Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Muffle the drums! On steep mountain heights,
Down in the valleys, on land o'er sea,
Thundered the guns through wild days and nights,
Spilling the life blood for you and me.
Charging brigades
Met flashing blades;
Stern was the contest on battlefields gory.
Sleep heroes, sleep!
O'er land and deep,
Thine was the contest and thine be the glory!
--E. A. Brinistool

In due time Sherman's army arrived at Alexandria, Virginia, a town that in the earlier days of the country was a most important shipping point. It was here that the ship-loads of girls and young women arrived in the early settlement of Virginia to become wives of the enterprising tobacco planters of that colony who bought them outright by paying their passageway from England to America in so many bales of tobacco. As these young women came over by the hundreds in the early colonial period, it can easily be seen that they became the progenitors of the F. F. V.'s -- "First Families of Virginia" --and as a consequence it had, previous to the war, become a standing joke that the First Families of Virginia were descendants of women and girls who came to this country for the express purpose of finding husbands. I am not saying a word derogatory of these women who came over to America in such large numbers. On the contrary they became the parents of a stalwart set of people who in the later development of the country furnished the soldiers of the Revolution who won the independence of the United States; but who were far below, as mothers were measured in those days, what was known as the aristocracy of England--a country that perhaps is more pronounced in its estimate of the record of a family and its consequent "blooded stock," than any other in the world, and it has always been a queer thing that the aristocracy of Virginia was compelled to trace their ancestry back to the nameless girls who came over to this country and arriving at Alexandria mostly, had their passage paid by some marriageable Virginian who possessed a sufficient number of pounds of tobacco to do it! These became the ancestors on the mother's side of the First Families of Virginia, of whose aristocracy so much was said previous to the breaking out of the civil war. Well, it was at this same old tobacco port of Alexandria where the soldiers under General Sherman went into camp after reaching the vicinity of Washington, and where the preparations of the Western army was made to participate on the second day of the Grand Review, celebrating the event of the conclusion of the war. It was at Alexandria where General Braddock, the English Commanding officer outfitted for his expedition against the French who at that time was in possession of Pittsburgh, Pa., and of all the Western country whose streams flowed into the Mississippi river. It is unnecessary to refer to General Braddock's army composed of British regulars and colonial volunteers, for every present-day scholar of the public schools is well acquainted with the history of how the British General marched his army to the vicinity of Pittsburgh where the French with their Indian allies, were massed against his army, and refusing to listen to the advice of George Washington, at that time an "aide de camp" on General Braddock's staff--advice that had it been followed would have saved hundreds of lives and a disastrous defeat, which was the outcome of the British General's refusal to listen to the advice of a young officer, far better qualified as an Indian fighter than was Braddock himself, but whose advice was almost spurned by the head of the army. As a consequence Sherman's army went into camp on historic ground, and I remember very distinctly that the subject was much discussed by the men in the army who were conversant with the "Life of Washington" and his connections with the disastrous Braddock expedition to Pittsburgh, Pa. For several days General Sherman's regiments, brigades, divisions and corps, camped in the vicinity of the old town while getting ready for the great review which was to occur a few days later.

In an earlier number of these war sketches published, perhaps, almost a year ago, I detailed the story of the Twelfth Indiana Infantry which was stationed at Evansville, this state--the Twelfth at that time being in the service of Indians, only; not having been mustered into the United States service. On the same Sunday evening of the first battle of Bull Run, Col. John M. Wallace, then the Colonel of the regiment received a dispatch from Governor Morton, directing him to have the command ready to entrain for Indianapolis as quickly as possible and that cars would reach him soon afterwards to bring the regiment to the capital. The whole country went wild over Bull Run fight and in the fear that Washington City might be captured the governors of all the loyal states were running troops to that place with all possible speed. Governor Morton conceived the idea of making the proposition to the Twelfth to transfer its services to the United States instead of the state alone, and it was with that object in view that he had issued the order for the Colonel to bring his troops to the state capital. On arriving there the next day, the proposition was made to the enlisted men and officers to take the required oath to the general government, and not a single man in the command declined to do so. In the September following, after the Bull Run battle, fought on Sunday July 21, 1861, I was in Washington and from the rear steps of the capital building the Confederate flag could be seen flying from the top of a prominent house in Alexandria. It was on this historic ground, in a double sense, that all of General Sherman's troops were encamped, all about the old and quaint looking town, the port from whence all the bales of tobacco that were received in colonial days in old Virginia, and the country round about and in its day was a rival of what is now the fine city of Baltimore, so that the reader will perceive that the soldiers of both Grant and Sherman's armies were getting ready, four years and more after the firing on Fort Sumpter, were about to be mustered out in the immediate vicinity of the first battle of the war.

For several days previous to the Grand Review, the soldiers were engaged in getting ready for that event. Many regiments drew new clothes and a spirit of emulation between the various regiments had seized upon both officers and men to make the best possible appearance on the two days of the review. All of the troops belonging to General Grant's command proper, had been assembled in the vicinity of Washington previous to the arrival of General Sherman's command and it is said that when Grant's army was drawn out upon a single road to make the journey to Washington from Richmond and the surrounding region, that for fifty miles that road was spread over with men marching in regular order, and a day or two previous to the first day of the review, one of the newspapers of Washington in giving its readers statistics of the assembled thousands stated that the various batteries alone if drawn out upon a single road in regular marching order, with only the ordinary space usual between batteries and guns, would have reached from Washington to Richmond. Let one --not a soldier--think of that for a moment, and it will cause some surprise, I feel confident. Of course, I know nothing as to the truthfulness of the estimate, but it was probably true, for the story would have at once been contradicted where so many officers could easily perceive its falsity were it not a fact. This only included the batteries of the Army of the Potomac and those who came from Savannah with Sherman. In all the Southwest; in Tennessee, in Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas; there certainly was at that time an equal number of batteries and guns, so that the story of all the artillery in use in the country over, during the war would make a correct account of the number seem fabulous. As already said, the waiting period of four or five days preceding the Grand Review was put in by the soldiers in fitting up neatly for that greatest of all similar occasions. There was no drilling of troops nor much guard duty. Everybody was too glad and too happy to require much discipline. The soldiers were mostly placed on their good behavior, and there was but little disorder of any kind--not nearly as much as might have been anticipated, when military duties have been so slackened and the only think that marred those happy, waiting days--for it must be understood that in bringing so large a body of men together, it brought into closer relations the men of many localities who had served through the war in the hundreds of regiments, and the members of these were constantly engaged in hunting up their old friends of "before the war" days, and hence the visiting of one another to each I have referred went on every day.

The only cause of anxiety on the part of quite a number of the leading officers, came from the rivalry, and I may truthfully say, the jealousity, that existed between the two armies--the Eastern and Western --and, indeed the only disorder that did come under my eye during the period of waiting for the review was a very vigorous fight between two squads of about twenty each, representing the two armies. The fight did not last a great while, but men on both sides came out of the squabble with black eyes and bloody noses. Very fortunately none of them were armed, or the affair would doubtless have ended with the report of both "killed and wounded." The newspapers did make up a list after the coming together of the two armies of fix or eight men killed in this way with the usual ration of five wounded to one killed. It was a strange thing to me to see men who had fought so valiantly in the same cause for four years that would permit mere rivalry to lead them into such an uncalled for "melee," and oh, how sad it was when such a squabble resulted in the taking of the life of the men who within a very few days would have had their discharge in their pockets and themselves on the way back to home and loved ones. Let one think how sad would be the news of the home-coming to those so uselessly killed in a brawl and the family be shocked to learn the way in which they had died after the years of honorable service they had given to their country! Fortunately as a general thing, the order prevailed where so many men had been assembled was remarkably good, and such incidents as I have related were few, while the conduct of the thousands who filled the streets of Washington for the period that both armies lay in the immediate vicinity, was most excellent and the men as happy and as good-humored as could be. Rejoicing over the end of the war filled every heart. Even those who had fought on the Confederate side were pleased to know that the days of carnage, wounds and death were at an end, and so smiles and joyfulness greeted one another on all sides.

A large number of ferry-boats piled between wharves of Alexandria and Washington, a distance of seven miles and every day as well as far into the night these boats were filled to their utmost capacity in carrying soldiers to and from the capital, every one of them most fully enjoying the liberty given them. Comparatively few of the soldiers of Sherman's department had ever before visited Washington, and for them the sightseeing was of more than ordinary interest. All of the public buildings, especially the capitol, conceded to be among the finest buildings of the world were crowded to the limit with visitors and the unusual liberty given the soldiers in this particular was very seldom betrayed, the men no doubt feeling that an act so generous and so different from the usual army discipline that would permit but a few from each company to have passes for such a purpose, evidently felt themselves to be on their good behavior and conducted themselves as the gentlemen they instinctively were. The policemen of the city, too, no doubt had orders to make no arrests for trivial offenses, and as a consequence there were few arrests made during the waiting days preceding the grand review. It should also be remembered that besides the assembling of the thousands upon thousands of soldiers at the capital including all those of the Army of the Potomac under General Meade, the hero of Gettysburg, as well as of the larger portion of "The Military Division of the Mississippi!" General Sherman commanding with General Grant ranking over and above all, that many thousands of the citizens of the United States came to Washington to witness the grandest pageant of modern times, and one that has never since been eclipsed in magnitude. Every state in the Union was represented, of course the far Western states being few in number, for in that day no Pacific railway spanned the continent, but from all others that were provided with railroads they came in a never ending stream, and during all the time up to the days set apart for the review trains were constantly arriving filled to overflowing with the loyal people who had stood by President Lincoln in the most gigantic struggle that any man had ever been called upon to bear, and it is likely that the beautiful city of Washington will never again see so large a number of patriotic visitors upon its streets as upon the occasion when the people gathered there to rejoice over the end of the war, and to welcome the Western armies of Sherman and Grant.

It should not be understood that all was rejoicing, for down in the hearts of all of that immense aggregation of people, men and women--whole families, indeed--there was a tugging sorrow at the heart-strings of one and all that the one man who would have been most gladdened, the most dearly beloved Abraham Lincoln, like Moses of old, could not look over into the promised land and see the end, the victorious end, and the happy culmination of all for which he had so constantly labored and suffered to save the Union from dissolution. The City of Washington on all its streets from the palaces of the rich down to the lowliest cottage it contained, the capital and every other public building in the city still wore its weeds of mourning over the death of the great and good man. How joyful would his heart have pulsed had he been there to witness the end, for which no man ever before had labored to such an extent, that he was a bowed and broken man at the time the bullet of the assassin ended his career; and ho, the pity of it all that he could not be present to rejoice with the people who had stood by him through his herculean task! Hundreds of times I heard the remark from soldier: "Oh, if Lincoln could only be here now!" This was a very common expression, and the words came deep from the hearts of the visiting thousands, but by none did the sentiment expressed come more frequently than from the soldiers of the army who had learned to love the President, as men seldom love one another, and in penning these lines, I have only to say, "Oh, had Lincoln only have lived to see the end, and to have witnessed the great rejoicing of his people, then the end would have been happier to one and all!"

Myself and the immediate friends around my headquarters spent much of the time on the ferry boats in going to Washington and in returning to Alexandria, making generally three or four trips a day. It was at Alexandria it will be remembered, that Colonel Ellsworth, the commanding officer of the New York Fire Zouaves, lost his life very early in the war. His regiment of course, wore the Zouave uniform, a French fashion, if I mistake not, and as he was a perfect master of tactics and drill, his regiment presented a very handsome appearance whenever it turned out. The Federals quite early in the war obtained possession of Alexandria and the Ellsworth Zouaves were among the first regiments to go into quarters in this old secession town. He found a Confederate flag flying from the top of a hotel of which a man by the name of Jackson was the proprietor at the time. The following morning after going into camp at that place--bear in mind that the Confederate army under General Beauregard, lay only a short distance out of Alexandria at the time--he directed Sergeant Bronson to take a squad of soldiers with him and go to the hotel and demand of the proprietor to haul down that flag. The Sergeant did so, and Jackson refused to lower the colors. by this time Col. Ellsworth himself came on to the scene and going along with Sergeant Bronson and his detail, was proceeding up the stairway at the hotel, when Jackson suddenly appeared and shot the Colonel through the body, mortally wounding him, his death following directly afterwards. The death of Col. Ellsworth caused a great sensation and aroused the people all over the North to a wonderful extent. He was a very popular young man and in 1860, he as Captain of the Chicago Zouaves, toured the whole country, giving exhibitions of the company that had advanced under his teachings to a remarkable degree of efficiency, every exhibition they gave being largely attended, and in reality the trip of the Ellsworth Zouaves all over the country was an ovation at every point where the people had an opportunity of witnessing the remarkable degree of perfection to which they had arrived. His death caused a genuine sorrow throughout the entire North, and as he was one of the first officers to fall after the firing on Fort Sumpter, the excitement produced over his death had the effect to send many--very many--young men into the army. The next of this series of articles will refer to the review and the incident remembered of the two days that it required for "the march past."

Northern Indianian June 30, 1904

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