Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

All that to us thou art,
Proud, patriotic air, bright flag unfurled,
Thou wast to each brave heart.
Who for land's honor, life 'gainst treason hurled.
O, very human they,
Whose richest gift to serve a country's need,
They on her alter lay--
The hearts of home that thro the fray must bleed.
Remembering all we owe
To those who in the brunt of battle fell,
Yet pity's tears will flow
For love bereft whose woe not words might tell
You had, dear comrades ours.
All to inspire brave men on bloody field;
But while we scatter flowers
We sorrow with the martyrs unrevealed.
When war's smoke cleared away,
O, eyes that looked in vain for faces loved!
Our tend'rest thoughts today
Are theirs who then earth's grief supremest proved.

the news of the assassination of President Lincoln recorded in the last article of these personal reminiscences came at a most inopportune time, to say nothing of the deep grief that it caused to the army and all its loyal supporters in the North. Negotiations between Generals Sherman and Johnston were in progress at the very moment that the terrible rumors of the Presidents death at the hands of an assassin reached the army at Raleigh, and grave fears were held that the terrible calamity would put a stop to the convention then being held between the two leaders of the hostile armies still confronting each other. These sentiments were expressed soon after the first great shock and confirmation of the report that reached the army at Raleigh that the great and good Lincoln had really been murdered. The first effects, as I have already stated, were almost a demand from Sherman's soldiers to be led at once against General Johnston's forces that were then lying from seven to ten miles distant. On all sides was heard this demand often made by men whose eyes were filled with tears at the time; others favored the "raising of the black flag," with the cry of "no quarter;" but these ebulitions of the deep grief that had overshadowed the more excitable individuals who indulged in them, passed away within a day or two, and without interrupting the negotiations for surrender between the two leaders of the respective armies, and these continued, only after a temporary cessation, and the excitement that had first followed the terrible news and which affected to a great extent both the Federal and Confederate armies still confronting one another with only a few miles intervening between them, and shortly afterwards the announcement of the suspension of hostilities between the two armies on the basis of the afterwards much discussed terms of the agreement between Generals Sherman and Johnston was announced. The agreement between these two officers was an assurance of the restoration of peace on equitable terms, and to made it binding only needed the approval of the chief executive of the United States. The document that had been decided upon, it was understood, was already on the way to Washington and without knowing just what the terms of surrender were, the troops under General Sherman were confident that it would be endorsed by the proper authorities at Washington. In the meantime, and while awaiting the answer to the agreement the troops were placed in camps in and around Raleigh pleasant locations being selected for the purpose, and thus Sherman's army was quietly awaiting the announcement of the final end of the great war.

Along in the latter part of April the news reached Raleigh that Generals Sherman's and Johnston's agreement had been disapproved by the Secretary of War, and, of course, with the sanction of the cabinet at Washington, and General Grant had been directed to proceed to Raleigh with all possible dispatch to either draw up new articles of agreement, or to recommence hostilities, after the two days' notice that had been agreed upon should elapse. In the meantime but very few of the troops, comparatively speaking, knew that Grant was in Raleigh. He had been sent with orders to use all possible haste to reach Sherman's headquarters as quickly as it could be done. At that time all of the railroads had ceased running cars and the only means at hand for Grant was to use a fast flying dispatch boat, furnished him by the navy at Fortress Monroe, and by the use of this boat, pushed to its utmost degree of speed that was possible, he reached Newberne by sea, and then ascended the Neuso river as far as Goldsboro, or at least, the nearest point to that town and then proceed to Raleigh on horseback. Old veterans who may peruse these reminiscences, and who were with Sherman's army at Raleigh will no doubt remember that General Sherman's army was reviewed by General Grant while in the city, a division at a time; but only one division each day, but I undertake to say that but few of them are even yet aware that these reviews were undertaken to cover up the very sudden appearance of General Grant, the head of the army upon the scene, yet such was the fact and I only gained this knowledge myself from overhearing Generals Grant, Sherman and Logan conversing about the matter. It was surmised in the army that General Grant's presence in Raleigh might be misconstrued, and it was resolved to hold these reviews in order to cover up any wild guessing on the subject that the members of the army might make. In the meantime the negotiations between Generals Sherman and Johnston were renewed and were proceeding quietly while General Grant was reviewing the troops in Raleigh, the negotiations being carried on between General Sherman for the Federal side and General Johnston representing the collapsing Confederate cause. Such was the situation while Grant was in Raleigh, but the marching days of the Federals were nearly over for the second conference between the two officers referred to led to a second acceptance of the terms on the part of General Johnston, General Sherman offering precisely the same conditions that General Robert E. Lee had accepted when he surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant at Appomattox Court House.

The surrender of General Johnston's army, therefore, ended all hostilities between the two belligerent armies from the Potomac clear down to central Georgia, from the extreme northern part of Virginia, leaving only the forces under General Dick Taylor and Those of General Kirby Smith to be surrendered, and it was not long until these two officers accepted the terms that had been accorded to Generals Lee and Johnston and hence the war for the Union was ended. During the reviews to which I have alluded an incident came under my observation that may be worth relating. I have already stated that one division of troops were reviewed each day. That at least was the design at the start, but the remodeling and accepting of the terms which Grant had come down to re-negotiate with General Johnston brought about a change, and hence, only three divisions passed in review before General Grant. Belonging to the first division of the Fifteenth corps as I did, and also of the First brigade of the First division, it fell to the lot of the troops composing this division to be reviewed on the first day. This gave me an opportunity to witness "the march past" of the two other divisions on the two succeeding days, and I remember that quite a lot of officers --myself among the number--occupied a balcony that stretched along the front of a business building on one of the principal streets in Raleigh. I was just in the act of going up to the balcony from the sidewalk to take the seat that had been provided for me, when I heard the emphatic remark from a citizen of the place, a large number of whom were occupying the sidewalk, "What troops are these?" he asked, while he closely scanned the colors they carried and tried to read the name of the state on the regimental colors. "That," said I, is an East Tennessee regiment." "In God's name," he replied, "did East Tennessee fight on the Union side?" "Yes, sir;" I replied, "and that," said I, "is only one regiment that you see. In all, cavalry, artillery and infantry, East Tennessee must have sent close to forty thousand men into the field, first and last, on the Union side, to say nothing of its superb body of scouts." He could not believe that whole regiments fought on the Union side. Individual enlistments he could understand; even squads of four or five, might have been the case, but here was an entire regiment carrying the Union and regimental colors with the name of that portion of the state from which they hailed boldly emblazoned on its regimental flag. He could scarcely believe what he had seen and with the remark -- "Great God; it is no wonder that we were whipped when whole regiments in the South fought against us!" Had newspapers been circulated as freely in the South as they had been in the North, he might have known it, for the news that East Tennessee was almost as faithful to the Union in point of numbers as was the same amount of territory in the loyal North, and in the elections held to decide whether Tennessee should go out of the Union, or remain steadfast to the country and government, seven counties voted for the latter by majorities of from one to three thousand; yet under Governor Isham G. Harris, the state was swung over to the Confederacy very early in the war.

Those who were upon the stage of action at that time will well remember that the criticisms of the Sherman-Johnston settlement for the surrender of the latter's troops, were not only adverse, but exceedingly severe, and much ill-feeling was engendered inn consequence. The "Sherman-Johnston Conference" created no small amount of ill feeling in the North and some of the newspapers were exceedingly violent on the subject, and grave accusations were made against Sherman by the press, the latter forgetting in a moment that just at that time the speedy closing of the war was greatly hastened by the General who had made the march to the sea and showed up to the world the utter hollowness of the Confederacy behind hits immediate "firing line" and by cutting off all communications of Lee's army away up to Virginia, and by destroying all his railroad lines by which his army could be fed from the Gulf States, brought the war to a conclusion months before it would have happened but for "the march to the sea" and the subsequent campaign of "the two Carolinas" All this counted for nothing in the way of severe criticism of the Northern press, and members of Congress in the House of Representatives and even in that more stately body, the United States Senate that even in those earlier days had won the reputation of being the most sedate and efficient body of legislators in the then known world. Is it any wonder that the means through and by whom the war was closed months sooner than it would otherwise have been by his sagacity, his fine generalship, his bravery in cutting loose from all aid of every kind and plunging into the unknown "piney woods" of Georgia, neither knowing nor caring very much where himself and his army came out --is it any wonder that the man over and above all others and in the face of the most hostile opposition, felt--and very keenly felt--the severe adverse criticisms that met him at Raleigh when he had so much--so very much--to his credit in bringing the war to a close? The officers and men of his command stood by General Sherman. They had served with the "grizzled old raider" so long that they had the utmost --I was going to say unlimited-- confidence in the man whose victorious banner they had followed from early in the war, when the self-same journals were wont to speak of him as "Crazy Bill Sherman," for what? Because he had very early in the war dropped the remark that "it would take two hundred thousand troops to subdue Kentucky alone!" All who were in the war, and all who have perused the many histories that have since come out, will declare that owing to the truthfulness of the assertion, he was the sanest man of the whole lot--especially so of the newspaper correspondents.

The result of what had occurred and been accomplished within the last few days in the surrender and paroling of all of General Joe E. Johnston's body of Confederate troops following the example set them by General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, eventuated in a cessation of strife in all the insurgent state bordering on the shores that were washed by the waves of the broad Atlantic, and the far reaching results of what had been done by the Union army, was soon to be shown in the capitulation of all the Confederate troops that in the hope of continuing the war had assembled on the western side of "The Father of Waters," when they, too, felt that a further continuation of the war on their part would be suicidal in its effects, and hence they also followed the example set them by Generals Lee and Johnston, two of the ablest Generals the Confederates had produced during the war, and from the firing on Fort Sumpter "till all was told." Directly following the surrender of the forces under General Joe E. Johnston, the Federal troops located in and about Raleigh were getting into trim for the march to Washington city, the Grand Review and ---home! How wonderful that last word fell on the listening ear of men who from the day of their enlistment, away back in 1861, until the hour that the word came to "fall in" for the "homeward march" had never had a furlough and consequently had never revisited the scenes of early childhood from the hour they had donned the blue until they received the joyful news that "the war was over," and hence, the furlough that had never come to these brave hearts--many of whom had never even applied for one --was now a sure thing, and the next march would be in the direction of home--away up in the "Old Hoosier State," Illinois, it may have been; Ohio, the "Old Buckeye State,"" Wisconsin, Iowa --wherever it was, the next march would be in the direction whence through all these years the heart of the "brave boy in blue" had yearned and centered --"home!"

The "enlisted men" of the entire army had been so fully stripped of every impedimenta that had encumbered him from the hour he entered the service until the present time, and hence when Sherman's army marched out from Raleigh on their way to Washington they carried nothing but their musket, cartridge box (it unfilled), a haversack for the soldier's own convenience, and that was all. With a liberality seldom known in an army, and never heard of in European wars, the men were directed to place their knapsacks and everything aside from what I have named, into the wagons of their respective regiments, and hence it can be seen that they "traveled light." All of these preliminary arrangements having been made, it was well on towards the last of April, 1865, that Sherman's army once more "took to the raid," this time with no enemy in front; no knapsack to carry; or well filled cartridge box tightly girdled around his waist, but everything of which it was possible to ease the man, was stowed in the regimental train. The war was over and all knew and felt it. Joy had settled down on the face of every marching man and officer, and it was in such a mood that the Fifteenth corps--as well as all others who had cast their lot with "Old Uncle Billy" --on his "March to the Sea," set their faces northward to Washington, which thousands upon thousands of the "Western boys" had never seen, or even cast a hasty glance over what was to become the handsomest city that America contains today. Several days had been taken up in making preparations for the homeward bound trip. After the first day, the writer of these war time stories determined to view the country away from the regular line of march and with that end in view, detailed Joe R. Williams the eldest living son of the late William Williams, and still a resident of Warsaw to accompany him. When a road was discovered branching off from the main route that had been designated for the troops to follow, but leading in the same general direction, we took it, believing it would lead past some sections of the country untouched by the war, and this was soon found to be the case, for we had not gone five miles until we came to a region of country where at least some of the slaves were engaged at their spring work on several of the plantations. Every mile or two we met members of General Lee's paroled soldiers trudging their way to their far-away homes, which in some instances included Texas, and other Southern States west of the Mississippi river, and all of them on the eastern side of that stream. Worn out and weary as these men were, and with a long journey on foot before them, I could not help but sympathize with them. The contrast between the two armies was so great! The Federals, well-fed as they had ever been, were on the way to their homes to be welcomed all along the line with cheering, shouting thousands and with victory perched upon their bullet-riddled banners; the Confederates on the other hand, many of them barefoot, and with bleeding feet were on their way to far-off homes that when they reached them, if they were able to stand the long and wearisome march, they would find in ashes, and in many instances if their homes lay upon the roads where the Federal army had passed over they would find the fences and dwellings destroyed. The contrast between the home-coming was very great indeed, and we were only too glad that we had taken with us a fairly plentiful supply of "commissary stores" --and there is no need to telling the readers of these reminiscences that we had a more than ordinary full supply of coffee, and therefore the means at hand to give these war-worn soldiers enough of food to last them for another day, at any rate, including a spoonful of coffee each, enough to make a cup full a piece at any rate. Sometimes in a brief rest at the side of the road they would talk with us, and the general idea gleaned from them--the great majority, at least--was a sense of genuine relief over the fact that at last the long-drawn-out war was over. On that subject both Federal and Confederate agreed, and we would part only to meet in the next mile or more, another squad, a duplicate of the one just mentioned.

Northern Indianian June 16, 1904

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