Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

After the fight was over
They found him stark and dead,
Where all the bramble thicket
Was splashed and stained with red.
No name was missed at roll call,
Not one among them knew
The slender, boyish figure,
Arrayed in army blue.
But when the last great trumpet
Shall sound the reveille,
And all the blue battalions
March up from land and sea,
He shall awake to glory
Who sleeps unknown to fame,
And with Columbia's bravest
Will answer to his name.
---Minna Irving

The readers of these sketches will remember that in the one of last week I alluded very briefly to the battle of Franklin as one of the severest of the war for the number of men engaged in it, on the Federal side, at least. The struggle deserves more than a mere mention, and although I have obtained all my knowledge of that recontre from men engaged in the battle and from perusing many articles concerning it written by men who participated in it on both sides, I sincerely believe that it was the fiercest struggle of the war, and since it closed I have made this assertion many times in conversations with other soldiers about the war, and I desire to repeat it in print. Besides Indiana was well represented in that splendid fight by several regiments that so effectually checked Hood's entire army and at least one company from the (Kosciusko) county--that of Captain Ben James, who still lives near North Webster--was in the midst of the struggle, and dealt fearful destruction to Hood's charging battalions, and in addition it was Captain James' company of the One Hundred and Twenty-ninth Indiana Infantry that led the bridge after the fight was over, permitting all of the Federal commands that were directed to cross Duck river at that point to safely get over, and when all had done so, still held the Confederate troops in check at that point, fearing that there were some of the Union forces still behind who might not have crossed. this duty performed, the company dropped in behind the Federals and the next morning found all of the Union troops assembled at Nashville, where those who have read the history of the war will remember that General Thomas fortified his position awaiting the propitious time to strike another blow at Hood's army. It will be remembered too, that the authorities at Washington--particularly General Halleck--grew somewhat impatient of the delay on he part of General Thomas in driving the Confederate forces out of Tennessee once more, and this feeling grew into such an outspoken demand, that an order was actually issued relieving General Thomas from the command and assigning General John A. Logan to the position vacated.

Such was the situation at about the time of the close of the treason trials at Indianapolis. I was overjoyed when the dreary trial was over, and that no I would have an opportunity to return to my regiment, as soon as, along with Sherman's army, it arrived at some point on the coast, when "lo and behold," I received an order detailing me, and all the remaining members of the commission that had just concluded the trial of "the Indiana conspirators," to assemble in a similar court at Cincinnati for the purpose of trying a similar lot of conspirators who had attempted the relief of the Confederate prisoners held at Johnson's Island in lake Erie, and among them an English lord whose name I have forgotten. The reader will no doubt feel sure that I almost resented this sort of duty from what I have said over my disappointment in being placed on the one that had just rendered its verdict in the Indiana commission. I was so sure that I would soon rejoin my regiment that I was grievously disappointed over this second detail, and in the evening of the same day I went to Cincinnati to see General Joseph Hooker, who was in command of the department embracing Ohio and Indiana in the hope of being relieved from the irksome duty of the coming court-martial. On making my statement to the General the next morning after my arrival he complimented me considerably over my preference for active duty in the field, but also stated that as the detail was ordered by the Secretary of War, he would not dare to interfere with it. I was greatly grieved over the matter, but as I could not start on my return to Indianapolis for several hours for want of a train in that direction, I hung about his office for a couple of hours, and I finally had the courage to ask him if he would not telegraph to the Secretary of War presenting the case and asking that I might be relieved. He got around this by saying that I might send a dispatch over my own signature, and he would "endorse it." This was done and within about an hour I was free from the objectionable detail. Having been on official duty I was entitled to transportation back to my regiment, as by this time General Sherman had captured Fort McAlister, in the vicinity of Savannah, the transportation was made out by the staff-quartermaster for that place via New York City, even specifying that I was to proceed from that city by the "Steamer Mellville," which was to leave New York within four or five days.

Of course, I was greatly pleased over the result of my visit to Cincinnati, and hastened back to Indianapolis to make whatever preparations were necessary to proceed to New York. Unthoughtedly my transpiration was made out with Cincinnati as the starting point, so that I was compelled to return to that city in order to start over the railroads that led from that place to New York, when they might just as well have been made over the road from Indianapolis to my destination, and I have only mentioned this to show what a little blunder sometimes costs for I had to pay my way all the time until I got started on the road that my transportation named, as it will be seen that I had to make three trips between Indianapolis and Cincinnati before I secured release from the Commission and got started on my way. However, "everything in time, comes to him who waits," and at least I found myself in New York City for the first time at about the close of the year 1864. During the war Edwin DeNyce was the regular paid correspondent of the New York Herald and during the time that the Fifteenth corps occupied the line of railroad between Stephenson and Huntsville, DeNyce made his headquarters with mine at Scottsboro, Alabama, the place where the handsome camp was constructed, the reader will remember. He went through a potion of the Atlanta campaign, generally camping with me until he returned to New York. On the morning following my arrival in the city, DeNyce was about the first man I met on stepping out into the street. He was then employed on the New York Telegram, at that time considered an evening edition of Bennett's Herald. Of course the meeting was most cordial for we had always been friends, from our first acquaintance in the field. It was not long until DeNyce ascertained my destination and all about my transportation on the "Steamer Mellville." On ascertaining the latter, "Here," he said, "you don't want to take that boat--she's old,unsafe, and in four days from now the Ajax, a brand-new boat that has just made a successful trial trip will leave for Savannah." I told him that I had already been on board the Mellville; had been assigned a cabin, and placed my baggage on board. "You can easily have your transportation changed from the Mellville to the Ajax," he replied. "both are in the government service, and it will make no difference to the owners of either, as they get their pay for the trip whether they carry anything or nothing," and he insisted so strongly on the change that he finally went along with me to the Quarter-master General's office and helped in having the transportation changed to the Ajax. Of course DeNyce had no interest in the affair more than to have a visit with an old army friend, and neither of us could have known the wonderful results, so far as I was personally concerned, in that change of steamers. The Mellville started on time, as I would have done, also, had I not seen DeNyce on the streets of New York, who induced me to change steamers. the Mellville went down in a fearful storm that prevailed off Cape Hatteras, having on board over 600 of veteran troops on their way to rejoin their respective regiments that were along with Sherman, and only six or sever people were saved. The Ajax, although it felt the same storm, got through to Savannah, Ga., all right, but was eleven days and nights on the way. The reader can reason out for himself the curious and peculiar surroundings that induced me to change steamers, which thus saved my life.

The wreck and total loss of the Mellville created no little excitement here at my home. It transpired that one of the clerks in General Hooker's office at Cincinnati, whose home was at Plymouth in the adjoining county of Marshall, had made out the papers for my transportation, and was at home at the time the Melville went down off Cape Hatteras. Of course, he fully believed that I was one of the passengers on that ill-fated vessel and told his friends of the incident. the news was soon transmitted to Warsaw, setting my wife almost wild, and she could not rest until she had interviewed the clerk of General Hooker's headquarters, and taking her sister along with her, she visited Plymouth where she ascertained all that the clerk knew, that it being the fact that he had made out transportation for me over the steamer Melville. Of course, after landing at Savannah, and knowing nothing of the disaster to the Mellville, I was tardy in writing home on my arrival, especially so for the reason that my own regiment had been sent up to Beaufort, S.C., and I thus put off writing home until I arrived there myself, four or five days after reaching Savannah. It seemed, however, that the ever-present correspondent had written to his paper--there was no telegraphic communications at that time--stating that among a good many other officers "Colonel Reub Williams had joined his regiment, having come in on the steamer Ajax from New York." This was fully three weeks after I had left home and, of course, settled a question that I as yet knew nothing about, proving, however, that peculiar things are happening all about us in war times as well as during peace, with strange, unfathomable results. Home many, many times have I thought how peculiar it was that the meeting of a friend in New York City, where I did not know a living soul, and the taking of his advice, so strongly insisted upon, too, was in all probability the means of saving my life. It seems to me that this incident is fully as strange as the presentiment of the one who belies that in the next battle he is to be killed, several of such instances known to me and some of them given in the earlier parts of these "memories of War-Times."

Having disposed of this strange episode I can now return to my first voyage on salt water. As already stated the steamer Ajax was a brand new vessel. She was beside a very large and powerful ship, having only a short time before this, her first voyage, made what is know as "a trial trip." Besides myself and Thomas Hubler, then a small boy and a brother-in-law of the writer, and without the shadow of a doubt the youngest person mustered into service during the civil war, he not being yet ten years of age at the time, there were perhaps twenty-five regular passengers. Quite a number of them were army officers and others belonged to the Treasury Department going down to Savannah, it might have been to care for the magnificent Christmas gift General Sherman had made to Prescient Lincoln, and as has already been stated, consisted of 25,000 bales of cotton, and to make arrangements about opening the port of Savannah. In addition to this there was an even thousand of drafted men in charge of a company of "the Veteran Reserve corps" on board. These drafted men were, of course, fully equipped with all that pertains to a soldier except his gun, and that was to be given him when he was assigned to some company of a regiment that hailed from the State whence he was drafted. Among the officers on board was General Webster, who for a long time had full charge of all railroads that came into the possession of the Union forces as fast as those roads came inside of the Federal lines, and, of course there were two or three officers on his staff, and the duty of all of them would be to open up the damaged roads between places that would be essential for use in the future movements of the Union army. Following the opening of the Mississippi and other streams, the management of which came inside the lines of the Federal forces, the Secretary of War had issued a standing order which was printed on a large card in good-sized type to the effect that the ranking officer on board of any and every steamboat, ship, ferry-boat, etc., should have charge of all men belong to the army on board of such a vessel. He was in no way to interfere with the Captain of the vessel, of course, and only to preserve order and discipline among whatever troops might be on the vessel.

General Webster had his attention called to the card by the Captain of the Ajax, and of course assumed command, and this, of course, included the thousand drafted men on board. The vessel had already passed out from Sandy Hook into the Atlantic, and it was not long until the plunging vessel brought to all unaccustomed to it, the usual seasickness, and General Webster, the ranking officer was so seriously affected that he had to take to his cabin. Before doing this, however, he sent for me and placed me, as I was next to himself in rank, in charge of the troops on board. For myself,, for a time after the ship had passed out where she met the huge waves rolling in unimpeded from the Atlantic, I felt a little shaky about the stomach for awhile, but I don't think it lasted over ten or fifteen minutes. With General Webster it was quite different. He was a large man, somewhat inclined to corporosity, and it seemed to take hold of him more severely than almost any one else among the officers, and he was confined to his cabin for four or five days, while many others recovered after a day or two. Not having had any personal experience, but judging from what I saw on that trip, "seasickness" must be as hard to bear as any other disease known to mankind. There were some men on that vessel who I am sure would have preferred to die rather than go through another day of the terrible sickness; yet it is said that the disease has never been known to cause the death of anyone. As already stated, the drafted men were stowed away in the hold of the large vessel. The Captain of the Veteran Reserve company, and nearly all of his men succumbed to seasickness early in the voyage, and as a consequence, were quite unfit for any sort of military duty, and but little attention had been paid to the wants of the drafted men referred to. The entire thousand had their haversacks filled with every ration to which a soldier was entitled, I think for five days, while the Captain of the company had a sufficient supply along to make a second issue of rations, if required.

On the morning of the third day, a well-informed and quite gentlemanly appearing man among the drafted men came to me and complained that they had no means of making coffee, although all of the men had been supplied with the article on leaving New York. He requested me to make a trip down into the hold, and there such a sight met my eyes, that I would never again like to have repeated. There he men lay, many of them vomiting continually, right over and on one another, and I can truthfully say that it was a horrible sight, indeed and I resolved to relieve it at once. I could have no aid from the Captain of the company, as both were all down with the sickness, but from the man who first came to see me I ascertained that one of the cooks on board--professedly so, at least--had been furnishing the drafted me with coffee for which he charged 25 cents a tinfull, the men furnishing him with the coffee, it must be remembered. I resolved to put a stop to that sort of business and assisted by the men who could get about I had the cooks prepare a cauldron of coffee, and the well men saw to it that it was deliver to them, too. I then ascertained about how much money he had taken from the men, and it was decided by a committee I appointed for the purpose, how much he had secured in this way. I cannot remember the amount just now, but the man representing himself as a cook was made to disgorge the whole amount and he was afterwards paid what was considered a reasonable amount for his trouble--the reader remembering that the coffee did not belong to him in the first place. The sum was quite large, and on arriving at Savannah I turned it over to the head of the hospital there, and took his receipt therefore. From the time I adjusted the affairs of the drafted men, I could not pass the barracks they occupied after reaching the city without a squad of them getting together in their gratitude and giving me three cheers. It was during the treason trials and on this trip that I learned that the drafted men were treated like animals--worse in fact. There is not a train load of cattle passing through the country now that does not have better care than did the drafted men of 1864, after they left the camps at which they had been first assembled, and my experience with the case of which I have spoken in this article haunts me at times, even yet. Nothing could have been more horrible than the sight of that ship's hold on the occasion I was taken to it, and I have always been glad that I was the means of rectifying so gross a wrong as was being done to those men.

Northern Indianian February 18, 1904

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