Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

The tattoo beats--the lights are gone,
The camp around in slumber lies;
The night with solemn pace moves on,
The shadows thicken o'er the skies;
But sleep my weary eyes hath flown
And sad, uneasy thoughts arise
--Henry R. Jackson

In my last reminiscence the reader will remember that it closed with a briefly told story of how the North Carolina old lady in the "tar and turpentine" pine woods of that state so gratefully and tearfully prayed for me when I left her enough food to subsist herself and two or three children for a few days; but that was not the end of the story, the latter not coming until two or three years after the wary closed. She was so impressed with my liberality towards her that before leaving she requested me to write down my name and address on the fly-leaf of a book she brought to me, and I did so, using a pencil, of course, for the troops were just ready to start. Within three years after the war was over, I was surprised to receive a note from the husband of the woman of whom I have been speaking. Briefly, the bereaved husband announced that about a month previous his wife had died, but that after the war was over he had heard her speak of "Col. Williams again and again, telling about your generosity in leaving her a sufficient amount of food to last herself and little family till more could be procured. She had done this so often and had so frequently pointed to your name and address in a a book she kept, that I have thought it no more than right for me to tell you of her death and to say to you that she many times told over the story of the three days passing of the Federal army in early 1865, always ending up in relating to visiting neighbors and friends how that Yankee officer gave her all he had himself," closing his missive with the remark that she was a good wife and mother and ending with excusing himself for writing to me. I answered the letter at once, and the incident is related only to show a feature of human nature that was not thought to exist between the two sections of the country--to any great extent--and yet one that was entertained in the breasts of many people and that was gladness that the war was over and in the minds of many, both North and South, that it never should have been begun. This last point, however, was taken out of the hands of the people to such an extent that nothing but a war could ever have settled the question and the end seems to have proven this to be a fact. The war might have been stayed for awhile, but it could only have been done for a short time, and hence it is well that it is over, and that now the two warring sections are becoming more and more friendly as the years roll away and as they recede, a more closely united nation than it ever was before the war will be the result if the people will only keep the demagogue from becoming the originator of mischief.

From the hour the army left Columbia, S. C. each of the various corps were followed by hundreds of refugees consisting of both white and black people. Columbia had been a sort of gathering place for such whites as had escaped army service through the various means employed--lameness of limbs, invalidism, inability to hear--generally put on--loss of teeth, this disqualifying the person from biting a cartridge; loss of s forefinger on the right hand, this preventing the owner of such a hand from giving his services to his nation, because he could not pull a trigger. The same kind of excuses were numerous up here in the North on the eve of every draft, and many escaped becoming soldiers by all these excuses; but in the Confederacy they were cut down to a minimum, and hence this class were fewer than with us at home. All this kind, however were among the refugees following the army northward. Indeed, I found a squad of about twenty Spaniards, consisting of both men and women, provided with all sorts of vehicles from a good old fashioned family carriage, all the way down to a two-wheeled "gig" in use in the rear of the Fifteenth corps. However, the great body of camp-followers were on foot, and it seemed to us on the march that but few people of either color had remained at Columbia. On this march I saw the first white slaves that I had ever come across till the time after the war begun. In fact, I saw this same family of white slaves while the army occupied Columbia and afterwards came across them frequently on the march. They were so white that no one could believe that there was a trace of negro blood in their veins. They were even red-headed and freckled faced, and when one of their number told me in Columbia that they were slaves I could not believe him--yet such was the fact. It was certainly a motley crowd that followed the triumphant Sherman northward and all these camp-followers trudged through mud that was axle-deep to wagons unless the roads were corduroyed, and even the unevenness of the corduroying made them so rough that the jolting sometimes ended the career of a number of these vehicles.

The Fourteenth corps had the credit of the Federal army to first enter Fayetteville, N. C., and as a body it is entitled to it as well; abut in reality it was captured by the foragers of the army bringing themselves together from each of the corps. Foraging parties were usually made up of a detail of about two men from each company of a regiment, and each regimental detail was placed under the command of a commissioned officer, generally a Lieutenant, and it was just such a body of men that first of all entered Fayetteville, although held by a pretty good sized Confederate force--eight thousand, I heard it stated at the time. The Fourteenth corps, however, as already stated, was the first to enter the town, take possession of it and relieve the place from chaos to order. Fayetteville was a good sized town, located on a large navigable river, and at this point, after a march of over three hundred and fifty miles, the army opened communication with "the loved ones at home," as two steamers came up the river bringing the latest possible daily papers, but no mail in the way of letters, but the returning steamboats took back thousands upon thousands of letters hastily written to friends "back in God's country." During all of this long march of something less than four hundred miles, much damage had been done to the Confederacy, but cutting off all its lines of communication, thus rendering it impossible to feed Lee's army; securing the possession of Charleston--a coast city that had been under siege ever since the war began, and was finally taken by the marching army of Sherman, in its rear, thus compelling that city to haul down the colors of the Confederacy and to replace them with "Old Glory."

Fayetteville had become a very important point for the Confederacy. The United States government at the beginning of the war was in possession of the arsenal located at harper's Ferry, Va. Immediately after the breaking out of hostilities, all the valuable machinery--and it was very valuable just at that time, for the Federal government was very short of muskets--was taken to Fayetteville, where the factory was operated night and day in providing arms for the Confederacy soldiers, and it is hardly necessary to say that the arsenal at that place was most thoroughly destroyed--in fact, when the destruction was finished a toy pistol could not have been made in the town, unless it might have been manufactured like a pop-gun of fifty years ago from a section of elder after the pith has been taken out. At this point all of the refugees and our own sick and disabled were sent by the boats that met us here down to Wilmington. From the leaving of Savannah to the occupation of Fayetteville much had been accomplished towards ending the war, and from that place to this last town, the army had not been called upon to engage in a single general engagement. Skirmishing there had been-much of it--but at no one place did the Confederates made a stand of any great moment, and it can be truly stated that from the time that Sherman severed his connections with Atlanta and made "the march to the sea," thence up to Fayetteville; it was easy to see the doom of the Confederacy, and even the least informed man in all the army could feel it in his bones that the long-sought end was nearing and might come at almost any day, this needing no prophet to foretell an event that must come ere long, but which had been reduced by the "great march to the sea," to month, or it might even be only weeks.

After resting several days at Fayetteville, permitting the horses and mules to recuperate after their toilsome labors through swamps and the horrible roads over which they had tugged wagons and guns, ever since leaving Savannah; stumbling over corduroys, and some of them wholly giving out from sheer fatigue, the army was once more put in motion, and along about the middle of March, 1865, the left wing moving in the direction of Raleigh, the capital of the state, and the right wing taking a direction that would bring them to Goldsboro. The very next day after the departure from Fayetteville, the left wing had a very brisk fight at Averysboro with the enemy's rear guard which was taking care of and defending the enemy's trains, which were greatly hindered in their progress by heavy roads. In order to facilitate the movement of the Federal troops, all of the supply trains of each corps were left behind, the leading corps pressing forward, accompanied by the ordnance train only. In consequence of this movement on the part of General Sherman, the enemy was forced to fight in order to prevent his trains from falling into the hands of the Federals. Both sides engaged in this severe, though brief, contest, suffered considerably, and each side sustained, perhaps, a greater loss than had occurred from the period of leaving Savannah up to that time. The enemy, however, while the fight was in progress had put its trains in motion and had thus obtained its object by saving the latter, but at a very heavy cost in killed and wounded. The threatened trains being saved while our army was checked withdrew hastily from the Federal front and the pursuit was again resumed.

Following the contest referred to--indeed at one time it had almost assumed the magnitude of a battle--the brigade to which the Twelfth Indiana belonged was assigned to the duty of train guard, always an irksome detail to soldiers, who would always rather be at the front even though the bullets flew thick and fast than to be governed by the slow progress of trains through such roads as met the army at every step. The reader who takes more than an ordinary interest in perusing these sketches should bear in mind that there were two Generals Wood in the Fifteenth corps at that time. They were brothers and both from Ohio. General Charles R. Wood commanding the division, and Gen. William Wood, commanding the brigade to which my regiment was attached, after reaching Savannah. The brigade had been put in charge of all the trains of the Fifteenth corps making probably a thousand or twelve hundred wagons. At places after the first few leading wagons would pass over the roads they would simply become utterly impassable so that it became absolutely necessary to corduroy the entire distance traveled over during the first day and night. The pioneer corps generally composed of negroes with white officers in command, labored unceasingly in reconstructing or rather in breaking new roads, cutting down the green pine trees in the absence of rails, and I remember that I heard it stated at the time, that from noon on one day till 8 o'clock the next morning the heavy train had only moved eight miles. Every foot of the road had to be corduroyed in the manner already mentioned in these sketches, and the world at large can never know the amount of work performed in that portion of the country preceding the reaching and crossing of South river. This stream crossed, the more serious part of the march seemed to have been overcome, though men, teams, drivers and members of the pontoon corps were utterly exhausted--really worn out with the severity of their labors and in want of rest and sleep. The roads had now become vastly improved--I used the words vastly improved only as a comparison with those roads that were now behind us; but even yet they were very far from being passable highways. Some idea can be formed of the labor performed when I state that at the time referred to it took five days of steady unceasing work to make forty-three miles Think of that dear reader!

At about this time the brigade was relieved from the arduous duty that it had been performing leaving the guarding of the trains we had brought through to a similar command of the Seventeenth corps. During all the previous day the soldiers now being relieved had been hearing distant cannonading in the direction where we knew the left wing was marching and where a severe battle seemed to be in progress. On learning that they had been relieved from train duty and had been ordered forward, every soldier in the command brightened up in anticipation of a coming fight. Overworked as every one of them had been for the five days and night already mentioned, every musket mustered in the ranks, when the call to "fall in" came to them, and it was really wonderful to see the new life the soldiers took on by the orders they had received--one bit of news--that of being relieved from train duty--seeming to enthuse them to such a degree that at one time, weary and worn as they were, they broke out in cheers. A soldier become a queer compound in time, and a very different man from what he was when he first enlisted. All through the day distant discharge of artillery could be heard, and it was ascertained the same evening that a severe battle had been in progress and it was for that reason that the brigade to which the Twelfth belonged was relieved form train-guarding duty and was rushed to the assistance of the Fourteenth corps. It was afterwards learned that the enemy had thrown a very heavy force upon the First division of that corps, which at first pressed the latter back, and for a time threatened disaster to the Federal army scattered around as they were, and so many engaged in road building. It was this first fierce attack upon this first division that Major Ferd Boltz, of the Eight-eight Indiana, and a citizen of Fort Wayne-- and, by the way, the Sergeant-Major of the original, or one-year Twelfth Indiana Infantry--distinguished himself with such good effect that the advance of the Confederates was checked for a sufficient length of time to enable the entire division to form its line of battle, and then to hold the enemy until the Second division of that corps could come up and take a part in what was proving the severest battle in what may be termed the "campaign of the two Carolinas." These two divisions of the Fourteenth held the enemy until a full division of the Twentieth corps --Hookers former corps, but then commanded by General Slocum--came up as a support, and thus aided in arresting the furious assaults that had been continuously made from the opening up on the skirmish line, and finally driving the enemy back with a heavy loss. Major Boltz was highly complimented for the bravery he displayed at the very onset of the fight as well as his splendid handling of the troops under his immediate command, small as it was, at the incipiency of the contest.

The indications pointed so plainly to the fact that Gen. Joe Johnston--Sherman's old Atlanta competitor--was again in full command of the Confederate army from which he had been displaced by General Hood before the Atlanta campaign closed--with his entire army was in front of the widely scattered Federal forces, and that a great battle was in all probability being planned and that it was necessary, as speedily as possible, for the Federal commander to concentrate his own forces in front of the Confederates and thus it came about that the division to which my regiment belonged, was hastened forward turning over the guarding of the trains to a division of the Seventeenth corps. General Wood's brigade, although it had labored for several days and nights in road building, and was at the hour the order came still busy at work, worn-out and weary as they were, actually rejoiced at the night march they were directed to make, so pleased were they at being being rid of the labor of corduroy building. the men were directed to cook their supplies before starting, and at about 8 o'clock, the night setting in quite dark, yet with the silver band that the Twelfth had managed to keep clear through the war--and at one time it was the only one left in the Fifteenth corps--playing a march at the head of the brigade the troops set out for an all-night march and arrived in the rear of General Mower's division of the Seventeenth corps just as day was breaking, having marched according to the statement of a civil engineer on General Hazen's staff--by the way, that civil engineer was Ambrose Bierce, a brother of Augustus and Dime Bierce, who live near Warsaw, who was more familiarly known in his boyhood days as "Brandy" Bierce --a distance of seventeen miles. Heavy skirmishing was in progress out in front at the time of the arrival of the troops, but it was necessary for them to have some rest they went into camp in the rear of General Mower's force, in the edge of a grove of pine timber, and within a very brief time they were dozing off to sleep to the rattle of the musketry of the two skirmish lines Federals and Confederates were making a short half-mile distant, and it is there I will leave them taking a rest, that will last for a full week, so far as the detailing of this story is concerned

Northern Indianian May 19, 1904

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