Memories of War Times

Personal Reminiscences of Happenings That Took Place From 1861 to the Grand Review

by Reub Williams

Oh, glimpse of clear heaven,
The fathers' old fallow, God-seeded with stars,
Thy furrows were turning
When plowshares were burning,
And the half of each "boat" was redder than Mrs!
Fluant forever thy story,
Oh, wardrobe of glory!
Where the fathers laid down their mantles of blue,
And challenged the ages--
Oh, grandest of gages,
In covenant solemn, eternal and true.
---B. F. Taylor

Of course, the blowing up of a large amount of property in Atlanta by General Hood, the Confederate commander, ended the campaign. The destruction of freight cars gathered there in and of itself was a great loss to the Confederate cause, for it was given out that fully eight hundred were destroyed, many of them still loaded with supplies. Few historians, after whom I have read, make any mention of how serious a loss that many cars meant to the Confederacy, and only a few make any mention of the serious hardship to the Confederacy was its constant daily loss by the destruction of railroad connections in the Southern States, which began from the period of the first Bull Run battle, and continued clear through the war; so that at the time of which I am writing it was a difficult matter for the people south and west of Virginia to reach Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy at all, for lack of railroad facilities. Nearly all the railroads in all the "Gulf States" had been raided more or mess, and some of them almost wholly destroyed. The South had no means to replace the loss of locomotives or iron rails, as the one could not be built, nor the other rolled at any point in the Confederacy, and although I have already referred to this feature of the war in this series of "War Memories" I always think of what a help the destruction of railroads was to the North, and that this aided to a greater extent than many people would believe at first glance, to bring the war to its happy ending; yet few of the historians even refer to this special great advantage the North possessed, after the "blockade" was fairly established.

While I am on this subject there was another disadvantage under which the South labored right from the beginning of the war, and that was its utter lack of newspapers. Soldiers of the Union army will not doubt readily admit the very great encouragement given them by the home and metropolitan newspapers of the North. By the close of the first year of the war, postal facilities in the army were superb. Newspapers and letters would reach soldiers in the field generally within three or four days. In fact, the system now in vogue of distributing the mails on board the cars by a corps of clerks was the origin of the plan now in use on all railroads of the land. Before the war there were distributing offices to which point all letters nearest it were sent and where the mails were sent on to their destination in sacks conveying only such mails as went in the same general direction. The postal service of the United States as now conducted is a marvel in speed, correctness in delivery and perfect safety. Yet the plan now in use is a legacy of the war, and a most valuable one, at that. I have been told by Confederate soldiers that after the first year of the war they received no more letters that came from States west of the Mississippi, and even before the fall of Vicksburg and the unopposed passage of steamboats from the head of navigation to the Gulf, it was difficult to smuggle letters across it intended for Lee's army, and after the fall of that stronghold, it became almost an impossibility for any member of the army in and about Richmond to receive a letter from persons living in any of the States west of the "Father of Waters".

I ought not to speak of newspapers and the large amount of good they did to the soldiers in the field without especially mentioning the pictorial publications. The home paper, coming as it did, from the town nearest which the soldier resided, was often a godsend to him, and how much it helped to stem the coming of that worst of all soldier's complaints, so far as illness was concerned, and known as "homesickness," Ask any doctor who served in regiments and hospitals, and he will tell you that many young soldiers, fresh from the farm of their parents, and perhaps never six miles distant from his birthplace until he enlisted to assist in preventing the dissolution of the great American Union, and he will tell you that many such young men died from the effect of homesickness, outright, and in many other cases it laid the foundation of diseases that ended in death. In the very first company that left his town for the war, there was a case of death from homesickness, and he was not a mere strippling either. His name was Charles F. Davis, and a son of the late Abram Davis, who lived a few miles southeast of Warsaw. He was 23 years of age, engaged to be married and the latter may have contributed to the severity of this particular case of homesickness. He was a large young man for his age; possessed a splendid physique, and for the first five or six months he was unusually active and in good spirits. At about that time he became at first listless; then rather peevish, the doctor claiming, however that the could find nothing seriously the matter with him, except an intense longing to go home. At Warrenton Junction, in Virginia, he was sent to the regimental hospital and as the time for which the regiment had enlisted was near its expiration the doctor thought that the prospect of going home would revive him and that he would pull through. This was not to be the case. Homesickness had too strong a hold upon him and he died in a hospital in Washington city the night before the regiment was mustered out, his father Abram Davis, having been telegraphed for, was at his bedside when the messenger who carries a missive for us all delivered it. His was not the only case of deadly homesickness which came under my observation, by any means. The remains were brought home for his mustered our company, and his was the first funeral services held in this place with military honors after the war began, the entire company being present at his burial.

In citing a single illustration of the homesickness that fortunately only numbered individual cases in a regiment, I find that I have branched off from what I intended to say about the pictorial newspapers. When it is remembered that photography during the war period was almost in its infancy and the "snap-shot" wholly unknown, it is a wonder that their publishers did as well as was the case. The "half-tone" engraving was unknown and every picture the newspapers contained during the war were prepared for the press with the slow process of a pencil sketch and then the cut done on wood by the engraver, requiring much labor and consequently much cost, but they were large, fairly correct, sold in all the Union armies, and some of their pictures of skirmishes and battles were marvelously realistic when the facilities, or rather the lack of them, are borne in mind, and the copies received in a regiment were literally worn out in passing through the numerous hands that each copy was called upon to do. However, it was the "home" paper that delighted the soldiers most, and how many times have I seen one man reading the news "back in God's country" to almost his entire company of eager listeners. to a very large extent the Confederate soldier knew nothing of this sort of support to his "cause," and I know I am right when I declare that the news from home received in this way was a great, a very great, encouragement to the men to do their duty, sure of the fact that if they lived to return a reception awaited him, well understood by those who have been praised for "duty well performed."

I am as well aware as the reader can be that thus far this sketch is of a rambling character and so I will return to the situation in and around Atlanta as I left it in my last article. The Confederates who had occupied Jonesboro retreated straight south along the railroad to the station on the railroad called Lovejoy, where General Hardee had, by stopping the retreating forces with a body of troops under his own immediate command, determined to make a stand, but even this partial stand of the Confederate army was "not for long,"and after quite a fight at that point; the object of the campaign having been gloriously won while the army was sufficiently distant from supplies, having added about thirty additional miles to the over four hundred back to Louisville, General Sherman had decided to move his army back to Atlanta and with that end in view all the troops that had been engaged in the numerous skirmishes and affrays as well as the battle of Jonesboro, were assembled at the latter place. In the meantime, however I had been directed to proceed to Atlanta in advance of the main body, taking under my charge about two miles of wagons, loaded and empty. I was directed to go into camp at East Point, and right here it ought to be stated, that although it was called "East Point," it lay about four miles nearly west of the city. It had been an important telegraph station previous to the breaking up of General Hood's "Jollification Ball," and I found excellent camping ground in the immediate vicinity. I made my headquarters near the former telegraph station, pitching the tents composing it on the grass-plat, near by, in preference to occupying the room, as I might have done; but at this period of the war all houses, stations, etc., used by soldiers were so numerously inhabited by "gray-backs" that tents were far preferable and I always used them when it was at all possible. Speaking of tents, the usual square one issued to officers during the war when covered with the usual excellent fly made of the same but of heavier material are about as comfortable a habitation as any one could wish for and no matter how cold the weather might become, they could be made as pleasant a sleeping place as even the costliest of residences. If properly "banked up" on the outside, and the best of drainage possible, they could not be excelled. In Mexican war days they were designated by the name of the Captain's or Colonel's "marque," no matter about the rank of the officer occupying them. I never occupied a house during my service, when it was possible to use a tent, which, owing to the trains not getting into camp until late at night, sometimes compelled me to seek a house for shelter, but I never did so willingly.

I have referred to the building spoken of as a telegraph station and an examination of its contents and judging form the number of telegraph implements still to be found in the room, it must have done quite a large business over the wires during the exciting days that General Hood was ascertaining the precise route on which General Sherman was retreating to Chattanooga! Scraps of paper covered the floor and on all sides there were signs of hasty flight, as the debris showed, and as the leaving behind a number of telegraph implements--an article that must have been of great value within the Confederacy--plainly showed. The clerk at my headquarters began picking up copies of some of the dispatches sent to the commanding officer of the Confederate cavalry operating west of Atlanta, while Sherman was leading his army over the same locality. There were fully a half dozen of these dispatches sent to the officer, whose name was Lee, by the way, but whether it was General S. D. Lee, Fitzhugh Lee, or some other one by that name, who became distinguished during the war, I am unable to say, for I have never learned who commanded the mounted forces of General Hood, west of Atlanta at that time. There were six or seven of the dispatches, and after I had perused them and knowing that they would in time become a valuable relic of the war days, I had them mailed to my wife here at home, directing her to take care of them. Unfortunately she has never been able to find them since my return from the war, although they are about the house somewhere. Of course, there were no replies to these messages as they were copies of orders and directions sent to the officer commanding the mounted forces that were watching the Federals by General Hood, from his headquarters in Atlanta where he was engineering a jollification ball at the same time. It was easy to see how the news that Hood was receiving in Atlanta operated upon him, as intelligence was constantly reaching him from scouting and other parties, who were engaged in a search for the precise route taken by Sherman. By following the Twentieth corps out to the railroad bridge on the north, it was plain to General Hood that a large force--probably the main Federal army had taken that route. Then, again, his scouts brought in word that one section of the army --a large one, too--had taken the Sandtown road, evidently intending to cross the Chattahoochie river at that place, either by fording it or using a pontoon, as it was known that the "Yankees" had many of them.

I have spoken of East Point as a telegraph station, and it is altogether possible that the Confederate General had sent a number of orderlies to that place to carry messages to his cavalry commander, who was endeavoring to keep him in touch with the incomprehensible movements of Sherman Hood's headquarters were in the city and messages would be sent to East Point by wire, where they were copied and immediately taken to the cavalry outpost as fast as horses could convey them. Of course, I read all of the copies of the five or six messages that had been sent to the operator and although I have given them wholly from memory until the real copies are found, but I am confident I can give the gist of nearly all of them. The first one was a warning to the officer in command of the mounted force that was endeavoring to keep him advised of the peculiar movements of the Federal forces, and sent to East Point by General Hood, urging him to be vigilant and active; that his (Hood's) scouts reported a movement of Federal cavalry to the west of Atlanta; that it was probably only a small force acting as flankers of the main Federal army which appeared to be falling back. Another one sent, perhaps, an hour or two later to the East Point operator, was to the effect that the mounted force of the Northern army seemed to be larger than the Confederate scouts had first reported, and again urged the Confederate commander--whose name was General Lee, as has already been stated, but whose initials, if given, have slipped my memory--to be exceedingly active in obtaining news and to use haste in dispatching whatever he obtained to East Point. Then came another lapse, and still another message for the cavalry officer, briefly stating that there were indications that a body of infantry accompanied the federal cavalry and if possible, to obtain information as to how large a force it was. Still another delay, and then an additional message, that the news from his mounted scouts led to the belief on Hood's part, that a large body of the Union army was moving to the west and south of Atlanta, and for him to ascertain without fail something reliable as to its size and the course in which it was moving. The reader can readily perceive that the news General Hood was receiving was anything but consoling to a commanding general of an army, who had been engaged in celebrating through the medium of a "jollification ball" that his enemy had given up hope of capturing Atlanta, and was in full retreat. The next, and it may have been his last message before the full force of the great calamity which had come to the Confederate army, its commanding officer and the citizens of Atlanta, I remember, closed with the advice to do the best he could under the circumstances, as the indications were that the whole Federal army had passed around Atlanta and was at that moment engaged in destroying the railroad at Fairburn.

What an awakening this side-light upon the secrecy, as well as the sham movements of the Federal army, devised for the very purpose of deceiving the Confederate General into the belief that General Sherman had given up the attempt to take Atlanta! How well it succeeded the war histories of the fratricidal war shows. Of course, I have only given the substance of the dispatches that General Hood had forwarded to his cavalry officer from East Point; but the reader can in a measure conceive his growing fright, as scout after scout came into Atlanta from the various mounted bodies that were engaged in endeavoring to unravel the mystery of Sherman's retreat, until at last, when the full extent and force of the news ended in his blowing up all of the valuable Confederate stores, freight cars, and much valuable property of various kinds and the total abandonment of a city that had just held a "jollification ball" over an event that turned out to be just the reverse for what it was held--the relief of the town from the foot-fall of the invader--may be imagined--and imagined only.

Northern Indianian January 21, 1904

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