Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

The trumpet's piercing blast is still,
The shackled slave is free;
The Mississippi proudly rolls
Unguarded to the sea.
The snowy wings of peace are spread
Where stood the embattled line;
The tall Palmetto of the South
Leans to the Northern Pine.
--T. C. Harbaugh

Those who are perusing these sketches will bear in mind that the last article concluded with a very lame description of the fearful storm that took place on the evening of the 4rd of July, just as the forces under General Sherman marched out to meet the army with which General Joe E. Johnson, in command of about 30,000 Confederates were approaching Vicksburg from the East, and by attacking General Grant in the rear intended to compel that efficient and skillful officer to raise the siege. It is not probable that the Confederate army was fully aware of the reinforcements that had been hastened to Grant, and on the arrival of the Ninth corps, enabled the Union commander to turn the tables on the Confederate forces, and to at once place them on the defensive rather than the aggressive, as General Johnson, no doubt, confidently expected would be the case. One of the reasons why the troops under General Sherman made the all-night march, as already related, was, if possible, to strike the Confederate forces at the crossing of the Big Black river, and this he did even before the Confederates had crossed that stream in any force.

At the river, however, we met the enemy for the first time, and immediate preparations were made to cross that stream. This was along in the evening of July 4th, and a detachment from each regiment, my own included, effected a lodgement on the east side, the men fording the stream and carrying their muskets high above their heads. They were in sufficient force to hold their position during the night and the next morning the entire division crossed over and began the pursuit of the Confederates, the advance guard keeping the rear guard on the go, almost without cessation, although occasionally they would make a stand only to find themselves in danger of being flanked and thus compelling them to continue their retreat or be in great danger of being captured. The main body of Johnson's army, I imagine, never ceased their rearward march until it reached the city of Jackson, the capital of the State of Mississippi; about thirty miles east of Vicksburg, situated on Pearl river, where quite extensive fortifications had been built, and which the Confederates at once proceeded to strengthen as well as to add more for the defense of the town.

On the evening of the 5th, General Sherman had closed up to the suburbs of the city, and with the exception of the east side, soon afterward had his own army fairly well entrenched on the first line. In making such a movement the commanding officer of a regiment or a brigade is often sorely troubled in securing supplies, for it is not to be expected that the servants in charge of the rations either could or should keep right up with a command that was in constant touch with the enemy, and that was my position the night the Federal forces closed in about Jackson. My regiment was on the front line and the pursuit of the enemy had been so continuous all day that myself and those belonging to my headquarters had not a bite to eat, when the order reached us just as the shades of night were falling, that no fires should be built. That meant no coffee, the soldier's main dependence. Even at that early period of the war, and before it was over I came to the conclusion that coffee was the most sustaining article of all the rations issued by the government, and when worn out with an all day march and constant skirmishing more than all else, a tin of good strong coffee, did more to enliven a collapsed soldier, and put him in a condition to resume his march or to sustain more of his laborious work than all else he consumed, even though his haversack might be crammed with bacon, hardtack, beans, rice and all that a full ration comprises.

None of the members of headquarters "mess" had come up and as a consequence myself and all those about me who usually partook of their rations at regimental headquarters were in possession of a bite to eat, and it was a hungry crowd that at about 10 o'clock that night, proposing to procure some rest, rolled themselves in their blankets immediately in the rear of the first line of infantry. However just as I was about to do so, Henry Flowers, who enlisted at Etna Green in this county, came up from the rear, and asked me if we had partaken of anything to eat, he suspecting that he had not for the reason that he had seen our headquarters servants about two miles in the rear. On hearing that we had been dinner-less and supper-less, he said he believed he could obtain some green corn and a tin full of coffee, and he went back for some distance, I suspected for he was gone a full half-hour, but on making his appearance he brought with him nearly a half-bushel of husked roasting ears and a camp kettle swinging over his shoulders. To prepare the corn a fire was absolutely necessary as we neither could or dared to eat it raw. I told him about the order that no fire should be kindled, but he got around that by rigging three or four rubber blankets on stakes on the enemy's side and behind these he built a fire and boiled the corn, having first shaved the grain from the cob, and when well cooked he added a couple pounds of lard he had captured during the day and mixed it with the corn. On ascertaining that there was no salt for this mix, I went to one of the soldiers lying in the front line and he very willingly divided his supply with me. This incident is related only to show those who have come upon the stage of action since the war, the difficulty that even officers had to undergo in emergencies; for it must be remembered that at no time during the war were rations issued to commissioned officers, they being compelled under the law to buy their supplies from the commissaries, and of course, under such circumstances as have been described it was not probable that there was a commissary within ten miles from whom we could buy rations.

The next morning the fight was on in earnest. the enemy was driven wholly into the town, and so closely were the Confederates enclosed that they ran the lines of some of their breast works, on the north side at least, right under some of the houses in the suburbs, and I heard quite a number of citizens berating the Confederate officers for building their works so close to the center of the town that every shot or shell from the Yankee guns could not fall to do much damage. In those days it was the custom for each division to furnish a detail for either pickets or skirmishers, and place the whole line crossing its front--usually three brigades, all under charge of a single officer, a Major or a Lieutenant Colonel. Major Baldwin, of the Twelfth, was detailed for this work, and as he had just been appointed a Major, he was in his glory. In closing in the Twelfth was on the first line and met with considerable opposition, losing several men in wounded, but none killed outright, if I remember correctly. The picket or skirmish line is generally placed as far in front of the leading lines of troops as is convenient and safe, and in this instance it was nearly a fourth of a mile in advance of the main body.

I remember on one occasion that I heard a sputter of musketry straight in front but on the right flank of the Twelfth. Baldwin had been giving close attention to his skirmish line, but I feared that he might be at the other end of the line and therefore I galloped out to the front to see if anything was wrong. I found the Major taking a rest on a mattress that some of the men had requisitioned from some of the better class residences near by, placed under a "lean-to" made of boards the upper ends of which rested on a pole propped up against two trees, nearly asleep. I aroused him and told him about the increased firing from the enemy over on the right and it seemed to me that they were preparing to "rush" some point over there. He had been on duty for a considerable time and was sleepy, and only turned over preparatory to taking another nap. I insisted that he would get up and go and see if there were any suspicious movements on the part of the enemy. Very reluctantly he did so and had just got on his horse to accompany me over to the right to see what the enemy was doing, when a shell thrown from a fort of the rebels, crashed right through the boards of his "lean-to," struck the mattress upon which he had been lying but a moment before, ripping it all to pieces. There cannot be a shadow of doubt but for my coming, and afterward insisting that he should get up and go along with me, that he would have been torn into shreds. Such instances as this are called "providential escapes," but they occurred many times during the war and whatever they may be designated they were certainly strange and bordered on the miraculous, most assuredly. the bursting of the shell covered us over with leaves and twigs from the trees and splinters from the boards, and evidently hastened our departure to the threatened part in time to prevent that portion of the skirmish line from falling back under the pressure the enemy was making and by rushing up a company to the support of our line, it was at once checked.

The brigade to which the Twelfth was attached lay in the trenches for five days and as it rained every day, the men became so covered and plastered with the red mud of that region that it was relieved by another one and was permitted to go to the rear to rest and clean up. It was during this period of idleness on our part that Major Baldwin and myself thought we discovered signs of withdrawal on the part of the enemy and firm in this belief, and the next day after the regiment was withdrawn from the front line, we concluded to see for ourselves whether our suspicions were well-founded or not; so when night came we crawled up to the for that defended the main road leading out of the town to the north and which contained six guns. The closer we got the more we were convinced that the Confederates meant to withdraw from their lines and most likely leave Jackson to itself. We were so close upon the sides of the north face that we could hear every word that was uttered and even then we became convinced that the enemy was engaged in wrapping the wheels of their artillery with gunny sacks to prevent them from being heard by the Yankees while being withdrawn. It is hardly necessary to say that as soon as we could crawl back with our important news we did so and both of us mounted our horses and hastened to inform those in higher command of the facts; of how we had gained our knowledge, and the truthfulness of our information.

Gen. William Sooy Smith, afterwards so badly whipped at Tupelo were disposed to sneer at the improbability that the rebels would give up such an important position without a fight, especially as it was so well fortified. The Major and myself felt somewhat chagrined over our treatment by a superior officer as to the value of our information, after we had taken such great risk to obtain it, and after sending word in a written note to General Park, the officer in command of all the troops next to General Sherman, whose headquarters were too far away on the right for us to attempt to interview, that we went back to our quarters, determined to be up at 3 o'clock in the morning ready to accompany the troops as they passed into a deserted town. Sure enough, when we reached the lines, the discovery was just being made that the enemy had evacuated the city during the night--a fact that us two had known would be the case as early as 9 o'clock on the evening previous. Of course, neither of us had any command, and in fact no special business there save the personal one of being present when the troops found out what we had known for hours, and to be among the first to enter the town.

Major Baldwin was a dare-devil sort of a fellow; well informed, and held a hatred for the rebels most intense in its malignity, and at the same time was perfectly fearless of consequences in anything he might undertake. He had but quite recently received his commission as Major from Governor Morton to fill the place of James A. Goodnow, who had been promoted Lieutenant-Colonel to succeed Sol. D. Kempton, resigned, and on that morning rode a mule--but expecting to be mustered into his rank within a few days, he was looking out for an equipment for his horse as soon as he could procure one, and it was for this reason that, above all other places, he visited the saddle and harness shops after we arrived in town, were the most sought, and at which places he secured quite a number of articles that he "needed in his business" as Major of the Twelfth Indiana Infantry, but as the space allowed for these sketches is already consumed the reader will have to wait till next week for the particulars of the return to camp of the two officers who were down in the city without any authority and therefore might receive a reprimand from our commanding officer.

Warsaw Daily Times Sat. June 27, 1903

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