Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

When has there been an age like this?
When has there been an age that called
So loudly and beseechingly
For noble men and noble deeds?
For mighty brains to take and solve
Perplexing problems, mighty hearts
To dare and do and mighty souls--
Broad gen'rous forceful--to instruct
An lift and lead! From every path
That man has blazed into the wild;
From every highway where the feet
Of thousands press; from every mart
The cry goes up--an earnest call
For earnest men! The world today
Has needs it never knew before.
For it has passed the shadow; passed
The travail of the ancient void;
Passed from the grip of primal things;
Passed into light and taken there
Its first full goblet from the sun!
---Elwyn Hoffman

My last article in this series of remembrances of the civil war noted my arrival at Savannah, Ga., not long after that city had been captured by the forces under General Sherman and opened to him a base captured by the forces under General Sherman and opened to him a base of future supplies for an army that had astounded the military teachings of all Europe by its daring and success. Officers of nearly all the European nations had predicted that Sherman could not only never reach a coast town, but his army would no doubt be cut in pieces or captured ere he could open communications through some port with the government he was serving. These predictions all proved false, when on a date in late December, 1864, his forces had captured Fort McAlister, and with it in his possession, the "grim old raider" had "opened the cracker line," and a few days thereafter the news was flashed all over the eager, waiting North that "Savannah was ours," and therefore, the government was in possession of one of the most important ports the Confederates possessed on the Atlantic coast. What joy was carried into every Northern home by the news that was first taken by dispatch boat to the nearest telegraph station, and then flashed all over the land! Great, indeed, was the joy over the safety of the very elite of Sherman's army that had participated in "the Atlanta campaign," for it will be remember by the reader of these personal recollections that before embarking on what was supposed to be a perilous undertaking, that every man who had the least ailment of person, even though it might be considered trivial under ordinary circumstances, was barred and was not permitted to join in "the march to the sea," unless he was in the most perfect health; with a robust constitution and himself inured to the fatigue he would be called upon to undergo; and I presume it is a fact that so far as all that goes to make a soldier equal to whatever emergency might arise was well exhibited in the less than sixty thousand men that made the "march," it was an army never before excelled in bodily health by any other of modern times. With such a body of troops the old hero, who had so long contemplated the enterprise felt himself save, and the men composing the army knowing their old leader was at the head of the expedition felt that success was just as certain as that day follows night.

After "the march to the sea" was made and was such a pronounced success, the same newspapers that predicted that dire calamity would follow the movement and that it was only another exhibition and repetition of the charge made early in the war and the scheme a freak of "Crazy Bill Sherman," now that it was a pronounced success, declared it as "a mere picnic that anybody could have invented and carried out!" This shows to what extremes the fault finders of the war period would go in detraction of Federal success and Federal enterprise--in short, do anything, or say anything that would belittle the government and the army that ws struggling to prevent a dissolution of the Union. There never was--and probably never will be a cause so holy that there will not be those who will deride and oppose it or take the side of wrong when it would be just as easy to espouse the right side. To tell the truth "the march to the sea" was in fact far easier to make than any one supposed, but this was not known until after it was an accomplished fact. It did not look like an easy thing to do for that body of men, who, late in the year 1864, cut loose from Atlanta, severed their connections from home and friends on an expedition that President Lincoln and General Grant both held aloof from a proposition so wild when it was first mentioned to them by its author, General Sherman. To a great man people both in and out of the army, it looked like a fool-hardy undertaking--a hazardous expedition, and to many military men--in not complying with established usages--it seemed like sending an army to certain destruction. After it was over the whole enterprise can be summed up i the statement that Sherman was right and all those who derided it and predicted such dire disaster to the body of men who for six weeks were buried in the "piney woods" of Georgia, and from whom not a single word was received from friends at home until after Fort McAlister was taken, were wrong. The question as to the ease in making it was not a settled fact until after "the march to the sea" had been made. The men engaged in it were fully alive to the fact that they were entering upon an expedition which might prove anything but successful, but not a man shirked his duty because of such a prediction, but on the contrary, it was said that some men even shed tears over the fact that the surgeons who examined them barred them from going. It was a grand and glorious expedition, and the writer has ever since regretted that he was not one of the number that made the famous march; the cause for which has already been given in these "recollections."

I remained at Savannah for several days waiting to get a boat to take me to Beaufort, N.C., where my regiment, the Twelfth, had been sent soon after Savannah was occupied, and as I had no duty to perform, I found time on several occasions to do some favors for the drafted men who had been placed in a Confederate barracks not far from the hotel where I was stopping. These men had no one to see to their wants and were kept as close as though they were prisoners of war, and my heart went out to them to such a degree that I succeeded in helping the most of them to the different regiments to which they had been assigned previous to leaving their respective States. They were very grateful, too, over the assistance I gave them, as it very much hastened their release from confinement in barracks. the facts are that a drafted man had a pretty tough time of it. The old veteran who had been in the army since 1861-2 looked down on him to quite a general extent, and was not at all "mealy mouthed" about twitting them for not volunteering early in the war instead of waiting until they were forced into the service; and there were times when I had to interfere to prevent a knock-down. The more I mingled with that thousand men, the more sympathy I had for them. All of them had what they deemed a good excuse for not volunteering early in the war. Some of them were substitutes for others who had been drafted, and received in many instances large sums from the person who hired them to take their places; but I found most of them quite intelligent. I think I was successful in getting all of them but about seventy-five persons sent to their company, regiment or battery, and since the war I have met a few of them who still held me in kindly esteem for the assistance I had rendered them both on the boat and after their arrival in Savannah.

Savannah is an old town, and at the time I saw the place, in January, 1865, it carried out its looks. The city had been blockaded almost since the war begun and at that time looked wonderfully run-down and had the appearance of a half-dressed old maid, whose clothes had been out of fashion and repair for a half century. The war had been responsible for this slovenly look, of course--much of it at any rate--for it was easy to see that it had been a city of wealth, comfort, refinement and fashion at any early period. Quite a handsome monument to the memory of Court Pulaski stands in one of the squares of the city, and but for the dilapidated appearance caused by the destruction caused in four years of war, I formed quite a liking for it. Having nothing to do while I was waiting for transportation to Beaufort, I roamed around at my leisure all over the city, which possessed many attractions, among them the beautiful Bonneventure cemetery, which lay well over in the suburbs of the city four miles distance, I was informed from the central part of the city. Leading to the cemetery was a double street, the very reverse in name to that of the cemetery, as it was known by the unpoetic appellation of "Bull street." I speak of it as being double for the reason that it was not only a wide thoroughfare, but right through its center ran a row of moss-draped live-oak trees with the Spanish moss that draped these ever-green trees falling nearly to the ground in many instances. The trees with their moss, it will be admitted, is a very appropriate setting leading to a cemetery. I have always had a desire to revisit Savannah--have visited the State of Georgia since the war--of which it is the coast town, and the principal port of entry for the Gulf States on the Atlantic side, along with the city of Charleston, S.C., both were doing a large foreign trade both before and since the war. Previous to leaving Indianapolis for Savannah, the late James Ryan, who was afterward State Treasurer of Indiana, and was a brother of the well known orator, Colonel Dick Ryan, also of Indianapolis, learning that I was about to leave for that point, hunted me up at the Bates House, and although I was unacquainted with him, he asked me if I would do him the favor of carrying a sum of money he desired to be sent to a brother-in-law of his, who was no doubt in need of some other kind of money than Confederate currency. I told him that if he was willing to trust me, a stranger to him--and by the way, he was even then quite a leader in the party that I did not muster with--I would do my best to get the money to its destination; so after I arrived at Savannah, among the first things I did was to hunt up the gentleman whose street and number had been furnished me by Mr. Ryan and deliver the message and the money I had for him. On opening the package I could see by his looks that its contents was a matter of deep interest to him, and knowing that it contained greenbacks, I jestingly asked him if it was all there. "Well," he replied, "my brother-in-law writes me that he was sending me $450, presuming that I would need it, as Confederate money would be below par, wherever the Federal army held away, and I find in the enclosure precisely that amount and let me say to you that nothing that has happened to me for a long time--if ever, so far as I can remember--that has come more opportune than this generous gift of my brother-in-law. I have not a cent of money in the world except a few dollars in Confederate currency and myself and family have already missed two of our regular meals for the reason that Confederate money wouldn't buy anything whatever in Savannah, no matter how large the sum might be." It was very plain to me that he spoke the truth, for while we were talking his wife--a Northern woman by birth, by the way, who had been locked up inside the Southern Confederacy for the four years past--came into the room and he showed her the letter. I could see tears starting in her eyes as she perused the contents of the missive that had accompanied the money, and could also perceive, I thought, that she was pleased to see an individual from north of the Ohio river, for her conversation at once ran back to her girlhood days in Central New York. The incident was a very pleasant one, as both husband and wife were deeply grateful, not only for the generous gift, but for the thoughtfulness of the man who sent it, and in fact both were so gracious that I could hardly get away from them. There are pleasant episodes even in war times, occasionally.

A short time previous to my arrival in the old Georgia town an incident occurred that was rather amusing even though it was quite serious to the owners of his little "blockade runner." The coast along that part of the country is indented with numerous small bays and bayous that sometimes extend inland several miles. These are quite numerous and during the Federal blockage of the Atlantic coast they are extensively used in getting goods into the city. Not far from the Georgia coast was an island called, I believe, New Providence, with a town called Nassau as its principal--perhaps its only port. this town was the head center for many of the blockade runners. It belonged to England, and it is said by those who visited it during the war that it was fairly overrun with people opposed to the Federal cause, and who were there for the purpose of making money. Of course, all those engaged in running the blockade took great chances. I have seen it stated that about one steamer out of three--these steamers were built for the purpose, and of course were very speedy--succeeded in landing its cargo inside the Confederate ports; but even with that heave discount in the trade it was still a profitable venture so far as money was concerned. No wonder that the price of "blockade goods" became exorbitant, as the war progressed, even though payment in gold was exacted. These remarks refer to the larger ventures. Between the island mentioned, and not only Savannah but other ports, there was quite a fleet of small sailing vessels engaged in the illicit trade. Only a small crew was required for these small vessels and these were generally composed of men who previous to the war had been fishermen, gatherers of oysters and men of that character, familiar with the bayous, inlets and bays already referred to. Of this class the average of success in evading the blockading vessels was much greater than with the larger steamers and besides the trips made by these small sailing vessels were exceedingly profitable for the reason that the captain of these little vessels--usually a well informed man and able by education and manners to mix with those on shore, always ascertained the kind of goods most in demand, and if possible, he procured a cargo of goods that was essential in the market, regardless of price.

Only a day or two before my arrival in Savannah, a small vessel with a still smaller crew whose captain had been days, it may have been over a week, engaged in creeping up to the wharf at Savannah. The reader might bear in mind that the city is quite a distance from the sea proper, and what is more a big fortress known as "Fort Pulaski," occupied a commanding position on the bay that led up from the ocean to the town, and had long been in the hands of the Federals. All impediments had been overcome and by keeping his boat concealed and moving at night and lying still in hiding with lowered sails in the day time, at least, he and his little vessel had passed all danger, and under full sail he brought his little ship with the Confederate colors at the masthead, crowding up to the wharf only to turn vessel, goods, and himself and crew over to the Federal officer who was standing at the wharf, ready to receive him. That captain and crew were surprised, it is easy to guess. During the time he was winding his way through the intricacies of stream, swamp and morass, the city of his destination had changed hands, and his valuable cargo was confiscated and turned over to Federal officers appointed for the purpose of taking possession. I went over the the wharf and day or two after the transaction and had quite a talk with him. His cash loss was very heavy on his won account, as was that of the Englishman who had helped to "stake" him with cash. Purchases of goods only that were extremely valuable and saleable had been made, and all with an eye but to crowd the few tons the sailor could carry with small and valuable goods that could readily be disposed of, and another cruise undertaken. I noticed among some of the goods that was there was a large quantity of quinine and morphine in boxes. These medicines after the war begun soared up to fabulous prices and a Confederate surgeon once told me that morphine rose to $120 in gold for an ounce and quinine a little over half that sum. When it is known that the Confederate hospitals were entirely without these articles during the closing months of the war, the statement may have been true.

While I was at Savannah every boat coming from the North--and there were many of them--were loaded with the men returning to their respective regiments and batteries who had been prevented by the strict medical examination from making "the march to the sea," and there were constant reunions of tent-mates on their arrival. many of those who had been left behind felt as though they had been wronged by the close medical inspection made at Atlanta just before the troops left that point in the weeding out of all but the most rugged men in each company. However, they one and all finally decided that the order compelling it was the proper one to make for all could at last be made to see that it was a march that would have been greatly handicapped had all of the ambulances and empty wagons been required to haul incapacitated soldiers and that it was the very best thing to do was to send all the men of whom the surgeon had even a slight idea that they might give out on a march of a kind that no other army had ever undertaken except that of Alexander the Great. After remaining at Savannah for about five days, I with quite a number of other waiting officers and soldiers secured passage on a private boat--that is, it was not in government use--and proceeded to Beaufort, N. C., a very old and queer looking town, only to find that the division to which my regiment belonged had been sent to "Gardiner's Cross Roads" in the direction of Charleston, S. C., and from whence I will ask the reader to wait until my next article.

Northern Indianian February 25, 1904

Back to YesterYear in Print