Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

The battered saber breathes of time
When fields were won and lost;
The empty sleeve in silence tells
How much the victory cost.
Behold the heroes mustered out:
They sleep in glade and glen;
On mountain-top by river side--
Four hundred thousand men!

After Major Baldwin and myself had so well satisfied ourselves the night that we two crawled up on the north face of the Confederate fort that defended the main road going into the city of Jackson from that point of the compass, we were greatly chagrined, that for such positive information that the enemy was preparing to evacuate the place in the early following morning that no advantage was taken of the situation. Our idea was that with the positive proof we had that the enemy was about to give up the capital of Mississippi, the officers in command of the Federal troops would only be too glad to attack an enemy while it was withdrawing from its lines; or, if it was not thought best to bring on a fight in the dark, to at least be ready to crowd that enemy very early in the morning which would be almost certain to bring on a stampede, and an army at a stampede is easily overcome. I am confident that could we have reached General Sherman's headquarters in person with our information that vigilant, enterprising officer would at any rate have ordered the more than one hundred guns under his command into position and at least have shelled, the retreating troops while scurrying through the streets of Jackson. His headquarters were four miles distant, and after meeting General Sooy Smith, who in his pleasant quarters was so confident in his judgment against us two who had been so near the rebels that we could hear every word uttered by them, and were perfectly certain that the Union forces would find no enemy to fight by 4 o'clock the next morning, and knowing this from our own ears and eyesight, we were somewhat disheartened over the cool reception our information procured at such risks as we had put forth, was received. I am certain that had he given us the confidence that an officer in his position should have done, we would have very willingly carried the information to General Sherman in person, and had that been done, I am equally certain that the capture of Jackson would have been far more disastrous to the enemy than it was. Somewhat chagrined, we contented ourselves with sending the orderly to General Park, then temporarily in command of the corps, bearing a written statement of the facts as they existed. This required time and General Park told me afterward that had he had earlier notice of the valuable information we had procured he certainly would have arranged for an attack all along his front at daybreak.

Any surviving soldier can most readily perceive that if our information had been utilized, the enemy would have been hustled out of Jackson by any opening of an artillery fire on marching men confined to the streets of the town that would have speedily converted the Confederates into a flying mob, and as they could cross Pearl river, only at one bridge, and the river skirted the east and south of the town, half of that army could have been either killed, wounded or captured, for there has never yet been an army that would stand when the army was pouring shot into its back, which would have been the case, had the Federal line opened with a hundred pieces of artillery at 3 o'clock in the morning, just as they had left their lines and pulled out into the streets of Jackson, and that would have meant a stampede, then a mob, and with a few regiments of infantry thrown upon them in such a condition, could scarcely have prevented the capture of half of Johnson's army, at the very least. It is always easy, after it is too late, to see our blunders, and where and how they could have been corrected, but no blunder need to have been made in this case had the truthful information that Major Baldwin and the writer at no small personal risk had secured have been utilized. The next time I saw General Sherman was at Black river --the stream at the crossing of which he had first come in touch with General Johnson's confederates on the return march. I related to him the incident and the information he had placed in General William Sooy Smith's hands as early as 10 o'clock on the night previous to the evacuation of the city by the rebels. This was the first he had heard that positive information of the proposed retreat was known in our lines, and his comments were anything but complimentary to General Smith, who, he said, regardless of his own opinion about the withdrawal of the enemy should have hastened to inform his (Sherman's) headquarters, with news so valuable, and he expressed great regret that General Smith had been so dilatory in a matter of such great importance.

But let me return to the course pursued by myself and Major Baldwin. Readers of these articles will remember that my command had been retired from the front line to give the men an opportunity to clean up and rid their clothes of the red mud that in Mississippi sticks closer to a man than a poor relative, and to rest after five days and nights behind trenches, with rain every day once and all the time under artillery and musket fire. This being the case, and having no special duty to perform at about 3 o'clock on the morning of the evacuation, we slipped out of camp, myself on horseback and Major Baldwin riding a mule, both of us perfectly confident that the town would be evacuated and determined to be along with the troops that would first enter the city. Of course, we had no command and neither had we any business to do such a thing. Indeed, it was rather unmilitary that in our respective positions and with no orders, that we should be there at all, but all these reasons were forgotten in the desire to go into a surrendered city along with the leading troops. Of course, we were compelled to cross over the Confederate earthworks, but by hunting smooth places to cross, the incline of the works being in our favor, we soon got our animals through the breast works, a much easier thing to do in going in than coming out, as will be related further along. After crossing the line and proceeding to the main street of the city, it was just breaking light, and we discovered that we two men were the only mounted ones in sight. The Ninety-ninth Indiana Infantry stood at the head of the street and were soon afterwards joined by their officers who had found considerable difficulty in getting their animals over the works. Temporarily the Major and myself attached ourselves to this regiment, knowing most of its officers were well, and soon the order came to move.

A detachment of advance guards was sent forward by the Colonel of the regiment to which we intended to belong for a short time, and just as the colors of the regiment "broke out," the sun began to peep above the eastern horizon, and the regiment took up its march southward on one of the principal streets of the city. The enemy could be heard apparently about a mile distant, but no rebel soldiers were in sight. We continued with the Ninety-ninth, until we reached the State House, when we left the troops that were under orders and proceeded to do as we pleased, we being only brevet members of the Ninety-ninth and visitors in the city of Jackson, and, of course, entirely free from military orders and discipline, for the moment, at least. I have already stated that the Major was a reckless sort of fellow, and this was proven by the fact that, after disappearing around a street corner, where he was absent for a short-time, he came back with two demi-johns as he had to get a string so that he could tie them together and swing them over the pummel of his saddle. He was gone but a brief time, when he returned with a heavy silk cord as big in diameter as a man's finger, which he had found in the parlor of a mansion, back from the streets and which had been used before the Major cut it loose for holding back the heavy lace curtains at one of the windows of the very fine residence. He did even more than this, for he cut about a yard square right out of a piece of velvet carpet in the same room, to use for a saddle cover, and which he did use for that purpose as long as he was a member of the Twelfth.

Of course, the Union troops--those who were on the advance line, as well as the main body of the front line--as soon as they discovered that there was no enemy in front in the very early morning, formed into regiments and marched into the town driving the rear guards of the Confederates before them, after they caught up with them--not much force being required to do so, for they were all in a hurry to get out. At that period there were miles of almost unsettled country east of Jackson and as there never was any intention on the part of General Sherman to do more than to drive them out of Jackson, it was fairly well understood that there would be no pursuit of the rebel General Johnson across this unsettled pine region, for of necessity, the Confederate army, after giving up the capital of the State, would have to cross this region and get to a point east of it in order to procure supplies; so that after the rear guard crossed Pearl river the pursuit was to cease. Major Baldwin and myself roamed around the central part of the city at will. We visited the State House, talked with those citizens who were willing to converse with "a d__d Yankee," and tried to procure something to eat, but in this succeeding only to a slight extent for food was a scarce article in any of the towns in the South after it had been besieged, and there was seldom any large supply of stores on hand, even before the coming of the Union troops by the close of the second and the beginning of the third year of the war. We got some of the delicious corn bread that only the "darkey mammies," even to this day, know best how to make, and of which we made a breakfast--stopped the gnawing of our stomachs rather.

We had entered the town along with the troops at about 3:30 a.m., and we came to the conclusion to get back to camp. I have already referred to the fact that owing to Baldwin's desire to procure equipments for his horse now that he had been appointed Major of his regiment--he having been the ranking captain--the saddle and harness shows attracted his attention more than anything else. At one of these he had procured a number of articles, such as a military bridle and a saddle cloth, halters, spurs, etc., and both of us when we got ready to go found ourselves--our horses rather-- loaded down with plunder. Four more demijohns of wine had been added to Baldwin's string of two, making six in all. The Major on going into a Catholic church, found a box of alter candles and had them, box and all, strapped on his mule, using the halter and its strap to tie it on. These candles were eighteen or twenty inches in length and thick in proportion. I insisted on not taking them at all, but he insisted that when night came he was going to illuminate the camp of the Twelfth regiment in honor of the great victory. So when we were loading up it was found that he could not carry the six demijohns of wine and the box of candles and therefore he requested me to carry the wine on my horse. I declined at first insisting that he should leave the box of candles and he would then have plenty of room. I finally agreed, however, and the demijohns were transferred to my animal. When both of us got on--and, of course, we were compelled to ask the assistance of some of the Federal soldiers near us, the animals were so piled up with plunder that we could just poke our heads through its top.

I remember that the town clock indicated 8:30 a.m. when we started back to camp, so that we had been in town nearly, if not quite five hours. It was about three miles from the center of the town where we loaded our traps back to camp, and we had already gone tow or three squares when, on looking up the street, we discovered General Park, and all his staff, consisting of sixty to seventy-five mounted officers and orderlies. Here was a pretty fix for a Colonel and a Major in the United States army to be in on meeting the officer second in command of the Union forces! I hastily looked on both sides of the street for an alley through which we could escape meeting the General, but there was none, and there was nothing to do but face the dilemma as best we could. I have already stated in this series of articles that Baldwin was a great wag, and I therefore commanded him to ride right past and say nothing; but to my utter astonishment, just as we approached the head of the cavalcade and General Park was eying both of us, the Major sung out at the top of his voice:

"General, you'd better hurry up, or you won't get a d__d thing!"

I was looking the General in the face at the time, and not ten feet distance from him, and I perceived just the faintest tinge of a smile steal over his face, and knew it was all right, and instead of being reprimanded or even arrested Baldwin's ready wit had made it impossible to do either; for in an instance the whole staff broke out with a loud laugh that clinched the whole matter, many of them being personal acquaintances.

The reader will bear in mind that in the earlier part of this article I remarked that it was easier for a mounted man to go into the town over the breast works than it was to come out. The reason for this lay in the fact that there was a slant on the outside that permitted the horse or mule to climb up to the top and thus get over. Coming out, however the earthworks were generally perpendicular, and it was very difficult to get any animal to leap up to the top. Indeed when the troops came in at a good many places they dug down a portion of the breast works in order to get the horses of the officers over in going into the town. I have already stated that in a number of instances the breast works of the Confederates ran right under the houses. It was under such a house that I got an opportunity to pay off Major Baldwin for some of his personal jokes on myself. He was riding ahead on his mule and had found a place under a small frame house where the breast works had been made slanting--although still quite steep--where he thought we could get out. He tried it, but his mule refused to go up the slant. I have already alluded to his supply of saddle and harness goods and amongst these he had a very long and fine buggy whip.

"Here," said he, "Colonel, take this whip and give the mule a cut, and I guess he will climb out."

I did so, and the very first lick I gave the animal he kicked up behind and bumped Baldwin's head against the sleepers of the floor above.

"Hold on," he cried, "that won't do," but, remembering his pranks, I kept on touching up the mule, while Baldwin's head played a steady tattoo against the beams and floor, while I laughed until I was as weak as water. We then called to a soldier who was not far away to help us get the mule over by leading him, and when he got hold of the halter, I gave him another and harder cut, when, like a flash, he bolted over the works, Baldwin having all he could do to keep on his back.

Well, we got back to camp, had our cook fix us up a fine breakfast, and afterward both of us went to our tents for rest, for we had been up nearly all of the night preceding and were considerably wearied over the night and early morning's work. In speaking of the plunder, I find that I have neglected to mention that in one store, two of them it may be, we found something over three hundred napkins and the Major had tied them on his mule. That evening when the regiment was dismissed at dress parade he distributed them to the soldiers as far as they would go, and the next day it was reported all over the division that Governor Morton was furnishing Indiana troops with napkins!

As soon as it became dark we illuminated the camp, a lot of carpenters having bored holes in the trees and fitted in a piece of wood with a hole at its outer end to hold the candle and the illumination of the Twelfth over the victory was an immense success. Occasionally I meet an old veteran of the war who refers to the occasion, for we had singing, speeches and other accompaniments that night--the Twelfth having kept a military band of sixteen pieces clear through the war. As it was the only band of the kind in the corps at that time, except the Thirteenth regular regiment, many of the men from other commands were present.

Warsaw Daily Times Fri. July 3, 1903

Back to YesterYear in Print