Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Forward! was the word that flashed
Homeward, when the cannons crashed.
"Missing," was the word sent home,
When the shades of night had come.
"Fallen?" "Yes; he fell, they say
In the fiercest of the fray."
"Died last night!" the message said,
Thus the morrow's papers read.
One young heart that heard the word,
Fluttered like a wounded bird.
One was broken! bowed her head!
"Mother! Mother! Mother's dead!"

Whenever my mind runs back to the tramp through the Carolinas, I think of the vast amount of suffering on the part of the citizens, and the immense destruction of property, and the starvation that must have ensued from the fact that the whole region comprised within the boundaries of three and often four columns of march on separate roads, yet within supporting distance with one another. This marching, covering a width of about forty miles, was no doubt done purposely to subsist the Federal army on the country. Moving on one road it should be remembered could not have done this, as it would not include a sufficient region to furnish supplies, and it should also be borne in mind that it would have been impossible for General Sherman to have supplied his army in any other way than by subsisting on the country through which it passed, as it would have been out of the question to have carried supplies in wagons over roads that hundred of miles had to be corduroyed before the artillery could pass over them, Even had it been undertaken to use government supplies, this could not have been done for more than three or four days at a time, as all that the wagons could carry would not last much longer than the fourth day, and there would have been done for more than three or four days at a time, as all that the wagons could carry would not last much longer than the fourth day, and there would have been no other means of replenishing them only from the country through which that army passed. This explanation does not in any way lessen the sufferings and perhaps the starvation of the people along the routes of march. While the citizens of the country were with the army they could easily procure enough food from the Union soldiers for present maintenance, but after the army had gone by, I had no doubt that actual starvation occurred in some--perhaps a good many--instances, for it is not over-stating the facts, when I say that the country was stripped of everything it possessed in the way of food for man and beast, and I feel certain in my own mind that some people must have literally starved before they could reach a region far enough away from the line of march to still possess something to sustain life, and it should also be remembered that the Confederate troops under Generals Wade Hampton and Joe Wheeler engaged in the attempt to impede the progress of the Federal army was also compelled to subsist on the country, and it had the advantage of first reaching the region for supplies, and of course, secured the best obtainable and in some instances--a good many, perhaps--destroyed whatever food supplies they could not use.

The Union army was followed by an immense number of colored people ranging all the way down to the infant at the breast to the little four-year-old, toddling along by the mother's side, holding to her dress in order to keep up while she cared for her infant in arms. The children ranged from the toddlers referred to all the way up and men from twenty years of age to the old decrepit, stooped, over-feeble, white-haired old man of eighty years of age and more. These followers of the army were of every shade of color and could have been found of an age ranging between the infant referred to all the way up and into the eight decade of life. None of them knew where they were going, or what would be done with them. It was stated that when the army reached Savannah that there was fully ten thousand colored people of all ages that followed the troops that made "the march to the sea." Of course, this number may have been over-estimated, although it may have been true--certainly there was a very large number of them altogether. On one occasion I had to ride back along along the line of march for some purpose, and it was then that I beheld a portion of that great number of colored people who were following the march of the army. It seemed that after the rear of all the Federal troops had passed, that were marching on the particular route that the Fifteenth corps had been designated for that day, then came the colored people--not all colored people by any means, for there were many whites among them as well. The latter was in every sort of vehicle imaginable. One-horse wagons had been put in repair and with a few articles of household goods, from two to five children were loaded on the wagon with their mother to preserve order, and the man leading the horse or mule with a halter, the luxury of line being discarded. There were two horse wagons also and every sort of vehicle that can be imagined--sometimes two wagons being taken apart and combined in one, owing to some of the defects in both--the best parts of each being made to serve for one that was thought to be strong enough to bear the land that it was expected to carry. The most of the followers, however were blacks and most of the children were begging their mothers for something to eat, and hundreds of the little ones were crying, caused by hunger and fatigue. It was a heart-touching sight, and I came as near as a soldier ever should, to shedding tears myself over the want of food; the hunger of the little ones and the utter helplessness of their elders. It was a sort of misery that touched me to the heart, and I at once remounted my horse and hastened to the head of the command resolved to alleviate some of the suffering, at least. It was growing toward sundown when the troops went into camp, and when this was done, I summoned the late Marsh H. Parks, formerly of this city, to my aid, and directing the regimental ambulance to be unloaded, and while this was being done, I went to the men of several companies and begged of them to divide whatever rations they might have on hand--giving them the reason therefore--and soon had pretty nearly as much as the ambulance could carry and then Parks and myself were soon on the way to the rear on our errand of mercy. I had especially solicited from the men a small installment of coffee from each, firm in the belief that it would go as far as a great deal of food would do to these almost famished people, and this we gave to the women folks charging them to make it go as far as possible. Of course, it was out of the power of any one to relieve all the hungry and worn-out among that crowd of several hundred, but we made our supply of food go as far as possible and tried to give to mothers whose children were actually suffering for food I often think of that night scene in South Carolina even yet, and the gratitude and the many thanks that came from these helpless people lying along each side of the road, touches me to the heart even yet, and I have only to say that quite a number of men and officers of my regiment became enlisted in this charitable work, and every night when the army was on the march, quite a good many would go back after the troops were encamped and relieve as many as we could supply with food by dividing our own, and begging of those who could not go along back with us to contribute of his rations to really keep these people--some of them, most surely--from dying with sheer hunger, and the collapse which follows the want of food. I do not now remember whether Chaplain Gage accompanied these troops or not, but he was a man whose heart always responded in deepest sympathy with suffering wherever it existed, and if he knew what was being done, he would be sure to be one of the party referred to.

The country through which we were wading and bridging in South Carolina was historical ground. It was the home of, and the scene of operations of General Francis Marion--"The Swamp fox," of the Revolution, and much of the ground over which the army moved was the scenes of stirring times in the war for the Independence of the Revolted Colonies. For two or three days the particular division to which my regiment belonged, camped and rested quite near the battle-field of Camden. The student of Revolutionary history will remember that the Baron DeKalb was mortally wounded on that fatal field--fatal in several ways, for the Continental army under Gen. Gates was badly defeated and in the death of Baron DeKalb, which followed the wounds he had received, the Americans lost a brave, gallant and competent officer, one who, had his advice been taken, the disaster referred to might have been avoided, for he urged General Gates to fortify his position at Ridgeleys mills and await the attack of the enemy. Gates haughtily refused to listen to the old soldier, and put his army in motion to attack the British, each side being intent on surprising the other. As a consequence both armies started at about the same time to strike the other, and met midway in the night, and after some skirmishing each side desisted awaiting daylight. The defeat of the Americans and the slaying of DeKalb is so well known to the historian that it is unnecessary to more than refer to the battle as the ground on which the Fifteenth Corps rested for two or three days. There is one thing, however, that will strike both confederate and Federal soldier alike, and that is the battle of Camden, is spoken of in history as a great struggle. The Americans had only two thousand men in the fight. Think of it you soldiers, who belonged to armies numbering from twenty-five to a hundred thousand. As the Union army was organized, Gates fought the battle of Camden with what in number would have been two full regiments. It must be remembered, however, that this two thousand was divided up into artillery, cavalry and infantry--the latter being mostly composed of militia. After the War for the Union: was a year old, an action that only consisted of two regiments in number would have been set down by the war correspondents as a "skirmish" an "affair," or something of that kind, but would never have been classed as "a battle!"

Another historic place comes to mind and that is a point on Lynch's creek where General Horry, who was with General Marion all through the war of the Revolution, and who after it was over wrote "The Life of General Marion." came near losing his life. It happened to be the fortune of the Twelfth regiment, it being in the rear of the army on that day to be delayed in the crossing of Lynch's Creek at the same place where General Horry met with his accident. At the point referred there was a bridge over Lynch's Creek, but from the side on which my regiment lay there was at least a mile of corduroy to pass over before the bridge over the stream-proper, was reached. This corduroy was so narrow that two teams coming in opposite directions could not possibly pass, and there was still another feature of the incident to make it necessary to retain the regiment on the hither side of the bridge and that was a drove of cattle, about two hundred in number, had arrived at the same point to pass over the bridge, but as it was already growing dark, those in charge of the "army beeves" feared to start them on the long corduroy and much preferred to await the coming of daylight so that they could see how to govern the herd, as it is pretty well known to drovers that cattle will crowd on another very much on a bridge, or such a corduroy as the one in question; so ascertaining that the regiment did not intend to cross till morning they resolved to stay with it, and the next morning the cattle were all safely crossed over without losing a hoof, which would very likely not have been the case, had the attempt been made in the dark.

The incident in which General Horry came so near losing his life is related by himself in his "Life of General Marion," and briefly told--very briefly indeed--as follows. General Marion had received information through his spies--all the people;e of South Carolina nearly, were his friends except those known as Tories and in the British service--had sent Marion word that a Tory Colonel and his band were intending to lay a trap for Marion, but hearing the news, those who had perused the book in question will remember that General Marion resolved to "turn the tables" on the Tory Colonel and with that end in view he determined not only to make a night march, but to set forth on the expedition as soon as his horses could be fed. His camp was only a short distance from the point where the cattle spoken of crossed over the morning referred to. Lynch's Creek was swimming deep at the time, but Marion's bold riders plunged in and got over the stream the best they could, some of them losing a portion of horse furniture. It was Horry's luck to have his horse swim under the low, drooping limbs of a tree and in the dark he was clutched about the neck in such a manner that his horse swam out from under him, leaving General Horry hanging over mid-stream, the water of which was running like a millrace. Of course, he cried out for assistance, and loudly, too, and a trooper hearing him and learning of his condition plunged into the stream with his powerful animal and rescued General Horry, though he had nearly given up being saved. Horry thought his horse was lost, of course, but the animal had succeeded in gaining the shore and in a short time rejoined the other animals, although minus a fine overcoat and a brace of pistols that had been given him by Sergeant McDonald, the same fellow that swindled the old Tory out of the historical animal known as "Selim," an incident well remembered by those who have read Horry's life of Marion. For the information of the present reader I will add that after getting over Lynch's creek with many mishaps Marion's party breakfasted and the same night "took in" the proposed position of the Tory troops that were intending to bag "the Swamp Fox," thus placing "the boot on the other leg."

Rations had been exceedingly scarce, and in the barren region immediately adjacent, forage could scarcely be found, quite a large portion of our army having passed over the same route and stripped the plantations of what little they possessed. Horses and mules were captured on sight and all the mounted men in Sherman's army in consequence were kept supplied with new animals whenever it was compulsory to abandon a "played-out" horse or mule. I do not remember at the present moment whether in any of my preceding sketches I told the story about driving some beef cattle along with the army all the way from the vicinity of Vicksburg to Savannah, Ga., a small portion of the herd being among those that were waiting to cross over the long corduroy in "the bottoms" of Lynch's creek. It is a fact, however, that about seventy-five head of the cattle that were herded and pastured after the fall of Vicksburg at Camp Sherman were still being driven along with the army and had made "the march to the sea." When Sherman's forces were ordered up to the relief of the "Army of the Cumberland," following the battle of Chickamauga, and the cooping up in Chattanooga, these cattle were sent up to Memphis by boat, and as they had been turned over to the hospital department of the Fifteenth corps for use in cases of emergencies, about the number given above were still with us, additions being made to the herd, of course, whenever possible by capture from the citizens. Frequently, during the Atlanta campaign, I came across these cattle being pastured in the rear of the advancing army. Indeed, a couple of cows belonging to this herd were taken possession of by Colonel Smith of Iowa, who succeeded myself to the command of the brigade when I obtained a "leave of absence" to go home, and afterward had the misfortune to be detailed on the commission for the trial of "The Indiana Conspirators." The Colonel used these two cows for the purpose of supplying milk at his headquarters where milk was supplied for coffee aside from Colonel Smith's. On reaching Savannah he resigned his position and after doing so when ready to take a streamer for New York, he obtained permission to take the two cows along with him to that city, and after the war was over I learned that the Colonel was still in possession of the two animals on the big farm he owned in "The Hawkeye State." Just think of the miles traveled by those two cows. They were first purchased her in the North; shipped to the army--first to Holly Springs, then over to Memphis where they accompanied the corps to Vicksburg, and was with it when it went out to Jackson, Mississippi, back again to Vicksburg and Memphis; then overland to Chattanooga; through the Atlanta campaign; in the pursuit after Hood; back again to Atlanta, made the trip to Savannah; thence to New York and Iowa. Who will say that they did not deserve to died peacefully on a far after such a history, or that they were not "traveled" cows?

I have already said that on the night we remained at lynch' creek waiting to make the crossing in day time, that the heard of cattle was the cause of the delay, the drivers fearing to undertake to drive the herd across the narrow crossing in the dark. My men were grumbling about the scarcity of food to more than an ordinary extent, and in my judgment the nearness to them of this herd of beeves in part accounted for their growling--although a good soldier learns to find fault on all occasions and sometimes when he has to invent a reason for doing so. I overhead their talk, but the orders to the effect that not a single animal should be used, were of the strictest kind, and punishment even threatened for the slightest violation. I overhead much of their grumbling, and after hearing it awhile, and knowing that the men were really hungry, the foragers having been unsuccessful for a day or two, I called Sergeant Franklin, of Company K to my headquarters, and during the conversation I informed him my orders that not a single animal should be butchered by the men; that if anything occurred I myself would probably get myself into a scrape. When I dismissed the Sergeant, I repeated that not a "single" animal should be killed, accenting the word "single" emphatically and frequently as he left me. That the Sergeant took the hint is attested by the fact that within a couple of hours three or four very large and fine steaks were received by my cook. After the Sergeant discovered the play upon the word "single" he hunted up the commissary sergeant of the regiment and in order to still obey orders the two men killed "two" animals instead of a "single" one, and very quietly issued the most of the two beeves to the hungry men of the regiment. Soldiers had a way of seemingly obeying orders even when they were in reality violating them, and words sometimes have a double meaning to them you see.

Northern Indianian March 24, 1904

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