Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame's eternal camping-ground
There silent tents are spread,
And glory guards with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.
--Theodore O'Hara

In my heart I feel sure that every surviving veteran of the civil war will lovingly think of the comrades who have been "mustered on the other shore" on perusing the above touching lines, taken from one of the most quoted war-lyrics ever written. Indeed, every verse of the fragment stirs the heart of the old veteran, every time he takes it out to once more read its touching lines, and absorb its wonderfully expressed patriotic sentiment. The verses from which the above single one is taken forms a part of many a surviving soldier's scrap-book, or can be found stowed away in some safe place in his home, where they can readily be had when he feels like reviewing the old-time memories of the days of "the great war," and this will continue to be the case until the last of those who participated in the greatest and grandest uprising of which the world's history gives any account. I do not confine this expression to those who so swiftly and so bravely flew to arms to save the government and the Union from destruction. South of the Ohio and the Potomac, it was also an "up-rising" in very sense of the word, and was responded to by men of all classes, and for the first few months the Confederate army was in numbers fully the equal of that of the North. In fact, the South at the start was the better prepared than was the general government, for it had the good fortune--if that is the proper term to use on the question at issue--to have one of their own section of the country at the head of both the war and the navy departments, who in anticipation of what was foreshadowed had taken occasion to see that many thousands of muskets had been sent to various places in the South during nearly all of the four years of Buchanan's administration, and that the government's ships should be widely scattered when the first gun was fired. the North was very seriously obstructed at the beginning for the want of arms and all the surviving soldiers who offered their services quite early in the war will remember how many different kinds of muskets were issued to all of the three month's men, and to many regiments among the first ones to offer their services "for three years or during the war," and will also remember what an inferior arm the foreign-made guns were. There was the Harper's Ferry musket, and the old-fashioned big-bore Springfield rifle of our own manufacture; then came the "Belgian" with its beech-wood stock apparently weighing a pound or two more in wood than was necessary, and a very inferior gun in every way; these were followed by the Enfield, calibre 53, an English gun that was at least superior to the Bellgian, and smaller shipments of other muskets and rifles. Previous to the opening of the Atlanta campaign, however, the entire army was equipped with the new Springfield, in all probability the best muzzle-loading gun ever placed in the hands of the soldiers of any nation up to that time. I speak of this variety of guns and muskets in order to show the reader of today what confusion the different variety and the different sized calibres would make in the excitement and the destruction during the progress of a battle. At Shiloh it is stated that a regiment--if I mistake not the story was that it was a whole brigade--rant out of ammunition and an additional supply was rushed to them as fast as teams could take it for the occasion was a critical one. On arriving on the scene of battle it was discovered that the ammunition was of the wrong calibre and hence as useless as none at all. Fortunately the enemy did not know that the Federal brigade was out of ammunition and hence did not take advantage of what might otherwise have proven a serious disaster. It is needless to say that the mistake was rectified as speedily as horses and men could do it. Very early in the war the government prepared to make the arms of the infantry soldiers at least, uniform and the arsenal at Watervielt, Connecticut, never stood idle for a single moment until there was a sufficient supply of the new pattern of the Springfield rifle in the hands of all its soldiers, at the close of 1863, and the beginning of 1864. The people of Warsaw will remember that black walnut stocks for these rifles were got out in this place for two years and more--the factory standing just east of the present veneering works.

As Gen. Sherman had fully made up his mind to move inland rather than towards Charleston, the reader will perceive that the command to which my regiment was attached was considerably "off the line of march," mapped out by the commander of all the forces that were intended to join it in and as the various corps, the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Seventeenth and Twentieth, which with all the cavalry that had accompanied the "March to the Sea" under General Kilpatrick, had, after the capture of Savannah been encamped at various points most convenient for the purpose and near enough to supply the troops readily. For perhaps two or three days--some of these--it may have been more than that--had been on the march in the general direction of Branchville, the important railroad crossing already referred to. The troops at Gardiner's Cross-Roads knew nothing of this movement until after all the troops had been well under way and as the position of the cross-roads was well off the line of march, the brigade at the latter place acted as an outer guard for Gen. Sherman's army for this first few days, at least. Very suddenly, an order came to Gardiner's Cross Roads directing the commander of the troops there to be ready to move by 8 o'clock the next day, and when the time came, every man was ready. It was always a surprise to me--especially towards the close of the war--to see how ready the enlisted men were to move after receiving such an order. No matter how comfortably they might be situated; how pleasant the situation of the camp and its surroundings and the ease with which they could be supplied plentifully with rations, they always received an order "to march" with alacrity, whether it was to go into a new stretch of country to engage in a skirmish, or even a battle, they were promptly ready, the desire to be "on the go" seeming to over-ride every thing else in the way of ease and comfort that might be--and in this instance was at his command.

Early on the following morning I met Gen. John A. Logan, and a portion of his staff, all of his corps, the Fifteenth being on the march, while he had ridden over to Gardiner's Cross Roads, to give directions as to the course the troops under his command at the Cross Roads were intended to take, and which would place them in the rear of the moving army, then, as already stated, well on the way. I had not seen Gen. Logan since the previous September, as he too, had gone home after the fall of Atlanta, and it will be remembered took an active part in the Presidential campaign in the closing weeks of 1864, and it is well known he did as effective service for the great cause "on the hustings," as he had done on the field, where he was known by friend and foe to be "a natural born leader of men." There was much at stake, too, in the North i the closing months of the year 1864, and it is easy enough now to see what a calamity would have befallen the country had General McClellan been elected president on a platform of "peace at any price," which was the leading plank in the platform on which he made the race,and of which Clement L. Vallandigham, the man who was banished during the war, was the author. the re-election of Abraham Lincoln for a second term, very greatly dispirited the people of the South, and I have always thought the victory won that year at the polls was fully the equal in aiding to suppress the rebellion and bring the war to a close as any one of the great battles of the war, not even excepting that great struggle and "turn in the tide," where General Lee "staked the Confederacy" on winning--Gettysburg. While Lincoln's election very greatly dispirited the Confederate soldiers, it may also be said that it also very greatly "heartened" the soldiers fighting for the Union, and I repeat it as my firm belief that the election for President in 1864, very greatly hastened the end of the already long-drawn-out struggle. General Logan had returned to his command of the Fifteenth corps by way of New York, thence by steamship to Savannah, something over a week after I had made the trip, and I still remember how well he looked on the morning that he met a portion of his corps at Gardiner's Cross Roads. Always of a commanding figure; and in the prime of a vigorous manhood, I have always felt it as a pleasant recollection, how handsomely he sat (on) his charger on that morning, appearing to me the ideal soldier, every inch of him, presenting, as he did, a picture of the mythical centaur, whom the Greeks once believed to have existed in prehistoric times, the man and horse identical. General Logan on horseback was one among the quite numerous general officers that presented a most noticeable figure. General Joseph Hooker was another, and every time I saw him mounted in the earlier days of the war, I was always reminded of my boyhood idea of the picture of any one of the leading officers of the Revolutionary war, as they have come down to us in the geographies and histories of that period. General Lovell Rousseau was another soldier, who could scarcely be excelled in his appearance on the vigorous charger he always rode.

That morning General Logan was in the best of spirits. He was again with his command after several months' absence, where he always delighted to be; and I remember at least a small portion of his conversation on that occasion, while awaiting the final preparation of the troops to take (to) the road. all the Union soldiers will no doubt remember--certainly the majority of those who had made "the march to the sea" --that it was only in South Carolina where a white flag was displayed to any extent by the people. In fact, it had been an unusual sight anywhere in the region of country through which the Union army had traversed. Now, however, a change came over the "spirit of the dreams" of the people, and the white flag was displayed from housetops and the gates leading up to the mansion of some of the planters, and this subject came up in the talk referred to, General Logan taking the ground that it was an unwise thing for the people to do. He said he had been informed by cavalry scouts that in South Carolina it was very general, the white flag flying from almost every farm and manor-house. He feared that the very act might lead to more destruction of property in that State than would otherwise have been the case, as South Carolina was the first one of the Confederacy to secede, and the first gun of the war was fired from within her boarders, and that the State more than any of the seceding commonwealths was responsible for bringing on the four years of fratricidal strife that was about ending after the taking of thousands upon thousands of noble lives and the expenditure of billions of treasure, to say nothing of the wounded and maimed that would henceforth have to be cared for. He feared that in hoisting the white flag the people of the State would accentuate the soldier's view that as she was the first State to begin the war it would be unfair to those States that had borne the brunt of the conflict and the destruction through which both armies had passed to let her escape comparatively unharmed. I have often thought of those comments made by Gen. Logan that morning before any of his own troops had set foot on South Carolina soil. Whether she suffered more in destruction of property, houses, barns, fences, etc., I do not know, but I do know from personal knowledge that the road passed over by Logan's corps in South Carolina flew the white flag at almost every plantation. This was particularly noticeable because the troops had never seen the white flag displayed only as "a flag of truce," as a means of communication between two armies.

Pocotallego, was a town distant about a day's march from our starting point at Cross Roads. It had been captured the previous day after a slight skirmish by a division of the Seventeenth Corps and on arriving there we went into camp in the outskirts of the town. It was a county-seat town and had almost literally been destroyed just previous to our arrival. I remember as I rode through the streets and noticed the thousands of legal documents that covered the streets, the thought came to my mind that there would be much litigation following the war among the Southern people, as court houses and public offices as well as the many records and legal documents they contained had been destroyed. A passing soldier picked up what he called a "peculiar" looking document, and as I rode past him he handed it to me to examine as a curiosity. I found it to be a patent for a very large body of land in that section and was the original title to the land covered in the description--was, indeed, a land-grant from the Crown of England. It was printed and written on parchment, and regarding it as a genuine curiosity, I enclosed it in a large envelope and sent it to the late Judge James S. Frazer, as a curious legal document. During the war the Judge was collector of internal revenue for what was then the Tenth Congressional district of Indiana, and had his office in a small room on the second floor of the old county building in this city, that contained nearly all the offices of the county, and which was removed at the time the present new court house was built to make room for it. On visiting the room occupied by the Judge a few years after the war, and, of course, after it had been vacated, I found the old patent in a cigar box, almost destroyed by rats or mice. The Judge had removed his office leaving the cigar box and the "grant" behind, and was greatly chagrined when I told him of the circumstance as he regarded it as a great curiosity. It was a very large piece of parchment, partially printed with vacant space for description and names, and the man who executed it was a penman of no mean order, for it was most handsomely done in the old-fashioned round-hand of that period, when few men were educated, but those who were usually became superior scholars. The writing was so fine that it very closely imitated steel-engraving. While on this subject, I remember that many of the records stored in the court house at Martinsburg, Va., were destroyed, as the troops marched through that place when General Banks made his first movement on Winchester, in that state early in 1862, I saw many useful records lying in the streets.

Charleston was still in possession of the Confederates at the time the march northwestward commenced and of which I am speaking, but General Sherman rightly concluded that after undergoing a siege of nearly four years, without yielding, that it would finally succumb without firing a shot. The reader should bear in mind that much of Georgia and considerable of South Carolina are exceedingly swampy--in fact, for many years that section had been known as the principal rice region of the South, a crop more valuable to the producer in the old days than was that of cotton. I remember of reading many years ago that the cultivation of rice was so remunerative that the proprietors of the land made so much money that they scarcely knew how to spend it, and that was one of the causes why so many sons of their fathers were educated abroad and during most summers the whole family spent the season at Saratoga Springs, where they could throw their money away more rapidly than at any other place they knew of. It was only an illustration of how lavishly the Southern rice-grower threw his money away when it was accumulated so easily and so rapidly. Rice is a difficult crop to raise and requires great care and attention. It grows only in the low grounds and has to be overflowed with water several times between planting and harvesting, consequently the rice-planter arranges flood gates along adjoining streams in order to succeed in this process. It is said that only the negro race can cultivate the rice fields alluded to, as a white man could not endure the peculiar kind of labor required and the excessive heat of the lowlands.

It is altogether probable that General Sherman had a larger army when he started on the trip of which I am now speaking than that with which he had made "the march to the sea." Several thousands of those who did not make that trip across Georgia, joined their respective commands by sea, and all in all these very much more than made up for the loss his army had sustained in making "the march." the entire army proceeded northward, using at first four main roads leading in the desired direction. They were never very far apart, and by night, one aware of the manner in which Sherman was moving his army, could almost tell the line passed over by all the other corps by the reflection of the fires along the respective highways. As far as one could see bright fires were reflected upon the sky indicating that a portion of General Sherman's army had caused it. One day's march was very like the preceding one and consisted in skirmishes to prevent the enemy from destroying the long bridges; the capture of prisoners by the advance guard of each corps; the tearing down of houses in order to procure material to reconstruct a bridge destroyed for the purpose of impeding and delaying the march of the Northern troops, and the every day smell of burning pine and the clouds of dense smoke that sometimes enveloped the marching troops. This feature continued until the arrival at Bamburg and Branchville where the important railroads that connected Charleston with all the western Gulf States on the one hand, and on the other the only remaining railroad connection of General Lee at Richmond, with the same States. But time is up, and I must "call a halt!"

Northern Indianian March 10, 1904

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