Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Beneath the flag our fathers made
They fought for me and you,
And crimsoned with their precious blood
Their honored coats of blue:
Upon a hundred battlefields
In victory and rout,
And in the prisons' horried cells
The brave were "mustered out."
---T. C. Harbaugh

After the Confederates' main column withdrew from Jackson, Miss., it was pressed for some distance into the piney woods, the thinly settled region alluded to in my last article, by General Sherman's cavalry, no infantry, however, joining in the chase, as General Sherman was well aware that the Confederate forces would have to get to a region where the troops could be supplied, and this, of course, could not be done in the kind of a country already referred to. As a consequence, he at once prepared to return to the vicinity of Vicksburg, his own corps, the Fifteenth, going into camp on the west side of the Big Black river at a point about twenty-five miles east of Vicksburg. Here my own regiment-in fact, the entire brigade-had as delightful a camp as any soldiers could wish for. They were bivouacked in a fine grove that included many palmetto trees, and all of the regiments of this brigade, wherever the ground permitted, laid out their camps on the plan laid down in the tactics for the purpose, and adopted from long experience as the best for the purpose.

In returning from Jackson, Mississippi, the rear guard was followed by a detachment-perhaps a full brigade-of rebel cavalry and occasional skirmishes took place, and at a village about midway between Jackson and the Big Black, our brigade went into line, behind some trees and permitted the Confederates to come up quite close, when they opened up with a few volleys that surprised "the Johnnies," who had no idea of the situation, and had pursued the Federal rear guard quite closely. Approaching the line that our rear guard knew was in position on each side of the main road, it rapidly passed through it and which was immediately closed, the rebels still following up they were taken completely by surprise and received three or four volleys before they could retire. For so small an affair their loss was severe while our own was trifling. This surprise acted as a deterrent, for the next day the Confederates were very cautious, and followed our rear guard at a respectful distance, the pursuit being discontinued altogether after the Big Black was reached and crossed at Messenger's Ferry.

In casting my mind back to the war days, I always think of the cantonment at Messenger's Ferry and named "Camp Sherman," as a pleasant period of soldier life. The camp my own regiment occupied was a very pleasant one, and I was able while there to secure many comforts for the members of the command, and I remember one thing that came to many of the members of the regiment as a godsend. I happened to be up at Sherman's headquarters, when a wagon-train of supplies arrived. In "nosing" around I found that there were five barrels of soured cabbage on one of them, along with other goods. Being well acquainted with the commissary, and especially friendly with him, I asked if I couldn't secure a couple of barrels of that soured cabbage?

"Certainly," he replied; "all you will have to do is to sign a requisition and receipt for it and send one of your wagons after it."

Aware of the fact that the demand for such an article would be very good as soon as it was known that it could be had, I hastened back to my camp to get a wagon to convey it to my own headquarters. The distance to the camp was something over a mile, and fully aware of the fact that with the dry army ration with its salt meat led men to crave something sour, as I rode back I could see that two barrels would scarcely go around among the members of a fairly full regiment; so I accompanied the wagon and teamster that was sent after the two barrels of kraut and soon induced the commissary to make it two more barrels, as it would be better to let one regiment have enough to go around than to send the five barrels out in a way that no one man would get more than a spoonful!

"That's so," said the commissary, "and while you are at it you might as well take the whole five barrels."

"All right," said I, "there is plenty of room in the wagon for the five and that will give each man a mint apiece, according to my reckoning-only a mere bit each for a hearty soldier!"

I often refer to this incident to show that I always tried to be mindful of the men under my immediate command, and at all times to secure for them whatever was possible. The cabbage referred to was covered with as sour vinegar as I ever tasted and was cut in cubs instead of being sliced, suggesting the old-fashioned way of cutting kraut with a sharpened spade, pursued by many old pioneers, and never did men appreciate more keenly that issue of sour kraut. Onions, too, were counted almost a delicacy along with the army rations, and on occasions the sutlers would bring from the North a few barrels that would be sold so quickly that they were scarcely aware of the fact that they had received a dozen barrels, and had only opened them for sale a few moments before they were all disposed of-at good prices too, for I have paid as high as 50 cents apiece for them at times, as well as 75 cents for a late Northern daily paper. Of course, these were only occasional prices and for special articles. I have said that the camp at Messenger's Ferry was a very pleasant one, and although it was in the hot season of the year we were there-July and August-yet my regiment was more healthful than most of the others in the same division. I account for this partly in this way. A general order existed that each regiment should engage in battalion drill two hours in the forenoon and two in the afternoon-the hours set for 9 a.m. and at 2 p.m. The order was a standing one and issued from division headquarters and I remember that many regiments would go out at the designated time, loll around for awhile in the hot sun and return to quarters to repeat the same process in the afternoon. I reasoned that about all that was required was to give the men proper exercise-therefore I had company drill in quarters for a half hour in the early morning, breakfast at 7 o'clock, then about three-quarters or a full hour of battalion drill and nothing more till dress parade in the evening. I soon discovered that this pleased the enlisted men; that they were taking a deep interest in the fact that other regiments were complimenting them for their soldierly and orderly appearance and when it was discovered that sickness was much more prevalent in other regiments than it was in the Twelfth, I was satisfied much of it came from drilling at more appropriate hours and in keeping out of the hot sun as much as possible in that hot climate.

Nearly all of the troops composing the Fifteenth corps had at first served under General Grant, and fully half-perhaps much more-had participated in his marches and victories from the capture of Forts Donelson and Henry, the battle of Shiloh; then when the Fifteenth corps was formed as early as December, 1862, it came under command of that able and efficient soldier, General William T. Sherman, and when it fell to the latter to assume command of the armies of the Mississippi, caused by the promotion of Grant, it fell to the lot of that ablest of all the volunteer officers of the war, Gen. John A. Logan, and it became a body of men, proud of their record and over and through which pervaded an "esprit de corps" that made it an invincible body of men-men who were compelled in the very nature of things, over and above all circumstances to sustain the credit it had won on so many a well-fought battlefield, and on more than one occasion at the annual reunions of "The Army of the Tennessee," since the war, I have heard General Sherman assert in the most emphatic terms that in the honors he had won much of the credit was due to the men of the Fifteenth corps. On one of these occasions at the time that General Sherman was given a reception on the occasion of his completing his famous trip around the world, that a number of ex-officers assembled in the room occupied by German Sherman for the purpose of extending greetings one to the other and to talk over old times-the meeting would be called a "smoker" now-that our old commander was in a talking mood, and when such was the case he was a very pleasant gentleman, and a very interesting conversationalist.

General Logan was present; ex-Governor Oglesbee, of Illinois, General Palmer, and a large number of those who had held lower rank when I heard General Sherman say, that in war no matter how skillful might be their commander; how well-informed he might be on all questions relating to war, if the main body of the troops were made up of inferior material, success in the field would always be doubtful. He then went on to say that he had so implicitly learned to put his trust in the corps he first commanded -the Fifteenth-that when it was about him he felt perfectly safe and sure that any order he issued would be carried out if it were within the power of men to do it. It was then he said that it was the Fifteenth corps that had been his steady and sure reliance in everything he undertook from the hour that he assumed command of it. General Logan, its second commander, was even more outspoken and emphatic in his estimation and compliments of the men, which towards the close of the war had almost lost its designation by its number and was more generally called "Black Jack Logan's Corps," and I sometimes think that the great body of the army-"the man with the musket" -has never fully known the high appreciation in which they were held by the "men at the top," those who directed the movements and who were responsible for victory or defeat. I certainly know that the leading officers in the "War for the Union" held a warm heart for the commonest man in the ranks, and much of this I learned from their own lips, spoken at a time and place when mere flattery would have been out of place, but when their utterances came from the heart.

The Fifteenth Corps lay at Camp Sherman for over two months and so far as the Twelfth Indiana Infantry was concerned, drilling every day that it did not rain, but in the meantime stirring events were occurring up in Tennessee. General Braxton Bragg, in command of the Confederate forces, had given up Chattanooga, which was occupied by the troops of General Rosecrans, but who, in doing so had so spread his supporting columns to such distances that they were not well in hand, and General Bragg quickly discovered this, so concentrated his army as to bring on the battle of Chickamauga-a struggle that was by some called a drawn battle-but was a defeat for the Federal forces. Whatever may have been the argument on either side it is certain that General Rosecrans' army was cooped up in Chattanooga on very short supplies and its immediate effect was so far-reaching that it broke up the fine and pleasant camp of the Fifteenth corps away down in Central Mississippi on the banks of the Big Black, as it was at once designated for service in Tennessee and was ordered to Vicksburg to take boat for Memphis, breaking camp at Messenger's Ferry on September 28th.

If I remember correctly we were six or eight days in making the trip, for it must be remembered that it is the slowest boat that regulates the speed of an expedition like that, and besides the difficulty of procuring fuel to make steam for the boats, was a very great drawback indeed; for wagons already heavily laden, had been unloaded and vehicles and teams used in collecting and conveying the wood still uncut from the forest to the boat landing. Of course, the wood was green and it is still a problem whether the burning of it made "sweat" or "steam". On reaching Memphis it was soon discovered that the First division of the Fifteenth corps was to move eastward. After the surrender of Vicksburg and the capture of Jackson, and while the troops were lying idle in camp-that is not a good ward to use, for they were anything else but idle-but what I mean is that in operations against the enemy they lay idle there for over two months. It was during this time that ten per cent of the enlisted men of the army were given a furlough for thirty, and the officers a leave of absence for twenty days-a liberality seldom heard of in war-time by any other nation, but which was taken advantage of to its fullest extent. These "furloughs" and "leaves" were expiring just about the time the division reached Memphis, and a good many of these who had enjoyed the liberality of the government referred to in permitting them to revisit their homes, rejoined their respective commands at that time and kept doing so for several days after the march to the eastward had begun. The route of the march was along the Memphis & Charleston railroad and the division to which the Twelfth belonged, marched on foot while the remainder of the corps was transferred to Corinth by rail. I had taken advantage of the offer to permit officers and men to return to their homes, and I arrived at Memphis from the North, a couple of days after it had left that place; but I took a car and rejoined the regiment at a small village called Burnsville and the particulars following will be related in my next sketch.

Warsaw Daily Times July 11, 1903

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