by Reub Williams
Now most of us, comrades, are feeble and cripples
Our heads growing gray with fast-fleeting time;
But though in this world still our muster-roll shortens
We know it grows long in a happier clime.
Soon all of us, comrades, must pass over Jordan,
And leave all we have for the ferry-man's toll;
But never till then can you make us surrender
The old coffee kettle that hung on a pole.
---War Time Ballad
On my arrival at Beaufort, I was again disappointed at not meeting my regiment and after inquiry was made at headquarters I found that the brigade to which it belonged had been sent to what was known as "Gardiner's Cross Roads." In a military sense this was an important post. It was on the direct road from Beaufort to Charleston, at the time it was sent, still in the possession of the Confederate forces, although it had been besieged almost from the fall of Fort Sumter until the time I am speaking of, at least by sea, and for four years, it had been the target of thousands upon thousands of missiles of all the kinds known to modern warfare. As I could not go to Gardiner's Cross Roads for a day or two, I put in the time wandering around the old town--a place that was settled very early in the history of the "Two Carolinas." It was certainly a very queer and quaint old place. All of the principal houses were old, very old, and the town had a peculiarly strange appearance to me. Quite a good many of the houses were built of a sort of cement made out of oyster shells, the walls of them at least, and of course were quite durable, many of them being a hundred and fifty years old, and no small number even older than that. The taking possession of Savannah by Sherman's army, of course, gave the control of almost all the coast to Federal authority. Of course Charleston and Wilmington, important posts, as well as some of the minor importance still remained in possession of the Confederacy, but even the Southern leaders knew that it was only a question of time that they could hold fast to any special point on the coast. Beauford in time of peace, was an important shipping point, and it was from there that much of the celebrated sea-island cotton was shipped abroad previous to the war. The sea-island cotton grew on the islands just off the coast--and these are very numerous--and on account of the length and fineness of its fiber, is regarded as the finest grown anywhere in the world, and always commanded an advance price over that of any other cotton grown. I remained there for a couple of days waiting for an opportunity to go out to Gardiner's Cross Roads, and join my regiment. On the evening of the second day, I think it was, I met Col. Wm. B. Wood, on the street, and after making an army acquaintance with one another by introducing ourselves, I ascertained that he intended to start for Gardiner's Cross roads on the following morning as the brigade to which he had been assigned during my absence following the fall of Atlanta, was on duty at the Cross Roads, and on further conversation I learned that my regiment composed a part of his command. When I told him I was the Colonel of the Twelfth, he was overjoyed and at once provided me with a horse to make the trip with him on the following day.
At an early hour the next morning Colonel Wood with a portion of his staff and including myself, using a horse belonging to the Colonel, left Beaufont for our destination. It was said to be fifteen miles from Beaufort, but as the roads were execrable, passing as they did through a swampy region, with only the worst of the almost impassable points corduroyed, very slow progress was made, and I remember that Colonel Wood, on account of not arriving at our destination, pronounced the trip the longest twenty-mile journey he had ever undertaken for a fifteen-mile jaunt. We arrived at about an hour before sunset, and I was given a very joyous reception by the men of my regiment whom I had not seen since the previous September and it was now well into January. I had, however, kept track of the "march to the sea," and longingly wished that I had been with the men who made it. I found them all in rugged good health, and dozens of them happy over the mail we brought out from Beaufort with the party making the journey. Some of this mail was in answer to letters sent home as soon as Savannah was captured, and the news in the letters that had been received cast a joyful look over the faces of even those who were not so fortunate as to receive a missive from "God's country," as the boys always spoke of their home. Gardiner's Cross roads was only what its name designated--a crossing of highways. The country was thinly settled, but as there were several arms of the sea--of greater or less size--extending inland, and as some of those arms and indentions were bridged over at points where they were small enough to do so for the convenience of people who resided in that section, these bridges became of no little importance, provided the next movement would be to attack Charleston--still held by the Confederates--from the rear. The troops to which my regiment was attached were acting more as a "corps of observation" than anything else. About five miles distant from the camp and on the road to Charleston, was another arm of the sea, much larger in extent than the one near the camp, and the bridge that crossed its upper end was much longer than any we had seen thus far. On the opposite side of this bridge was either a small Confederate fort, or a stockade, which was manned by Confederate soldiers. That there was artillery in the fort or stockade, whichever it might be, was ascertained by the fact that when the Federal troops approached the end opposite the fort they were received by a half dozen shells, all of which exploded in the air and did no damage. The bridge between the two forces had been partly destroyed, and as it was fully half a mile in length, there was no attempt made on the part of the Union forces to cross over and give battle to the enemy on the opposite side--indeed, the orders were not to bring on any engagement at that time.
I found the men of my regiment fully enjoying themselves on my arrival at Gardiner's Cross roads. I have already referred to the bayous, or arms of the sea that extend inland, and there was one of these within a mile of the camp. It did not take the men long to find out that in the upper end of this bayou and near the bridge that crossed the upper part, oysters were plentiful. It was very seldom that the Federal army had been placed in a condition where it could regale itself with this well known and delicious bivalve. After I arrived I directed that a detail, accompanied by a wagon should be sent every day to the point near the bridge and every evening thereafter a wagon load of oysters, the bed packed as full as it could hold, was brought into camp, and a "high old time" was the result. In anticipation of the return of the wagon load of oysters, the men remaining in the camp had built up log heaps, and in advance had set fire to them so that there would be plenty of coals to cook the popular bivalve as soon as the fishing party returned. The most popular mode of cooking them--although the boys had them in ever style, stewed, fried and raw--was to pile a lot of the oysters in the shell in the crevices of the burning log heaps, and when it was thought that they were sufficiently cooked, they were pulled out of the fire, and as the heat had opened the shells of every one of them, this method was found to be the most convenient as well as popular. Many people like vinegar on oysters and so when one of the wagons made a trip to Beaufort, I had the driver bring out a barrel of vinegar. I remember it very well, for the barrel cost me $22, just the same price that I paid for a pair of Wellington boots, the driver of the wagon paying for both and bringing me a receipt. Prices ruled pretty high at the close of the war, and I distinctly remember that a Washington City tailor charged me $110 for a uniform coat to be worn at the Grand Review just as the war closed. Twenty-five dollars would have been a high price for the coat at the beginning of the war.
One day while the detachment of troops, numbering five or six regiments that were lying at the Cross Roads, so frequently mentioned, General Sherman with a portion of his staff came out to our camp. He arrived in the evening and himself and party made their headquarters with Colonel William B. Wood. The next morning the General having expressed his desire to take a view of the Confederate fort already allude to, and the bridge that led over to it, quite a large party of mounted men made up of officers and orderlies who could provide themselves with a "mount," accompanied him on the five or six miles trip The General after arriving at the end of the bridge held by the Federal forces, gave the position a close examination. He informed General Wood that he desired to convey the impression to the enemy that he was about to march his army to Charleston, and as has already been stated, this was one of the routes--the principal one it might have been--to Charleston that he was going to use this as one of the roads at least in the march on that city. While he did not say so in set terms, I could easily perceive by the orders left with us when he left us on his return to Beaufort, or wherever his headquarters were at that time--that the General was perpetrating another ruse, or feint, to mislead the enemy; for on leaving us the next day, the orders were to move an augmented force out to the bridge and to take with it a couple of pieces of artillery, and then, in a lower tone of voice, he suggested to General Wood that he lead the Confederates to believe that he was getting ready to move the main army in that direction. so after the General left us a couple of additional regiments were sent out to the bridge in question, and after the artillery had fired two or three rounds apiece, and had received about the same number of shots in return from the enemy, a detachment of infantry was sent out on the Federal end of the bridge and conducted their work in such a manner as to deceive the enemy without the shadow of a doubt. the plan pursued was for gangs of men to carry out planks on the bridge--one man at each end of the plank--and apparently laying them down on the structure. They were then passed down under it to other men and carried out to others and the same thing repeated; thus the enemy could not help but believe that the Federals were engaged in re-constructing the already damaged bridge, and were already relaying the floor. This ruse was kept up for two days, at least, and perhaps more, the time covered being occasionally interspersed with an artillery duel, although the distance between the forces was too great to do much damage. On our side there was none, but the movement ended by the withdrawal of the Confederate troops from the fort on the third day, although this may have been caused by the supposed surrender of Charleston--a city that had withstood a steady siege almost from the time that Fort Sumter was fired on until in January, 1865.
After the withdrawal of the Confederates from the opposite end of the bridge nothing unusual occurred in camp, and the soldiers were "living like fighting cocks," for in addition to their receiving full rations they were filling up to such a degree on oysters that there was danger of shells forming on their backs. However, a few days after the return of General Sherman from his visit to us as already described, an improvised scouting party promiscuously mounted on horses and mules ran into a detachment of Confederate cavalry, about five or six miles north of the encampment, and as the confederates far outnumbered the small scouting party, the first thing the latter did, was to send a couple of soldiers to camp for reinforcements. There was no regular cavalry with the troops at the Cross Roads, but in a very brief time every officer and enlisted man, teamsters, hospital attendants and all who could in any way secure a horse or a mule, armed himself cap-a-pie and was son the way and not long in arriving at the point where a couple of dozen scouts were hold at bay fully two hundred and fifty well-mounted Confederates. The arrival of reinforcements--there might have been fifty of the latter--turned the tide at once, and following a charge, the Confederates were put to flight, and in the run many of the enemy were captured, and brought back to camp, and I entertained the notion at the time that the majority of them were glad they had fallen into our hands, for they were assured of one thing, at least, which was an important one to most of the Confederate soldiers at about that time--early in 1865--and that was they would have plenty to eat as long as they remained with "the Yankees." During all of the stay of the Federals at Gardiner's Cross Roads, active preparations were going forward for the future movements of the army under Sherman. Most of the Northern papers predicted a march upon Charleston; but at no time did General Sherman arrange for such a movement, and the deception practiced at the bridge only shows that he was very willing that the Confederate leaders should believe that such was his plan.
At that time Branchville, South Carolina, although a small and unimportant place, was, nevertheless, a great railroad crossing. by taking that place and destroying the railroads crossing there--one leading up into Virginia over which General Lee had for over four years, received the principal portion of his supplies as did Charleston, also--was the point to which General Sherman gave especial attention, fully aware with these railroads in his hands or destroyed Charleston would "fall like an overripe plum into his basket," and it was with this end in view that Gen. Sherman made all his calculations and disposition of this troops. Located as the command was to which I was attached, none in the camp at the Cross Roads knew anything of what was going on in the main army; nor did its troops know much about where the other troops lay that had made "the march to the sea." After the fall of Savannah, we came across many soldiers from the Eastern States, and as Port Royal and other coast points had been in possession of the Federals for some time past, these troops were frequently met. It took some time for General Sherman to re-equip his army after it reached Savannah. The distance from the latter city is much greater by sea to the North than many people are aware, owing to the fact that Cape Hatteras has to be given a wide berth. It is known as a widely populated grave-yard of sunken vessels, and to this day it remains a dangerous point to mariners. The Captain of the Ajax with whom I made the trip from New York to Savannah as already described to me that a wise ship's captain would sail fully two hundred miles east of the Cape if he had a valuable cargo and vessel, and the weather at all unpromising. Of course, all Sherman's supplies had to come by water, and it required no small amount of time to put his army in a condition to move northward, and threaten General Lee's rear, which he intended to do principally by cutting off the means of supplies reaching General Lee, but destroying all the roads leading into Virginia. All the time from the fall of Savannah until the Union army started northward on its march through the Carolinas and Virginia, the officers and men who had been left behind previous to the celebrated march, were rejoining their companies, batteries and regiments, but the hundreds and every vessel sailing from any northern port for Savannah carried many of these men. The indications that the war was rapidly closing was so plain that men and officers absent from their commands feared that the end would come while they were away from their posts of duty, and this feature of the situation no doubt hastened many soldiers to take any and every conveyance at hand to get back to where they belonged .
It was at Beaufort that the Twelfth Indiana Infantry received two hundred and fifty drafted men, which had been assigned it through the courtesy of General Harry B. Carrington, whom the reader will remember was so effectively instrumental in getting positive information that an uprising here in Indiana was threatening the people of the State in 1864. During the trial of the "treason cases" I formed an intimate acquaintance with General Carrington, and as he had the disposition of the drafted men, he very readily conceded to my request to fill up the Twelfth with these men, and they reached the regiment just before the march northward was commended following the fall of Savannah. Of course, nearly every one of these men were unfamiliar with the duties of a soldier, but in placing them among old veterans the most of them took up the new life quite rapidly.
Northern Indianian March 3, 1904
Back to YesterYear in Print