Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

From the hour when those patriots fearlessly flung
That banner of starlight abroad,
Ever true to themselves, to that banner they clung,
As they clung to the promise of God;
By the bayonet traced in the midnight of war,
On the fields where our glory was won--
Oh, perish the heart or the hand that would mar
Our motto of "Many in one."
---George R. Cutter

As can readily be surmised the party that had been attempting to rejoin the regiment to which each member belonged, was in sorry trim when, for the second time, they went into camp at Snicker's Gap. For myself, I was completely worn out, although the men of the company of which I was the Captain, but owning to my parole, not yet permitted to take command, were so glad to see us back again, the last view they had of us before our return being when we were conducted off the field by a squadron of the Confederate cavalry that had captured us at Dam No. 4, that they insisted on carrying my baggage, as well as the impediments belonging to the two lame comrades, and to me this was a very great favor, for I was not only greatly wearied, but I, too, was becoming quite lame from waling, not being accustomed as yet, to long marches since my release from prison.

The following morning after an early breakfast, we again set forth for the South, our objective point being Manassas Junction, the point from which the Confederate side in the battle of the first Bull Run was directed by Gen. Beauregard, on the preceding 21st of July. It should be remembered that this was the third time we had wearily, and somewhat rather timidly, tramped over the first fifteen miles of the road. Timidly, because a squad of five or six is always in danger, when in the rear of a moving army from mounted men of the enemy, who very frequently hang upon the rear of an advancing army for the purpose of picking up stragglers and capturing abandoned property, for new soldiers would sometimes cast away their knapsacks, when they became weary of carrying them with all their contents, and to an poorly supplied foe, as the Confederates were, after the first year, would very often seem valuable to them.

While on this particular subject I might as well say here as at any other time, that it was my lot --and, of course, the party that had been captured with me--to have already seen a number of regiments belonging to the Confederate army. While in Richmond, Va., it was no uncommon thing to see even a whole brigade of their troops march past the old tobacco warehouse, and single regiments, and bodies of guards of a less number frequently did so, and I have seen whole regiments go by whose only blanket was a yard and about a quarter of carpet. This took the place of the woolen blanket and the rubber poncho, one of the most valuable of the Northern soldier's outfit, and which could be put to many uses, and all Federal soldiers learned to prize highly the rubber poncho and to never abandon it. Indeed he would have preferred to have lost or to have thrown away his woolen blanket rather than the one of rubber. The most of the troops that I saw while in Richmond were from the Gulf States and I must confess that while the Southern army, especially the one under the command of Gen. Robert E. Lee, was under the strictest of discipline, yet it was an ill-clad, poorly furnished army. Scarcely a regiment was in compete uniform--none at all during the latter part of the second year of the war, their clothing being composed of all sorts of make and of colors.

I have never yet heard a brave, gentlemanly, truthful officer or soldier of the Federal side say aught in derogation of the confederate army's fighting qualities, and all right-thinking, fair-minded men will readily admit that they "put up" as tough a fight as soldiers of any nation in their condition could possibly have done. By the middle of 1862, all of their ports were blockaded, and while it is true that on stormy nights, or from a streak of good luck, a good many vessels crept through the Federal fleet and landed their cargoes, generally consisted of articles and supplies most needed by the Confederacy and its army, yet every month everything entering into the necessities--guns, supplies, ammunition, arms, clothing, etc., grew scarcer and scarcer as the war went on. The private soldier's pay was $11 a month; but this was constantly decreasing in purchasing power, until toward the last, the pay of a soldier for a full month would not buy him a good dinner at any first class restaurant. In fact, the latter went out of business too, as food could scarcely be obtained at all; so that when the true situation looked at in a fair and candid manner, remembering too, that the rolling stock of all the railroads in the South were rapidly wearing out, where they were not totally destroyed by the Federals, it must be admitted that the Confederates fought as bravely while enduring more hardships, as any army of modern times.

I think it was on the third day after leaving Snicker's Gap--and may have been the fourth--that we arrived at and went into camp on the Bull Run battlefield, and of course the soldiers of that period were deeply interested in going over the ground, and I remember that many curiosities and relics were picked up, among them was the finding of a hundred or more of shells that were about the size of a regulation base ball. These were found in a cluster of brush and near a small stream. As I never before saw a shell of any kind, these were very naturally a curiosity, and as I how remember, during all the progress of the war I never again saw any shells so small as these, nor had any regular army officer to whom I showed a sample, but their judgment was to the effect that they were intended to be used by some piece of artillery of home construction for which some ingenious mechanic had manufactured shells to fit it after the war begun. The question still remains in doubt.

Among other curiosities found was a printed code of words used in sending private messages that neither the bearer nor any one else could read unless provided with a similar printed sheet giving the key and the meaning of the words used. This code was signed by General Beauregard and issued previous to the battle, and I am still in possession of the copy referred too--or did have it the last time I looked over the few war relics I brought home, although these have been sadly depleted. At this time General McDowell, with a large body of troops, lay between Manassas Junction and Alexandria, and after resting for a short time, General Blenker's division--composed wholly of German people--came up and his troops, reinforced by our own, took up the march southward and went into camp for a short time at Catlett's Station, and afterwards we stopped for a time at Warrenton Junction, both places to figure largely in the after operations of the army of the Potomac. At that time our army was not organized into "corps de army" as the French army was, but consisted of divisions and brigades. Under this arrangement it was possible for a division to be composed of many brigades, and I remember that one brigade whose soldiers I met belonged as high up in numbers as the Twenty-second brigade. It must have been towards the close of the year 1862 or the beginning of 1863 when General McClellan adopted the French plan and organized the army into corps, divisions and brigades, which feature continued till the end of the war.

The twelve months, the term for which the Twelfth Indiana was recruited was approaching the end of its enlistment--in fact, several served for two or three weeks longer than a year, and orders were issued for the command to proceed to Washington for the purpose of mustering out and when the day came to move we moved to the capital and went into camp well out on Seventh street in that city, where the mustering--out rolls were prepared, and the command was to receive its pay and proceed to the respective homes of the various companies, and as the regiment was made up from the State at large, as all Indiana troops were up till the end of 1861 and the beginning of 1862, their homes were spread all over the state. An attempt was made to procure an order from the Secretary of War--at that time General Simon Cameron, of Pennsylvania--for the regiment to be re-organized there in Washington for "three years or during the war," but as General Banks had joined forces at Winchester with Generals Kimball and Shields, who had arrived in that vicinity from West Virginia, giving to General Banks quite a large army which had at first been quite successful in driving the Confederate army southward as far as Strasburg, the War Department--remember this was in the latter end of April, 1862--decided that the war was so nearly over that no more troops could be accepted. That was the reply of the class of men who insisted it would only be "a breakfast spell to put down the rebellion." They were then and there to learn that the "breakfast spell" was to "break the shank" of the fifth year before the war was fully over.

The regiment had been just fairly mustered out when the news came that General lee had assembled a large army in front of General Banks and the latter was being rapidly driven back over the course he had taken to penetrate the Confederacy. I never heard that the War Department was sorry that it permitted the muster-out of a regiment that had a full year's drill and discipline, and so far as that could make them were better prepared for war than the new regiments that had been almost as soon as the Twelfth had been mustered out had been called for, but it is very probable that it regretted that it permitted its disbandment. The officers and soldiers who had been mustered out sought their homes over any route they saw fit to take. They had been paid commutation money to pay for conveying them to their homes, and for a week or more every train leaving Washington for the west carried some of the soldiers of the disbanded regiment back to Indiana. In fact, some of those whose homes were in the more southern part of the State very naturally selected the Baltimore & Ohio route to go back to Indiana and General Banks had been rushed out of Virginia so rapidly that on one occasion the train carrying some of the members of the disbanded regiment were captured not far from Harper's Ferry on their way home. I think there was a party of three of the mustered out soldiers on the same car, all of whom were "taken in out of the wet" by the rebs. By the time the principal body of the Twelfth got home the order directing its re-organization was issued by that greatest of all the war Governors, O. P. Morton, and the work was begun at once.

Speaking of Governor O. P. Morton, of Indiana --not only was he one of the most loyal and able supporters of the government, but so wonderfully efficient that the mouths of the soldiers from every state in the Union were at all times full of his praises. Whenever an Indiana regiment met one from another State, and the inquiry was made, "What State are you from?" and the reply would be, "From Indiana," the response would at once peal forth from a dozen lips in the saying, "I wish our State had a Governor like yours;" or still another would cry out, "Governor Morton, God bless him!" This was not only occasional, but it was general as the surviving veterans of the war will testify. He was great too! Readers of the war history will remember that in the gloomiest period of the great contest, about the end of 1862 and the beginning of 1863, that President Lincoln called together all the war Governors to meet him at Altoona, Pa. Yates, of Illinois, was there; Andrews, of Massachusetts; Curtain, of Pennsylvania; in short, the Governors of all the loyal states met the President there and pledged themselves anew for themselves and people to still carry on the war and to give the greatest man this earth has ever produced the sincerest, energetic, most loyal support in the struggle through which a government founded upon the undying principles of liberty was passing through the fiery furnace of a war that has not seen its equal in modern times.

It was a great meeting of great--very great--men, and the overcharged heart of President Lincoln was lifted out of the gloom that had enshrouded it, and he went back to his great duties--duties that wrung his tender heart as no other man's has ever been wrung since that fateful, tearful evening in the Garden of Gethsemane in far away Palestine! Wrung, it must be born in mind, over the fearful cost in blood of so many who were then laying down their lives that the Government of Washington should not perish from the earth.

In speaking of that meeting of Governors a short time after the war the writer heard the late Senator Henry S. Lane say that Lincoln had declared in his presence that it was the turning of the tide of war; he had received so much encouragement from it that he took up again his mountain-load of responsibilities, resolved to suffer on and to die, if need be, for the cause in which he was engaged, and then sinking his voice to a lower pitch he said that "the country owes much to Governor O. P. Morton--more than it will ever know--for he was the life, the heart and the soul of that meeting of Governors that heartened us one and all to such a degree that we went back to our respective homes brightened up by the thought that God was with us, and hence this great nation could not perish!" Senator Lane told this incident in the reading-room of the National Hotel in Washington, not long before he died. I saw President Lincoln during the first year of the war, and while his form was bent and somewhat ungainly, his face bore that noble cast of countenance that attracted all men to him. At that time he seemed in vigorous health; but I again saw him in January, 1865, and what a change had come over him! His hair had grown gray, his form drooped and his countenance bore that sorrowful look that showed all too plainly that he was bearing a load that even the bullet of a vile assassin only made his life a few months shorter than it would have been had he not been murdered.

Warsaw Daily Times March 14, 1903

Back to YesterYear in Print