Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams
The neighing troop, the flashing blade,
The bugle's stirring blast;
The charge, the dreadful cannonade,
The din and shout are past;
Nor war's wild note nor glory's peal
Shall thrill with fierce delight
Those breasts that nevermore may feel
The rapture of the fight
---Theodore O'Hara

My last article in this series of "War-Time Memories" brought the writer back to his regiment, located as has already been mentioned at "Fort Loomis," more of a nick-name given to it in honor of our then brigade commander, Colonel John Mason Loomis, by the men who were apt at such things, for it was only a stockade, such as was used in the war of 1812, as a protection against Indian raids, and very much like the one that Colonel Croghan so gallantly defended in that war, located at what, during that period, was known as Lower Sandusky, but which has been known since its name was charged, as Fremont, Ohio, and noted as the home of the late ex-President Rutherford B. Hayes. The stockade was constructed by John M. Godown, the First Lieutenant of Company K of the Twelfth, who as a civil engineer and surveyor had had considerable experience in that sort of business previous to the war --more, at least than any one else in the command. The stockade was octagonal in form and built of strong oak posts, gathered from the adjacent forest. These were closely fitted together with port-holes for musketry, and a deep ditch surrounded it all, and it was so constructed that it fronted in every direction that it was possible for an enemy to approach. During its occupancy it was the headquarters of the regiment at which there was usually about six companies, the other four being scattered a few miles east and west of the stockade and each of them a mile or two apart, and among the general orders was one that forbade the passage of citizens through the camps on the line of the railroad, the order requiring all persons of this character to be brought to headquarters for examination.

Previous to coming to and taking up the camp at Fort Loomis, the regiment had been located at Grand Junction, one of the most unhealthy and disastrous stations the command occupied during the war, to judge from the prevalence of sickness among the men and the large number that died during their stay at that place. They had been removed from Grand Junction to Fort Loomis only a few weeks before my arrival, the change from a low, flat, wet camp to one so much its superior in every way for the comfort of the men had produced a most revivifying effect upon them and from the gloom that had hung over them like a pall, brought on by the loss of so many of their comrades, and the serious illness of so many more; so when I rejoined them they were just recovering their spirits and were apparently thoroughly enjoying camp life. In the daily life of the regiment that I commanded, it was well understood that when on duty the very strictest of discipline was to be maintained while at the same time, when the men were "off duty" a freedom from irksome restraints was carried to the limit, and in this particular it differed to a very great degree from other regiments in the same division, and what is more, it was accustomed to go through the drills prescribed every day that the weather permitted, when it was in camp. This feature was greatly neglected by most of the other regiments, but as a consequence of keeping them up the Twelfth became the best drilled, disciplined and uniformed regiment the Fifteenth Corps contained --a fact admitted by all the other regiments in the corps. This was plainly visible that, as has already been stated in a former article, General Sherman himself wrote me a note after the return from Jackson, Mississippi, following the fall of Vicksburg, that it was the best disciplined body of volunteer troops that he had ever seen. It should be remembered that Gen. Sherman was the Colonel in the regular army of the Thirteenth infantry, which regiment was at his headquarters doing guard duty at the time, and that gallant old officer and perfect gentleman can be excused for reserving that body of men in his high words of praise for the Twelfth. General Hugh Ewing, however --a brother-in-law of General Sherman and who commanded the division to which the Twelfth belonged --boldly asserted that he didn't except any other command at all.

The reader will bear in mind that I have already stated in the opening of this sketch that our orders were exceedingly strict, and that citizens desiring to pass were to be brought to headquarters before proceeding further, when, if the commanding officer discovered no reason why they should be detained the individual could be given a pass. This was, however, discretionary on the part of the commanding officer; but the necessity for these strict orders can be well illustrated by the following incident that occurred soon after I had rejoined my command. It was a bright morning in the latter part of May that I discerned from my tent an old-fashioned barouche --a vehicle quite common among the wealthier people of the South previous to the war--in charge of a soldier, approaching the camp. It was drawn by two horses and even at some distance I could perceive that it contained an old man in the front seat who was acting as driver and an elderly and a young woman in the seat behind. The guard halted the carriage in front of my tent and reported that this party desired to pass through the camp. As the old gentleman --he was probably very near seventy years of age and quite feeble -- climbed out of the barouche, I could easily perceive that he was frustrated and nervous. On being invited into the tent, he came in quite slowly, and it was easy to see that he was considerably agitated. I, however, thought this came to some extent, at least, from being stopped so frequently on his way out from Memphis, the point, he said, from whence himself, wife and daughter had started; for if the different headquarters between Fort Loomis and Memphis had obeyed their orders, he had been stopped at least three times before reaching my camp. He said to me that himself and the two women desired to go to Grenada, Mississippi, and when I asked him if he had procured permission to do so, or have a pass from headquarters to Memphis, to allow him to make the trip, he became more and more shaky. "Let me see you privately," said the old man, and I then directed the Sergeant-Major, who was present, as was also the guard that brought the party to my headquarters, to step outside, when the old man very deliberately pulled a large pocketbook from his breast, and after very deliberately opening it, offered me a $50 greenback to permit himself and women to go on and to give him a pass that would free himself and party from being similarly stopped as he had been.

Immediately I placed the old gentleman under arrest, and told him that both himself and the women would have to be sent straight back to Memphis under charges of attempted bribery. Both the old gentleman and the old lady came very near fainting, but the daughter undertook to plead with me to permit them to go on and join their relatives and friends at their old home at Grenada; but, of course, I refused and told all three of them to be ready to take the train back to Memphis, which would pass Fort Loomis for that place within about an hour and a half. The team and barouche," I told him, "would follow the next day on the cars." The two old people came very near collapsing and the incident goes very far to show how an officer in the position that I then was, is compelled to harden his heart when stern duty required it. For, aside from the bribe offered and the pleading and tears of the women, I deeply sympathized with them in the terrible position they found themselves, but which was to turn out even more perilous than ever after their departure for Memphis.

After they left camp under guard of an officer and two men within a short time after their arrest, a close search of their carriage disclosed a box secreted under the rear seat, which had been loosened in order to place the smaller box beneath it and had then been renailed. This box was chock full of quinine and morphine bottles--in all over a hundred --both articles contraband of war! Quinine and morphine were all sent to Memphis, accompanied by a full statement of the case; the finding of the contraband articles, being made after the party had left my camp. All of the party was confined in "Irving Block" --the place used by the United States government for a prison. As will be seen later, the troops soon after left Fort Loomis and I never heard of the case afterward. They were probably kept in durance for awhile and then released, but as myself and regiment was soon to be on our way to Vicksburg, as already stated, I never afterwards even heard of the case, or ascertained how the party reached Fort Loomis, if the heads of the three posts between mine and Memphis obeyed their orders. The question, of course, arose -- did they accept a bribe?

Directly after this incident and quite suddenly, so far as the troops were concerned, an order was received from General William Sooy Smith to assemble the division for the purpose of going to Vicksburg to re-enforce General Grant, who had already cooped up in that town the whole Confederate army of that part of the confederacy, under the command of General Pemberton. The town and its garrison was closely besieged, but as General Joseph E. Johnson of the Confederate army, was approaching Grant's rear from Jackson, Mississippi, with a body of 25,000 men, it was necessary that re-enforcements should be sent to prevent a disaster, as the compelling of Gen. Grant to raise the siege, would mean. Therefore, nearly all of the troops in Southern Tennessee and Northern Mississippi were assembled at Memphis just as quickly as it could be done to take boat for that rebel stronghold. The brigade to which the Twelfth was attached consisted of three additional regiments, the Twenty-sixth and Ninetieth Illinois and the One Hundredth,Indiana, all of the infantry service. This brigade assembled at Collierville, Tennessee and there awaited the message that transportation had been provided consequently on June 6th, word came that the necessary number of steamboats had assembled at Memphis, and the troops intended for the expedition arrived in that city in time to take the steamers on the 9th of June, 1862. Those who either saw that flotilla of fourteen fine steamboats, either form the shore or from whatever boat on which they may have embarked, I feel sure will never forget it, for it was a sight well worth seeing and to many of the troops participating it was a scene in their life to which in their mind's eye they often remember, I feel sure. It was the regiment's usual good luck, with a little engineering on my own part, to secure passage on the "Belle Memphis," at that time one of the handsomest steamers on the Mississippi, and in consequence of our getting this fine boat for the regiment exclusively, we left it at the mouth of the Yazoo, just above Vicksburg, in as fine order as when the regiment first set foot upon its decks, a detail having been made a few hours previous to landing at our destination to "police" the boat from the pilot house on the top down to the place on the lower deck occupied by the stevedores, and the men were greatly complimented by both captain and crew of the boat, they declaring that it was the only instance of the kind they had known since the war commenced.

Grant's lines touched the river, both above and below Vicksburg, thus cooping up the 33,000 Confederates into the town as closely and as safely as though they were in an unbreakable jail, and as the re-enforcements that were arriving were intended to prevent General Joe E. Johnson from doing any damage to Grant's rear, these forces were landed a short distance up the Yazoo river and occupied both Snyder's and Haines' Bluffs, and were quite near where General Sherman had met with a severe rebuff at Chickasaw Bayou a few months previous, but who, with his usual industry and splendid qualifications as an officer, was enabled to recoup within a few days thereafter by marching upon and capturing Arkansas Post, taking about 7,000 prisoners, in addition to the Confederate loss in killed and wounded, Sherman's loss being comparatively light as the enemy had been surprised at the audacity and celerity of his movements. The same newspapers that had so berated him for his reckless assault and loss at Chickasaw Bayou, were now loud in praise of the man whom, a year before they had accused of being crazy because he had made the remark that it would take a hundred thousand men to thoroughly settle the State of Kentucky alone! Readers of the history of the war can now readily perceive that the General was a wiser officer and soldier than any half dozen newspaper correspondents that were ever sent to "the front" at that time.

I remember the evening the troops disembarked, that orders were given not to permit the enlisted men to bathe in the waters of the Yazoo, for besides being a sluggish, malarious region, the bathing in its waters of itself was considered dangerous. In fact, the meaning of the term "Yazoo River" in the Indian language, is "River of Death." In addition to being a health measure the order contained a warning that it was dangerous to enter the stream on account of the alligators that occupied the stream in large numbers. However, he that has ever been a soldier is aware of the fact that there never was an order issued that there was not some soldier who would violate it, and such was the case in this instance. I had the order read to the regiment at the first dress parade held after disembarking, and I presume that the heads of all the regiments did the same; but about 8 o'clock the next morning I learned that a soldier from some Illinois regiment had not only disobeyed the order, but paid for his disobedience by the loss of a leg. In spite of the order, he and a few of his comrades had ventured into the stream and he had barely swam a rod ere he felt one of his legs grabbed by an alligator, and although the amphibian was frightened away by his comrades, the limb was so badly mutilated and injured that hit had to be amputated, and the poor young fellow found that to him the river was almost what its name signifies -- "the river of death," -- indeed I learned afterwards that he died in a hospital.

The Brigade to which the Twelfth belonged remained in this vicinity for some few days, and was then removed to a point called Oakridge, more nearly in the direct rear of the town of Vicksburg itself. Lieutenant Colonel Heath, of the One Hundredth Indiana, then in command of the regiment during the Colonel's absence and myself established our headquarters in a building that stood just off a public road, but surrounded by trees and a dense undergrowth, which was built for a Masonic lodge. This was one of a number of such lodges I saw while in the South. They were all built high from the ground; this one especially stood upon posts about eight feet high, so as to prevent any one from prying upon whatever might be in progress inside and with the exception of a plantation home about a half mile away no other occupied home was near it. Colonel Heath was from Elkhart, and was always full of fun and ready for a tussle of any kind, and I remember the first night we occupied the building, and after we had laid down, the night was so warm and mosquitoes so numerous that we got up and began walking around in our night clothes and finally got into a wrestle. We approached one of the windows and by some hook or crook, but wholly by accident, I threw the Colonel out of the window. As it was an eight-foot fall, I lost no time in getting to his assistance, but he was not injured further than that his limbs were fearfully scratched with briars, a bunch of which had prevented his fall from breaking some of his limbs in all probability. After we had lighted two or three candles so that we could see how bad his injuries were, we found his limbs streaming with blood from briar scratches but no further damage was done, but the Colonel never heard the last of the incident until he retired from the service, caused by a wound received at Missionary Ridge.

Warsaw Daily Times June 13, 2004

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