Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Among our fallen soldiers
They brought him o'er the deep
And with the nation's heroes
They laid him down to sleep
A starry flag above him,
And on the simple stone
That marked his final bivouac
The single word, "Unknown."

Perchance a mother watches,
Her eyes with weeping dim,
Or Sweetheart waits the postman
In vain for news of him
While snow of winter freezes
And April violets thrust
Sweet blossoms through the grasses
Above his nameless dust.
---Late War Verses

Those who have visited Arlington cemetery at Washington City--the old home and property of General Robert E. Lee --have no doubt been deeply touched, when they come to view that portion of the grounds dedicated as the final resting place of the Nation's dead--those who gave their lives that the Nation might live--when they come to that part of the grounds set apart to "The Unknown Dead." At the present moment I am not certain as to the number of dead who lie there just as tenderly cared for by the government, at least, as those whose names are known, and many of them made prominent during "the war for the Union," but I think it is 13,000. No one can tell how these men died; that they died for the cause so dear to us all, we know, but to the parents--the mother of each one--how sad it must have been to feel that the boy she sent to the defense of his country, lies in an unknown grave. This must have been in the thoughts of the members of Congress that passed the law providing for government cemeteries at or near all of the great battlefields of the war, and nothing that was done after the great strife was over that better fitted the coming of peace than the act providing for cemeteries--Federal and Confederate alike--and the keeping them in order by a great patriotic, liberal-hearted, magnanimous people. There was some slight opposition at the time towards caring for the enemies of the Union the same as for those who had fought to preserve the Nation, but who would now have it any other way? If we are to be the great nation that the world predicts, the civil war must be counted as fairly won and those who fought for a separate government just as freely forgiven. That has been the view of the writer from the hour that the "stars and bars" went down at Appomattox. Following the war, for a good many years, parents searched for the spot where their sons were buried; wives and mothers for husbands and children--for a good many families gave more than one son as the price of the now newly cemented Union--and it is only a few years since the moldering remains of a once newly-wedded husband was brought back to the cemetery near his former home here in this county. Quite fortunately after many of the battles the comrades of the killed had so marked the graves of so many of their tent-mates that they could be identified through thoughtfulness on the part of the survivors; but I want to repeat that no government has displayed a more touching generosity and magnanimity in providing cemeteries and the cost of gathering up and identifying the dead of both friend and foe in the great war for a united country. If any such an act has been performed by any other country on a scale so immense, I have never heard of it, and it makes one proud, and grateful as well that he is a citizen of such a magnanimous nation.

Fearing that an incident concerning General Logan as connected with General Thomas' operations after he reached Nashville, following the battle of Franklin, will be forgotten entirely--as I have already omitted it in its proper place--I have determined to refer to it in this article. It was fully in mind to relate it when the incident would have appeared in its regular place, but as these sketches of the war have all been written at "break-neck speed," it is not strange that after they are written and printed, and then too late to rectify, in several instances omissions have been made that were in mind at the time, but forgotten in their regular order, and this was the case in the one I am now about to relate. I have already stated that after General Thomas took up and fortified his position at Nashville during the closing months of 1864, the War Department at Washington became very impatient over the delay in General Thomas attacking General Hood's forces in his immediate front around that city. Indeed, General Halleck, who during nearly all of the war occupied a position in Washington as a sort of confidential aid to the administration, was himself chafing against General Thomas. He was disliked and often criticized by commanding officers in the field and was decidedly unpopular with the army in general. General Halleck was determined that General Thomas should fight at once, or be displaced, and an order was finally issued to relieve General Thomas and General Logan was assigned to his command. this occurred after Sherman had cut loose from Atlanta and at that time was deep in the pine woods and swamps of Georgia. Halleck could not know nor did he seem to care about the condition surrounding General Thomas at Nashville. He presumably was not aware that in concentrating his scattered forces at Nashville preparatory to defending the place, that rains prevailed to such an extent that it was almost impossible to move artillery at all; that the elite of the Western army was absent with Sherman; that sleets were as common as the rains; that much of his artillery and cavalry were without horses, and that it required time to prepare for an offensive movement against the Confederate army, but such was the case. There was no more steady-going reliable officer in all the Western army than General Thomas, or one who had more of the confidence of this officers and the men he commanded.

The reader will perhaps bear in mind the fact that the writer of these reminiscences visited General Hooker at Cincinnati in order to obtain his release as a member of a second military commission, similar to the one that had tried the Indiana Conspirators--only this second one made up of the same members as the first--was to try the officers and men that had been captured in an attempt to release the Confederate prisoners confined on Johnson's Island in lake Erie, and among whom was an English lord, who had participated in the attempt. On reaching Cincinnati I stopped at the Burnett House and in looking over the register I discovered that Gen. John A. Logan had just taken a room at that place. Belonging as I did to his command, I sent up my card and received a very cordial invitation to visit him at his room. Like myself, Gen. Logan had been anxiously awaiting the appearance of Gen. Sherman and his then berried army at some point on either the Atlantic coast or the Gulf of Mexico, as readers of the war-news of that period predicted that it was as likely to be one as the other, and as Logan's Corps was along with Sherman making "the march," he was very solicitous to be again at the head of his command after his very successful political campaign in favor of the election of President Lincoln for a second term.

The general welcomed me warmly and after inquiring about the Indiana Treason Trials then just concluded, he went on to say, that at present he was ordered to one of the most unpleasant duties that had ever fallen to his lot since the war commenced, and following inquiry on my part, he said he had been ordered to relieve Gen. Thomas of his command at Nashville. "In my own mind I am confident," he said, "that Gen. Thomas was and has been doing all in his power to get his army gathered in from all points of middle and southern Tennessee into a condition to meet the enemy; that he was on the ground, and hence knew more about the surroundings of his own army as well as that of the enemy; that Thomas was a very safe and careful officer and was a much better judge of the time to strike than Gen. Halleck, or any one else as far away as Washington from the scene of the coming struggle." Gen. Logan was in deep earnest in all his talk, and went on to say: "I have been very slow in filling this, as I think, unnecessary order, I stopped nearly two days at Pittsburg and I have been here in Cincinnati since yesterday morning, and have delayed the trip in the hope that Gen. Thomas would strike the enemy before I could reach Nashville, and thus relieve me of this extremely unpleasant duty, for," said he, "I want to join my own men just as soon as they reach the coast, and all my arrangements have been made with that idea in view, and I feel that it would be wrong to relieve Gen. Thomas as such a moment."

Late that night, Gen. Logan left Cincinnati very reluctantly for Louisville, Ky., and I know how earnest and decided he was in the hope that something would occur to relieve him of the unpleasant duty of taking the place in the field of so competent an officer as General Thomas, and great must have been General Logan's joy on reaching Louisville the following morning to learn that General Thomas had "moved" and his enemy was in full flight, making all possible haste to place the Tennessee river between Hood's flying army and the pursuing Federals with "Old Pap Thomas" at their head. Afterwards when I saw General Logan in the campaign that included the "Two Carolinas" in its operations, at his headquarters, the subject came up and in reply to my question as to how he received the news of the victory at Nashville, he said: "It was the happiest news I ever received during the war, not only over the great victory, but it was such a great relief to me. I had delayed over four days on the road in the hope that just such a thing might happen, and I was overjoyed that morning." Believing that the readers of these "War Memories" will peruse with interest this incident, showing the high honor inherent in General Logan in doing all in his power to prevent the humiliation of so grand a soldier as "Old Pap Thomas," as his men delighted to designate the old hero, I have inserted it out of the regular run of these sketches. It was not forgotten in its proper place, but simply omitted.

The march, after leaving Savannah, and getting well on the way, was a very trying one, indeed; rainy weather prevailed nearly all the time and this made the crossing of the numerous streams, creeks and even small rivulets sometimes very difficult, indeed, besides it seemed to be the only duty that the Confederate army in front of us seemed to perform vigilantly and well was the destruction of the bridges in our front. While some of these bridges were unimportant structures and if destroyed did not delay the Federal army any great length of time, as our pioneer corps speedily reconstructed them, or built new ones; yet occasionally including the corduroy roads leading up to the bridges proper were very long, and the water very high as well, in many places running over the causeways. I remember one of this character that was estimated to be very close to two miles in length by those who seemed to know. This particular crossing had to be made in order to get over the Edisto river and it took a long time to reconstruct it, so as to make the road at all passable. Even after this was done, I saw many of the men wading in the swamps, carrying guns and haversacks as high as it was possible, fearing they might plunge into a whole, but generally on account of the depth of the water itself, which as a rule was about as high as the hips. Frequently on the opposite side the enemy would post itself and await the on-coming troops with musketry fire, until all of a sudden the Confederates doing this kind of work would have to fly, as crossings had been made by the Federal troops either above or below the bridge and sometimes at both and attacks were made upon them from the flanks or rear as soon as a sufficient number of troops had crossed to "put up" a fairly good fight. This sort of tactics very generally saved that portion of the bridge that crossed the stream proper and the plan was many times successful.

Each day's march was usually a duplicate of the preceding one, and the entire trip, until after the railroads at Branchville and adjacent points were destroyed. The weather had grown more comfortable; the heavy rains had ceased; the men's clothing became dry, and altogether army life assumed a new phase, after the heavy showers ceased to drench the men, even though, at the time, there was no wading of streams to do for a few miles. I think it can be truthfully said that the clothes worn by the officers and men for the first hundred and fifty miles after taking up the march to the north, were never fully dry for a single moment. In this statement, I mean, of course, those soldiers who were at the head of the army. Those who came afterwards finding the roads all passably repaired with no streams to wade, may, and possibly did, get their clothes dry between heavy showers. The tramp of the army from the coast up to the points already mentioned, were reached , was a hard march, with many unpleasant features accompanying it. for one thing the regimental wagons had been taken away. At the beginning of the war every company in a regiment was supplied with two wagons to carry tents and camp equipage, while the regimental headquarters were given three. These were afterwards reduced to one wagon to the company, and when "the march to the sea" was formulated and outfitted, even this one wagon was forbidden and a single pack mule issued to each company, and from that time forward the army never fully recovered its supply of wagons. Lieutenant-Colonel Baldwin, who commanded the Twelfth while I was on "The Treason Trials," informed me after I relieved him from his command on returning to it at Gardiner's Cross Roads, that previous to leaving Atlanta on "the great march," he had all he could do to procure an extra animal for the very fine band the Twelfth had maintained clear through the war, but did get, finally a regular "jack" instead of a mule, and the survivors of the regiment will no doubt remember the large amount of fun they had over the "band's jack-ass." The march through the Carolinas was made in the same fashion, each company had a mule, which carried the few remaining camp-kettles, long handled frying-pans, extra tin-cups, etc., and all property conceded to company ownership. While on this point, I want to say that I was always sorry that I did not bring the handsome, chunky little burro that was consigned to my own headquarters on leaving Atlanta, home with me. I am sure all the members of the regiment still alive will remember this "pet" of the Twelfth. He was so low in stature that I could stand with one foot on the ground and throw the other over his body at the withers, and he was as kind and as playful as a kitten, full of pranks, but always reliable; so much could he be depended on to be on hand when the regiment went into camp at night that he was always on on hand with his panniers of cooking utensils, although he had been turned loose when the march began in the morning and without being given any attention whatever, he would be one of the company of horses and riding-mules that belonged to regimental headquarters. He never strayed away from the regiment for any distance, and nearly every soldier in the regiment played with this handsome and very intelligent little animal at one time or another. "Beg Ben," the colored man who cared for and fed him daily, was a great favorite of the mule. He had given him hard-tack, ending up with a lump of sugar so often that he had leaned to rob Ben's haversack on his own account, when the regiment was at a halt during a march. He took his place in the rear of the regiment in "the march past" at the grand Review in Washington City, and many times afterwards I regretted that I did not bring the affectionate animal home with me. A more intelligent burro I never saw than was "Abe," the "regimental pet."

As has already been stated that the destruction of the few remaining railroads the South was still operating was the principal reason for Sherman's march to the railroad crossings in South Carolina, and never was a work of the kind more effectively done. Bamburg was said to be about eighty miles from Charleston and also about seventy-five from Augusta, and the work of destroying the railroads from that place and Branchville, was most thorough indeed. The road was utterly destroyed from Branchville to within a few miles of Augusta--less than ten, I heard officers engaged in tearing up the rails declare at the time, and communication with all the Gulf States both east and west of the Mississippi river as well as with Richmond, Va., was entirely severed, and so much of the roads were destroyed that it would have required many months to repair them even if the Confederates were in possession of the necessary rails to relay the track. the twisting of the rails into the shape of an auger by one man using an iron grip at one end, and another with the same kind of an implement at the other, using sufficient force to twist them at the point where they had been heated for the purpose, rendered the rails absolutely useless, as there was no machinery in all the South that could straighten them--the North either, for there had been no use for such tools north of the Ohio, for some regimental blacksmith invented the very useful and efficient "grip" in the field, for there was a genius of some kind in every regiment that only required the opportunity or the necessity for him to supply whatever was wanted in the field.

With skirmishing daily; some night surprises that only amounted to an occasional "scare;" the laying of corduroy roads and the every day tramp through muddy roads and through the continuous smoke of burning pine, so dense indeed that no matter how clean he may have been in the morning by night no one could have told officer or soldier from a colored man--a black one, I mean--not a mulatto, after the destruction of railroads alluded to and so effectively done, too, General Sherman again put his troops in motion. This time in the direction of Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, and the place at which the first "ordinance of secession" was passed by the State, and as this is a good point to close my reminiscence for the current week, the reader is asked to wait for the next issue.

Northern Indianian March 17, 1904

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