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 6 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 6 of 31)
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which he strewed with blankets, guns, hats, and at
last dropped his artillery. A dozen of our boys kept up
the chase until within a half mile of New Madrid, where
they captured a wagon load of grain and a nigger, and
returned at leisure. We caught a captain, ist. lieutenant
and some privates. Next day, the 2d of March, our regi-
ment went down to New Madrid to reconnoiter. A regular
colonel went along to draw a map of the country. We
went it blind right into the edge of town, where we ran
onto a lot of infantry. As fighting wasn't the object, we
filed off to the left into a cornfield to get a new view of
town. We were going slowly down on the town in line
of battle, when a battery opened on us right smartly. We
got out of that, but in good order. Only one shell touched
us and that burst right under a horse's nose. One piece
bruised the horse a little and knocked the rider off, but
did not hurt the man at all, and the horse is now fit for
duty again. Almost miraculous, wasn't it? There were
lots of shell and balls fell around us. On the 3d the whole
army got here and we again marched on the burg. The
gunboats opened on us and we had to draw back. That
day three 64-pound shells burst within 30 yards of me.
We have been lying, since then, about two miles from
town. They throw a shell over here occasionally but
haven't hurt any body yet at this distance. To-day the



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 65

cavalry have been out again to see if the gunboats have
left, (that's all that keeps us from taking the town). The
boats were still there and again shelled us, killing one
man and a horse in the Michigan 3d. They killed one
man on the 3d in the 39th Ohio, and the same shell
wounded several others. Yesterday 2,000 or 3,000 men
went around New Madrid down the river ten miles to
Point Pleasant, but were kept off by the damned gun-
boats, just like we are here. If two or three of our gun-
boats could only slip down far enough to see their gunboats
(two of them) and steamboats coming and going with
their secesh flags flying. They have burned a half dozen
houses in town since we came here. Don't know what for.
Brigadier General Pope who is in command here has been
made a major general. The colonel has just come from his
quarters, and reports that Foote will be here with his
gunboats day after to-morrow at farthest. We have been
scouting all afternoon and I'm blamed tired. I took four
men and went it alone. Had a good time but got lost and
didn't get back until 8 p. m. Captured a lot of ginger
snaps, and had a good talk with a handsome widow, while
the boats were firing at the Michigan cavalry on our left.
These shells don't scare a fellow half as much as the
thoughts of them do. Why you really don't mind it at all.
I don't like the idea of those musket balls, but maybe that
is also worse than the reality.

Yet near New Madrid, March 12, 1862.

The enemy are separated from us by only a few corn-
fields, the country is perfectly plain ; we can see from our tent
door the smoke stacks of their gunboat, and the music of their
bands mingles with our own and yet 'tis confounded dull.

I received a letter from you by mail a few days since. The
colonel and Sid. and myself take a little ride into the country
most every evening for mush and milk and 'tis astonishing
what quantities they do eat. We are all in perfect health
and good spirits, though since we left Commerce the colonel



66 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

and major have complained considerably about the fare, but
'tis better than I'm used to, so I have the advantage of them.
The evacuation of Manassas, Columbus, etc., have caused
considerable anxiety for the outburst of these forces which we
think will be on Buel or maybe further east on our little army
at the Cumberland Gap. The impression here is that the Rebel
army at this place has been greatly reinforced since we ar-
rived here from Kentucky. We number though, full 30,000
(with a brigade that is now advancing to join us) and feel
fully able to attend to all of their forces here. General Pope
told our colonel yesterday that Foote would be here within
48 hours sure with his gunboats, and that's all we ask.

There is a review now being made of all the troops here by
the commanding general. You'd think it quite a spectacle,
wouldn't you, to see 25,000 troops in line; 3,000 of them cav-
alry and 36 pieces of artillery. I was left in charge of the
camp, and although I have my horse at hand saddled wouldn't
mount him to see them. It's funny how all interest in any-
thing dies away in a person when they have a full view or
chance to view the object. We hear a dozen volleys of mus-
ketry every now and then, and although we all know there's
been a little fight, it doesn't interfere with conversation and
nine times out of ten we never hear what caused it. But
go up to the hospital and you'll find a couple of long rows
of cots, each with an occupant, and they can tell you of the
shooting and show a wound that they're prouder of than you
can imagine. They and their regiments that were under fire
love to tell it over and over, but the rest of the army, through
jealousy I believe, never mention it. You'll see a vast deal
of state pride here. The 7th Cavalry don't acknowledge the
Michigander troopers to be more than the equals of Jeff
Thompson's scalawags, and the Michigan boys really seem to
think that the 7th regiment is not equal to one company of
,theirs. But I notice the generals here have all taken their
bodyguards from our regiment. The Illinois boys and the
lowaians coalesce more readily and seem to have more family
feeling between them than at least either of these state's



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 67

troops have for those of other states. 'Tis the same in the
Southern army. Arkansas and Missouri troops have a mutual
hatred for each other that has extended to the citizens of
these states. This part of Missouri goes a great deal on old
blood, the best variety I believe is Catholic French, and these
people have a sovereign contempt for the barbarians of the
"Arkansaw," while the Arkansawans accuse the Missourians
of toe-kissing proclivities and cowardice.

New Madrid, "by Jingo," March 14, 1862.
Night before last we received four heavy guns from Cairo,
and two or three of these infantry regiments planted them
during the night within a half mile of the enemy's main fort
and within three-fourths of a mile where their gunboats lay.
The seceshers discovered it at daylight and then the fun com-
menced. Their gunboats and forts, about 30 or 40 pieces in
all, put in their best licks all day. We had two regiments lying
right in front of our guns to support them against a sortie,
and several other regiments behind ready for a field fight.
The enemy kept in their works though and it was altogether
an artillery fight. Our regiment was in the saddle all the
a. m., but in the p. m. we lay around our quarters as usual
with not a particle more of excitement perceptible than the
quietest day in Cairo showed. In the evening the colonel and
Major Case and myself went out in the country for our
regular little mush and milk, but that hasn't anything to do
with the story. The firing ceased about an hour after sunset
and we turned in for the night with all quiet in camp. About
2 o'clock this morning three Rebel regiments made a little
sortie with the intention of doing some devilment, but they ran
against a field battery of ours that sent them back kiting. This
morning the fort and town were found to be evacuated. I
rode down through what is left of the town, for the Rebels
burned many houses to give their guns a better chance at
the approaches, and cut down nearly all of the shade trees.
There was not an inhabitant left in town, they all moved out
before we came here, and every door was open. The Rebels

5



68 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIEfc.

I think plundered the town after the citizens left ; anyway our
boys grumbled a good deal about the people's leaving nothing
in their houses. They went away very badly scared and in
an awful huffy, for there were tables with wine on, and cards
and beds that had been Used last night and blankets, and they
left all their heavy artillery. They must have had all of their
light artillery With the horses hitched to it and harnessed, and
a lot of horses saddled and tied, for the halters cut with the ties
left on the posts, showed that they were in too much of a hurry
to untie. They also left all their tents, some 500, standing,
most all of them as good as the best of ours, and barracks for
several regiments, quarters in all for probably lo,ooo men, the
generals say, but I don't think they will hold so many. I think
we got 40 guns, 24's and larger, besides some field pieces. We
also get a big lot of amunition, lots of mules and wagons, and
the boys are now fishing out of the river whole boxes of quar-
termaster's goods clothing, blankets, etc., that the secesh rolled
in as they ran. The general is better satisfied than if he had
taken them prisoners. Coming back from the town and fort
I tode ovef the ground where the balls lit thickest yesterday.
They had scratched things around considerably-^barked trees,
knocked fences, busted a house or two, plowed ground like
everything, and by the way, knocked six of our men for keeps,
and wounded horribly about 15 more. That was all that was
done yesterday. 'Tis astonishing that no more of our men
were killed but you must recollect that these infantrymen that
were supporting our batteries lay in trenches and were all
killed while well covered, comparatively. One ball struck
square in the trench and relieved one man of two legs and
another man of one. I saw one man who had been struck by
a falling 25-pound solid shot in the centre of his breast and
went down and out at the small of his back. That was a pretty
hard sight. While they were firing the hottest our boys would
jump on their little dirt piles in front of the rifle pits and
trenches and swing their hats and cheer and drop back into
their ditches very rapidly. A shell 18 pounds fell about 20
feet in front of the ditches, and a boy of 12 or 14 years jumped



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 69

out and grabbed it up while the fuse was still burning. A
soldier saw it and hollered at him to drop it and scoot, but
he hadn't time to get away, so he dropped it and threw him-
self flat with his feet toward it and almost then it burst, but
harmlessly. Well, we've got Madrid and enough to pay us
for our trouble. I think that our loss will be covered by 20
killed and 35 or 40 wounded in the whole two weeks. That's
a large estimate. What the next move will be have no idea,
but some say that we'll cross the river and operate with Grant
in a southerly direction of course. I'd rather be in this down-
the-river movement than any other part of the army. Have
thought so ever since I joined the army. This cavalry business
is bully. We have all the running around and fun and little
skirmishing without much of the heavy work and tall fight-
ing. The loss of the enemy we don't know but there are about
40 fresh graves at the fort and we found several dead bodies
there this morning. Also found a half dozen men that were
left by some means.

Near Point Pleasant, Mo., March 18, '62.
You see we are creeping along down the river surely if
the motions are a little slow. This is about 12 miles below
Madrid and said to be 75 or 80 below Cairo. It is said that
the Rebels have between a dozen and 20 steamboats above here,
and I think the object in occupying this point and planting
artillery here is to make the assurances we have of catching
them, doubly sure, for the river is considerably less in width
here than where our guns are at and near Madrid. We re-
ceived orders to march about sunset last night and started at
tattoo. 'Twas a beautiful ride. The road lay for nearly the
whole distance right along the river bank. 'Twas warm enough
without overcoat or gloves and Commander Foote added to
the interest of the ride by his sleep-disturbing music up at
Island 10. The river makes a horseshoe bend here and Island
lo lays almost directly east of here across the peninsula. The
neck is very flat, and we could plainly see the flash of every
gun and see the bombs burst in the air when more than 20
or 30 yards from the ground. The roar of the 13 and i6-inch



7O ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

mortars is truly terrific. There was no difficulty in disting-
uishing their reports from the cannons. The evidences of an
earthquake having performed in this country are visible when
pointed out. The natives will show you a swamp and say
that was once inhabitable, and then they'll point out a sand
ridge about four feet nearer heaven (the surface of course)
and say that was a swamp. Well, we arrived here at 2 o'clock
last night and moved nearly two miles back from the river to
be out of range of a battery the enemy have planted on the
opposite shore. This two miles, after deducting about 300
yards where the road runs through the little town, was a
swamp of mud and water to the horses' bellies. I noticed our
flag flying on the river bank over an inverted Rebel rag. The
flag staff was in front of a store that had received three can-
non shots from the Rebels in their efforts to cut down our
flag. Nearly every house in town has had one or more doses
of heavy iron and several have been burned by shells. Gen-
eral Palmer is five miles below here with his brigade. He
was lucky enough yesterday to disable two Rebel gunboats
out of three that attacked him. I am very anxious to get out
of this country and into Tennessee if possible, or if we have
to stay on this side, enough below the swamps to make it a
little more pleasant. That ride of last night was delicious.
The order was to march without any unnecessary noise, and
after 10:30 (it was 2 when we got here), the boys were all
perfectly quiet, many of them asleep, and I believe I enjoyed
myself better than I ever did before in my life. Can't begin
to tell you precisely why, except there might have been some
air-castle building, but 'twas very pleasant. I hear to-night
that Island 10 was evacuated last night. Think maybe Foote
has his hands full up there, and doubt the evacuation idea
some. Gracious how it rained last night, commenced just
after we got here, with some awful heavy thunder and don't
know how long it lasted. Twas raining to kill when I went
to sleep. We had no tents with us and every fellow provided
for himself. I went to bed with a lot of bacon and a barrel
under a tent fly and slept a la log. To-day it has been real



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 71

warm. Shirt sleeves and shade were in requisition. Well, I'll
write you a little every day until I can send letters.

Twentieth. To-day 'tis cloudy and we have fire in the tent
and I wear my cloak besides. There are no news of any kind to-
day. We are on a little piece of dry land here (some of the
earthquake's "get up" I suppose) entirely surrounded by
swamps of the vilest kind, cane and cypress. We have dug
wells all through camp. Find plenty of water at five feet.
The Rebel battery across the river has been trying to shell
us this morning. They sent some shell plenty far enough but
they lit off to the right of our camp. General Plummer rides
down along the river bank with his staff every day and the
Rebels do their best to send him up. The colonel has just
started out with him to give the Rebels another chance. There
is considerable cane here and it looks as though the country
might grow alligators to almost any extent. 'Tis a grand
country for a sporting man. The very paradise of geese and
their kindred.

Point Pleasant, Mo., March 24, 1862.
It's only 9 a. m., and didn't get to bed until 2 this
morning, so if I do not talk rational you will excuse me.
That isn't the excuse either. I rode 50 miles between 9
a. m. yesterday and midnight over roughest road. Two
hundred of us were sent out after that d d Jeff Thomp-
son. We exchanged shots with his pickets 20 miles from
here, and chased them four miles farther. The last eight
miles was a pike only eight feet wide, thrown up through
an immense swamp, and planked. The water came so
close to the planks that there was not a place in the whole
eight miles where a horse dare step off the plank. The
total of all the unusual sights I ever saw wouldn't begin
to count one in effect where that road and swamp will
ten. There are two good sized rivers running through
the swamp but they have to be pointed out to you before
you can see them, or rather distinguish them from the rest
of the swamp. When we first saw these pickets they were



72 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

tearing up a culvert. We hurried up and after each side
fired four or five rounds they ran, No one hurt here, al-
though the distance was not more than 60 yards. Andy
Hulit, my sergeant major and myself were the advance
guard, but J have no carbine, and did not get to shoot,
but this didn't seem to make any difference to them for
they threw buckshot round me quite promiscuously. Well,
we fixed up that bridge and pressed on, but they tore down
so many bridges that we could go but slowly. Just before
the fight I had dropped back a dozen files to get out of
building any more bridges, and when our boys saw the
secesh, they had just finished destroying another. The
horses couldn't cross it, but the boys dismounted and
hurrying across on foot, made them take to the swamp
in water waist deep, where they hid themselves behind
logs, vines and a kind of high grass that grows in bunches
as large as a currant bush. When they had concealed
themselves to their notion, they commenced firing at us,
and of the first four of our boys over the bridge (Andy
Hulit led them), three were down, wounded in a minute.
We then charged (on foot) right into the brush and water,
some of the boys up to their armpits, and made them
scoot. They did not number over 20 but their advantage
was enormous, We dropped two of them certain, and
I don't think any more. Of four of our men they wounded,
three were Company L boys. The two Cockerel brothers,
Mathew and Royal, and Eugene Greenslit. The other was
from Company A. The Company A boy and Mat Cockerel
died before we got them to camp. Royal has a flesh wound
in the arm, and Greenslit is shot in the foot, both slight
wounds. We drove the Rebels clear off, and captured two
horses, and all their blankets, overcoats etc. About 15
miles out we came to Little River. While the major was
examining the bridge, we saw a half dozen men running
through a swamp on the other side. Over the bridge we
went, and into the mud and water after them. We got
them all. I captured a couple in a thicket. Andy Hulit



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 73

came up a few minutes after and we- had work to keep a,
lot of boys from shooting them, while we were taking
them back to the river. Well, that was a pretty rough trip
and I don't hanker after another like it, although the ex-
citement is rather pleasant too. But being set up for a
mark on a road where there is not a sign of a chance to.
dodge, and having the marksman completely concealed
from you, and this other fix of letting them throw shells
at you when your carbine won't carry to them, sitting
on horseback too, I wish it understood I'm opposed to
and protest against, although I never think so until I get
back to camp. I don't think that I ever get a bit excited,
over firing, but I know that I don't look at danger the
same when under fire that I do when in quarters. We are
all well and I'm getting fat every day. It bores considera-
bly here to think that that one horse Island No. 10 won't
come down and surrender like a ^gem'men." Some of the
officers here think that we'd better be getting out "o' this,"
but I propose to let Pope work out the salvation of this
division. We started from Commerce in General Hamil-
ton's division, were put in General Granger's at Madrid,
and are now in General Plummer's. Well, I'm going to do
a little sleeping.

Camp near Point Pleasant, Mo,, March 26, 1862.
It is, to-day, very much warmer. I'm altogether too
hot to be comfortable in my shirt sleeves. Don't know
what is to become of us in July if it is so hot in proportion.
I shake in my boots at the thought of the mosquitoes, flies,
etc., we will have to endure. Vegetation is giving the sur-
roundings a greenish appearance already, and have seen
a peach tree in nearly full bloom. Wheat is about three
or four inches above ground. Makes a very respectable
sod. I think there are more Union people here than in
any part of Missouri that I have been in, and fewer
widows. Men are nearly all at home and putting in their
crops as coolly as though there was no war. Some of our



74 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

soldiers impose on the natives pretty badly. You don't
know how thankful you ought to be that you don't live
in the invaded country. Wherever there is an army, for
10 or 15 miles around it there will be hundreds of strag-
glers. Some out of curiosity, some to see the natives and
talk with them, but the majority to pick up what they can
to eat. There is not a farm house within ten miles of
camp, notwithstanding the positive orders against strag-
gling, that has not, at least, 50 soldier visitors a day, and
they are the poorest soldiers and the meanest men that do
all the straggling, or nearly all. They will go into a house
and beg what they can and then steal what is left. Rough,
dirty, coarse brutes, if they were all shot, our army would
be better off. Most of these fellows are bullies at home,
and that class makes plunderers in war. I've seen enough
of war to know that it isn't the brawling, fighting man at
home that stands the bullet whistle the best. A favorite
game of these chaps, where they are not utterly depraved
(there are a good many of the latter), is for a couple of
them to go in the house and make themselves as interest-
ing as possible while the others clean out the smokehouse,
chicken yard, and the premises generally. The greatest
objection and the only one I have to being in the army,
is the idea of being associated, in the minds of the people
of this country, as well as the home folks, with such brutes.
But I tell you, that I have always acted the gentleman to
the best of my ability since I entered the army, and I don't
believe I'm a whit worse than I was at home. I haven't
drank one-tenth as much liquor as I did in the same length
of time at home, and you know how much that was, and
that I hate the stuff too much to ever taste it unless forced
upon me. The last I touched was with poor George Shinn
just before the i/th left the cape. We drank to "Our next
shake hands, may it be at the end of the war, at home, and
before three months." George was a No. I soldier. We
boys all think everything of him. Tell him we all sympa-
thize with him and wish him a speedy recovery, and that



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 75

his services may not be needed any more. Seems to me
I write you nearly every day, but haven't had a letter
from home 'for two or three weeks. Our mail is very ir-
regular though, and I can excuse, but I would like you to
get all of mine and save them, for I would like to look
these over myself when I get home, as I keep no diary.
The day is so warm that our boys are all out bathing in
a little swamp lake near here. The Lord knows some of
them need it. Cleanliness is undoubtedly the best preven-
tive of disease in the army. Hardly any of the boys that
are cleanly suffer from disease. The colonel and Sidney
went to Cairo yesterday. The colonel with dispatches
from General Pope, I believe, and Sid. just because he
could. We buried our two boys yesterday morning that
were killed at Cane Bridge, and I never felt sadder in my
life. I'm sure that knowing I would be killed to-morrow
wouldn't hurt me half as much. These poor fellows have
suffered all the hardships and trials of the private soldier's
life, and are now put under the ground in the dark swamp,
without a friend here, save their comrades, and probably
after the army leaves, a friendly eye will never see their
graves. I sent a package of letters back to a young lady
that one of them was engaged to. Our men have been
living on mush and the other messes, makeable from corn-
meal, for a week, without coffee or anything else. Couldn't
get provisions through from Cairo near fast enough, and
Pope gobbled up everything that did come for the troops
at Madrid. Chet. Caswell, a Canton boy, is here now and
cooking for our mess. I can live on fried mush as long



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 6 of 31)