Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

The ranks grow thinner! Day by day
We hear the funeral chant;
The gallant blue-coats, one by one,
Follow their leader Grant.
The battle-drums are muffled now
Upon the last redoubt.
And where the bugle notes are still
The "boys" lie "mustered out!"
---- Anonymous

The surviving soldiers of the war for the Union, can fully appreciate the above few lines for now, on every side, and in every neighborhood, the funeral ceremony over the remains of the veterans of that war are growing more and more frequent. Of course, this is not to be wondered at, for in civil life death has been claiming its full quota of victims ever since the first pair took up their abode in the Garden of Eden; but owing to the fact that the members of the grandest of armies of modern times were assembled together in the same cause and espousing the same undying principles, their daily occurring deaths become more noticeable. During the past year the writer has attended the funeral services of eight or ten soldiers of that war and would have gone to that many more perhaps, had it been in his power. That the number of deaths will, from this time forward, increase more and more in proportion to the number still living, is very plain; for, the youngest person mustered into that army during that great contest is now over fifty years of age-even though he entered the service-as many of them did in 1861-as mere boys. The death and funeral services of any of the veterans of the war comes home to the survivors in a more accentuated manner for this reason, and teaches the lesson that all of us who are still living should be fully prepared for that final "muster-out" that must soon come to us all.

Following my rejoining the regiment at Burnsville, Mississippi, orders came to resume the march to Iuka and Corinth in that State. All that region had been fought over in the preceding year, as it will be remembered that the Confederates under Gen. Albert Sydney Johnson and General Beauregard had their headquarters at Corinth previous to the battle of Shiloh, and after their defeat at the last named point, the Confederate army fell back to that town. It may be a bit of information to say here that the Union forces always called that battle by the name of "Pittsburg Landing," and the Confederate's official cognomen became "Shiloh" for the reason that a church of that name occupied a central point in the battlefield. The Federals called it Pittsburgh Landing for the reason that all steamboats were in the habit of stopping at that nearest point to the battlefield on the Tennessee river. By common consent the battle name given to it by the rebels has become general. Aware of the importance of checking the eastward march of General Sherman's forces to the eastward, as a supposed reinforcement to General Rosecrans' army, then cooped up in Chattanooga, the Confederates had assembled a large force in his front and skirmishes and small contests were of frequent occurrence. This was the case until Corinth was reached. During this time, however, General Sherman had also assembled quite a number of steamboats at Pittsburg Landing, and at that point played quite a number of steamboats at Pittsburg Landing, and at that point played quite a trick on the Confederates, by suddenly withdrawing all of his forces except the cavalry from the rebel front and by a quick march of the infantry had used those boats in transferring his troops to the east bank of the Tennessee. The cavalry afterward withdrew, and as the Confederates had no means of crossing that stream, the march of General Sherman to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland was wholly unimpeded, save from a few skirmishes with General Rhoddy's Confederate cavalry, that never delayed the troops for scarcely an instant. Of course, the object was to reinforce General Rosencrans' army as speedily as possible, the latter officer having been removed and General Grant placed in command of both armies-that of the Cumberland and that of the Tennessee.

This move on the part of General Sherman, while a surprise, no doubt, to the Confederates, was a godsend to our troops for it enabled the Fifteenth corps to pass through a fine region of Tennessee with plenty of forage, and in harking back to the war days I always think of this march as one of the most enjoyable the corps ever made. The days were warm, not uncomfortably so, while the nights were cool. The army, previous to crossing the Tennessee, had been in the habit of putting up their tents every night, but after crossing that river this practice was almost wholly abandoned for various reasons-the special one of which was that the regimental wagons were seldom up in time and it was quite a task, in any event, to pitch tents every night. Consequently the troops got into the habit of lying down in their blankets, leaving the wagons that contained the tents unloaded. The nights were frosty, but as we were well supplied with blankets at my headquarters, myself and staff never slept more soundly nor more thoroughly enjoyed the army rations than we did on that rapid march to Chattanooga. We had broiled or fried beefsteak every morning; always a plentiful supply of coffee-the mainstay of a soldier in the field-and I often, in my mind's eye, look back at that long march as a pleasant, healthful episode in my four years and more of soldier life.

As a consequence, the corps to which we belonged arrived at Stevenson, Alabama, in prime condition, except that a good many of the marching men may have been foot sore and shoeless, for the roads were of that character that were extremely hard on shoes. We arrived at Stevenson on the 14th of November and proceeded to Bridgeport the next day. Bridgeport was the base of supplies for the army at Chattanooga and as the Confederates held the point of Lookout Mountain between Bridgeport and Chattanooga, all supplies had to be taken by wagons on the north side of the Tennessee river, through the Sequatchee valley to Chattanooga in order to evade the troublesome rebels. The distance to be traversed was forty miles, but it was sixty by this route, and over the very worst of roads, and as the fall rains had set in these grew so steadily worse that it is a fact that trains arrived at Chattanooga, the contents of the wagons having been wholly used up by the teamsters and accompanying guards for the reason that they had been so long on the road. The mud was so deep that the axles of the wagons dragged along the tops of the roads almost the entire way of the sixty miles they had to be moved to make the forty miles of distance. There was a partial refitting of the troops of Sherman's command at Bridgeport, some very necessary articles of apparel such as blouses and stockings being furnished them by the quartermasters. The troops there received orders to move toward Chattanooga, the corps taking the nearest and best road leading in that direction and not the one used by the supply train already alluded to.

From the close of the battle of Chickamauga up to the arrival of reinforcements from the army of the Potomac, under General Joe Hooker, and those of General Sherman, the army of the Cumberland, had been on unusually short rations, and as far as the live stock, horses and mules, not a bale of hay or sack of oats had reached our army in and around Chattanooga from that date, and the animals had simply to live on what they themselves could pick up. Mules, actually ate up portions of soldiers' blankets, gnawed and chewed their own harness, and many a wagon tongue was so weakened by their gnawing them that new ones had to be provided after communications were again opened up to a sufficient extent as to permit supplies to reach the army more plentifully. Quite a number of the quartermasters of the army of the Cumberland had green trees cut and hauled into camp for the mules to browse upon and many soldiers will tell those who read this that he has seen the body of good sized trees eaten to almost their centers by those hardy animals, while of the limbs that were on them when hauled into Chattanooga, not a vestige remained. Ever since the civil war I have had the highest regard for the mule, and I have sometimes said that had the army been compelled to use horses alone, the war would have lasted a year longer, and I firmly believe it. The mules that had lived on blankets, harness, wagon tongues and basswood during that closing autumn and beginning of the winter of 1864 after supplies reached them filled up; made the Atlanta campaign, the "march to the sea," and through the Carolinas and up through Virginia to Washington and were still in the army at the date of the Grand Review. There are few soldiers living who would not take off his hat in salute to an old, faithful, genuine army mule!

When it is known that for a time no attempt was made to feed the animals other than as above related, it must be remembered that men and officers alike suffered the lack of rations. There were occasions when food was so scarce that the corn on hand intended for the animals was used for the men, which along with a decreased issue of coffee constituted for some time the only rations they secured. The rebels occupied the "nose of Lookout Mountain" right over and high above the town of Chattanooga and to this point they took a couple of pieces of artillery; but the first two shots, the muzzles of the guns being necessarily greatly depressed, both guns kicked themselves loose from their trunions and after that these guns were hung in chains so that the recoil was overcome in that way, and for many days annoyed our troops in the valley below, but did little or no particular damage, only killing, I have often heard, a single mule and slightly wounding a commissary of subsistence who was coming into Chattanooga with a wagon train of supplies, nearly or quite eaten up on the way. I remember an incident that occurred following the battle of Missionary Ridge, and the march of the Fifteenth Corps to the relief of General Burnside, who was cooped up in Knoxville by General Longstreet, that can be better told here, as it relates to the short rations in vogue inside of Chattanooga. Immediately, following the battle of Missionary Ridge and while the division to which my regiment belonged was pursuing General Bragg's broken and flying troops, an order came when we were near Ringgold, Ga., directing General Sherman to turn about and at once go to General Burnside's relief at Knoxville. Of course the order was at once, but grumblingly, obeyed, and the division returned to the vicinity where they had first met the enemy in the battle of Missionary Ridge, and where they had left their knapsacks previous to going into the fight. Here they expected to get their blankets, so much needed on such a march as they were about to undertake, but the knapsacks had been removed probably upon some officer's order. As it was in the closing days of November, however, the march to Knoxville was made without the knapsacks and the men depending only upon the "poncho," that most soldiers kept by them being easy to carry, and the particulars of which will be given in its proper place in the story.

We were absent just twenty-one days, and as the entire expedition had to subsist wholly on the country in a region that had already been devastated by both armies, it can readily be perceived that the Fifteenth corps was a hungry body of men. The march was exceedingly hard on the officers, who as already stated had to purchase their supplies at all times, and on our return and on the last day, being exceedingly hungry and worn out, I had felicitated myself all day on the idea of proceeding at once to Chattanooga after I had got the men encamped and get a good square meal with my old friend, Captain Andrew S. Milice, formerly of this city, but now a resident of Riverside, California, and then Captain of A company, Seventy-fourth Infantry. Remembering the incident as it occurred at the time, I feel sure that the more I thought of getting a good supper with my old comrade, who had been a lieutenant in the first company to leave this county, at the time I was promoted to the captaincy, I was sure of something out of the usual line for a starving man. I had not seen the Captain for a couple of years as we had been serving in distant divisions of the army, he in the department of the Cumberland and myself in the Army of the Tennessee. After I had arranged everything to be absent for a few hours I mounted my horse and proceeded to the town of Chattanooga, located at a distance of six miles down the river. On arriving at the Captain's tent, it was almost dark, but I at once told him what I had come for and "that I had not had my hunger appeased for a single moment in twenty-one days!"

I could see, for it was not yet dark that the Captain blushed a little after I told him that I was "hungry as a she-wolf" and had come to him for a square meal.

"Why, yes," said the Captain, hesitatingly, "of course!"

To tell the truth, however, he did not seem to be as enthusiastic as his words seemed to indicate, but I heard him give directions to his colored man to make a fire and put on a pot full of water. That sounded well to a hungry man; but the Captain still seemed backward for old friends who had known one another from boyhood days, and for one who had learned the printing business under my tuition. I couldn't get the Captain to talk freely, much as I tried, but finally supper was announced as being "spread" under a fly outside of the tent and we both went out. The "spread" showed a half-dozen hard-tack and a pot full of the black tea that the soldier readers of these articles will so well remember. I could easily perceive that the Captain was chagrined over the meager "lay-out", but he then informed me that although it had been over three weeks since communications with the North had been opened, yet there had not even yet been more than a fourth ration issued to each man on any day, and that officers had all they could do to procure enough to keep them going, scarcely any of them as yet having had a full meal since the battle of Chickamauga, a battle that occurred in the previous September. Many a time since the war have I jested with the Captain about my riding six miles to get a hard-tack supper with black tea!. The people at home have never yet fully known the sufferings the men endured at Chattanooga previous to and for days following the battle of Missionary Ridge. I have related this anecdote out of its regular order for the reason that it tells, as well as anything could how scarce supplies must have been previous to the raising of the siege and the opening of the cracker line, when an officer could only procure tea and crackers three weeks after the line had been opened, both by river and on a road that the victory had captured from the enemy, a shorter and a better one for the teams by several miles. The facts are that the battle of Missionary Ridge was fought none too soon to suit those enduring the siege.

The next article in the series will briefly describe the arrival of the corps under General Sherman in the vicinity of Chattanooga and the operations preceding the brilliant struggle for the possession of Missionary Ridge-a contest in which more of the strife could be seen by the men engaged than any other battle of the war, and which, for that reason, was of a spectacular nature from the opening till the closing gun that ended in the most complete rout of the enemy of any struggle that took place during that mighty war.

Warsaw Daily Times July 18, 1903

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