Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

The solemn echo seems to cry--
"Here let their discord with them die.
Speak not for those a separate doom,
Whom fate made brothers in the tomb,
But search the land of living men,
Where wilt thou find their like agen?
---Sir Walter Scott

The above lines from Scotland's greatest poet, seem almost prophetic, when applied to America after the bitterness and rancor engendered by more than four years of vindictive fratricidal strife and the question, "Where wilt thou find their like agen?" can truthfully be answered --no where; at least in modern times, for it was a war conducted on both sides on a scale so stupendous and covering an amount of territory that even our own people are scarcely aware of the vast extent of the ground that knew and felt the "tread of marching feet." Modern history gives no account of a war conducted on so grand a scale, or embracing within the area of its operations a scope of such wide extent as did "The War for the Union." Up till the battle of Gettysburg it is quite probable that Waterloo was held to be the greatest battle of modern times; but Gettysburg on each of those three July days, at which the Confederacy reached its "high-water mark" in the attempt to establish itself, and each one almost the equal of Waterloo, while Picket's charge on the Union lines, far and away excelled in high daring that of Ney at Waterloo.

Well may those who have to depend on history for their knowledge of the war ask, "Where wilt thou find their like agen?" in alluding to the soldiers of either side who participated in that fierce three days' contest that raged around Big and Little Round Tops in the old Keystone State. While Gettysburg was the turning-point in the fortunes of the Confederacy, there were other great battles as well. There was Shiloh, on whose field the State of Indiana will this very week - forty-one years after the struggle--dedicate the monuments erected at the cost of the State, in honor of the regiments, batteries and companies who were engaged on that bloody field --a field where the soldiers on each side fought in the open, disdaining to bury the fighters of either side behind breast works, or to even shelter themselves behind favoring trees, but strove man to man in a deadly embrace; there was Stone River, Chickamauga, Champion Hills, a struggle to which no history I have seen since the war does it half justice, for it was the battle that decided the fate of Vicksburg by compelling General Pemberton to see safety behind its fortifications and the ultimate surrender of 33,000 men and 600 cannon, some of them the largest within the entire Confederacy; there, too, was spectacular Missionary Ridge --a fight of line officers and enlisted men without any generals on the field. There was Chickamauga, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and others, one and all of which would compare with the far-famed Waterloo, to say nothing of the nearly 2,000 minor engagements and skirmishes innumerable. It is not possible to find "their like agen" for history gives no account of a war on so great and grand a scale.

In my last sketch I closed the story for that number by briefly describing the battle of Richmond, Ky., and the utter route of the Federal forces there engaged. The line of troops which made up the forces that made the last stand in the outskirts of the town was literally swept from the field by the on-rushing charge of the Confederates, three, four and at some points even five lines deep. The Federal line was formed on the east and south sides of the town and consequently in falling back the Union forces passed through that place in order to secure their retreat by the pike road leading westward to Lexington. When the route came it was of course, every man for himself. As has already been stated, I had been on foot from the time my horse threw me in the first contest with the enemy in the grove of timber and I was completely exhausted having had nothing to eat during the entire day, nor a drop of water, from which every man and horse was suffering intolerably. In the immediate rear of the line of the last stand were open fields and near the middle of one of them were two stacks of wheat or rye. I was so exhausted that I made up my mind to get back to them and seek their great bulk for protection from the oncoming enemy. Almost as soon as I started I was joined by a boy by the name of Dennis Murphy --a Five Point New York orphan --a body of whom was brought to Warsaw and places found for them among the farmers and others of this vicinity before the war began. He had enlisted in what, after my promotion, became Captain Sam Boughter's company, and was about fifteen years of age at the time. Both of us had taken protection behind one of the stacks referred to, and by peeping around we could easily see the Confederate lines advancing, preserving their lines in very good order. Murphy was a wild sort of a boy and all at once he made the remark to me, "Colonel, they are coming like h__l and I'm going to take a shot at 'em". Before I could check him, he stepped out from behind the stack and fired his musket right into the advancing rebel lines, then only a few rods away. There were the buildings of a seminar between where the last stand had been made and the town and early in the morning it had been taken by order of General Manson for the Federal hospital. Weak and worn as I was, I determined after Murphy's shot to endeavor to get to the hospital before being captured and both of us succeeded in doing so.

For some reason or other the advance of the rebels after passing the stacks where we had hidden for a short time, was checked, and very probably by an order form the commanding officer. The reader will remember that I had already been a prisoner in Libby, and it looked as if I was to have a second experience of that kind. I had got some refreshments from the surgeon in charge and had already eaten a sandwich that did me a vast amount of good, and I began to look around for means to prevent a capture for a second time. Directly across the street was a very large cornfield, on the opposite side of which I could see not only a large farm-house, but an old-fashioned well-sweep took my eye, for water was the great cry of both sides engaged in that day's fight. Fearing that I might be again taken to Richmond, Va., I ran across the street; climbed the stake and rider fence and when I had entered the corn field for a rod or two, I was completely hidden from view. I lay down for a short time, but in my thirst for water that well-sweep was continually in my thoughts; so I got up, passed through the field of corn, determined to get some water even though I were captured in the attempt. The well was on the opposite side of the house from where I came out in the open, but I could see the sweep extending above the roof.

Passing through a gate in the palings, I turned the corner of the house and there, less than 10 feet away, stood a Confederate soldier who had drawn a bucket of water that was about half sand. His gun was leaning against the well-curb and my first thought was to make a dash for it and through its help make him prisoner. Just at that moment he took the gourd from his mouth and asked me if I wanted a drink, and after I took it he picked up his gun and trudged away over toward the Lexington pike, where the pursuit of the Yankees was in progress, leaving me alone and in full possession of the well. There was no sign of a living person about the big house, its occupants evidently having been frightened away by the nearness of an all-day battle. The sun by this time was sinking low in the west and I had had such good luck in avoiding capture thus far that I was considerably encouraged, and it came into my head that if I could place the Kentucky river between myself and the successful rebels I could even yet escape and join the 8,000 Federals that held Lexington. The river was almost midway between Richmond and Lexington; so after being invigorated by all the water that I could drink--bear in mind that the hospital with its sick and wounded was just as bad off for water as was the army of either side--I determined to make the effort. I had probably gone nearly or quite a half mile from the farm house and had come to the brink of a very deep but narrow ravine. On the opposite side I could perceive a small body of horsemen and one of them discovering me called out, "Halt!" Of course I obeyed at once, and he then directed me to come over to the other side of the ravine. I asked him whose cavalry he belonged to, not knowing but that it might be our own men. He replied, "To Kunnel Stahn's ragiment," and his very pronunciation showed me that I was in the presence of a detachment of rebels.

Obeying his order for me to cross over to his side, I commenced the descent of the ravine. These gullies during heavy rains and floods are always as cleanly swept at the bottom of all sorts of debris, and are as solid and as clean as a barn floor. When I got to the bottom I discovered this, and also that it was quite dark down there; so I took to my heels and ran with all the might left to a man already nearly "played-out" for perhaps a half mile, and in that way I eluded "Kunnel Stahn's ragiment." Though greatly fatigued and almost wholly worn out, I was greatly encouraged since I began a retreat from the hospital at the good luck that had thus far attended my attempt to escape capture. I continued in the ravine for some time and on coming out of it, I had only gone a short distance until I found myself in a very excellent pike road, which afterwards proved to be what was called the Nicholasville pike. It was now dark and I continued my journey to the west in the hope of reaching the Kentucky river and crossing it before daylight. I was pushing forward as fast as a man in my condition could, when all at once in making a slight turn in the road, I caught up with some one, who after some talk I discovered to be Captain Hueston, of G company, of my own regiment. Of course we joined company and both of us were intent upon getting over the Kentucky river as soon as possible. It was some minutes after 12 o'clock at night and when the Captain and myself, were making quite a long descent at the bottom of which was a small stream, where the surrounding trees made it quite dark. Just as we got to the bottom we ran right into a detachment of Louisiana cavalry and were prisoners! For myself I was greatly discouraged. We were within three miles of the river, and perhaps, safety; but worse than all was the wear and tear on men almost wholly done out before this last effort to escape was undertaken and it had proved abortive.

The detachment consisted of about fifty men at a guess, and as it had several lead horses we were mounted on them and after perhaps an hour of steady marching, the command halted and we were ordered to dismount. To our surprise we found ourselves in a space of cleared ground of about an acre in extent, but closely surrounded with cedar and other shrubbery that stood quite thick, and her was bout two hundred of our own men who had been captured in small squads and brought to this point of safe keeping. During the remainder of the night several other small lots were brought in. General Manson, the immediate commander of our forces in the battle of the day before was there when we first arrived, having been captured in the early part of the evening before, and besides was quite severely wounded. This was my first meeting with him, after joining his forces at Richmond, although I knew him well and had frequently met him in Indianapolis. The wound was in the left hip but fortunately no bones were broken or even touched.

At about 6 o'clock on the morning of the day following the battle we were ordered to prepare to march, to us prisoners our own destination being unknown. Not a particle of food was given us, but there was a good-sized stream alongside of the road the party proceeded, so that water was plentiful; but there are times when too much water and no food becomes unpleasant as a regular diet and I was well on in the second day without any food save what I got at the hospital--a sandwich made of two pieces of "hard-tack" and a slice of bacon. The column in charge of us seemed to grow larger and larger as we wended our way back to Richmond, which we reached at about 10 o'clock. In front of the public square we were halted and found it just as full of Federal prisoners as it could well hold. It was a terribly hot day and there was not a shade tree of any kind inside the enclosure, nor anything else that would cast a shadow as big as a man's thumb. I could see it was the intention to place all of us prisoners in that square, also, and in a minute I made up my mind that I would not be one of the number, if any sort of a ruse would prevent it. I believe I would have even told a downright lie right there and then rather than to become one of that crowd on whom the boiling, blistering sun was pouring down his fiercest rays.

I had no plan and can only remember that I was determined not to enter that public square at any hazard. Quite a number of our party had passed through the double gate with a guard on each side, and a sergeant standing near, and when it came my turn I said to one of the guards, "I want to see General Kirby Smith, the commander of these forces." "You will have to ask the sergeant of the guard," he replied. The sergeant came up, and of course he could perceive that I was an officer. I repeated my demand to see the commanding officer of the Confederate forces on matters of importance, and must see him in person. "All right," said the sergeant, "come this way." I was almost thunderstruck with surprise at the success which had thus far attended my ruse, and only hoped it would continue to be as successful after General Smith's headquarters were reached. As luck would have it, these were just across the way in a hotel, the commodious parlors having been assigned to the commander-in-chief of the Confederate forces.

There must have been a dozen or more of staff officers in the room, all of them quite busy. I was taken straight to the General, the sergeant telling him that here was an officer who wished to see him. I saluted him, made a lame sort of a joke about our defeat of the day before and told him that I had come to him to secure the favor of a personal parole so that I could pass about the town until the regular parole was made out and signed. "Certainly," said he. "Adjutant make out a personal parole for this officer confining him to the town proper." It was soon done, and when the Adjutant-General handed it to me, I spoke to General Smith saying that "I had hoped the parole would permit me to visit the battle-field of the day before where were a number of the men of my regiment, I felt sure." "All right," said the General, "make out a new permit and give Colonel Williams permission to visit the points he wishes." "I ought to have an ambulance," said I, "in case I find some of our wounded men, or even your own, General, so that I can bring them to the hospital." "Give him an ambulance, also, Adjutant; there are plenty of them since yesterday," he replied with a smile.

I bowed myself out, and after securing some crackers and raw bacon at the hospital, within a half hour I was on my way to the point we had met the enemy the first time, where I found Harmon Beeson of F company, and Lieutenant Henry Wescot, of I company. Wescot was suffering from a severe hip-shot and Beeson had a musket ball pass through both of his legs below the knee. He died the next day after I brought him to the hospital. Wescot lived for nearly a week after the fight and then died from lockjaw. I have always spoken of my determination to keep out of that "bull-pen" of a public square as an illustration of "supreme cheek," and I think it was. I had no idea at first as to what I would do, but I had confidence in myself to believe that in some way or other I would succeed in the end, and I did; even to a greater extent than I had even dreamed. It was "cheek," unadulterated, simon-pure, clear-quilled "cheek," --that's all.

Warsaw Daily Times April 4, 1903

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