetly on shoulder-strapped soldiers, but well, you un-



6O ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

derstand me. I have Billy Stockdale, Trites, Chancey, Geo.
Shinn, Jesse B. and the rest of the Canton boys in the I7th
and they are all in excellent health. Chancey will be home in
a few days I think. He is second lieutenant in the Fairview
Company now. Billy Stockdale is sergeant major. Trites is
romantic, enthusiastic and desponding as ever. Major Rawalt
is one of the best officers there is in the service. He and I
will get along splendidly. We are really off in the morning,
and for a 2OO-mile march. There will be fun before we get
back.

Cape Girardeau, February 9, 1862.

I, like a good boy, wrote you a long letter yesterday, and,,
like a careless fellow, lost it. I told you in it how we "300"
of us, left here in the p. m. of last Monday, rode all night and
at daylight made a desperate charge into Bloomfield where
we found and captured nothing. How a little party of 15
of our boys were surprised some eight miles beyond Bloom-
field by 80 Rebels and one of them captured, one badly
wounded and another's horse shot and he at last accounts
running in the swamps. How the major got together his
men and went out and captured some 20 of the bushwhackers
and killed five and how he returned to the Cape, etc. You
have read about this riding and marching all night until I
expect you hardly think of its being fatiguing and somewhat
wearing on the human system, etc., but allow me to assure
you that it is. Novice as I am in riding, the cold and fatigue
were so severe on me that I slept like a top horseback, although.
I rode with the advance guard all the time and through coun-
try the like of which I hope you'll never see. There is a
swamp surrounding every hill and there are hills the whole
way. Damn such a country. We passed, a small scouting
party of us, the bones of seven Union men. They were all
shot at one time. I didn't go with the party to see them. One
of our guards went out with a party of nine of the i/th In-
fantry boys and captured some 20 secesh and brought in, in
a gunny sack, the bones of five other Union men. I noticed



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 6l

there were no skulls and asked the guide where they were.
He said that "as true as truth the secesh who murdered them
had taken the skulls to use for soup bowls." I was talking
with a man to-night who had his two sons shot dead in the
house by his side last week. A gang of fellows came to the
house while he was eating supper and fired through between
the logs. He burst open the door and escaped with but one
shot in him after he saw that his sons were killed. I can
hardly believe that these things are realities, although my eyes
and ears bear witness. In my reading I can remember no
parallel either in truth or fiction for the state of things we
have in this southeastern portion of Missouri. Anyone can
have his taste for the marvelous, however strong, glutted by
listening to our scouts and the refugees here. I thank God
from my heart that dear old Illinois knows nothing of the
horrors of this war. The I7th left here yesterday for Fort
Henry. The boys were very glad to start. The old 8th was
there with the first. I almost wish I had stayed with her.
Without bragging or prejudice I am satisfied that the 8th is
the best in every respect of the whole 100 regiments I have
seen and has the best colonel. Colonel Kellogg is now com-
manding the post and Sid. is "A. A. A. General," and I am
"A Regimental Adjutant." My duties are light, though, and I
am in tip-top health. That ride didn't hurt me at all. I can
stand riding with the best of them. I suppose that Sam will
be with us soon. I hope our regiment will be ordered to
Kentucky. I believe I'd rather be shot there than to bush-
whack around in Missouri much longer. The major and I
will get along capitally. He stands fatigue equal to any of
us. He and I took a ride of 30 miles alone through the
swamps the other day. Send my watch the first chance you
have.

Cape Girardeau, Mo., February 14, 1862.
Sam arrived here to-night and brought me everything I
could wish for except my watch. Jem Harper from Company
K is home on furlough and we expect him now shortly, also



62 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

Benton Spencer. If you could manage to send the watch
by one of them I would be much obliged. I cannot well get
along without one now. You seem to be very happy about my
getting away from the Point. Rather more so than I am
myself. If I had stayed there^ I would have been with a fair
chance to fight to fight soldiers. Here there are no forces
to fight but a few hundred bushwhackers that will lie by the
roadside in the swamp, and I believe they would murder Jesus
Christ if they thought he was a Union man. We failed in
doing what we wanted to the last trip, but I believe we'll get
even with them yet. I'd hate mightily to get killed by such
a pack of murderers, but that isn't my business. If U. B. and
father have experienced such trips as we have, I'll bet I beat
them in one thing enjoying them. I always feel better out
that way than in camp. The nth Missouri is still with us
and the I7th has gone to Tennessee. The colonel, Ross, picked
out 50 or 60 of his most worthless men and put them on the
gunboats. There are some hopes that our regiment will be
ordered to Kentucky soon or to Wheaton, Mo., for there is
a regiment of Missourians here forming that will be sufficient
to guard this vicinity. This place if not entirely secession is
very strongly southernly righteous. I am getting acquainted
with the female population slowly, not very, and one family
of three girls tell me they are positively the only unconditional
Union women in town. But the others show nothing of the
cold shoulder to us. They are all very friendly and sociable.
Quite a number of beautiful girls here. The aristocracy here
are all Catholic. Funny, isn't it? Frenchy.

Headquarters 7th Illinois Cavalry,
Cape Girardeau, Mo., February 19, 1862.
Aren't things working right now? Do you notice the ac-
counts of the old 8th, and will you say again that I got out
of her ranks at the right time? I knew that the 8th would
never make her colonel (God bless him!) to blush, or dis-
honor her friends or herself. I have seen only the St. Louis



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 63

papers of i8th with very meager dispatches, but enough to
know that she had the "post of honor" and plenty of fighting.
Two hundred of them with Major Post are prisoners. I'll
bet my life Company E is not among them. If the Rebels will
keep the major and exchange the men the regiment will gain.
If I was in the 8th yet and knew what I do now I wouldn't
leave her for any commission there is in this post. I've got
a good easy place here and have the good will of everybody
around me, but my soul and sympathies are with the 8th, and
it makes me sick to think what a fool I was to leave her. I'll
be shot if I don't love that regiment more than I do the whole
world beside. I never thought of it so much untill I got
away. I expect some of our boys of my old mess are killed,
but its all right, "military necessity," somebody has to go
under. Eight or nine boatloads of prisoners have passed here
to-day. They look a little better than our Missouri prisoners
but are not uniformed, although comfortably dressed.

Commerce, Mo., February 25, 1862.

We start to-morrow morning for with from 25,000

to 40,000 men, who are all piled up here in all kinds of
shifts. Our regiment takes the advance. At a venture
I'll bet we get whaled, by vastly superior forces. Good-
night.

Near New Madrid, Mo., March 6, 1862.
What oceans of fun we are having here. Here goes
for all of it to date, and I'll be lucky if I'm able to tell you
the finale. We went down to Commerce the 26th of Feb-
ruary. Troops were scattered everywhere over the town
and vicinity for 15 miles about. Could form no idea of the
number there, but it was variously estimated at from 15,-
ooo to 45,000. On the 28th we started, our regiment in
advance, and camped that night at Hunter's farm, the same
place we stopped last fall when going to Bloomfield under
Oglesby. We reached Hunter's at 2 o'clock p. m., and at
II the same morning Jeff Thompson had been there wait-



O4 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

ing for us with six pieces of cannon. He skedaddled, but
still kept in the neighboring swamps. The next morning
we again started in advance and after a ride of five miles
heard firing about the same distance ahead. We let the
horses go and in a very short time were within the limits
of the muss. We came up with a company of cavalry
from Bird's Point standing in line at the end of a lane,
about a mile down which we could see Thompson's forces
drawn up with his artillery "in battery." He saw us about
as quick as we got up, and limbered up in double quick
and scooted. Then the fun commenced. We chased him
for 15 miles over a splendid straight, wide, level road,



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 5 of 31)