Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

How dear to this day are the forms and the faces
Of those who stood by us in those trying times!
But so many are gone from the ranks and their places.
That it mightily shortens the original lines.
Hard marching and fighting we all well remember
And ev'ry trying to body and soul;
But one thing we had that was genuine pleasure;
Twas the old coffee kettle that hung on a pole.
---War-Time Lyric

Readers of these "War-Time memories" must bear in mind that in the very first article in the series I proposed to confine them to sights, scenes, tragedies, incidents and anecdotes that come under my own observation, including, of course, such others of which I possessed sufficient knowledge to state them truthfully and correctly for this reason I am compelled to be very brief in what I may say about the effort of the Confederate General Hood to force General Sherman to give up Atlanta by raiding his rear and cutting off his connections with the North. The histories of the war--and they are quite numerous, as every one who takes an interest in perusing them is well aware--very faithfully describe General Hood's march to the north after swinging around General Sherman's forces in Atlanta, and the pursuit of Hood by the Federal army, the latter following him back nearly to Chattanooga, but forcing the larger portion of the Confederate army to cross the Tennessee river at Decatur. I have always thought that General Hood was almost as badly deceived by Sherman's course in following him up till he was sure that pretty much all of General Hood's army had crossed the Tennessee in its northward march, as he was during the days he was endeavoring to find what had become of the Federal army and at last awakened to the fact that all of the Federal army was south of Atlanta except one corps for almost a year previous to the fall of Atlanta, General Sherman had in mind the venturesome movement that finally came to be called "Sherman's March down to the Sea." He had on more than on occasion broached the subject to General Grant, and it was understood that he had also communicated with President Lincoln on the feasibility of cutting the Confederacy in twain by such a movement, and the total destruction of all of the railroads in the Gulf States. His superior officers, however, it is stated, never gave their full consent until about the time that he had driven General Hood's army across the Tennessee river. Very suddenly then, after placing that old reliable officer, General George Thomas in command of all the forces at Chattanooga, and north of the Tennessee to Nashville, General Sherman hastily returned with all the force with which he had been pursuing Hood to Atlanta.

On arriving at that place active preparations began for the "march to the sea." by gathering at that city the supplies that he intended to take with him, and which consisted first of all with a big supply of ammunition, coffee and hard-tack, expecting of course to secure the meat that might be required from the country as he passed through it. As the reader will bear in mind, this all happened after I had left for my home, but I am informed from very credible sources, that the army was weeded out to such an extent that the less than sixty thousand men who made that celebrated march, were the very elite of the army so far as heath and physical endurance were concerned. Every man who had an ailment of any kind, even though it may have only been an occasional headache, a sore toe, or whose shoes pinched his feet a little, was thrown out of each company, and I have often heard men who were along with the troops that so entirely cut themselves off from communication with the North for over six weeks that "Sherman's army, as it was then made up, would just has readily have stormed h--l itself if Sherman was present to direct the attack, as to go into any ordinary skirmish, and was healthy enough to win at that! His boys always had a great deal of confidence in Sherman, as all readers of war history must be well aware. My own regiment had joined in the pursuit of General Hood and had returned to Atlanta, and, of course made the renowned march and participated in the battle of Griswoldville, as was recorded in my last sketch, where it assisted Colonel Walcott's brigade in stampeding the Georgia militia clear back to Macon, which, as it happened, was the only serious fight until Savannah was reached. During all my absence from the regiment I never ceased regretting that I had applied for a leave of absence at all, for it cut me out of making that splendid march, which--although there was but little fighting--demonstrated that the Confederacy was very hollow, just what General Sherman claimed it was and at the same time introduced a new movement into the military tactics of the world in making so long a march every foot of it in the enemy's country. In the North and even in Europe the leading newspapers predicted dire disaster to the enemy that was buried in the pine woods of Georgia, and many soldiers of former wars declared that Sherman could never reach the coast; that his army would be headed off and annihilated. Great was the rejoicing then when on Christmas morning near the end of 1864, General Sherman sent word to president Lincoln that "Savannah was ours," and begged to present him with a Christmas gift of 25,000 bales of cotton, and as that staple product was then selling at $500 per bale, it was no insignificant present, as any one can figure out for himself.

The reader can imagine that after starting from Atlanta to my home I was not long on my way. Of course I stopped for perhaps twenty-four hours at Indianapolis, mostly for business reasons, but I was aware that a twenty day's leave was only a short one, and hence I hastened home as fast as possible. I arrived at the capital during the midst of the excitement produced by the first arrests of the "Indiana Conspirators," a number of them having already been placed in confinement for joining and propagating the treasonable organization known as "The Knights of the Golden Circle," and there was great excitement throughout the State. General Henry B. Carington was at that time military commandant of the State of Indiana, had most skillfully and effectually through the medium of fearless and intelligent detectives, had unearthed the fact that all those belonging to this order and had taken the third degree were actual, outright traitors to their country, and it was determined to suppress this treasonable brotherhood in the interest of the Union Cause. General Carington was a peculiar man. Possessed of undoubted ability; a most industrious and active officer in all that pertained to whatever position he occupied, and as honest a man as the service contained, as was shown in the fact that after eleven millions of dollars had passed through his hands during the period that he was stationed at Indianapolis in recruiting the army and supplying of volunteers and drafted men, yet every dime was faithfully accounted for to the last penny. Yet among the volunteer officers of the army then in the field, he was greatly disliked and this feeling was indeed quite general. I had become quite well acquainted with General Carington, and while he was a man who was very excitable at times, and on that account was illy qualified to command men in the field, yet I can say for him that he was one of the most faithful, correct and competent among the numerous "office men" that were called into the field, and this class of officials taking the country over were quite numerous. After the war ended, I heard many officers who had spoken slightly of General Carington warmly praise him for the efficient work done here at home and for his honesty and competency in all cases.

It was General Carington and to his corps of detectives to whom can be attributed the unearthing and the exposure of the secret, disloyal, traitorous organization known as "The Knights of the Golden Circle." The war has been over now very nearly forty years; a new generation has come to the stage of action, into whose hands to a very large extent the affairs of these States and the Nation are now administered, but I believe it can be truthfully said that many of our present public officials and very likely the majority of the voters of today are unaware of the critical condition of affairs there in Indiana during the latter half of 1864. The organization to which we have referred permeated many of the States and in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, each state could show a membership of over 100,00. Many of these members were not fully aware of the traitorous attitude this treasonable association held towards the Federal government, nor could the generality of the membership know this until they had taken the third degree in which hostility to the administration then in power was boldly announced. As all members of the order on being initiated into the Knights of the Golden Circle took an oath to obey all orders coming from their superior officers--an oath--very similar in fact to the oath taken by all soldiers in war time--it can readily be perceived what a power for harm this association among the "copperhead wing" of the Democratic party proposed to become, and I am confident today but for the promptness of Governor O. P. Morton, following the exposure of this secret organization and the arrest of some of the head officers by General Carington, there would have been war right here in Indiana. It must be borne in mind, too, that the inner circle of this treasonable organization was fully armed, at least so far as revolvers were concerned, but many lodges were supplied with guns also which were kept concealed.

The reader, therefore will not be surprised that the whole State of Indiana was in an uproar about the time of the home-coming of the officers and enlisted men who had participated in the Atlanta campaign. The excitement was very great indeed, and the opposition to the war party was more vindictive than anything of the kind that had ever been known before or since. It is a period in the affairs of this nation that I do not like to recall. A large number of Democrats remained true to the Union, and thousands upon thousands belonging to that party entered the service; and fought valiantly for the preservation of the Nation as it had been handed down to us through the Declaration of Independence. How true these men were is more clearly shown in the fact that every man among them had to cut loose from his party in order to go. The Democratic party all through the war was under the control of men just as disloyal as was Jeff Davis, himself, with all the party machinery at its command. These men were urged "not to leave their party to join in a d__d abolition war," and every possible influence was used to keep them from fighting on the Union side, and hence, I repeat, the Democrats who did go into the service deserved especial praise, handicapped as they were by men who had always been their political party associates, but now in full control of the party organization, and opposed to any Democrat entering the service.

I came on home and remained here until my "twenty-days' leave of absence" expired, and then had it renewed for twenty days more, so that I could remain at home until after the election of 1864. There were many officers and enlisted men given furloughs to go home to vote and this act on the part of the government angered the "copperheads" exceedingly, that wing of the party declaring it to be a means to override the verdict at the polls. That party did not seem to recognize the fact that every resident of the State over the age of twenty-one had the legal right to vote at the polls in the township where he had his home.

The Indiana legislature, differing from many others of the loyal States, had refused to pass a law that was before the Legislature of the State permitting the soldiers from Indiana to vote in the field, and they could only vote at all by returning to their respective townships to cast their ballot; and who, we might ask--even at this late day--had a better right to cast his vote, if he were over twenty-one years of age, than the soldier who was at that time endeavoring to preserve and maintain the government and the nation bequeathed them by the authors of the Declaration of Independence" Surely not those who were shirking the duty they owed the government by refusing to enter the service, but remained at home, throwing every possible impediment in the way of the government in speedily ending the war? I remember that at the election of 1864, when O. P. Morton was the candidate for Governor of the State and Abraham Lincoln for President of the United States, that an even one hundred soldiers marched to the polls in this city, headed by the late Colonel J. B. Dodge and the writer to deposit a ballot favoring the carrying on of the war until its enemies laid down their arms, whether it was for a shorter or a longer time until such an event occurred. The incident alluded to created intense indignation on the part of the "copperhead wing" of the party and their newspapers howled about the outrage for weeks after the election was over, though it should be understood that not a single illegal ballot was cast by the furloughed soldiers, for they had one and all come home to exercise their undoubted legal right to vote in their own townships and precincts.

I have already stated that I dislike to write, or even bring to mind this special feature of the "War for the Union." The situation of affairs, however must be briefly alluded to in order to preserve the general trend of accidents and incidents; the comedies and tragedies as well as other features of the exciting four years embraced in the struggle of the South to break up the Union, as these "memories" progress. No surviving soldier of the Union army was more pleased than the one who has been engaged in penning these "War Memories" over the fact that when the war with Spain broke out the South sent its gallant sons to fight under the revered flag of the American Union alongside the men from the North, whose fathers had passed through those bloody four years to preserve the Union of the States, and I am convinced that the mutual good-will brought about during that time can only result in commenting anew the chain that binds the Union more strongly together than it ever could have been but for the "great civil war." My second leave of absence for twenty days having expired I had arrived at Indianapolis on my way back to my regiment then at Atlanta. Arriving in the city and intending to remain there a day or two, coming as a great surprise to me I was detailed on arriving at that place by the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, as a member of the "Military Commission" for the trial of what afterwards came to be known as "The Indiana Conspirators," the arrest of whom had been going on for a couple of weeks previous. The detail, of course, could not be evaded, even though it did cut me out of making "the March to the Sea" along with my regiment, and made it one of the keenest disappointments I had known during the progress of the war. Had I slipped through the capital of the State without stopping I would have reached Atlanta in time to join the "great march."

Northern Indianian February 4, 1904

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