Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

I wonder if, where the soldier's rest,
In the last long sleep of all,
At the Inn which only holds one guest-
In the narrow silent hall-
I wonder if they can hear today
All the children as they come,
And the singing notes of the bugles play
And the rumbling of the gun?
--- Memorial Day -Nesbit

On learning the condition of General Burnside's troops inside the fortifications of Knoxville, after it was ascertained that Longstreet's Confederates had begun their retreat into Virginia early in the evening previous to the arrival of General Sherman's corps in the immediate vicinity of Knoxville, the wearied, foot-sore troops came to a halt and went into camp too tired and worn-out to even desire to enter the town to which they had come to prevent the surrender, and I am sure that there were few, if indeed there were any, who disobeyed the order not to do so on account of the scarcity of supplies. If there were any that violated the order they kept it to themselves, but I judge the number to enter Knoxville from Sherman's corps were few indeed. The tallest spires of the little city could be seen from our camp, but the tired men remained in camp all of that day and rested while they were not engaged in repairing their old shoes, or making new ones out of beef hides, as already described in my last article.

To myself, the rest came as a god-send, for a few days before I had sprained my ankle and the injury was so painful that nothing could have been better for the injury than the complete rest obtained by the two days in camp following the rescue of Burnside's troops from their perilous position hemmed in as they were before Sherman's arrival. I am not sure they were any among the rescued by the capture of Knoxville, but there were several soldiers from Kosciusko county among General Burnside's troops, among them being the late Joe Davis an A. D. C. on the staff of General Wilcox, of Burnside's command; the late Captain P. L. Runyan, Charley Graves, B. Q. Morris and Henry Chipman, for whom the post was called, and several others. These may have been at some point, but they all belonged to Burnside's army, though they may have been stationed elsewhere on the day that Longstreet discontinued his siege. Then, too, Captain Leslie's company of cavalry, all of it made up in this county, and which joined all the pursuing mounted force that chased Longstreet's rear guard clear to Strawberry Plains in Virginia, where Captain Leslie was mortally wounded, and died soon after receiving his wound.

The two days' rest did the soldiers a vast amount of good, although food-we had ceased calling the stuff we were subsisting upon rations-was dreadfully scarce, and I am confident that articles were used for food that under more favorable conditions had commissaries attempted to issue such truck, it would have caused a mutiny in the camp. Let me relate an instance. It can be easily understood that with the usual number of water powers furnished by the streams of East Tennessee that small "grist mills," as they were called, were quite numerous, full advantage having been taken of these water-powers, and there were points that averaged a water mill every mile for short distances. Some of these mills ground corn only-but here and there were those equipped for grinding wheat and corn both. All these mills were very old having mostly been erected by the first settlers of that region. In these old mills flour dust had settled upon all the joists and cross-pieces and beams to a depth of an inch and sometimes more, and I have known soldiers to gather this unpalatable dust, the accumulation of years; put it in a camp kettle, if they had one, or if not find some other sort of vessel and take it into camp, where they mix this "gray-headed" dust with water, formed a kind of dough of it and baked it on a board before their camp fire and ate that sort of truck. I tasted a morsel of the mixture of many years and I told the soldier, who gave it to me there would be more real nourishment in the process if he would like down on his back and let the moon shine in his mouth for a few minutes. Such was the "stuff" out of which bread was made during the march to Knoxville!

Owing to the fact that it was necessary to go over new ground on the return march to Chattanooga, a road was selected farther west than the one we had taken to reach Knoxville, so that foraging could be done in a region that had been less raided by both armies. I have frequently referred to the wonderful loyalty of the people of East Tennessee to the "old flag," and never was it more fully illustrated than in front of a big double-hewed log-house, at the gate of which the head of the column halted on the way up. Previous to the war it was easy to perceive that this had been a comfortable home on a well cultivated farm, and I have already stated in a former sketch that I saw more real old men in East Tennessee than anywhere else that I have ever been. An old and stoop-shouldered man overjoyed to meet and see Union troops had hobbled out to the gate to chat with the men defending the Union. The first one claimed to be ninety-five years old, but he brought his son along with him who had just passed his seventy-fifth birthday, both of them firm in the conviction that the Union was to be preserved as it was plain to see that God was on that side. I humored the two old men considerably while I talked to them and made them extremely happy when I presented them with a pound of coffee-the one plentiful ration the army had on that trip-and when I had to leave them both these old men, father and son, never ceased for a moment in grateful thanks for the coffee, though their home, since the war begun, had frequently been raided and every particle of food that could be taken was carried away, they made no complaint, the coffee seeming to make everything right. All through that region there were old men at every inhabited house-none perhaps that could show a father and son of their age, but many where there were men of seventy-five and eighty years old, furnishing the most convincing proof of the healthful climate of East Tennessee.

The return march was made in no special haste and therefore the corps was at least three days more on the way than they were in making the march to the relief of Knoxville. The country, even in December, was beautiful, and although the weather was quite cold, making the march severe on the barefoot soldiers, yet the troops were in a merry mood, the great victory of Missionary Ridge and the driving of Longstreet's corps back to the Army of the Potomac, the men reasoned, was a long stride on the way to the final end of the war. The wisdom of some officers who had looked ahead somewhat, had directed that a quantity of supplies should be sent to Charleston, a point on the Tennessee river about thirty miles above Chattanooga to meet the return of Sherman's corps, and it was at that place that a full ration of hard tack was issued to the men, the first they had seen since the second day after leaving the river six miles above Chattanooga, twenty-one days before. For myself, during all the war I never took kindly to hard bread, better known by the expressive term, "hard tack." It was to me at all times a tasteless food, difficult to masticate, but I presume an excellent substitute for the real "staff of life," in nutritious qualities. At any rate, "hard tack" tasted better to me at that time than it ever had before since the war began, and from that time I had more respect for it than had ever before been the case.

Charleston, previous to the breaking out of the war must have been quite an important town as places of its size are estimated in the south. It was located in a fine farming region and previous to the commencement of hostilities must have been a rather pretty place. The army stopped there for a day or two, the time being consumed in filling up on hard bread and such other rations as had been sent to meet the returning troops, the next stopping point for the brigade to which I belonged being on the identical ground where the preliminary arrangements and the formation of the troops was made at the opening of the battle of Missionary Ridge, three weeks before. While the ground looked familiar, the return to the same ground where the brigade had suffered so greatly in killed and wounded, called up sad memories of lost comrades, among them dear friends, and all of them held in high esteem by their now mourning comrades in a great and holy cause. I remember that quite a number of our dead-I do not mean of the Twelfth regiment or the same brigade-but of those troops who, over to the left, had made repeated charges to take the second hill, frequently referred to in a former article in this series of "War Memories" had remained unburied. The most of these had been found in a short, but quite deep ravine on the more southern slope of the hill mentioned. The remains of these men-if I remember correctly, there were eleven in all-were gathered up, and all of them buried in a row, with head boards made of pieces of cracker boxes, and their names written as plainly as possible with a lead pencil the very best plan to pursue that was within the reach of, or at the command of the burial party. Thank God, the remains of these men who had laid down their lives to preserve an imperiled nation, were afterwards either taken to their homes in the North or gathered up and placed in the large and beautiful national cemetery since provided by a generous government not far distant from where they fell, as have also those who fought on the other side.

We remained here only a few days resting up, adding avordupois and in refitting every soldier who was without, with new shoes. I remember that in the Twelfth regiment there were only sixteen pairs of shoes that were still useful. All of the rest were fitted with the new form that had just come out about that time, the shape of which was considered a great improvement upon those issued to the entire army for the first two years of the war, and I guess they were, for I never heard any complaint about them, and it was readily be seen that they were a great improvement on bare feet or the "cow skin moccasin" already referred to. Soldiers after their heavy marches are very soon recuperated, and are quite ready to go on another one, no matter how wearisome it may be or how dangerous the fore-shadowing. All through the war both men and officers were ever ready for a march, a skirmish, or even a great battle, and my observation was that the most wearisome days they put in were those in camp. It was for this reason that the Twelfth always introduced pastimes, games and novelties of various kinds, and kept them busy, instead of lying in their tents brooding and complaining; consequently, there was great rejoicing in camp when the order was received about three days after the return of the corps to Chattanooga directing General Sherman's command to proceed to Northern Alabama, making Huntsville of that State, his headquarters, and to station his corps by brigades and divisions among the various important villages along the Memphis & Charleston railroad from Stevenson to Huntsville, a distance perhaps of eighty or a hundred miles. It fell to the lot of the brigade of which the Twelfth was a member, to be located at Scottsboro, a small village at that time, but somewhat important, strategically-and it was at this place the troops put in the winter of 1863-64, preparatory to entering in the coming spring upon the great Atlanta campaign, which opened in the following May. Scottsboro, the surviving members of the regiment that spent that winter there will be pleased to learn, is now a busy, thriving, county-seat, the latter having been removed from the old town of Bellefont, where General Sherman was stationed as a young man many years before as a first lieutenant in the regular army for the purpose of settling some of the Creek and Choctaw Indian claims against the government. Scottsboro has grown to be an enterprising and quite lively town, and I have no doubt that the thousands of stones removed by the members of the Twelfth to make a decent camp, proved of great benefit to the village, for the portion of the new town now covers the identical ground upon which they camped at the time referred to. I revisited the place soon after its new court house was completed.

All of the troops that had made the march to Knoxville were surprised on their return to Chattanooga to find everything so scarce, and though the lines to the North had now been opened for three weeks, rations were still very scarce; forage for horses and mules still more so; but this only goes to show how great a feat it is to feed a large army and how doubly great it becomes when the routes over which supplies have to come are raided by a watchful enemy in some places, and at other times in full command of the rivers, railroads and some of the highways. Following Chickamauga, supplies of all kinds constantly decreased and rations became more and more difficult to get through, and as it had been several months since the battle of Chickamauga, the wonderful scarcity of everything entering into the support of an army as large as was that of the Cumberland was a problem that caused great anxiety, indeed, and as the troops had been on short rations, the attempt to issue in full, at once taxed the railroad facilities between Chattanooga and Louisville, there being but one line, to the very utmost. That was one of the reasons why Sherman's force was sent to North Alabama, as by doing so, an extra railroad could be secured from Nashville to Huntsville, and thus relieve to some extent the line supplying Chattanooga. As there was no railroad across "the nose" of Lookout mountain at that time, as there is now, an order was issued for all mounted officers to proceed to Bridgeport, a point about sixty miles below Chattanooga, on the steamer "Dunbar" the one captured from the rebels just preceding the battle of Missionary Ridge, and the various regiments in command of the ranking captain should march along the accustomed road between the two places, and this was done, the two parties-the one by the river and the other overland-where they arrived at nearly the same hour.

Warsaw Daily Times August 29, 1903

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