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 7 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 7 of 31)
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as the next man. The frogs, bugs, blackbirds and sich like,
keep up a perfect bedlam around us the whole time.

Point Pleasant, Mo., March 28, 1862.

There isn't a thing to write only that they keep up the in-
fernal "boom, boom," with their cannons all day and night
long. It's perfectly disgusting the way they waste powder
and iron without killing anyone. They have knocked every



76 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER,

house in town to flinders, and round shot and grape and shell
are lying thick on the ground and yet we haven't a man
touched. They were having a hot time with their 'cannon and
some musketry firing, too, down at Palmer's last night from
10 p. m. to 2 a. m., but haven't heard yet what was up. I
have my own reasons for thinking that they are evacuating
Island 10. If they don't do it this week I'll believe that they
are waiting for a lot of gunboats to come up from Orleans,
and that we'll have the fun of a naval engagement in the vicin-
ity. If there is one within 40 miles of here I'm going to see
it if I have to wade a swamp ten feet deep, as I probably will,
but see it I'm bound to. Then if the Rebels whale our craft
you'll be likely to hear the sound of their cannon before long
without leaving home, for there's nothing to prevent their go-
ing anywhere after they pass our gunboats. It will be a great
joke on Uncle Sam if they do make that riffle. Wonder what
would become of the home guards. About the worst feature
of the case would be the Southern officers sparking our girls
as we do theirs now and the worst yet is, there is no doubt
the girls would take to it kindly, for they do here, and I'm
satisfied there is no difference in the feminines of the two
sections, except that ours do not say "thar" and "whar." I
see that it requires a good many "ifs" and "theirs" to arrange
a case of this kind, but I assure you that it is not out of the
range of possibilities. How'd you like to see a "Captain St.
Clair de Monstachir" with C. S. A. on his buttons, making
calls in Canton? I'll bet ten to one he could enjoy himself in

that burg. Bang ! Boom ! D n the cannons ! It's awful

tiresome. I do hope we'll get them cleaned out of this ere
long, I don't understand why it is that our mails are so tardy.
We get the Chicago and St. Louis papers two days after pub-
lication. I almost think that Pope has ordered our mail to lay
over in Cairo until further orders.

Camp, near Point Pleasant, Mo., April 4, 1862.
I received your last letter within three days after it was
mailed, and praised Uncle Sam duly therefor. Our regiment



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. JJ

has had a run of bad luck since we've been here. Two men
killed on the plank road, two wounded at same place, two
killed by falling trees in a storm of night of April ist, and a
dozen wounded, and yesterday one drowned while watering
his horse in the swamp, and our horses dying off very fast of
horse cholera. The latter is a serious thing in a regiment
were the men own the horses themselves. For they (or
nearly all of them) cannot buy others. Most of them are still
owing for the horses they have. The positions of troops and
state of the war generally remains the same here as it has
been ever since we took Madrid. Main body of our forces at
that place. Five regiments here under Plummer and five
seven miles further down the river with Palmer. That is as
far down as we can go on this side for the swamps. Between
here and Madrid we have batteries every three miles and the
Rebels have rather more on the opposite side. Both are right
on their respective banks and have their flags fluttering their
mutual hatred in each others faces. We can see them very
plainly without the aid of a glass. The Rebel gunboats lie just
below our lower battery and 'tis rumored to-night that sev-
eral new ones have arrived from Memphis or New Orleans.
This fuss, about "Island 10" I think is all humbug. Don't
believe they have attacked it yet. It don't sound like Footers
fighting. Look on the map and see what a nice pen there
is between the rivers Tennessee and Mississippi. Don't it look
that if Grant and company can whip them out at Corinth, that
we'll have all the forces at Memphis and intermediate points
to "Island 10" in a bag that they'll have trouble in getting
through? If they run it will be into Arkansas, and they can
take nothing with them but what their backs will stand under.
Seems to me that the plans of the campaign are grand from
the glimpses we can get of them and have been planned by at
least a Napoleon. Certain it is we are checkmating them at
every point that's visible. I firmly believe the summer will
see the war ended. But it will also see a host of us upended
if we have to fight over such ground as this. It is unpleasantly
warm already in the sun. It's 10 p. m. now and plenty warm



7 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

in my shirt sleeves, with a high wind blowing, too. We had
an awful storm here to commence April with. We are camped
just in the wood's edge and the wind struck us after crossing
a wide open field and knocked trees down all through our
camp ; killed First Lieutenant Moore, one private, seriously
wounded Captain Webster and a dozen men. During the
storm I though of our fleet at "Island 10" and it made me
almost sick. Don't see how they escaped being blown high
and dry out of water.

April 5, 1862. One of our boys has just returned from
Madrid and says he saw our gunboat Cairo there. She
slipped by the batteries at "Island No. 10" in the storm
last night. Mosquitoes here already.

Headquarters 7th Illinois Cavalry,

In a very fine House,

Point Pleasant, Mo., April 7, 1862.
If this isn't fine your brother is incapable of judging.
Cozy brick house, damask curtains, legged bedsteads,
splendid tables and chairs, big looking glass, and every-
thing just as fine as a peacock's tail. I do wish you could
have been with me the last two days. They've been two
of the best days of my life. During the storm of Saturday
night, the 5th instant, one of the gunboats ran by "Island
10." I heard of it early Sunday morning, and got out a
pass for Andy Hulit and myself to look for forage, in-
tending, of course, to ride down to the river and watch the
gunboat as we knew there'd be fun if she attempted to run
below Madrid. We rode up the river about six miles (half
way) to a point that extends into the river on our side,
and got there just as the boat did. 'Twas the "Carondelet,"
and indeed she looked like an old friend. The sight of her
did me more good than any amount of furloughs could.
At this point, I spoke of, we have three batteries within a
half-mile, and there were two Rebels' batteries visible
right at the water's edge, opposite. We just got there in



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 79

time to see the ball open. Besides the two secesh batteries
visible, they opened from four others masked by the brush
and trees, and hitherto unknown to us. Their six, our
three, the gunboats, all firing together made by far the
grandest thing I ever witnessed. I suppose there were
from 30 to 40 guns used, and at least a half thousand shots
fired. Andy and I were on a little rise of ground a couple
of hundred yards from our main battery and where
we could see every shot fired and its effect. There were
lots of shots fell around that battery, but none near enough
us to be disagreeable. About an hour's fighting silenced
the Rebel batteries, and that fun was over. Our boat
didn't go over to them at that time, but came into our shore
and laid up. She was not struck once, nor was there a man
hurt on our side. Andy and I rode out in the country and
got our dinners with a friend of mine, and about 3 p. m.
started home. We just got back here as the gunboat was
preparing to attack the batteries immediately opposite
here. She ran down the river on our side, a mile below
their guns, and then turning her bow square toward the
enemy, started for them and commenced firing. We could
see every motion of the Rebel gunners plainly, and they
worked like men, until the boat got within about 300
yards of them, when they broke, and I tell you they used
their legs to advantage ; all but one and he walked away
with his arms folded perfectly at ease. There's an im-
mense sight of enjoyment in witnessing such fights as
these. Well, I saw another fight this morning, but 'twas
too far off for interest, after what I saw yesterday. Two
more gunboats came down last night in the rain and dark-
ness past the island. This fight this morning was com-
menced by the Carondelet, on a five-gun battery, only four
miles below and across from Madrid. She called the
Louisville to her aid, and then one walked up on the bat-
tery from below and the other from above. It is grand
to see these gunboats walk into the enemy. They go at
them as though they were going right on land, if the
Rebels would stay there. (One hour later, 9 p. m.)



80 ARMY LIFE OP AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

Just as I finished the last period, an artillery captain
came dashing up through the door, just from Madrid, and
wanted to know where the gunboats were. He said that
the Rebel floating battery, that has been lying at Island
lo, was floating down and the transports were afraid to
try and bring her into land, and he wanted to notify the
gunboats so they could catch her. We told him they had
gone down to Palmer's division, six miles below, and away
he went. I've been out waiting to see her pass, but she
hasn't arrived yet, He said she was not more than three
miles above. All such items help to make soldiering inter-
esting. Our three transports have taken 2o,ooo troops over
into Tennessee since 9 130 this a. m. I call that good work.
Colonel Kellogg has gone over with Pope to see the battle, if
there is any. These Rebels don't begin to fight a gun equal
to our boys, and all the people here say so. I really do
not believe they have the "bullet-pluck" that our men
show. Our regiment is left here alone in its glory. We're
occupying the town, enjoying life, and having all the fun
We want. I killed a mosquito to-night, and it brought up
such disagreeable thoughts that I couldn't eat supper. If
they don't eat my surplus flesh off me, I know I'll fret
myself lean as they increase. The colonel got back yester-
day. You ought to have seen him look at the eatables last
night, and shaking his head with disgust, go back to his
tent without touching a bite. The first camp meal after
a furlough I suppose isn't particularly delightful. There's
no telling whether there'll be a fight to-morrow or not.
We'll probably not assist if there is. But after the fight
is over and the victory won we'll come in and chase the
Rebels until they scatter. The infantry do the heavy,
dirty work and get the honor, and we have all the fun
and easy times there are going. I'm willing. I'd rather
scout and skirmish than anything I know of, and am per-
fectly willing to let the infants do the heavy fighting, for
they only make an artillery target of us when We're
brought on battle field*.



AftMV LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 8l

There wouldn't be much left of my letters if I'd leave
out the war gossip ! Forty of the Rebels deserted and
came to our gunboats to-day, Sergeant Wells, who while
over there 18 a spy, was taken prisoner the other day, es-
caped to our gunboats. It saved his neck.

April lo. The Rebels have run and left Island 10, and
our boys have taken some 2,000 of them prisoners below
here. They passed up on a boat this morning. We will
be paid off to-day or to-morrow.

Camp New Madrid, Mo., April 12, 1862.
I have the extreme happiness to inform you that there is at
last a hope of my dating the next letter from Memphis or
vicinity. Our regiment has for several days been alone at
Point Pleasant and we enjoyed it very much. When we are
under a general of an infantry division we are run to death
or thereabouts, for whenever anything is to be done the cavalry
is sure to be called on. Yesterday we Were ordered to re-
port here immediately to General Granger, commanding cavalry
division which numbers full 4,000. There are two brigades
in this division; Colonel Kellogg commands the ist brigade
and therefore is now a brigadier general. There have been
about 25 steamboats arrived here since 4 p. m. yesterday and
the army will probably commence embarking to-day. It will
take full 60 boats to hold us all. The rain has been falling in
torrents ever since we started from the Point yesterday, and
you can imagine the time we had pitching tents in a corn-
field, and yet we are comfortable now as we can wish. I
have faith to believe that they (or anybody else) can't keep
me from being comfortable under any circumstances, if my
hands are loose and I can walk. I think that Pope's hurry is
caused by his fear that Grant and company will reach Mem-
phis before him. We hardly think that the Rebels will make
a stand at Pillow, Randolph or Memphis if the news from
Corinth is correct. I'm almost afraid to look over the list of
dead that fight was made. Sid. says he is sure Billy Stock-
dale is killed. We received papers of the loth last night but



82 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

are not sure the victory is a complete one yet. I can't think
of the point where the enemy will make another stand if they
are perfectly whipped at Corinth.

I know as many people here as in Fulton, almost, and I
have yet to hear the first insulting speech or word to me.
"What are they going to do with Island No. 10 I wonder;
I am afraid that Commander Foote and his gunboats are a
humbug." Aren't you ashamed of that speech? Damn the
New York Tribune. I do believe in McClellan and nearly all
the rest of our leaders. If those Tribunes, big and little, were
where any regiment in this army could get at them they
wouldn't stand fifteen minutes. McClellan knows his business
and we don't know a thing about it. Now old Pope here is
as mean a man as ever lived, curses every man that comes
within a hundred yards of him and nobody knows a thing of
his designs, but we all have the utmost confidence in him.
I've never seen him and wouldn't go in sight of him for a
horse, but he's my man for a' that.

Orders have just arrived for embarking this p. m. Will
be under way down the river to-night. Wish us a pleasant
voyage.

On Steamer Henry Clay, off New Madrid, Mo.,

April 1 6, 1862.

I finished my last in a great hurry, helped strike and load
our tents and equipage and started for the levee, confident that
we would be off for Memphis, Orleans and intermediate
landings, before the world would gain 12 hours at farthest in
age. That day over 30 steamers arrived, received their loads
of soldiers and departed, all down stream, preceded by six or
eight gunboats and 16 mortarboats. Word came at nightfall
that there were not enough boats for all and the cavalry would
have to wait the morrow and more transports. We lay on
the river banks that night, and the next day all the cavalry got
off except our brigade of two regiments. Another night on
the banks without tents, managed to get transportation for



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 83

two battalions, one from each regiment. They started down
yesterday at about 10 a. m. and more boats coming we loaded
two more battalions, but at 9 p. m. a dispatch boat came up
with orders for us to stop loading and await further orders.
The same boat turned back all the cavalry of our brigade
that had started and landed them at Tiptonsville ; we are at
6 this p. m. lying around loose on the bank here awaiting
orders. That boat brought up word that our fleet was at
Fort Pillow, and the Rebels were going to make a stand there,
but that nothing had occurred when she left but some gun-
boats skirmishing. What the devil we are going to do is
more than three men like me can guess. It's awful con-
founded dull here. Nothing even half interesting. Saw a
cuss, trying to drown himself yesterday, and saw a fellow's leg
taken off last night. These are better than no show at all,
but still there's not much fun about either case. I'm bored
considerably by some of my Canton friends wanting me to
help them get their niggers out of camp. Now, I don't care
a damn for the darkies, and know that they are better off with
their masters 50 times over than with us, but of course you
know I couldn't help to send a runaway nigger back. I'm
blamed if I could. I honestly believe that this army has taken
500 niggers away with them. Many men have lost from 15
to 30 each. The owners were pretty well contented while the
army stayed here, for all the generals assured them that when
we left the negroes would not be allowed to go with us, and
they could easily get them back ; but they have found out that
was a "gull" and they are some bitter on us now. There will
be two Indiana regiments left here to guard the country from
Island 10 to Tiptonsville, and if you don't hear of some fun
from this quarter after the army all leaves but them, I'm mis-
taken. They'll have their hands full if not fuller. We have
not been paid yet but probably will be this week. I tell you I
can spend money faster here than anywhere I ever was in my
life, but of course I don't do it. Am trying to save up for
rainy weather, and the time, if it should come, when I'll have
only one leg to go on or one arm to work with. That Pitts-

6



84 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

burg battle was one awful affair, but it don't hurt us any.
Grant will whip them the next time completely. Poor John
Wallace is gone. He was a much better boy than he had
credit for being. We all liked him in the old mess very much.
Ike Simonson, of same company, I notice was wounded. He
was also in my mess; was from Farmington. There are no
rumors in camp to-day. Yesterday it was reported and be-
lieved that the Monitor had sunk the Merrimac, that York-
town was taken, and that another big fight had taken place at
Corinth and we held the town. That was very bully but it
lacks confirmation. Think it will for sometime yet, but Pope
says we'll come out all right through all three of those trials.
It's just what's wanted to nip this rebellion up root and all.
That's a rather dubious victory up to date, that Pittsburg
affair, but guess it's all right.

Headquarters 7th Illinois Cavalry Camp, on Hamburg
and Corinth Road,

May 3, 1862.

I arrived here yesterday in safety. Stayed in Peoria the
Monday night that I started, and was in Cairo at 9 p. m.
Wednesday. Woke up Thursday morning on a boat at Pa-
ducah and devoted the day to admiring the Tennessee river.
Stopped long enough at Fort Henry to get a good view of its
well pummeled walls, and not-much-to-brag-of defences.
The line of ditching without the works was the best I have
ever seen, but the parapet, excepting that of the Fort
proper, wasn't to be compared to our works at Bird's
Point, which are the most inferior of ours that I have
seen. The Tennessee runs through a perfect wilderness.
There is not a landing on the river up to this point (Ham-
burg) that can begin with Copperas Creek, and indeed,
although I watched closely, I did not see more than three
or four points, that of themselves, showed they were boat
landings, and those only by the grass being worn off the
bank; and I did not see a warehouse on either bank unless,



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 85

maybe, one at Savannah, where there are also, say four fine
dwellings. At no other point did I see more than three
houses, and very rarely, even one. Having heard so much
of the richness of Middle Tennessee I cannot help talking
so long of what ought to be, to it, what the Illinois river
would be to us were we without railroads. I reached
Hamburg yesterday afternoon (Friday) and started for
my regiment, which I learned was five miles out on the
Corinth way. I walked out as fast as I could, and reached
tnere to hear that the army had moved on and were proba-
bly two miles ahead and yet going. I laid down and slept
a couple of hours, borrowed a horse, and after six miles
riding found them going into camp. Monstrous hilly
country, this, and save a very few clearings, all heavily
timbered. Pope's army has been reinforced considerably
since we arrived here. Think he has, say 30 odd thousand
men. I think the ball opened just before I commenced
this letter. For two days past we have had one batallion
out about four miles beyond our present camp holding an
important position. They have been within gunshot of the
enemy all the time, but so protected that although they
skirmished a good deal, but one of ours was wounded. In
one little charge our boys made out they killed four and
wounded a number of Rebels that they felt of. Pope's
infantry came up to-day in force and relieved them.
Paine's division was advanced and when not more than
40 yards beyond the post our cavalry held, were opened
on first by musketry and immediately afterwards by artil-
lery. There was very heavy firing for an half hour, but
it has ceased since I commenced this page. Haven't heard
the result. We have orders to move forward to-morrow
morning, but although we are so close to the enemy's posi-
tion, (not more than three miles) (Infantry, of course, I
mean) don't think our side will commence the attack be-
fore Monday morning, when we will see sure if they
don't run.



86 ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER.

Supper. Some of our boys have just come in with a lot
of overcoats, trinkets, etc., spoils of the afternoon skirmish.
They were all Illinois regiments that were engaged. A ser-
geant has just showed me an overcoat that he stripped off
a dead secesh, who with eleven others was lying in one pile.
He captured a captain who, after he had thrown down his
sword, offered to give him a fist fight. The artillery firing
was mostly from Rebel guns at Farmington at a regiment
of our boys building a bridge. The Northern Mississippi
line runs through our camp. We cannot be far form luka
Springs, although no one that I've seen ever heard of the
place. Report has just come that Mitchell has been driven
out of Huntsville, and another that Yorktown and 45,000
prisoners are ours. Don't believe either. Shall write you
from Corinth if have luck.

Near Farmington, Miss., May 8, 1862.
I've been within one and a half miles of Corinth to-day.
Didn't see anything especially worthy of mention, but had
full rations in the way of leaden bullets whistle. Yea, and
larger missiles also. For four days past our battalion has
been the advanced picket of Pope's army, full five miles in
advance of the army. We have been skirmishing the
whole time, not five minutes passing without more or less
shooting. Our picket line was on one side of a long prairie
or clearing, from 300 to 450 yards wide, and theirs on the
opposite side. With all the firing, the losses on our side
was but one horse up to this morning, and we were con-
gratulating ourselves on getting on so well, when the ad-
vance of a large reconnoitering party under General Paine
came in sight and we were ordered to lead them. Well, it's
all over now, and we've had our Maj. Z. Applington killed,
several wounded, and horses hurt by bursting shells. It's
all right, I suppose, but damn the general that sent us on
a fool's errand. We've a strong old place to take here at
Corinth, but guess we'll make the riffle. The major fell



ARMY LIFE OF AN ILLINOIS SOLDIER. 8/

while leading a charge along a road. The timber and
brush by the roadside were so thick that we could see
nothing until our boys received the volley of musketry,
of which one ball reached the major's brain. The recon-
noitering party returned to camp last night, and this morn-
ing the Rebels took their turn. They advanced in con-
siderable force, drove our men back some two miles,
captured a couple of pieces of cannon, and filled our hos-
pitals pretty well. Our regiment was not in that fight.
The Iowa 2d Cavalry suffered badly, 'tis said, in trying to
take a Rebel battery.

Lieutenant Herring was wounded by a drunken soldier
of the 4th Regular Cavalry yesterday, and Captain Nelson
knocked down by the same man. Herring was shot
through the arm. A suspender buckle that the ball glanced
from saved his life. It's a little doubtful whether this
fight comes off immediately. I think and hope that our
folks are going to let them concentrate all their troops
here and then make a Waterloo of it. That is, a Waterloo
for them, but if they whip us, call out the home-guards
and try them again. Weather here almost too warm for
comfort in daytime, but deliciously cool after sunset. Ap-
ples and peaches are as large as hickory nuts, and black-



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 7 of 31)