Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

When freedom from her mountain height
Unfurled her standard to the air,
She tore the azure robe of night,
She mingled with its gorgeous dyes
The milky baldric of the skies
And striped its pure, celestial white
With streakings of the morning light;
Then from his mansions in the sun
She called her eagle -bearer down,
And gave into his mighty hand
The symbol of her chosen land
--Rodman Drake

In my last article I ended the sketch by recounting briefly the particulars of my arrival at Camp Morton with the paroled prisoners of the Twelfth Regiment from the Richmond battlefield. It was then I learned that nearly or quite two hundred of the regiment that was in that fight, had made their escape to Lexington. This they did singly, in squads of from two to four, and in small detachments of ten or twelve and by continuing their flight all of the night of the day following the battle. On reaching that city they came under the command of the late Charles R. Cruft, an Indiana soldier from Terre Haute, then a Brigadier General. Following the battle of Richmond, General Cruft received orders to fall back on Louisville, and the men of my regiment, of course, were included in and added to the force already there, making as heretofore stated 8,000 men. The appearance of General Kirby Smith's cavalry in the vicinity of Lexington, so hastened General Cruft's departure, that he issued an order to destroy all of the army supplies that had been gathered at that point, which included, as I afterwards learned a great many army wagons, rations, clothing and supplies of all kinds required by an army.

In this great destruction the trunks of many officers who were in the Richmond fight were also burned, they having been stored there previous to the march to Richmond for want of sufficient transportation. Among these was my own trunk, containing a full-dress uniform of the very finest of goods, and gold-plated buttons, a gift from Stephen Bond, then a banker in Fort Wayne, and whose brother, Jared Bond, had been appointed adjutant of the Twelfth regiment. On the muster-in of the regiment Mr. Bond had also presented a similar uniform to Colonel Link, and his brother as well as to myself. I also had a brand new fatigue uniform that had never been worn, and worse than all the very beautiful officer's sash presented me by Lieutenant W. C. Harris, the author of the book, the copy for which I had smuggled out of Richmond prison sewn up in back of an overcoat, as readers of these sketches will recall, and which was presented to me at Baltimore, when we arrived in that city from Richmond, Va., on our way home on parole. The trunk and all of its contents including, of course, the articles mentioned, as well as much underclothing and useful articles suited for camp life was similarly destroyed. An estimate of the cash value of the trunk and contents made it over $400 and as I lost a horse also, the battle of Richmond was a costly one for me financially as well as one of worry, hunger, thirst and incessant labor.

As soon as affairs were gotten into partial shape for me to be absent for a few days at Louisville, I applied for a letter from Governor Morton, asking for the transfer of the members of the Twelfth regiment, who had evaded being paroled to Camp Morton so as to get all of its members together. I was well aware that this might be a difficult thing to do for those who escaped from the battlefield still owed their allegiance to the government, and it was entitled to their services, of course, and could be retained, as was the intention; but before starting I had suggested to Governor Morton that in order to secure the transfer, a telegram from him to the Secretary of War would no doubt prove of great service; and so it did, too. At that time and indeed all through the war, Governor Morton's requests were honored on all occasions, for he was one of the Governors upon whom the administration leaned very heavily, and always sure of his support; so that when I presented the request for the transfer of the men referred to --about two hundred --the telegram had already been received from Washington by the officer in command, to send the men to Camp Morton and to also provide transportation. This was done at once and I was rejoiced to get them all together again, and to secure the request so readily.

I have already stated that the regiment was so new that neither men nor officers had become acquainted with one another at the time the battle was fought, and any one can perceive how greatly this was to be desired that this should be done, and consequently I rejoiced over the success of an issue that at first involved no little doubt. Thus after at least two weeks after the battle, all of the members of the regiment except the killed and wounded were once more joined and at once company and battalion drills were introduced and from that time until an exchange was made early in November, the Twelfth was engaged in drill and especially was it one of the few regiments that practiced in blank cartridge firing, a feature that its officers and men found to be of great advantage to them during the future service the command was to render the country. In fact it became very proficient in all the drills pertaining to the duties of a soldier. Blank cartridges were issued to us by the barrel, and although it required time and close practice the entire command finally arrived at such a degree of proficiency that the whole regiment could and did respond to the order "to fire" as though it were but a single gun instead of seven or eight hundred at once that had been exploded. This sort of practice, as well as company and battalion drill was kept up for weeks, and when the exchange of prisoners was arranged, it could be said without boasting that but few regiments were more efficient in all a soldier's duty as laid down in the tactics, and the writer has still in his possession a letter from Gen. William T. Sherman, written in August, 1863, at the cantonment known as "Camp Sherman" near Messenger's Ferry, over the Big Black river in Mississippi, wherein after witnessing its movements in battalion drill and on dress parade at the special invitation of Gen. Hugh Ewing, who commanded the division to which the regiment was attached, in which he states that "It is the best drilled volunteer regiment I have ever seen," and complimented all of its officers and enlisted men very handsomely. It is not at all strange that I have preserved this letter as a relic of the war days, for I undertake to say, and I know that the veterans of the command who still survive will endorse the fact that but few officers in that part of the army took more pains to win such an expression from "Old Tecumseh" than the one who is penning this series of sketches, concerning a body of men in whom he took great pride.

Time in Camp Morton passed slowly while we were on parole. Of course we were busy in learning the duties of soldiers; but about that time the newspapers were full of talk about a great "Castor-oil Expedition," which was to be undertaken shortly by the Western army. Among the paroled prisoners, this talk affected them greatly, and they chafed a good deal over the fear that they might not be exchanged in time to participate in the great movement, whatever it might be. Then, too, there was a good deal of guessing among the newspapers and the people generally as to what was meant by the "Castor-oil Expedition." At that time Vicksburg and baton Rouge, both of them strong points on the Mississippi river, were held by the Confederacy, and all at once some journalist pounced on the correct definition; and what did the reader of today guess what it was. Why caster oil is known as an efficient physic and what could be clearer than that a caster oil expedition could only have a single meaning and that was to "purge" the Mississippi, or in other words, to clear the entire length of the river of every vestige of the Confederacy army. I am confident that many of the readers of these "memories" who were old enough in those days to read and retain some idea of what they perused, now that it is mentioned, will remember the great castor oil expedition that occupied so much space in the daily papers of the war period.

All of the survivors of the Twelfth, however, now that their attention is called to the subject, will agree with me when I say that the best thing that could happen to it--was the appointment of Rev. M. D. Gage, now of San Jose, California, and a letter from whom appeared in the very last number of "The Indianian" to the vacant chaplaincy of the regiment. Following the reorganization of the Twelfth and owing to the invasion of Kentucky by Gen. Kirby Smith from the southeast part of the State, the regiment immediately following its organization was hastily equipped and rushed down as fast as cars could carry it to Richmond, Ky., where it met the disaster already described. This was done with so much haste that no chaplain had been appointed; or if Governor Morton had done so, he did not make it known; so that it was while we were in Camp Morton awaiting exchange that one morning the appointment of Rev. M. D. Gage as "Chaplain of the Twelfth Indiana Infantry," was announced in the papers. He was at the time a sergeant in the Eighty-ninth Indiana Infantry and by entering the service had already given proof of his loyalty to the cause and his willingness to personally help to save the Union from destruction. To most of the officers and enlisted men he was a stranger at the time and came to us in that capacity and I take pains to repeat that it was the best and happiest thing that came to the regiment during those days of waiting and hopes deferred as to the exchange, for which we were so anxiously waiting. Of course, he soon became acquainted, and I undertake to say, without any fear of truthful contradiction, that he was the best and most efficient man of his rank in all the Western army. That sounds, certainly, like high praise, but every surviving member of the regiment will, I know, attest its truthfulness, as would all those who have "passed over the river," were they still on this side of its dark waters, to make themselves heard.

In the civil war days the duties of the chaplain of a regiment were scantily defined, either in the regulations or otherwise. I presume such a blunder has been amended in the army of today with the many improvements and the many changes that have come to it since the close of "the great war," but in those days I cannot remember ever coming across a line in the army regulations or an order of any kind prescribing his duties. Such being the case the Chaplain "roamed at will," in most regiments, but in the absence of prescribed duties men like Rev. M. D. Gage found much to do and to do it well, too. He generally made his headquarters at the hospital, if we were in camp, where he could be of service to the sick, the wounded, the disabled, and minister to their wants; he took charge of the mails, both in sending them back to "God's country," as the boys were generally designated their home; received that for his own regiment when it arrived; wrote the letters for those who could not do so themselves--and there were some who could not at first, but very few who could not before their term expired, the chaplain having often taught them to write; saw to sending their money home to father, mother, or "dearer one still," and our chaplain became the all-in-all of the soldiers of the regiment and on one occasion, just at the close of the Atlanta campaign he carried a very large sum of money home well sewed up in a belt, every package marked properly, so that when he reached the express office at Louisville, he could send them to the points directed by the owners. If I remember correctly, there were $25,000 in the belt, a big inducement should any one not possessed of the strictest honesty, to make the attempt to become its possessor, by knocking the bearer of so much money over and thus become its possessor himself. This did not happen, but a detachment of Wheeler's cavalry did make a raid on the railroad and tore up the track near Whiteside Station, just after the train on which Mr. Gage and his money had passed over the high bridge at that point.

During the winter of 1863-4 the command of which the Twelfth formed a part was stationed at Scottsboro, Alabama, and of course the drill of the regiment was kept up just as rigidly as it had been in Camp Morton, when we were waiting that long-deferred exchange. Many of the wives of officers came down to be with their husbands while in winter quarters at the point where the soldiers of my regiment had built the handsomest camp that any of us saw during our absence from the State, and as there were a good many empty houses in the little old village, the officers, wives and daughters had very excellent quarters. The selected spot was so beautiful and so many pains had been taken for the comfort and even the ornamentation of the camp that Harper's Weekly sent its artist over to Scottsboro to make a picture of it and which appeared in that illustrated journal two weeks afterwards. It became the custom during the winter for the officers and their wives to come over to our handsome camp almost every evening and of course many soldiers from nearby regiments came also to witness the evening dress parade. During the prayer the men stood at "parade rest" each soldier slightly tipping his cap, and looking back at the little incident --small as it may seem to write about --I feel that it will take every one of the regiment who may peruse this paragraph back to that pleasant winter spent at Scottsboro, Alabama, the winter of the "cold New Year's day," and where prayer on dress parade was seen and heard for the first time to my knowledge during the entire war. The Twelfth was the only regiment to utilize its chaplain in that way. In fact, Chaplain Gage was one of the few men occupying his office that remained in the the filed with his command, very generally the most of them being absent on furlough, and this being so, I want to repeat that the luckiest thing that came to the Twelfth while waiting for our exchange was the appointing of Rev. M. D. Gage as chaplain and sending him to us in that capacity, by Gov. O. P. Morton.

Warsaw Daily Times May 2, 1903

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