Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Then up with that flag--let it stream on the air,
Though our fathers are cold in their graves.
They had hands that could strike --they had souls that could dare
And their sons were not born to be slaves.
Up, up with that banner! Wher'er it may call,
Our millions shall rally around.
And a Nation of freemen that that moment shall fall,
When its stars shall be trailed on the ground.
---George W. Cutter

Readers of this paper will perhaps remember that an old friend of the writer of these sketches of war-times --Mr. Samuel Croxton, of Oklahoma, a former resident of Warsaw, but for some years previous had operated the Palestine mill in this county --wrote a letter to the editor very highly complimenting this series of sketches and in his note to the writer compared the battles of Peach Tree Creek, near Atlanta, and that of only a few days later fought on the 22d of July, and during which General McPherson was killed, Mr. Croxton wondered --and his comments were well founded --why the correspondents of the newspapers so very generally extolled that of the 22d of July and at the same time seemed to slight that of Peach Tree Creek, and which led him to think that it was done designedly to injure the splendid reputation of General Joe Hooker who was from first to last that of a very, gallant leader and most competent of officers. Mr. Croxton seemed to think --and certainly he was not alone in his surmises, for I have often heard the same opinion expressed both in and out of the army--he was intentionally slighted by the reports of the two battles. I can hardly think that this was designedly done. The entire army whether it belonged to General Hooker's corps--the Twentieth, or not --one and all placed implicit faith in General Joe Hooker --Fighting Joe," as the men in the ranks delighted to call the old general, and who would as readily fight under him as any other one of their favorites. It is however a fact that many officers and men in the Western army at about that time thought General Hooker was not treated quite fairly at that time. Peach Tree Creek was certainly a severe battle between Confederate and Federal and the outcome of the battle was most decidedly in favor of the latter --the contest having been one of the severest that had yet taken place in the Atlanta campaign and the result decidedly favoring the Union forces. At the same time I cannot believe that the correspondents in entering more generally into the details of the fight of the 22d of July, occurring as it did but a few days after that of Peach Tree Creek designed to extol the fight of the 22d and thus inferentially belittle the other. Rather, according to my own notion they have the opportunity of writing up the battle of the 22d to a greater extent than the other, as more of them were on the ground and the loss of the commanding officer, General James B. McPherson, being shot early in the onset, accentuated and called more attention to that particular battle than that of the other, for this very reason alone, McPherson's death had the effect to call the correspondents of all the leading newspapers to that battlefield and thus it was more fully described than that of Peach Tree Creek by those whose duty it was to "write for the press". There was, as has already been stated, a well defined feeling that General Hooker was not treated just right and the subject was considerably discussed by the members of the army --both officers and men --but I feel convinced that most of it was caused by the correspondents writing up the battle of the 22d to a greater extent that they had done that of Peach Tree Creek. The histories of the war, however, do justice to the latter, written as they have been in the light of a fuller knowledge.

The news of the evacuation of Richmond and Petersburg by General Lee and his entire army closely pursued by General Grant with the Army of the Potomac and Sheridan's wild riders in the advance very greatly enthused General Sherman's entire force and thus in the advance from Goldsboro to Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, the army was in such high spirits--firm in the belief that the end of the war was not far distant, with home and the meeting of friends in the near future at hand --that there was real danger that the elated Federals might in the prevailing enthusiasm lead to an attack upon the enemy too precipitately--at least, before the front was intelligently examined. Confederate cavalry was in the front of the first division of the Fifteenth corps and it has already been stated that the Twelfth Indiana occupied the extreme right of this division and consequently that of the extreme right of the entire army. Some skirmishing occurred during the first day's march, two companies of this regiment (I and K) along in the evening deployed as skirmishers and drove the enemy from his camp, which the Union forces occupied during the earlier part of the night. General Johnston withdrew his forces at Smithfield in the direction of Raleigh on the same morning the Federal advance left Goldsboro, and it soon became fairly evident that the Confederate commander was not disposed to fight and the prospect was before the Federals that there was to be another retreat and pursuit. It even seemed doubtful whether General Johnston would make the attempt to defend Raleigh and after-events proved that the surmises within the Federal army that he would not do so proved true for his troops passed straight through the state capital where no defenses had been erected. It was about this time that the news reached General Sherman's army that General Lee had surrendered the Confederate army of Virginia to General Grant at Appomattox, and the prospects of peace by the end of the war was greatly accentuated by the reception of this great news. Every individual composing the army, from its highest officer all the way down to the humblest private in the rear rank, on to the extreme left of his company, felt assured that the end was at hand and the desire to force the Confederate army under General Johnston to a like surrender was entertained to a very high degree, but with the firm belief that if the Confederates could only be brought to a stand, General Johnston would follow the course pursued by General Lee by a surrender of the forces under his command.

In the march towards Raleigh, Wheeler's Confederate cavalry hovered about the flank and rear of the moving Federal troops. He never ventured to offer stubborn resistance, but impeded our advance by the destruction of bridges, and in picking up stragglers from the Union forces in the rear. It was thus that the bridge over Little River was destroyed at Folk's church, and the course he pursued at that point caused the destruction of the church itself, as the latter was torn down to obtain the necessary material to rebuild the bridge and thus allowed the infantry to cross over that stream. It was along about this period of the march that John Sturman and Aaron Cutshall, both of them private soldiers in my regiment, were attacked in the rear of the column by a small party of Confederate cavalry. Cutshall was captured but soon afterwards made his escape and rejoined his company. Sturman was a man without a shade of fear in his composition, and as reckless as he was brave. In a dash made by the squad of Confederate cavalry upon the two men, Sturman was so closely pursued that he was struck over the head with the but end of a pistol, and although considerably stunned by the blow, he managed to retain his seat in his saddle. Being an infantry soldier he was armed with a musket which was strapped over his shoulder and not having time to removed it he turned the muzzle backward without unslinging his gun and fired at random upon his foe behind, the ball from his musket entering his pursuer's heart. He dropped lifeless from his horse which kept on its course by the side of the one that Sturman was riding. This animal Sturman caught and brought it in triumph into the camp of the Twelfth shortly afterwards. On returning to the spot soon afterwards where the Confederate trooper was killed and in examining his person several articles were found in his pockets that had belonged to John Clark who had been missing for a few days and was thought to have been killed, but as it turned out had been taken prisoner and was soon exchanged. Cutshall, Sturman's comrade also made his escape and found his way back to the regiment the same night.

Incidents such as the one described frequently occurred during the war. This same Sturman while on a furlough a year or two before the above incident in his life had been arrested for killing a man on a canal boat in Huntington, this state, in a fracas that occurred there between the element that was hostile to the prosecution of the war and those who were sustaining President Lincoln in his efforts to prevent the dissolution of the states. In the row that occurred there, the man Sturman killed was cheering for Jeff Davis and having an old brass pistol on his person he fired at him, mortally wounding him. Over and over again he told me afterwards that he really did not believe the pistol was loaded and he snapped the pistol at him more to scare him than anything else. He was arrested and held in Huntington county jail for several months, but through the mediation of Governor Morton, he was given permission to return to this regiment. During his absence he had been mustered as "held by civil authority" so that on his return, the paymaster counted him out all the money that was due him ever since he had been absent, amounting to a considerable sum --ten months' pay as I remember the incident. That, however, was not all of Sturman. Learning the time when the Twelfth was to be mustered out of the service at Indianapolis at the close of the war, the sheriff of Huntington county was promptly on hand to arrest Sturman just as soon as he became a private citizen. A prominent resident of Huntington "gave me the tip" and we resolved to circumvent his arrest. The sheriff very closely watched the pay table at Indianapolis, but I had arranged for the paymaster to hand the amount due to Sturman over to myself, the latter being in hiding at the Bates House. As soon as I received the money I hastened with it to Sturman and with quite a fair sum in his pocket he left that same night for Kansas and thus escaped another siege of imprisonment.

I have already stated that General Johnston did not seem in the mood for fighting and passed on with the main body of his troops right through Raleigh, of course covering his rear with a cloud of cavalry. In approaching that little North Carolina city, my regiment had the honor of coming in contact with the Confederates for the last time. It was a mere skirmish, however, although there were one or two men killed by the sharp-shooting skirmishers of the Twelfth. The little affair occurred only a short distance out of Raleigh--in fact, not over a mile away from the town. The skirmishers in the lead very suddenly came upon a small body of Confederates in a strip of woods, engaged in cooking their breakfasts. They were so completely taken by surprise, and so vigorously pushed that it was all they could do to mount their tethered horses, and hurry out of musket range. I very well remember that on hearing the firing I galloped to the point only to find the men of my regiment not only in possession of the camp the Confederates had occupied during the previous night, but all their cooking utensils as well, and their contents besides. There is no use of infantry pursuing fleeing cavalry, so I ordered a halt at that point and the men on the skirmish line fell to and devoured the breakfast that the "Johnnies" were preparing, some of the skillets in which meat was frying being still standing over the coals. I also remember that one of my soldiers possessed himself of a skillet that was full of fresh pork sausage, the "links" being about the size of what is known as "weinerwurst" at the present day, he presenting me with a couple of links, which I ate on my horse, finding that portion of my breakfast a very palatable one. The sausage had, no doubt, been given to the Confederate soldiers by some one sympathizing with "the lost cause," or he may have "commandeered" it, as most soldiers on either side would have done about that time. The main body of the army coming up, my regiment moved forward and was one of the very first to enter the city of Raleigh quite early in the morning of April 13, 1865.

The Confederates having passed on through the place, and evidently having heard of Lee's surrender, halted from seven to ten miles out of Raleigh, Sherman's forces doing the same thing at Raleigh, and going into camp all about the city, each camp taking up a position suitable for the defense of the place, and by the middle of the month of April all military operations had been suspended, and then came flying rumors --camp rumors, it must be understood--in reference to the surrender of Gen. Joe E. Johnston and his army. All the soldiers who were in and around the town of Raleigh and who are still living, will remember how wearily the hours wore away no definite or reliable information being obtainable concerning the situation of affairs between the two armies --Sherman's and Johnston's. It was however known the next day that a conference between the commanding Generals of the two armies was in progress, but of the probable results, the troops were in utter ignorance, and this of itself led to the thousand and one rumors that were in circulation--the "grape-vine telegraph" being in full play during these hours of weary waiting. It was just at this time, too, in the midst of the uncertainty caused by the negotiations referred to, and at an hour when one and all were so greatly rejoicing over the success that had crowned General Grant's strategetical calculations and operations at Richmond, bringing about the surrender by General Lee of all the Army of Northern Virginia, that the men under General Sherman were certain of a like surrender on the part of the Confederate General Johnston and his army that the news came like a clap of thunder from a clear sky falling on the hearts of the Union army like "the crack of doom" that President Lincoln had been assassinated! Indignation, sorrow and the cry for vengeance were heard on all sides. The shock was so terrible that it was one of the incidents of the war that could not be described and every soul in that army of veterans was thrilled as never before and brave strong men with ashen lips and tears streaming from their eyes refused to repeat the news to their comrades, it was so horrible. Many men tried to believe that the tale was not true; that the noble soul who had more than four years had borne the burdens of the nation until with sunken eyes and bowed head, he was but a broken image of the tall and erect Lincoln that entered the White House four years before, in stalwart health and vigor, and now, with only a few remaining years before him, at the best, should give up his almost saintly life to the assassin's bullet!

It was these threats for vengeance that led General Sherman to at once take measures for the protection of Raleigh and its people, and it was but a short time until I received an order to place a portion of my regiment on provost duty in the heart of the city, and if it became necessary, to use the whole regiment. In very short order the portion that was selected by companies was on duty in the downtown part of the city and by night, the entire regiment was called upon to do guard work and especially to keep a strict watch for incendiary fires. The aspect was, indeed, so threatening that after nightfall it was thought best to add two or three more regiments to this feature of soldier's duty, so that the army would not be disgraced by the destruction of a town already in our possession and without an active foe in the place and I was always glad that not a fire occurred during that night, although incipient flames were started at several points. Originally there was a good deal of Union sentiment in North Carolina and this was especially the case where the state joined East Tennessee. Even in Raleigh the proprietor and editor of the Daily Standard of that city--whose name I regret that I cannot recall, unless it was Holden, but of which I am uncertain--was arrested two or three times by the Jeff Davis government for criticizing army movements and Davis himself, too severely, and his paper was suspended occasionally, and this was one of the reasons why it was considered especially necessary that no property of any kind whatever should be destroyed; and then, too, negotiations were in progress between Sherman and Johnston and anything of this kind occurring would have had a tendency to break off the negotiations alluded to. Fortunately the next day new light had come to the soldiers who were crying for vengeance; they became more placable and the whole army settled down in deep grief for the great loss that it and the Nation at large had been called upon to sustain in the loss of so great and good a man as Abraham Lincoln.

All of the deep sorrow, grief and anger of which I have spoken followed a rumor at first and one and all who heard it from the bottom of their hearts hoped that it was only an idle tale and that further news would fail to confirm the crime committed supposedly in the interest of the rebellion, and with its last expiring gasp. The story seemed to many officers and men to be too wicked --hellishly wicked to be true; but, alas, the truthfulness of the news was confirmed by the official announcement of the terribly sad and shocking event by General Sherman, who had received a telegram from Secretary of War Stanton, dated the 17th day of April, and deep grief with its attendant mourning for a man so beloved as Lincoln, had settled down upon every soul who held him in such high esteem. There was one quite noticeable feature expressed by the citizens of Raleigh and that was by those of disunion tendencies, who had long despised their once honored citizen, Andrew Johnson--he having lived in Raleigh for a short time--but now elevated through Lincoln's murder as the executive of the nation by the foul crime--suddenly discovered that in President Lincoln's assassination the south had lost a real and true friend, and like Pontius Pilate of old, they could scarcely find a sufficient number of wash bowls in which to wash their hands of the foul crime that had been committed. No doubt it was true that in the murder of Lincoln the Southern States did, in fact, lose the very man who was in the position to do more for the South than any man living at that moment--any dozen men, perhaps--and many people believe that had President Lincoln survived for a few years longer the unification of the two sections would have come sooner than has been the case.

Northern Indianian June 9, 1904

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