Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Over the North, the wild news came.
Far flashing on its wings of flame,
Swift as the boreal light which flies
At midnight through the startled skies.
And there was tumult in the air,
The fife's shrill note, the drum's loud beat,
And through the wide land everywhere
The answering tread of hurrying feet.

My last sketch landed us prisoners in the guard-house at Winchester, Va., --a place that was afterwards to be almost destroyed by the wear and tear of war, but which at that time was in all its glory as a typical Southern county-seat, beyond the usual size, and a point of no small importance as it was the leading town of the far-famed Shenandoah Valley but which the close of the war was to see it almost annihilated. After the long delayed breakfast to which I alluded in my last article, we seven prisoners begun to mix up somewhat with our fellow prisoners, all of whom having more or less curiosity to see us Yankees and to hear us talk. We were not long in discovering that there were three of the regiment to which we all belonged, though of different companies which were stationed at Sharpsburg, Md., where the headquarters of the region were located as already stated in these sketches.

Robert S. Richhart, and also Harry Wescott conveyed me this information, and at once I perceived the danger these men were in; before all three of them informed me that they were in Virginia without orders, and of course, if the news came to the Confederate authorities they could and would very probably be tried as spies. So I told Wescott and Richhart to put them on their guard and by all means not to recognize them in any way as old acquaintances and to caution them not to recognize us for there was a real danger for them should the fact be ascertained that they were Federal soldiers and belonged to the regiment that was patrolling the Maryland side of the Potomac. One of these men's name was Wildman, another Strauss and both were from Noble county. The remaining one was a German whose name I never knew.

Upon the completion of the year's service for which time the regiment was to serve, this same Wildman became a captain in the One Hundred and First Indiana Infantry--the same command in which our present Congressman George W. Steel belonged--and made a brave and gallant officer remaining in the service till the close of the war. I feared greatly for these men during our brief occupation of the Winchester Sons of Temperance Hall as a guard-house, and I may as well dispense off the incident concerning them now, as to bring it up in its regular order. All three of them made their escape from the guard-house after we seven prisoners were conveyed to Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, as we learned through the Richmond journals after we arrived there, and all three of them made their way back to the regiment.

At the time they seemingly did not know of the danger they were in until informed by my party. In fact, they had been arrested at Winchester and for a couple of days drilled with the militia there, and by violating some command of their officers they had been arrested and conveyed to Winchester for trial--the fact of their being Federal soldiers being unknown. All of us legally captured prisoners felt greatly relieved and were greatly pleased to read of their escape a couple of days after our own arrival at Richmond, all of the journals of that place giving a fairly good account of their escape, which they accomplished by cutting up a blanket of which they became possessed, into strips, and by typing them together letting themselves down from the second story, unknown to the guard.

But to return to our own affairs as connected with the guard-house. At about 11 o'clock in the forenoon and after we had breakfasted, an officer came into the room in which we were confined and asked for Captain Williams. I told him that I presumed that I was the individual whom he was seeking and after asking me if I was in command of the squad of Yankee prisoners brought in by Captain Baylor, I told him I had been, but all of us were, at present, it seemed, under the command of somebody else. He informed me that I was to accompany him to Gen. Jackson's headquarters. At that early period in the war Jackson was not so generally known by the sobriquet of "Stonewall," as was afterward the case, although he won that name in the first battle of Bull Run, when General Bee, of the South Carolina troops, pointed him out and called on his men to see how Jackson's brigade stood like a stone wall. This expression was seized upon by some newspaper reporter, perhaps, and the synonym of "Stonewall" clung to him ever after.

On arriving at Stonewall's headquarters which were located in a neat, old-fashioned brick house with wide-spreading lawns stretching away from it in several directions, I was taken into the room occupied by him and asked to take a seat. Another officer was present whom I afterward learned was General Preston and if I remember correctly was from Kentucky and who was then serving as Stonewall's adjutant general. I did not have to wait long until General Jackson began interrogating me and for which a more appropriate term would probably be "pumping me." Fortunately, I was aware that he was a West Pointer; had belonged to the regular army, and had served during the Mexican war, and consequently I was able to be somewhat on my guard. As I remember the conversation, after forty years have elapsed, I am confident in my own mind that Stonewall did not get ahead of me to any great extent in the battle of questions and replies that followed.

At the very start I resented being called a "Yankee" and told him that none of my ancestors were New Englanders and that both my father and myself were born in Ohio. "Oh, well," said he, "we call all you folks Yankees." I insisted so strenuously against the term that I noticed it tickled the adjutant-general sitting by, considerably. I had made up my mind to tell him the truth, when I felt that he was sufficiently well-informed to catch me up, if I didn't, and when I could deceive him a little, to do it on a magnificent scale. so when he asked me how many troops General Banks, of our army, had under his command on the opposite side of the Potomac, I told him that it was understood to be 80,000! At the time Banks was in command of 30,000. Then when he asked me in what kind of money the troops had been paid, I told him gold, and so the first troops were, the greenbacks not coming into use until the autumn of 1861.

At any rate as I was not present on pay-day at Indianpolis, I afterward received my dues in gold. Much of his conversation was of a desultory, common-place character. All at once he asked me how many troops Indiana had in the field. I told him that the state had just organized and filled out its sixtieth regiment. That surprised him greatly, and it seemed to make him somewhat indignant also; "for," said he, "the Confederates had been led to believe that they would receive a good deal of help from that State and Illinois." Of course, I only replied to questions, never asking any, and very much that he asked were of a trifling nature.

I had been there, perhaps, a half an hour, and during a portion of that time Stonewall was engaged in writing. All at once he again asked, how many troops did you say that General Banks had? I replied by saying that it was understood by all who seemed to be well-informed that he was at the head of 80,000 men; he then asked why I came over into Virginia? I replied by saying, "I received an order to do so, and of course, obeyed it." "do you know," said he, "what I think ought to be done with you invaders, and all like you?" "I do not," I replied. "Well," said the General, "you ought to be taken right down into that meadow there and hung." I replied by saying "that would be pretty rough and decidedly unpleasant for me, young as I am too!"

My interview being over I was conducted back to the guard-house, and of the enlisted men, Corporals R. S. Richhart and Henry Wescott , and it may be some of the others of my party were sent for to go through the same sort of a sweat-box. I found an opportunity, however, to caution them against telling Stonewall anything that would be of value to the Confederacy, and requested them to stick to my own story, that Banks was in command of 80,000 men and afterward they told me they did so. Since the war, Stonewall Jackson has been extolled as a very religious, conscientious, conservative man, and of course most of my readers have read the story that he engaged in prayer for a full week before making up his mind which side he would take, and which can now readily be perceived as the wrong one for him; but as I saw him on that occasion, I should and did then set him down as a high-tempered, hot-headed, vindictive sort of a fanatic, and I arrived at this verdict at the only interview I ever had with Stonewall Jackson, and I am firm as to the conclusion still. At any rate the Lord did not answer his prayer, evidently differing with him!

At that period Winchester was not connected with the outside world by rail, and when we were captured a line of busses and stages were in operation from the old town to Strasburg, where these vehicles made railroad connections with Manasas Junction, but how much further it went west of Strasburg. I do not know. As it was nearing dark an officer informed us that we were ordered to Richmond, where we would be confined with the first Bull Run and Ball's Bluff prisoners, already occupying a tobacco warehouse there that afterwards became famous as "Libby Prison"--a name that has sent many a shudder through the heart of men and women here at home, who had sons there in confinement, and which after the war was bodily removed to Chicago as a show-place. The party of prisoners were all placed in an old-fashioned omnibus, and as I had purchased a shawl--an article all the fashion for men just preceding the war--for which I gave seven dollars in gold to a Confederate sergeant, willing to sympathize with me to that amount, owing to the loss of the tails of my coat, as previously narrated. He came very near getting all the gold I had with me too, but the shawl was a very comfortable addition and in consequence I decided to mount to the seat by the side of the driver with a man with a musket on the other side of me.

By the time we got started it was dark and if I mistake not it was thirty miles to Strasburg, and then twenty miles to Manasas Junction, where the Confederate army of Virginia was encamped between that place and Alexandria at that time. We were to leave for our destination. It was a cold night, yet with my shawl and sitting between the driver and guard I got along pretty well. The road was a good one and the driver disposed to get along at a good gait. Darkness came on so dense, however, that it soon became impossible to see more than the horses; everything at the side of the pike road fading and falling away into deeper gloom. We had crossed one or more covered bridges--all bridges in the South were covered over--and in getting over the first one I remember that in putting up my hand I brushed a timber at right angles from the bridge. Like a flash it came over me that I might make my escape by just pulling myself up on to this cross piece, let the bus pass out from under me and then crawl to either side and let myself down on the bridge and then await developments till morning and after that to find my way to the Potomac River.

By the time that this idea was reached in full the buss passed out of the other end of the bridge and I resolved to await the opportunity at the next one and let circumstances govern me whether to make the attempt, or not; but when the next bridge was reached, and although I held up my hand I failed to find a cross-stringer. If circumstances would favor an escaping individual under such circumstances an effort to do so would be fairly enough in sight to attempt the risk. the guard was sleepy, that I already knew; there was a good deal of Union sentiments in that part of Virginia, and I might have found assistance at some of the cabins in hiding me away for a time, and afterward some one to pilot me to safety. All these ideas passed through my mind and I really believe I would have made the attempt to try the plan had I been able to have touched a similar timber at the second bridge after I made the discovery, and ascertained that an escape might be made in that way.

On reaching Manasas Junction after taking the train at Strasburg, we found the station perfectly dark and the prisoners all of them chilled to the bone. For myself, I was shaking as though from an ague-fit and was all in a tremble with cold. There was a big stove in the passengers' room, but it did not seem that there had ever been a fire in it. We were to remain there several hours to await the starting of the train for Richmond. I had a silver quarter in my pocket and offered it to a sort of a roust-about looking young man if he would build a fire in the stove. He went out and I could hear him breaking up boards, or whatever kind of combustible material he could find, and as he found considerable of pitch pine, he soon had a fire that carried us prisoners clear to the other extreme from shaky cold to steaming perspiration, thus compelling us to go out in the chilly air to cool off. It was one of life's lessons--from one extreme to the very farthest point of the other.

But we were finally off for Richmond, the entire party objects of great curiosity on the part of everybody who saw us. The road we traveled went by way of Gordonsville and at the latter place we prisoners came very near getting into a difficulty that promised at one time to be very serious. The two deserters to which I referred, in an early part of these scribblings were on the train and in fact on the same car. They were an exceedingly sassy and abusive pair, and were insolent with everybody. On arriving at the depot at Gordonsville an aged Irish apple woman was plying her vocation and these two "Louisiana Tigers" picked her out for their raillery and soon had the high-strung old woman giving tit for tat at repartee--none of it fit for ears polite. All at once the crowd discovered the Yankee prisoners on board, and the volleys of stones, pieces of brick and chunks of wood soon knocked out the glass of the car-windows, and the whole attention of the crowd was transferred from the two guilty villains to us entirely innocent prisoners, and but for a few citizens on the same car interceding for us through a Confederate officer, who had a few men under his command operating as a provost guard at the place, I have no doubt we would have been seriously hurt. The old woman herself turned her ever-growing anger to the "Yanks" and was loudest of all in her demand to "kill the villainous n____-lovers and d___d abolitionists!" The officer and guard soon quieted the disturbance, but we barely escaped injury.

I have on several occasions referred to Corporal Henry Wescott nephew of the late Alfred Wilcox, and a young man of education and promise and as has been previously stated, became First Lieutenant of I company of the reorganized regiment, and was mortally wounded and died of lock-jaw in the hospital after the battle of Richmond, Ky., in August, 1862. He was a perfect gentleman, but possessed a deformity that attracted the attention of everybody until they became acquainted with him. Two of his upper teeth were very large and stuck straight out from the jaw, giving him a very odd--a very strange look, indeed. The deformity annoyed him greatly, but he was such a brave and good soldier that every man in the company and regiment esteemed him highly.

Of course, there was a big crowd around the deport when we arrived and perhaps the officers of the guard wanted to show us captives off to some extent, at least. The ever-present newsboy was on hand, of course, and one of them was not long in discovering Wescott. On first sight the ten-year-old blurted out: "Well, of all things, what's that?" and immediately followed up the interrogation with "Say, Jimmy, come here and see this d__d 'squirrel-mouthed' Yankee!" Even us prisoners could not help but smile at his odd expression, and Wescott himself took it all in good part, and joined in the laugh at his own expense. Shortly afterward we joined our brother prisoners of Bull Run and Ball's Bluff.

Warsaw Daily Times January 31, 1903

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