by Reub Williams
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On fame's eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards with solemn sound,
The bivouac of the dead.
--- Theodore O'Hara
The above quotation from the pen of that gifted son of the "Emerald Isle," who had made his home in Kentucky, reminds me that different verses from the same beautiful lines that dropped from the poetic pen of O'Hara are scattered all over the grounds of the government cemetery at Arlington, Va., the old home of General Lee, who commanded the Confederate army from almost its first formation till the close of the war. Each verse is plainly painted in black on a white background, and are fastened to trees, several feet from the earth and are easily read by the passer-by on either the drives or walks that meander in every direction through that beautiful gathering-place for the "Nation's dead." One thing quite peculiar in the stirring fragment of poetry --so pathetic and so exquisitely fine from its first word to its last sentence -- is the fact that each one of the verses lends itself most appropriately to the surroundings in which they are placed, and which contains at one point in the cemetery -- "To the memory of 12,000 unknown soldiers." I may not have the expression precisely correct in the quotation, but the number is correct, and the meaning the same. These verses, scattered as they are over a large amount of ground, are exceedingly attractive to visiting strangers, and as they are passed each one is closely scanned and carefully read and of course lend themselves to the surroundings and the purpose more fittingly and appropriately than any other lines of so great a number of verses could possibly do.
In speaking of the government cemeteries, I am reminded that Decoration Day, just passed, although a cold and disagreeable day, so far as the weather was concerned, yet nevertheless the large number that braved the inclemency of the day proved most conclusively that Decoration Day has found a warm place in the hearts of the people, and has become a sacred day to the survivors of the war, among both citizens and soldiers, and I rejoice that such is the case. Not many years ago, apparently a certain portion of our people seemed to desire to make it a holiday -- a day on which to meet to play base and foot ball and at one or two places horse-racing was sought to be introduced. I am glad to perceive that the attempt to make it a free holiday did not take with the people. To the tottering old mother and father, who may be still with us in their old age, but whose son went down in that fearful death grapple at Shiloh; or who laid down his young life on the bloody field of Chickamauga; or it may be while scaling rock-ribbed Lookout Mountain at the time "Old Glory" broke out its beautiful folds just above the clouds, as Joe Hooker's gallant men climbed the mountain's height and was visible to all the soldiers in the valleys below, every one of whom hailed it with an acclaim that surely was heard on the far-away mountain top by the discomfited enemy; or it may be received the leaden messenger that ended his young life in the spectacular battle of Missionary Ridge, when mere boys became heroes and one and all showed themselves almost more than men! To the fathers and mothers of sons, to near and dear relatives, and to the surviving soldier, the day is so sacred that it almost seems a sacrilege to them to introduce a horse race on a day so deeply sunk in the hearts of the people by the trials and tribulations through which the country passed and which has made Decoration Day an anniversary to remember the "loved and lost."
These things have been brought to my mind for the reason that Decoration Day has come and gone since my last sketch and the additional fact that there seemed no signs --not a single one --of a desire in the minds of the people to fail to observe it, and in fact, I was quite convinced that for many years to come the descendants of that gallant army and all who helped to sustain them during the four years of fratricidal struggle, will observe Decoration Day. In my last I closed by informing the reader how grateful I was at the ending of one of the most unpleasant and irksome duties I was called upon to fulfill during the entire war. The next day after I turned over the paroled soldiers to the officers designated to receive them, I discovered an order at the headquarters of Benton Barracks --a standing order for the government of the camp, and the disposition of those who arrived at the barracks, paroled, as my command had been --directing that all officers not assigned to such duty as their parole permitted from Ohio or from Indiana should report to Camp Chase, Ohio. I at once applied for transportation via Indianapolis to Columbus and when I reached Indianapolis, I stopped and with Governor Morton's assistance, procured a leave of absence allowing me to return to my home and there await exchange in the meantime keeping in touch with the commanding officer at Camp Chase through correspondence so that I could at once be notified when an exchange of prisoners was made.
It had already been decided that an officer under parole, having only agreed not to take up arms against the Confederate States, or to give information to the enemies of those States could without violating the agreement, put in his time in recruiting, and so on reaching home I received an order to that effect and succeeded in enlisting quite a good many stalwart young men during my tedious stay at home. I am not positive as to the whole number but it was over fifty at any rate, and during the entire war, from the time the regiment was reorganized for three years, I at all times had recruiting parties at home sending on new men to take the place of those who were killed or had died from disease, or who were discharged for disability. This is the reason why the muster-out roll at the close of the war, in which every officer and enlisted man has to be accounted for, showed that the regiment had contained over fourteen hundred men, and all over one thousand --which was the full number of the regiment under the "three years or during the war," call --were recruited after the Twelfth entered the service for the second time.
The time during which I was waiting for an exchange was gloomy enough and during that period the disloyalty to the cause of the Union, so plainly visible here at home was not only discouraging, but to me at times most disheartening. There were many, many men here in this county openly and avowedly favoring the South and sometimes bold enough to avow their sentiment. though usually --except the more outspoken ones--they tried to deceive those whose hearts were in the Union cause, and whose sons, brothers and fathers, or whatever relative it might be, were already in the field. I have fully a dozen letters in my possession now, written by fathers to their sons who were soldiers in my regiment urging them to desert and come home, and that they would be protected in so doing, by those who were opposed to "this d___d abolition war." One young man --an excellent young fellow, but, of course, easily influenced by his father --decided to obey that father rather than the oath he had taken to aid in upholding his government and to assist in preventing the Union from being dissevered, and afterwards was recaptured, and on trial was sentenced to confinement in the Alton, Illinois penitentiary --a prison used by the government to a considerable extent during the war. I do not feel like making his name public. I tried very hard to secure his release from the prison, on the promise that he would return to his command and faithfully fulfill the duties of a soldier, which he had sworn he would do, but he died before the effort made to secure his release was accomplished, as I felt sure would be done in a short time. The boy, being an honest and upright young man, felt the disgrace to such an extent and grieved over his position so greatly that when he was taken ill, he grew rapidly worse and died in disgrace. I have often wondered what must have been the thoughts of the father who had induced a young confiding son to commit so grave a crime, when the country was struggling for its very existence as a Nation, at the time.
About the close of April, 1863, the glad news came to all of us that an exchange had been effected for a large number of officers and enlisted men and there was joy in one heart to my certain knowledge. I had been kept in touch with the regiment every few days by receiving letters from many of the men and officers belonging to the Twelfth, so that I was kept fairly well informed of what was going on within the command; of its marches, its camps, and everything pertaining to what I have often designated as "a family." Of course I proposed to at once rejoin the regiment. It was stationed at the time at a stockade that the regiment had named "Fort Loomis" after the brigade commander at that time and who died in Chicago about a year ago. The stockade was near Collierville, about thirty miles east of Memphis on the Charleston & Memphis R.R., the same point where a few months later General Sherman and a portion of his staff came very near being captured, and would have been, had it not been for the valor of the Sixty-sixth Indiana Infantry assisted by a detachment of the Thirteenth Regulars. These two commands held the rebels off until re-enforcements could be hastened to them from a point about six miles west of Collierville. It was a "close call" for the General, and I heard him say afterwards and even since the war, that it was the narrowest escape he had during the entire struggle unless it might have been from musket balls, the nearness of which he could only estimate by their singing.
Along with quite a detachment of men and officers, who had been prisoners of war, and like myself having been exchanged were on their way to rejoin their respective commands, we left Indianapolis the latter part of April, 1863, Memphis, Tennessee, being the objective point of quite a number, while others were on their way to Vicksburg --this was before it was captured --to join their regiments and batteries at that place. The party arrived at Memphis early in May, the trip from Cairo to that place being quite tedious, and as luck would have it, a number of us took passage over a slow boat, although a very large one, the Maria Demming, "a triple-decker," to use a steamboat man's phrase. The incidents of the trip were rather common. Of course there were parties of guerrillas on the Missouri side of the Mississippi river and we had to keep a sharp look-out when the current required us to closely hug the shore on that side of the stream and especially every time the boat had to take on wood for fuel. This was stacked up in cordwood lengths and there would always be a man at the shore to ascertain whether the boat was in need of wood. Very generally the look-out at these wooding places was a negro, but there would always be a white man present with whom to bargain for the wood and who received the vouchers therefore. Remembering these incidents after the lapse of many years, it seems a strange way to secure fuel. The wood was always green in consequence of the great demand by the government, as whole fleets of steamboats were continually passing up and down stream, and when it is understood that the fuel was always freshly cut, it is a wonder that we got along as fast as we did with that kind of combustible material with which to make steam. On one or two occasions, the rebel guerrillas endeavored to take a look at us when the stevedores were carrying wood on to the boat, but although the Maria Demming was a large boat, she carried no artillery as some boats did, and it was evident that from her size the guerrillas thought she did, and only approached to a point at which they felt safe.
I think we were six days in making the trip between Cairo, Illinois, and Memphis, Tennessee. The party which was to stop at Memphis along with myself put up at the Gayoso House, an old but very popular hotel in ante-bellum days, and is so yet, though it has been almost wholly reconstructed in later years. Those of us who were to go east on the Memphis & Charleston R. R., ascertained that we could not get away to our respective camps until the next day, as only one train each way was running at that period. We therefore put in the afternoon in strolling about the place, revisiting and feeding the many squirrels in the small part in almost the center of town, and in the evening attending the theater, where a celebrated start --remembered, no doubt, by many of the old surviving soldiers of today as "Julia Daly" --appeared in the leading role. One reason why she will be remembered by old solders is because she often came down from the North and played for them as fast as the army possessed itself of a suitable town. I saw her afterwards at Huntsville, Alabama, and Nashville, Tennessee.
The next day I left for "Fort Loomis," where my regiment was located, and as it was only about thirty miles, it did not take long to make the trip. I shall never forget the hearty and enthusiastic reception given me by the men on my return to them. Major Goodnow had the regiment drawn up in line and as I came into the stockade, I was almost deafened with the cheers that were given me. The men had not seen me since the morning I had left at the Tallahatchie railroad bridge to seek rations for them at Holly Springs, only to meet with the disaster that has already been described, in a former war-sketch. It will be remembered that I had suspected that Lieutenant Colonel Kempton, the officer for whom General Grant agreed to hold the charges against him in abeyance at my request, would on his return to the regiment "make it hot" for those who had signed the charges; and so he did. According to their story, he persecuted and belittled them in every possible way that would annoy them, and they were so indignant at the way he had treated them during my absence, that a copy of the charges were dug up, recopied and filed at my headquarters the next morning. I tried to induce the officers not to do so, but they had been so humiliated while I was gone by the Lieutenant Colonel, that the presentation of the charges was insisted upon, and of course I could not prevent the course pursued. Hence he was arrested, the charges forwarded, and the Lieutenant Colonel after a time was allowed to resign under charges "for the good of the service." I sympathized with Kempton greatly. He was a good officer and a bright man, but in reaching out for revenge in defiance of my suggestions to him at the time to attempt no retaliation, he over-reached himself, and was compelled to resign in partial disgrace at least. He died before the war was over, and as the charges could have been proven by many witnesses, perhaps it was better the way it turned out than to have been pre-emptorily dismissed from the army.
Warsaw Daily Times June 6, 1903
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