Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Muffle the drums! 'Tis a sacred day;
Hallowed and honored its memory keep.
Naught but Love's tokens we bring to lay
Over the graves where our fallen sleep.
Blow, bugles, blow,
Softly and low,
While fairest flowers Love's hand is here strewing,
Over the graves
Of a nation's braves.
Over the sod which our tears are be dewing!
--- E. A. Brinistool

The writer of these sketches has taken some pains to examine the history of such military displays as was the two days' review of the Union army, at the close of the war, and has been unable to find anything that would eclipse the display at Washington on May 23d and 24th, 1965. At first thought the reader may have surmised that during the twenty years in which Napoleon ruled France to such an extent that it may truthfully be said that the entire nation was under arms and all of its citizens were soldiers, the general review had been eclipsed. I have been unable to find a single instance wherein it took two full days for the Emperor's hosts to "march past" a given point. Of course, it is easy to point to greater decorative displays made by the nations of the Old World, but it should be remember that the two days' review at Washington in the early spring of 1865 was made up of the infantry, cavalry and artillery in the closing days of a four years' war; that one and all of them were veterans but only included the armies of the Potomac; of the James and of the Tennessee, less than a third of the entire army at that time; for none of the Federal forces under Generals Thomas, Banks, Schofield, nor that large body of cavalry and mounted infantry under Gen. Wilson, which was at that very time covering nearly all of Alabama, with his veteran troopers, as well as a thousand small posts scattered all over the South and Southwest, participated in the great demonstration at Washington. I have no means at hand to prove my statement, but I am confident of the fact already stated to the effect that the number of troops taking part in the Grand Review, was a great deal less than one third of the soldiers at that time composing the effective forces of the Union Army. It was a military event up to that time never excelled in the number of troops passing in review, and the same statement will hold good, that nothing since the war for the Union has excelled it. The late Dunbar held in India, presumably excelled it in lavish display and novelty; its great herds of elephants, caparisoned in cloth of gold; the barbaric display of priceless jewels and costly decorations, no doubt excelled in gorgeousness that of the grand review at Washington in the "show part" of such a gathering; but it should be remembered that the review at the capital of the country was made up almost wholly of the war-worn veterans of a four years' war, marching in close order, so that "the march past" could be accomplished in two days rather than the three that it would have taken to have performed it in the way usual for a review, that is in column by companies --it was a great, and grand affair and the writer would have been deeply grieved had he not been there to have led the marching infantry on the second day by the special request of General John A Logan --the "beau sabreur" of the volunteer army of the North, during the civil war.

The city of Washington was gaily decorated for the occasion, the authorities arranging it so as to retain all of the emblems of mourning that had been displayed upon every public building and private residence in all the city as a mark of sorrow over the death of the lamented President Lincoln, and unless these were frayed or torn all of them were left hanging, the additions being only a lavish display of the American colors giving to the streets a gorgeous display, the mourning drapery being of black and white to which the stars and stripes were added to an extent never before known. In my last reminiscence I could not without encroaching on the amount of space that had been decided upon at the start of this series of "War Memories," relate an incident that occurred on the first day of the grand review to the late Gen. George A. Custer, whose record during the civil war was almost meteoric in the rapidity in which he advanced as a soldier, and for so young a man when he entered the army is almost without precedent, beginning as his soldier life did at the first battle of Bull Run. Fresh from West Point at twenty-one; a brigadier general at twenty-three; a major general at twenty-four, and commander of a cavalry division, which in the preceding six months that brought with them the downfall of the Southern Confederacy, had taken one hundred and eleven guns from the enemy; sixty five battle flags and over ten thousand prisoners of war, without losing a flag, or a gun, and without a single failure to capture whatever himself and troopers went for. Such was his record. At the review of the army of the Potomac General Custer's spirited horse ran away on Pennsylvania avenue, in spite of the efforts of its rider --a peerless horseman --to restrain him. Custer's hat fell off during the stampede of his horse, and his long yellow curls floated back in the wind making a dashing romantic picture; General Custer was a man of superb physique and of magnificent strength. His devoted wife, who, after the war remained with him in camp, was with him on the march as well as in bivouac, in the three books in which she has told the deathless romance of their married life on the frontier, relates how in order to give an exhibition of his strength, on one occasion he rode up to her side, lifted her out of her saddle high in the air with his left arm, held there for a moment or two, then gently replaced her on her horse. He frequently played many such pranks with the woman he adored, and Mrs. Custer's books read like pages from Sir Walter Scott's "Tales of the Crusades." On the plains General Custer was known to the Indians following the civil war, as "the white Chief with the Yellow Hair," or still more frequently as "Long Hair," but by his own men of the gallant Seventh Cavalry as "Old Curly."

I have already alluded to the decorations indulged in by the citizens of Washington during those days of coming peace. In addition to the display of this character, mottoes were indulged in also to a large extent, and the one that was stretched all along the entire length of the capitol building itself, in letters as large as a small house each contained the sentence, "The Only Debt the Nation Can Never Pay is the One it Owes Its Citizen Soldiers." In answer as to how the Nation has kept faith with the gallant men who saved it from destruction, it is only necessary to say that the records show the pension roll at the present time to be over a million, each and every one of them receiving a pension of more or less in amount; and what is more, this payment of pensions to its soldiers is sanctioned to the uttermost, at least by one great party, and partially so by a large number in the other. All who participated in that grandest of all pageants at the close of the war and in the youthful vigor of young manhood, with muscles hardened by long marches and every day practice at that time, are now growing in years; the erect figure that paraded on Pennsylvania avenue in May, 1865, are becoming bent; their hair grizzled. The elastic step with which they trod the handsomest street in the capital of the Nation has grown somewhat laggard; the erect body has begun to stoop, and surely no patriot in all the land can have the cheek to grumble or begrudge them that mark of honor, the badge of duty well performed in saving the Nation from destruction, and in giving to the world the greatest, most prosperous and glorious country that is noted on the maps of the globe. And then, too, why complain when it is the people themselves who are engaged in business who are largely benefited by the liberality of the government to its deserving pensioners? Eery three months it enables the soldier to go around and pay everyone who may have granted him credit to tide him through till pension day comes again! The pension received by the surviving soldier reminds one that it is like the dew of the heaven, falling on all alike and benefiting every one it touches to a more or less extent.

The review over, the next thing for the government to do was to transfer the members of that great army to their respective homes in the North and it is easy to see that transportation over the railways would be taxed to the uttermost to transfer so large a body of men to the capitals of the various states where most of the regiments were made up and mustered into the army of the United States from early in the war till its close at Appomattox; and while this was being arranged for, orders were issued and an extra force of clerks were provided to assist officers and men in every conceivable way, and through this order many officers who owing to clerical blunders, were wrong in their accounts, not through any dishonesty or any attempt to "gouge" Uncle Sam, but through blunders made in the field, on occasions when it was impossible to rectify them, were soon made straight by the more experienced clerks in the various departments, and after a few hours' effort and explanations, were enabled to clear up whatever errors had been made in their reports, and the officer given a statement that all of his accounts were correct, and hence there was nothing more in the way to prevent him from drawing the full amount of pay due him, whenever he found a paymaster, although it was very wisely decided that the final payment should be made in the respective states from whence the soldier had enlisted, a precaution that was excellent in all its bearings as any one can see when the statement is made that the last thing the soldier received from the government as he was finally discharged at the various state capitals was the money due him up to the last day of service. Many an enlisted man, too, who had been charged with a lost or mislaid gun, by making a full statement of the manner in which it had been lost, and the amount that had been taken from his monthly allowance, had the price of the gun restored to him, and a check given him for the amount --$18, if I remember correctly. I aided a good many soldiers in this manner for several days following the grand review and my men and officers had cause to be grateful to the generous government for the clerical aid furnished them in this way --which, in fact was only taking the number of the case --whatever it might have been--and instead of six or seven thousand, as an illustration, and making it number one, ready for settlement. I had a case in hand of my own which will explain the situation.

Immediately after the battle of Richmond, Ky., I filed my claim for the price of the horse I lost in that engagement. As nearly all officers were "strapped" on reaching Washington the great majority of them, at least, the need of some money was almost a necessity, and therefore, I thought I would look up my claim and see how it stood. It was numbered between six and seven thousand, the odd numbering being forgotten. I had employed John Paul Jones of Lagrange, to prosecute my claim for the lost horse directly after the battle referred to --to be precise, in September, 1862. Now, all I had to do was to revoke the power of attorney given by me to Mr. Jones, when the case was at once lifted up to number one, and within two hours afterwards I had a check for $150 --$20 less than I had paid for the animal just a week before the battle. Out of this I sent a check to Mr. Jones for $25, leaving me just one hundred and a quarter! Officers and clerks having been directed to do everything in their power to straighten up the accounts of all who applied, it can readily be seen how generous was the act of the government. Left to run through the various departments through which all claims against the government have to go through, I would not have received pay for the horse under two years --in fact it was about that long afterward I received a note from a Washington officer, stating that my claim had been allowed, he having just reached it in the regular course and requiring that length of time to reach it in the regular order of doing business with the inevitable "red tape" that surrounded it.

I often think of this very great favor granted by the government, when I remember how many officers in the ordinance, commissary and quartermaster departments that it was two, three and even four years after the war before they could get the pay due them. For some infraction of orders, easily explained at the time, had it been attended to at once, their pay had been stopped and the circumstances under which an issue of government property had been issued, had changed; the clerk who knew all about it had been sent elsewhere, making it difficult to procure the proof the government required, the matter would be carried along from month to month, so that what could easily have been done had it been attended to with that promptness that "Uncle Sam" always requires of his officers, there would have been no trouble; the whole thing going to prove that old saying concerning procrastination. The time intervening between the close of the grand review and the date fixed for the departure of the Indiana troops was very pleasantly spent by one and all. The joy so prevalent over the conclusion of the war continued, and it would have been difficult in those closing days of the month of May to have met or found any one on the streets whose face was not wreathed in smiles, caused by the cessation of hostilities and the preparations necessary for the departure of the troops who had taken a part in the review for their respective homes. When a sufficient number of cars had been procured over the Baltimore and Ohio railroad I received an order placing me in command of the Eighty-eighth, One Hundredth and Twelfth Indiana regiments in which two more were added, after receiving the order in a second note to that effect. The train was made up in sections and we were to go to Parkersburg, West Virginia, where steamboats would be furnished us to proceed down the Ohio river to Lawrenceburg, Ind., where we were again to entrain for Indianapolis, there to receive pay and turn over whatever property belonging to the government still in possession of the various regiments. It is hardly necessary to state that all of the troops from necessity were compelled to ride in freight cars, passenger cars being entirely out of the question, for it must be remembered that every railroad in the East was engaged in the same way, transporting the disbanded army to all the states in the North, Northwest and Northeast at the same time and I have always thought that it was owning to the scarcity of cars that the government officials selected for my command the Ohio river route for the homeward journey, and by using steamboats thus have cars for use elsewhere. What ever may have been the cause, it was the pleasantest trip that our soldier-days ever knew throughout the four years' service that many of them had performed. The weather was all that could be desired, ideal, in fact, and in the leafy month of June, the days were proverbially delightful, and every surviving veteran who was on board of the fleet of six boats that left Parkersburg with the national colors flying at the mast-head on that beautiful morning in early June, 1865, could become a witness of the fact that there is nothing more delightful than a day in June, unless, indeed, it would be another day in the same month. If I remember correctly, the fleet was five--it may have been six--days in making the trip. Plentiful supplies were on board of each boat, and these included the full army rations, while the facilities for making coffee were of the best and I believe I can truthfully say of myself and every man on board the boats that it was the most enjoyable journey that any one of them had ever taken. My own regiment had selected a very handsome boat called "The Forest Rose," the steamer being as handsome as her name was poetic. At all of the towns and on either side, no matter whether it was Ohio or Kentucky, the fleet presented a very gay appearance on the beautiful Ohio river, we were received with cheers and the waving of flags and handkerchiefs, the wharves usually being crowded to their utmost capacity to witness the passage of the brigade. In several instances free lunches of home-made sandwiches were sent on board, carried by handsomely dressed young ladies and none of the knights returning from the crusades in Palestine in "the old days" received such ovations as did the homeward bound veterans as they floated down "La Belle Reviere" in those early June days of 1865. At Cincinnati the fleet stopped for about an hour and the correspondents of the Old Cincinnati Gazette and the Daily Commercial sent their representatives aboard the various boats composing the fleet and the incident was written up in splendid style and given to the public through the columns of these journals conveying the news of the arrival to the firesides of the homes of hundreds of the veterans aboard the boats more than a week before the "returning braves" reached them in person. Very often I think of that pleasantest of all weeks spent from the hour of firing on Fort Sumter until General Grant paroled General Lee and his gray-clad veterans at Appomattox. Within two hours after leaving Cincinnati the fleet reached his destination at Lawrenceburg, where the disembarking troops went into camp to await the cars that were to carry them to Indianapolis --the point from which they had started earlier in the war days.

Northern Indianian July 14, 1904

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