Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Though the old Allegheny may tower to heaven,
And the Father of Waters divide,
The links of our destiny cannot be riven,
While the truth of those words shall abide.
Then oh! let them glow on each helmet and brand,
Though our blood like our rivers shall run;
Divide as we may in our own native land,
To the rest of the world we are one!

While, as already stated, the waiting for an exchange in Camp Morton was a most dreary and depressing period of soldier's life; yet in the years that have passed since we spent those tedious weeks in awaiting the action of the government, the survivors can look back at it after the lapse of years and truthfully declare that in many ways it was a sort of "happy-go-lucky" period after all. Such is always the case in casting memory rearward. Take the life of the "old pioneer." Every one of his descendants knows that the years through which the old father and mother passed was a time of hardships, rough and coarse food; few delicacies were known to the stern but brave first settler of a new country; sometimes his cabin had a puncheon floor, sometimes none at all; but who ever heard any old pioneer grumbling over his lot, when his labors were of the hardest; his fare of the coarsest and his days, one right after the other, followed with hardships? Casting a backward glance at the time I spent in what afterwards became "Libby Prison," where we daily and nightly prayed to be released and restored to our own side, I can truthfully say when those days of gloom and weary waiting were over, that there were many pleasant things that came to pass within those grim walls, and many friendships formed that were as lasting as any ever made upon earth, and in cases where both sides are still survivors, they continue to this day.

There was one feature connected with our stay in Camp Morton that gave me considerable trouble and much uneasiness. It should be remembered that I am now writing of the autumn of 1862, and even at that early period an active opposition was already being organized here at home against the war as conducted by the Federal side --to speak more plainly and equally as truthfully --in favor of the Confederate side, for that is precisely what it meant, as does opposition to one's own government in all wars while the war is in progress. In effect it gives encouragement to the enemies of one's own government and of course violates the constitution of the United States, which strongly forbids such a course, and pronounces the act treason and the one who does so, a traitor. To return to the cause which gave me no small amount of anxiety was this. In the haste of filling up all of the regiments that had been recruited during that summer and fall, a good many boys were enlisted --that is, young men under the age of 18--and although they had made the statement to the mustering officer that they were over that age, yet upon the return of the Twelfth to Camp Morton from the disastrous field of Richmond, Ky., members of this opposition to the war party would get around these young men--those whom they could influence, at least--and hold out the inducement that they could free themselves from further service by making the demand that they were under the required age. Two young men who had been paroled had in this way succeeded in getting out of the army, an attorney having been furnished to attend to the legal features of the case at the expense of and in the employment of the "opposition to the war party."

I had all the captains of the companies to furnish me a report of the number of men in each one that might be under the age of 18, and I found it would decrease the aggregate number of men in the entire regiment nearly a full hundred--in other words an entire company. That same night while I was in Indianapolis I called the attention of Colonel Dick Ryan to the way in which my regiment was situated, and told him that agents were sowing discord among these young men and were holding out many inducements to deplete the aggregate number of the regiment. He was a good lawyer, and either at that time was, or shortly afterwards became the Lieutenant-Colonel of what was known as the Thirty-fifth Indiana Infantry, or "The Irish Regiment," Colonel Ryan and all its members being of that nationality, or descent, at least. John C. Walker, who afterwards turned traitor and escaped from the United States, was its Colonel. Col. Ryan informed me that he would take the subject under consideration and I should hear from him the next day. At about 10 o'clock the day following, Colonel Ryan called at my headquarters and told me he had hit upon a plan that he was sure would work and work well. He had already provided himself with the blank form of a letter he proposed to have me sign as commanding officer of the regiment and send by mail to the parents of every young man who attempted to try such a dodge to escape the service. In brief the letter was a threat to the parents to commence suit against such as undertook the "dodge" to which they were put upon by outsiders for obtaining money and property under false pretenses. The government, in the autumn of 1862, paid a bonus of $25 to each soldier as soon as he was mustered into the service, and besides, he received a new suit of clothes--making, if not that much more, or at least about $20 additional, as it should be remembered that every one of these young men had represented themselves to be over 18, a fact readily proven by other soldiers, as well as their officers.

If my memory serves me correctly, there were only two more applications for release, and one of these had been made--the last one, by the way, on the very day Colonel Ryan hit upon the plan to break up the scheme. Copies of the letters referred to were sent to their parents, and a hurried reply came back that their son would and should remain in the service, and as the words of the parents as well as the story itself was purposely soon circulated all over the regiment, and throughout the camp, not another attempt to get out of the service on such an excuse was attempted; but, on the contrary, a trap was laid to catch the agents who were engaged in sowing the seeds of discontent into a regiment of soldiers, which worked admirably. Two of them were pointed out by one of the young men who had been tampered with, and they only escaped being ridden out of camp on a rail by the "skin of their teeth", and the command was disturbed with them no more. It is very probable that the regiment would have lost a good many men in this way. These young men had gone straight into the hardest kind of service right at the start; had passed through a big battle --such it was to them, at any rate--and a great disaster; had undergone the toughest kind of a time in getting back from the fight, and were still going through the weariness of awaiting an exchange and the tediousness of camp life; were at an impressionable age and easily influenced. I have often thought that the ruse originated by Colonel Ryan--a warm personal friend of the writer--came just in time, and though perhaps not legal in form, there was justice behind it all, and it worked out admirably and ended the uneasiness I had entertained for several weeks previous.

But all at once joy came to one and all of the paroled soldiers, for on the morning of the 17th day of November, 1862, the daily newspapers of the country announced a general exchange of prisoners and every one affected rejoiced greatly, for now there was a chance to become a part of the "castor-oil expedition," although even yet the full import of the term was scarcely understood, however well its objects and aims might be surmised. All was excitement within the camp and all over the city of Indianapolis, as well, for the exchange included a great number of officers and men who had been captured from time to time in the many skirmishes, the "taking-in" of picket-posts, and the battles that had occurred both previous to and following the struggle at Richmond. While there was no general order on the subject the government of the prisoners in Camp Morton had been most liberal. Many of the men and officers, owing to the invasion of Kentucky by Gen. Kirby Smith's Confederate forces necessitated the sending of all available forces of the government to oppose him, and as already stated, the Twelfth had been hastened to the front, just as soon as the regiment had been mustered in. A large number of its membership had, in consequence, left for "the front" with their families not well provided for; many of them had unfinished business back at their respective homes, and therefore the authorities were quite liberal in giving the paroled soldiers short leaves of absence to revisit their homes and places of enlistment, so that they could make every possible preparation for a longer leave, after the exchange of prisoners were made.

Therefore, when the announcement of a general exchange was made public quite a large number of the members of the regiment were at their homes and the order to march so quickly followed the news of the exchange, that something over a hundred enlisted men and eight or ten officers had not even time to get back to their command when orders were received to be ready to "entrain" for Cairo, Illinois, and the order was so quickly obeyed that when I reached Indianapolis, I being among the number referred to, we found that we were twenty-four hours behind time. All of the officers and men, however, who found themselves in similar predicament were gathered together in time to take a train over the same route the regiment had gone, and all of us hoped to over take the main train by the time it reached Cairo, or at any rate before it would take boat at that point for Memphis. But in this luck was against us and in two different ways. The main body had been provided with boats almost as soon as Cairo was reached, and so got speedily away from that point on their journey while myself and several other officers and about a hundred men in all had to wait at Cairo for six or eight hours and with no hope of overtaking the command, for the second boat was a slower one than that which preceded us. I remember still a number of the officers who accompanied the belated party among them being Captain Rooker, of Company E, Lieutenant Lenfesty, of C, Captain John B. Conner, the founder of and still the publisher of the Indiana Farmer at Indianapolis, who has filled within the past few years the office of State Statistician, and who has been prominent in the affairs of that city and still is at the present time, and several others whose names, for a wonder, have slipped my memory.

An incident occurred on this trip that may be worth placing before the reader for the purpose of showing that the opponents of the war to preserve the Union was growing more and more numerous in "showing their hand," in certain localities. The train which the party alluded to had taken for Cairo went no farther than Mattoon, Illinois, whence the party had to await a train from Chicago to Cairo. This compelled quite a stop at Mattoon. The place was already becoming known as hostile to the government so far as a large number of its citizens were concerned, and perhaps it was unfortunate that a big anti-war meeting was to be held in the place on that day. I used the word unfortunate for the reason that Captain Conner and myself and two or three others missed the train which the others took on their way to their destination. The landlord with whom we stopped was a prominent Union man; decidedly outspoken and very free in his comments upon those who were acting treacherously to their country during war-time, and very willing to tell them so. He was telling Capt Conner and myself that threats had been made to attack his hotel on that day and he was urging us so strongly to assist him that the train we should have taken slipped by without our knowledge, we being so intent on listening to the landlord's story, his place having been attacked once before. While the Captain and myself were chagrined over the fact that we had missed the train, the landlord was overjoyed, for he considered us additional help in his defense of the place, during the hours, at least, that we would have to wait for another one, if I remember aright was due at about 3 o'clock p.m.

It seemed that once before his house had been stoned and even egged to some extent and the landlord had made whatever provision he could against a similar outrage, and very quietly he had procured quite a large number of condemned muskets from Springfield, they being willingly loaned him for such a purpose, and he insisted on Captain Conner and myself taking charge of the men he would, could, and did, muster for the purpose, and including his own help and some volunteers among his personal friends of the Union party, he could place about twenty men at twenty different windows, and of course could make a stout defense of his house. Fortunately, however, while there was considerable derisive hooting at the old man, when a wagon-load of men went by on their way to the anti-war meeting, no attack was made and the old gentleman afterwards wrote me that he was real sorry that they got word of the preparations he had made for the defense of his hotel, and concluded that it was best to stay away from a place where they might get hurt, and he closed his note by saying that being so well prepared to receive them he only regretted that they found out what was up, and some of them, he added, had whole bodies afterwards which would not have been in the case had they made an attack. The old gentleman was about as "clear grit" as is often met with and there was many of the same kind here at home in those perilous days. This incident is only a sample of many similar ones that occurred as the war progressed and is only added to these "memories" for the benefit of the younger readers of these articles.

We left the old Union man's place about six hours later than the remainder of the party with which we left Indianapolis, but caught up with them awaiting the arrival of a steamboat to carry us to Memphis. Cairo is a queer place and during the war a most important one as well, and for a time the Confederates were arranging to capture the town for the sake of the supplies that had been gathered at that point. It is at the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers, and the business streets as well as all the business part of the town lies from ten to fifteen feet below the level of both of these rivers, the most substantial of levies being required to keep the whole town from being flooded. Clear through the war it maintained its importance and the town improved to such an extent that at its close it was a thriving city of several thousand people.

We finally got away from Cairo on our way to Memphis in the hope that we would soon rejoin the regiment at that place. Twenty miles below Cairo is Columbus, Ky., a point that the Confederates had strongly fortified right at the beginning of the war; also Fort Pillow, another strongly fortified place on the east shore of the Mississippi River, and the point where General Forrest slew so many colored people in an attack upon the place. We reached Memphis in due time, but only to ascertain that, along with an army of about thirty thousand men, the Twelfth had marched eastward to participate in General Grant's plan at that time to take Vicksburg from the rear.

Warsaw Daily Times May 9, 1903

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