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 8 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 8 of 31)
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berries the size of peas. The water is very good. Think
will like it as well as Mississippi water after a while. The
well water is not as cool though as I have seen it. I have
not visited the 8th or I7th yet. They are in a division that
forms a reserve (McClernands) and will not fight until the
rest of Thomas's (formerly Grant's) division have had a
chance. Shall go and see them immediately after the bat-
tle if I have luck. My health is perfect yet and am in
hopes 'twill remain so. My love to inquiring friends, and
do not expect to hear from me regularly as the mail only
leaves here semi-occasionally. What a change in climate
two day's ride make. Trees all in full leaf, and saw
peaches to-day larger than filberts. Summer coats are in


Corinth and Hamburg Road, Miss., May n, 1862.
You remember that in my last I spoke of a reconnoisance
our people made on the 8th inst. On the Qth Beauregard
returned it with interest, driving our advance back some two
miles and almost scaring this wing of the Eagle. He ap-
peared on our left flank, where I think Pope thought it im-
possible for him to reach, and drove Paine's division from
the front like a drove of sheep. 'Tis said that a charge made
by the 2d Iowa Cavalry was the salvation of both of Paine's
brigades. The charge, if we hear correctly, was one of the
most gallant things of the war. One of our battalions was
out yesterday examining our left to see if the Rebels were still
there. They found no signs of them, but on their return to
camp were fired into by some of General Buford's artillery,
and one man killed by a 6-pound solid shot from Company A.
There is almost incessant firing along the front but too light
and scattering to forbode an immediate fight of itself, although
'twould surprise no one to hear of the dance commencing at
any hour. Corinth is a tremendously strong place, very diffi-
cult to approach, and holding a force that our officers think
much superior to our own. This is kept from the army,
though I don't think now that we have more than 80,000
fighting men here. They must have over 100,000, and this
conscription act is pouring in reinforcements to them by thous-
ands. But, notwithstanding this, I think the superior discip-
line of our men will give us a victory when the fight does
come. The strongest evidence that I see of Halleck's weakness
is his delaying the battle so long We are in distance to strike
any day; roads splendid, army in better condition every day
than it will be the next day, weather becoming too hot for
men to endure much longer, and yet we wait. What for, I
don't know, unless 'tis for reinforcements. They say Curtis
and Siegel are coming. I hope they'll get here to-night and
finish the thing up to-morrow. The weather is taking the vim
out of the men remarkably. To-day there is a good stray
breeze, and yet a man can hardly get enough of the rarified
stuff they call air here to fill his lungs. Plenty of chestnuts


in this country. Plenty of hills and plenty of woods but a
great scarcity of about everything else. There is no more
soil on the earth here than you'll find on any Illinois school
house floor, and 'tis a question which would grow the best

The colonel is anxious to have the regiment in the battle
when it comes off, while your brother thinks if they can do
the work without us he won't be at all angry. I like skirmish-
ing pretty well but am dubious about the fun showing itself
so strongly in a battle. I guess I had a dozen shots thrown
at me individually on the 8th at from 100 to 450 yards, and
I got my return shot nearly every time and some extra ones,
but rather think they all got off as well as I did. The car-
bines are not very correct shooters, and your brother is a
ditto, so I have the satisfaction of knowing that I haven't
killed anybody yet.

Still in Camp near Corinth, Miss., May 15, 1862.
It seems to me that we are a long time in bringing this
"muss a la probable" to a focus. What under the sun our
Halleck is waiting for we can't guess. One hour's march will
commence the struggle now and you don't know how anxious
we are for that little trip. Buell and Thomas have both
Ithrown up long lines of earthworks to fall back behind if
repulsed, I suppose. We have nothing of that kind in our
division. We have all been under marching orders since morn-
ing, and Assistant Secretary of War Scott told the colonel last
night that the battle would commence to-day but he lied.
Talk is to-night again that Corinth is evacuated. The main
body of our army moved up within three miles to-day. My
battalion has been out since daylight this morning, but we
have been lying at ease near Pope's headquarters all day wait-
ing for orders. I came back to camp to stay to-night because
I had no blanket with me and there was no possibility of any
more before morning. Have a sore foot now. My confounded
horse fell down with me in a creek the other day, threw me
out on the bank in a bunch of blackberry bushes and then


crawled out over me, stepped on my foot in the melee by way
of showing sympathy, I suppose. It don't hurt my appetite
any and hasn't put me off duty.

Near Corinth, Miss., May 19 ,1862.

Our regiment now is acting as a kind of rear guard for
Pope's division. The enemy's cavalry in bodies of from 1,000
down have been running around our left flank and threaten-
ing to interfere with our trains. Every day we send out six
companies to patrol between here and the river and forward.
Yesterday (Sunday) I was out. We went to Red Sulphur
Springs, one of the most romantic, beautiful places I have ever
seen. There are about 40 double cottages for families, and
stables, kennels and quarters for the servants, hounds and
horses. The buildings are in good repair, though the place has
not been frequented much for the last three or four years.
White Sulphur Springs are four miles from the Red and
more fashionable. I am going there to-morrow. There were
about a dozen real ladies at the springs yesterday, and they
were quite sociable and so interesting that I could not help
staying an hour after the column left We were the first of our
soldiers that the party had seen and they were much sur-
prised that our boys behaved so well. None of them had
ever been North, and they occupied about all the time I was
with them in asking questions, principally though, about the
conduct of our army. About a mile before we got to the
springs we passed a house where there were as many as six
young ladies in full dress. The major sent me to make some
inquiries of the man of the house, and I noticed the party
were in something of a flurry but ascribed it to the presence
of our men. Of course Sunday was an excuse for the finery
and there being so many together. After we had advanced a
little way one of our captains took a squad, went ahead and
passed himself for a Rebel officer just from Corinth. By his
figuring he found out that at this house I have spoken of they
were expecting some Rebel officers and men, 14 in all, from
Corinth to dinner and a visit. We set a trap for them, but


they heard of us through the citizens and sloped. They came
within a mile of us and then their tracks showed they had
gone off through the woods and a swamp on a run. We got
one of their horses, a beauty, fully equipped. It being a hot
day the owner had strapped his coat on his valise and not
having time to take it off we got it. A dozen of our boys
went back and ate the dinner, but without the company of the
ladies who had flown. Our line has now closed to within
two and one-half miles around the north and east sides of
Corinth. Our men have thrown up breastworks within that
distance along nearly the whole line. The cannons play on
each other occasionally, say as an average four times a day,
a half hour each time. Our line is, I think, nine or ten miles
long; am not sure. The Rebels are suffering for rations, not
more than half rations having been served for the last ten days.
Hundreds are deserting from them. One battalion that was
raised in this county, over 500 men, have all deserted but
about 90. The commander himself ran off. Of a 100 men
that deserted from them probably five come within our lines.
The rest all go to their homes. If Porter takes Mobile, and
Farragut and Davis get Memphis, I think in ten days after-
ward there will not be enough Rebels left in Corinth to op-
pose our regiment. There is no doubt that they have more
men now than we have but they lack discipline. Success at
the points above named will leave them without any railroad
communication whatever or telegraph either. I'm afraid that
our gunboats got the worst of that little affair at Pillow the
other day. An army is the slowest moving animal. Here
we've been over a month making 20 miles. I think I shall
run off to McClernand's division this p. m. and see some of
the 1 7th and 8th boys.

Near Corinth, Miss., May 24, 1862.

I returned last night from a two day's scout. Our orders

were to scour the country along the Tennessee river to near

Eastport and return through luka, Burnsville and Glendale.

A Michigan colonel commanded the party and skipped luka


three miles. There were little bands of Rebels in sight nearly
all the time we were in that vicinity, so that I could not
gallop off to the place alone, and of course the colonel wouldn't
let me have men to go with me.

We rode all day yesterday through a steady rain and over
roads that were for miles obstructed by felled trees and bridges
burned. We came back through Pope's division yesterday.
Think he is as about as well fortified as Beauregard can be.
'Tis astonishing how much ditching he has done within a
week. Has also cut down enough trees (to make his left
unapproachable) to last all of Illinois ten years for firewood.
There's no site for a Bull Run here. Confederate scrip goes
among the people here freely. If a man refuses to take it
they lynch him. Not the citizens but soldiers do the dirty
work. The people here all say that the seceded States will
have to go back where they started from.

Camp on Corinth Road, Miss., May 27, 1862.

Why don't you write me just a word, if no more? I'm
almost uneasy. Not a line from home for a month. We
hear that smallpox is raging in Canton, and I want you to
write. They say there is some smallpox in the center and
right of the army, but think 'tis like the milk sickness of our
Egypt, "a little further on." There's enough sickness of other
kinds, so we have no room for grumbling if we can't have that
disease. The hospitals at Hamburg make almost a city. I
think there can be no more sorrowful sight, real or imaginary,
than that camp of the sick.

I don't know the number of patients, somewhere in thous-
ands, all packed in tents as closely as they can lie, and with
not one-tenth the care a sick horse would get at home. I
suppose the surgeons, stewards and nurses have reelings like
men when they first enter the hospitals, but familarity with
disease and suffering seem to make them careless and in-
different to a degree that surprises me, and I can't but look
upon it as criminal. I suppose nearly half the bad cases are
typhoid fever. Yellow fever, cholera and smallpox have never
been known here to the citizens. They all say this is a very


healthy country, and I believe it. Our boys are suffering
from the change of climate and water, and as much as any-
thing, the sudden change in temperature. Our regiment is im-
proving in health now rapidly. We have gained about 40
for duty within a week. We had about 250 sick last week.
The 1 7th has some 300. I found a batch of live
secesh women last Sunday. I rode up to a fine
looking house to get a glass of milk (I suppose I
drink more milk than any six calves in Fulton) and found
eight or ten ladies at dinner, accepted a rather cool invitation
to dine wid' 'em, and did justice to their peas and fodder gen-
erally, and was much amused. Think there was more spice
to that dinner than I ever before saw. One black-eyed vixen
opened the ball with "I don't see how you can hold your head
up and look people in the face, engaged in the cause you are."
I told her I thought she had a free way of 'spressing her
opinion. "Yes," says she, "I can't use a gun but I can tongue
lash you, and will every chance." Then they all joined in,
but I found that eating was my best "holt," so they had it
their own way. When I'd finished my dinner, told them "a la
Buell," that I thought their house would make an excellent
hospital, and that we'd probably bring out 80 or a 100 patients
the next day for them to take care of. Scared them like the
devil, all but one, and they all knew so much better places
for the sick. This odd one said she had a way of "putting
arsenic in some people's feed, and she'd do it, too." Told her
we'd give her a commish as chief taster, and put her through
a course of quinine, asafcetida and sich. Said she'd like to see
us dare to try it, she would. They were too much for me,
but I'll never pass that place without calling. I'd give my
shirt to have had Ame Babcock there. Those are the first
outspoken female seceshers I have yet seen.

Deserters say that the Rebels have positively no forage or
provisions in Corinth. That the Memphis and Mobile railways
can barely bring enough daily, scraped from the whole length
of the lines to feed the army. It is reported here that Sher-
man took possession of the Memphis road west of Corinth


yesterday and has fortified his position. Pope got two or
three men killed yesterday. There was about 5,000 of the
enemy camped in the woods one and one-half miles in front
of his posish, and he drove them back until they were rein-
forced and made him scoot again. I was out with a scout
Sunday and started again last night at dark (Monday) and
was out until 9 this a. m. The cause was some small bands

raising the d 1 on our left. We didn't catch them. We

were over to the Tennessee, Sunday, where we could see the
sacred soil of Alabama. I like Alabama better than any other
Southern State. She's never done the "blowing" the others
have and people here say that she's nearer loyal than any other
Southern state. They're raising loyal companies here now.
There are two full in Savannah.

General Jeff C. Davis' division passed here to-day to join
Pope's corps. Davis stopped with us and made quite a visit.
General Ash of this division goes forward to-morrow. The
2 ist and 38th Illinois from Stules division went out yesterday.
Eleven regiments in all added to Pope's command in two
days; except the last two they were all at Pea Ridge and
some at Wilson's Creek. A splendid lot of men but not
drilled equal to many regiments of the "Army Miss."

I don't honestly believe that we have with all our reinforce-
ments 100,000 men here; but don't believe the Rebels have
75,000; of course I mean effective men that can be called on
the field to fight. We have just received orders to move to
front to-morrow.

Near Farmington, Miss., May 28, 1862
We moved up here this morning under the hottest sun
and over the dustiest roads, and I then helped the major
lay off the camp, and pitched our tents ourselves. Gra-
cious, how hot it was ! I worked and sweated and blessed
General Pope for ordering us forward on such a day. I'll
wager we are the only field and staff that pitch and strike
our head quarter's tents without the aid of the men. But
I can't bear the idea of making men who are our equals


at home do our work here. Soldiering in the ranks spoils
a man for acting officer "a-la-regular." We're ordered to
have our horses saddled by 3 a. m. to-morrow. There
has been the liveliest kind of cannonading along the whole
lines to-day. Our whole army advanced about a mile. I
think that at almost any point on the line we can throw
shot into their works. Distances vary from one and one-
half miles to two and a quarter or two and one-half. Many
of the generals think that to-morrow there will be a general
fight. They talk a great deal more since the news corre-
spondents have been sent off; and of course anything of
that kind, that a brigadier says, goes the rounds of the
whole camp in real telegraph style. Have heard of a num-
ber of killings to-day, and haven't heard a tithe of the
whole. The enemy are beginning to dispute our further
advance right strongly. Many think that Halleck has com-
menced a regular siege. He has left a line of splendid de-
fences to-day, and if he forms new works on the position
taken up to-day, we will know that we are in for a long
fight, a-la-Yorktown. Two regiments of cavalry went out
this morning to destroy the Ohio & Mobile R. R., 30 miles
south of Corinth. I wish them luck. Many of the Rebel
shot and shell struck within a half mile of the front of our
camp to-day. It looks somewhat like the times at Madrid
and Point Pleasant, but will probably be a little more
interesting before we finally finish it.

May 30, 1862. We have our horses saddled all the time
since 2:30 yesterday morning. Owing to Colonel Kellogg's
continued illness he was this morning retired from further
command of brigade, and Mizner put in his place. We could
hear the cars running at Corinth all last night, and now
there is a heavy black smoke hanging over the place. Some
think they have evacuated, but 'tis doubtful. Firing all
the time since 3 this morning. Up to this time we (our
regiment) have had but three men killed and nine
wounded here. Have been remarkably fortunate. I gave
up my cot to Major Rawalt and am sleeping on the ground


now, and the confounded lizards are working me into a
fever. They are as thick as you ever saw grasshoppers.
One of them ran into Allan Heald's shirt bosom yesterday
and they say he moved rather sprightly for a few minutes.
Lots of snakes here, cottonmouths, copperheads, rattle-
snakes, and commoner varmint. There's also a scorpion
that looks like a lizard with a green head. They say it
is poisonous.

June 4, 1862. No. 10.

We've been living out here a week without any tents
until to-night, and General Pope is ripping and swearing
because we dared to move them up here without orders.
He says we shall not move a thing back. The colonel
I am with is a regular army officer and he shows it all
over, but I like him very much so far. I won't get to go
out on near as many scouts, for will only go when the
whole brigade moves.

Camp near Boonville, Miss., June 4, 1862.
Since the evacuation of Corinth we have been pushing
after them after a fashion. That is follow them until we catch
up with their rear guard and then retreat three-fourths the
distance we have advanced. Have been five or six days fol-
lowing them 25 miles. Yesterday we advanced some 10 miles
beyond this point, skirmishing with them all the last five miles,
and then we all returned to camp here. I think we must
have had 40,000 men out yesterday and yet it was only a re-
connoisance in force. But what the devil was the use thereof
I cannot see, for the day previous some of our cavalry was out
farther than we went. Our regiment had the first skirmish
with the Rebels after they left Corinth. 'Twas about seven
miles out of the town. We had two killed and three wounded.
They were of the Decatur Company. Our boys killed fire of
them. This is the most masterly retreat yet. They have posi-
tively left nothing of any value. I don't think they left tents
enough for one regiment. They left not one cannon. No


arms of any value and very few of any kind. We have only
found one wagon since we passed Corinth, although there
were a number in the place that they did not need. We
haven't taken 50 prisoners, although they have lost hundreds,
maybe thousands, by desertion. There is not the least evi-
dence that they yere in haste at any point, and just 20 hours
before we entered Corinth we were ordered to saddle our
horses and be in perfect readiness for a fight, as it was ex-
pected that the enemy would attack us before three hours.
At that time they could not have had more than enough men
in Corinth to do the required picket duty. They are now,
or at least a large body of them, in camp within 12 miles of
us, and the story through the army is they are marching on
us. Our boys are fairly wild to be on after them But then
another rumor from a tolerably reliable source, is we are
going to fall back to Corinth and camp until plans are more
fully matured. Still another says Pope's army is ordered
down the Mississippi river again. I hope the last is not so,
for I have a dread of that river in the summer season. I am
acting assistant adjutant general for Colonel Mizner, com-
manding ist Brigade Corps.

Headquarters ist Brigade Cavalry Division,

Camp near Boonville, Miss., June 6, 1862.
I am leading an inglorious life now, nothing to do but the
brigade writing and ride with the colonel when he goes out
on business. The only time I am on the fighting list is when
the brigade goes out, and that is very rarely, and only when
reconnoisances in force are made, and there is seldom any
fighting done then. General Hamilton's whole division marched
by our tent to-day and it was a splendid sight ; I had thought
that I'd never want to see any more troops but his division
looked so splendidly, that I really enjoyed the sight of them.
I knew that they were only marching into a new camp, but
they all had got the idea that they were going into a fight and
they were in grand spirits. I never saw the men look as


healthy as they do now. One reason is those who were sick
have been all left at the river and the weakly ones do not
pretend to march in the ranks this hot weather. We are
within one hundred yards of General Pope's headquarters and
there are continually a lot of brigadiers passing. They nearly
always ride on the gallop, and with the aids and escorts all
told, say 60 in number to each general, they make quite a
dashing appearance. Rosecrans, Buell, Granger, Smith, Sher-
man, T. W., Plummer, Paine, Hamilton and Pope all rode
by at one time to-day.

All the companies we have had out to-day report skirmish-
ing with the enemy We lost two men prisoners, some
wounded and several horses. Got some prisoners. The enemy
are in some force six miles from here. They are dodging all
around us. Rumor says to-day that Buell with his army is
going down through Alabama to Montgomery. Pope will
move slowly after the enemy through Mississippi, and Thomas
will go across to Memphis and down the river to co-operate
with Butler in a movement through Southern Mississippi.
'Tis probably the plan of some cuss in the ranks. I wish for
one day that you could hear all the camp rumors. They would
make a remarkable book.

Rienzi, Tishomingo Co., Miss., June 9, 1862.
Saturday morning the 5th inst. the colonel and myself
started for a little pleasure ride as a relaxation from the many
cares and troubles people in this profession are incident to.
We started for Corinth, as neither of us had yet visited the
place, and plodded along through dust in air and heat words
can't tell how oppressive. We stopped at General Rose-
crans about i p. m. and stayed and dined with him. The
general was in his most pleasant mood and I thought him
very engaging and winning in his manner. He told a num-
ber of amusing stories and 'twas all very pleasant, until some-
body happened to mention General Fremont's name. General
Granger was also at the table and the two generals com-
menced and each tried to outdo the other in yes, reviling the
"bumble-bee catcher."


They changed the subject over the wine and General Rose-
crans became quite enthusiastic and prophetic in his conviction
in regard to the war question, settlement thereof, etc. But I
couldn't see any remarkable difference between him and the
rest of mankind, and the same remark will apply to all that I
know of the other generals here. I remember he said that he
considered "slavery a vile blot on the face of the earth," and
that unadulterated abolitionism alone was its equal ; but I don't
claim that the speech showed any remarkable talent. We left
him swearing at his A. Q. M. and journeyed on. We luckily
met an old acquaintance of the colonel's, a captain in the 1st

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 8 of 31)